• Understanding Trauma and Intergenerational Trauma–Mighty Parenting 223 with Sara Shapouri of iBme

  • understanding trauma

    The first thing to remember is that trauma is experienced differently and means different things to every individual. There is no comparison or contest; understanding trauma means understanding yourself and what affects you. Meditation teacher and trauma student Sara Shapouri joins Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler to help us recognize that, to help us understand how events and acts like racial micro-aggressions can build up to a traumatic point, to see where trauma hides in wisdom passed from generation to generation; and to show us that there is no shame or weakness in having experienced it.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    Our trauma isn’t just something to run from, it’s something to learn from.

    High Points From Our Conversation on Understanding Trauma:

    Quote about understanding trauma

    Sara isn’t an expert, but she is a student of understanding trauma and of healing it. 

    Trauma is related to some experience or difficulty that we’ve undergone that was difficult for us to process and move through. Sometimes it can pop up unexpectedly as an overwhelming set of feelings; sometimes it keeps us trapped in certain patterns of thought or behavior.

    The cause (whether a singular incident or repeated incidents) varies wildly, depending on the person. There’s no comparison or scale of severity; trauma is not a contest, and it isn’t about who has it worse. It’s all relative.

    Not all traumatic experiences are singular or particularly big events. Sometimes, often, it’s little repeated events, like racial micro-aggressions—it’s many small hurts that build up, don’t get processed, don’t get healed, don’t get the care they need and deserve, and over time become traumatic. 

    If we feel bad, afraid, or overwhelmed we don’t have to shame ourselves for it. Don’t beat yourself up for needing care and attention; even with a non-pathologizing view, trauma is still hard and painful. You are not weak for needing help.

    With regards to trauma in others, if you see signs that someone’s overwhelmed or upset (even whatever situation they’re in looks like no big deal to you), remember: what it means is someone’s in distress and they need care and kindness and compassion. Resources to help them get to a place where they can be with their experience more easily and gently would also help, and help them to actually have some curiosity and capacity to be with it, because really what they’re showing signals is right now, they don’t have capacity.

    Different people need different types of care, be that therapeutic interventions or just company so we aren’t alone. There’s different signals for when we need that care, but generally the first sign is our nervous system. When our nervous system is activated (for example, sudden jitters, sounds being too loud or lights too bright), the first step to handling whatever triggered us is calming it down. You can’t get anywhere while your nervous system is dialed up by ten or a hundred.

    The first thing for dialing back down is how can we find some stability and grounding, some ease and a breath to then be able to look at the situation and think, what’s the next step?

    Mindfulness and meditation are key tools in helping with this. The wings of mindfulness are wisdom and compassion, and the first person that applies to when you’re in distress is yourself. When you try meditation, don’t yell at yourself every time your thoughts wander off, just gently bring them back on track. Be patient. Be kind.

    iBme teaches mindfulness, and particularly around trauma—it’s called trauma-informed mindfulness, and there’s been movements recently in the medical and mental health fields towards expanding trauma-sensitive mindfulness tools and resources. It’s a basic yet key component in understanding trauma and how to properly process and handle it.

    iBme offers a variety of tools for handling trauma:

    • Grounding oneself in kindness towards ourselves
    • How to resource ourselves, including how to visually orient if closing your eyes is too overwhelming (which is not something to shame yourself for!)
    • How to feel ease and calm with meditation
    • Different tools and techniques, because what works for one person may be awkward or overwhelming for another

    The idea behind mindfulness and meditation is gaining stability and calm enough to feel comfortable with facing your experiences. You need to be calm and stable and curious and resourced enough to turn towards it—whether it’s the difficulty, the emotions, or the thoughts, you need that stability first. These tools help you gain the stability and the resources to then be able to sit with this.

    It’s tempting to run from your trauma, to push it down, try to get away from it. But running only gets you so far because it’s inside of you. Understanding trauma includes coming to terms with the fact that it isn’t like a badly-fitted shirt you can return to the store and thus divorce yourself from. It’s part of you, and living with yourself in even a vaguely happy way will mean you have to handle it eventually.

    We give people a hard time when we’re not happy with ourselves; we see our internal conflicts expressed in others and that makes us uncomfortable or angry. This is where we need to apply the aspects of self-love, self-confidence and acceptance.

    One way to look at inter-generational trauma (IGT) is that it’s handed-down wisdom. We have inherited these memories of difficulties and strife so that we can survive them in the future. But there might be times when we don’t need to survive that anymore. And we’re still holding that way of being, and it’s not serving us, but sometimes it’s actually still serving us. 

    Experiences our ancestors suffered through have been passed down to us, even if we didn’t live through them ourselves—they’ve been passed down through blood, or through ways that trauma shaped how our ancestors raised and conditioned their children and grand-children and so on, down to how our parents raised and conditioned us.

    What does IGT mean for us now? Well, if you have children, then start thinking about what you want to pass down (what lessons and tools and stories) and then ask yourself, What is the stuff I need to drop, and where am I stuck? 

    • What old fears are you carrying? Are they relevant to now?
    • What ways of relating do you use? Are they needed in the present situation?
    • What are nuggets of wisdom to keep? What is valuable, and useful, and relevant for the future?

    One place to recognize where you may be stuck is language. There’s a lot of unkind language used from tradition and culture and other influences for people suffering from trauma. (Don’t be a wimp. It’s not a big deal. You’re so sensitive. Grow up. Let it go. Don’t be a wuss.) Start there. Being aware of triggers for yourself is not being a baby, a wimp, or overly sensitive. Change the language to encourage curiosity and calm.

    Once you and they are coming from that place of curiosity and self-compassion or compassion for others, then explore a little and maybe find something in yourself that is either a nugget of wisdom or something to let go of. 

    With mindfulness, meditation, learning more about self-compassion, building our toolbox and our skills around really good deep self-care… we can make critical steps towards understanding trauma and handling it—most importantly, handling it with acceptance and kindness (whether it’s our trauma or someone else’s).

    When trauma is alive and intense the body may not feel like a safe space because the trauma lives in the body. However, when you gain the resources and capacity, the body can also be a profound way to release and heal trauma. 

    Mindfulness helps mind and body both:

    • You rebuild healthy relationships between your body, your mind, and your emotions by listening to each of them
    • You learn (or re-learn) to respect how much wisdom your body holds

    Trauma is not just something we’re running from, but something we’re learning from.


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    Our Guest Sara Shapouri:

    Sara Shapouri discusses understanding trauma

    Sara Shapouri is an Iranian-American meditation teacher, artist, parent, and lawyer. A lover of maps and guides to help understand the wildness of human experience, her path and offerings are influenced by Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Jungian and Depth Psychology, Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy, relational mindfulness, esoteric mystical traditions, and stand up comedy. 

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit ibme.com.

    Our Sponsor: 

    Inward Bound Mindfulness Education — Mindfulness courses and retreats for teens and adults 

    iBme offers online and in-person retreats, mindfulness courses, and weekly meditations tailored for various communities of teens and young adults (and even parents!) Visit iBme.com/mightyparenting  to learn more and register for programs, including in-person summer retreats.