Shame, trauma and therapeutic practice – how are they all connected? Numinus’ Senior Lead for Psychedelic Programs, Dr. Devon Christie, and retired physician and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté, weigh in.
“Shame itself is one of the biggest impacts of trauma. So, I think that needs to be understood, assumed, and anticipated in any therapeutic interaction” – Dr. Gabor Maté
Dr. Devon Christie is the Senior Lead for Psychedelic Programs at Numinus and is a recognized speaker and expert on the potential for incorporating psychedelic-assisted therapies in an improved health care model for the future. In this exclusive fireside chat, Dr. Christie sat down with Dr. Gabor Maté, a retired physician and bestselling author highly sought after for his expertise on addiction, trauma, childhood development, and the relationship between stress and illness, to discuss his thoughts on the effectiveness of psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Listen in as Dr. Maté speaks about the importance of dealing with shame in relation to treating trauma – how we all carry shame and the importance of addressing this during therapy.
When clients become aware maybe through a psychedelic experience or maybe because of some psychoeducation around early childhood adversity, traumas, situations of relational deprivation or neglect, how do we support people to confront that awareness?
Well, so first of all, that takes me back to a citation by Almaas that I use so often. He says that only when compassion is present, do people learn to see the truth. But to turn that the other way, when there is compassion present, people have no problem facing the truth.
So, how do you help them to confront it? Well, first of all through compassion. Shame itself is a traumatic imprint, so, you can pretty much assume that it’s there, though it might be there disguised. Some people are not aware of their shame because they put on a grandiose cover over it. Then, they become president of the United States, or they have deflected some other way, but it’s always there. Behind a lot of the success that people have is actually a shame, is that if I’m not successful, then who am I? So, they are just driven to be successful.
Other people are just terribly ashamed of being. You know, one of the saddest emails I got was after my book on addiction came out and some men in Seattle read it. The point I’m making in the book is that addiction is a response to childhood trauma. He wrote to me, ‘I read your book, a lot of great stuff in it, but I can’t blame my mother. It’s my own fault that I’m a shitty human being.’ So, he didn’t get it because I wasn’t blaming the mother. I wasn’t blaming anybody. But this man was so identified with the shame. To my regret, I never followed up with him. There was a letter. I’m not good at writing letters. I didn’t have an email on this one. I wish I could have just talked to the guy.
But the shame is going to be there in one way or another. People will be ashamed of taking up your time as a therapist. ‘You’re so busy. I’m sure there are people with many more serious problems than I have. Why am I even here?’ Or there might be a shame because they’re not presenting you with a big enough problem.’ ‘I’m sure you have much bigger problems to deal with than my little issues.’
The comparing mind.
Or they become ashamed saying “I’m so sorry to bring this huge problem to you to burden you with this.” So, the shame is just going to find a way in the door by any means whatsoever. It’s always going to be there. Shame itself is one of the biggest impacts of trauma, so I think that needs to be understood, assumed, and anticipated in any therapeutic interaction.
Yes, shame often wants to kind of shrink away or hide. And as therapists, I’ve found that it’s very helpful to begin to just name it that It’s possible that there’s some shame here and ask what’s showing up? You know, are you feeling small? And as shame is named and brought into this space, very spaciously without trying to get rid of it, just make room for it. And the part about…
Sorry to interrupt, but talking about embodiment, I mean, shame is specifically a body response. It looks like this. You just want to slump, your shoulders collapse, your neck is bent, and you can’t look somebody in the eye. Shame is a body experience. It’s one of the most corrosive body experiences to have.
Yes, definitely, survival physiology, particularly in Porges’ conceptualization of the dorsal vagus, that collapsed shut down is often quite a part of the physiology of shame. And as therapists, there are particular ways to work with that that are skillful.
You know, here in Numinus, our therapists will be learning about or already embodying that in their practice, which is really good. I was going to say about that person who wrote to you and said I don’t want to blame my mother. It speaks to this element of I think a lot of people will come up against it in their healing where, you know, there are some very valid, perhaps you know, primal emotions, whether they be rage or you know that might come up against once caregivers or because there were wounds that happened. But then there’s kind of a place where we can see beyond and see that well, they were showing up in the way that they were held. You can’t, there is no origin, it’s this transgenerational trauma and then finding compassion.
Well, there’s a wonderful book title by Mark Wallen. ‘It didn’t begin with you’. It didn’t begin with anybody. We can trace it back to Adam and Eve if we want, we can blame them, you know. Then we can blame God for creating Adam and Eve. So, there’s no blame. And that’s really important to remove blame.
Now as far as this man who wrote to me, I’m going to think about it. What’s really going on for him is that he’s very angry with his mother, but he’s afraid to recognize it. And that’s one of the deepest dynamics for people is that there is anger when your needs aren’t met. When you don’t get your needs met, you’re frustrated, that’s anger. But as a child to experience and embody that anger is to threaten the very relationship that you depend on.
First step of survival
For survival. So, then the anger turns against you and that’s true of the shame.
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