Episode 18: Engaging Transformation

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson, with guest Rachel Fell

Release date: August 19, 2022

In episode 18, Chris and Emma were joined by Rachel Fell, a coach, consultant, educator, and guide working with creatives, thinkers, leaders, and groups to create perspective change that achieves real-world results.

The focus of this episode was on disintegration, giftedness, neurodivergence, and trauma.

We discussed nervous system differences, definitions of trauma, and the importance of embracing the process.

When does sensitivity become fragility? How do you learn to respect and embrace your intensities? How do you recognize your stress and sensitivity as it starts to show itself in your body? How can you rebuild neural pathways that have been laid down in your childhood? How can inner reflection help you develop empathy and, in turn, make the world a better place?

Rachel talks about developing inner authority, reclaiming ‘the seat’ of your authority from the external, and bringing it back to the internal. The process of developing inner authority, and breaking down external ideas and values, mirrors Dąbrowski’s theory of positive disintegration—breaking down external socialization, reclaiming your authenticity through inner reflection, and establishing your own hierarchy of values.

Bio: Rachel Fell is a coach, consultant, educator, and facilitator based in the Midwest US working nationally and internationally (remote, via Zoom). She’s available for in-person engagements upon request. In addition to working with gifted and neurocomplex adults on self-leadership and holistic identity integration, Rachel also works with businesses, teams, and independent entrepreneurs on brand, communications, cultural, leadership, and organizational development initiatives.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Rachel’s website

Rachel on Instagram

SoulSpark Learning Empowerment Series 2020 (on YouTube)

Five Benefits of Creativity in Positive Disintegration (Emma’s finger-painting video)

**Thank you, Bee Mayhew, for helping us produce this transcript!**


Emma: Welcome to Positive Disintegration Podcast. This is episode 18, Engaging Transformation.

Hello, wonderful listeners, and welcome back to Positive Disintegration, a Framework for Becoming Your Authentic Self. I'm your host, Emma Nicholson, and with me is co-host, Dr. Chris Wells. Hi, Chris.

Chris: Hey Emma, how are you?

Emma: I'm really good. And we've got a guest on today that I'm excited to talk to because I don't even think we know where this conversation is going to go today. So it's going to be a nice surprise.

Chris: Well, I feel confident that it's going to be a nice surprise. Yes.

Emma: Because you've known Rachel for a while, correct?

Chris: That's right. A year and a half, I guess.

Emma: So for our listeners, today's guest is Rachel Fell. Rachel is a coach, consultant, educator, and guide working with creatives, thinkers, leaders, and groups to create perspective change that achieves real-world results. Her sweet spot is in where applied philosophy meets unlearning, meaning-making, reframing, and integration. Rachel has always been fascinated by the connective tissue between ideas, concepts, people, and evolution and growth. Rachel's coaching and consulting style is rooted in co-exploration, participatory action, research, sovereign reflection, and positive regard. At present, she's available to work with individuals and teams of all types. Welcome to the podcast, Rachel.

Rachel: Thanks, Emma. Thanks, Chris. Glad to be here.

Chris: We're glad to have you here. I'm so glad you're with us today. Rachel and I met at the SoulSpark Learning Empowerment Summit series. I think that was, is that right? Yeah.

Rachel: You got it exactly right.

Chris: Right. That's right. You were helping Kate with that, to put it on, because at first it was going to be an in-person conference, but it was 2020 . It ended up being a virtual conference, that we did over several sessions. It was really wonderful. It exceeded my expectations, in fact, and was just so much cooler than expected. It was such a pleasure to meet you and the other people that presented and attended that series. It was really cool.

Rachel: Yeah, it felt like it unfolded and created this really lovely community dynamic, even though we were all navigating the beginning of a pandemic and we were doing it online. Yeah, that was a great series! Yeah, I'm just reflecting on this…

Chris: Yeah. We're both on the board of directors now for SoulSpark Learning, too, which is noteworthy. And it's been a pleasure to work with you in that capacity.

Rachel: Yeah, definitely. It's cool to be based in holistic inclusion and the work we're doing and just getting to know each other has been really, really awesome. This has been an awesome opportunity to… we went to NAGC together, to get sort of a peek into the gifted ecosystem that way too, which has been really cool.

Chris: That's right. Yeah, that was great. Your session with Kate on trauma was wonderful. The one thing that we have been starting everybody off with is to just introduce for us how you first learned about Dabrowski's theory, if you don't mind.

Rachel: Absolutely. So everybody has a different journey, but I would imagine that a number of us come to understanding and learning about positive disintegration via our own positive disintegration, which is very much true for myself and my story. I suppose I was really feeling that dissonance of having a successful career and brand and marketing, kind of climbing the corporate ladder and all of that. Feeling like I was operating from a place of a self-generated framework, philosophy. As things started to continue to break down, even though everything on paper seemed good, I was like, oh, well, something's going on here.

I had a boss at the time pull me aside. I was working at an agency and he said: Rachel, you have such great ideas and this is all so wonderful for our clients but you need to slow down and just parse some of these ideas a little bit, you know, not everybody is gifted like you are. When he used that language, it was like a bell went off through space and time. I had completely forgotten that that was ever even a thing, even though I had gone to school and been in the gifted and talented classes and had done well and blah, blah, blah. But, you know, really buried that part of me. When he used that language, something really resonated and that really opened the door to this earnest self-exploration. It wasn't long after that, that the coach I was working with at the time suggested that I check out positive disintegration. Lo and behold, there it is, so…

Chris: Yeah. Do you want to say more about your gifted journey? I know that I just happen to know that you have been really connected with other people in the field. I wanted to give you the opportunity to say more about that if you want. Thanks for telling us about how you learned about the theory too.

Rachel: Yeah. I'd be happy to share. My giftedness and neurodivergent integration has definitely been a process. I think that everybody finds their pathway into that earnest self-exploration. If the disintegration comes by way of an external stimulus or an internal one, like Dabrowski talks about, that internal dissonance was so present. I was having a lot of physical symptoms. I started noticing all these physical symptoms and something wasn't quite right. I just kept barreling on, barreling forward in my career, barreling forward in my life. Giftedness really was the doorway that allowed me to access myself. I'm not sure why that word, I'm not sure.

I oftentimes think that for those of us who are neurodivergent, it's a lens and it touches everything. It's like developmental trauma, developmental experience, our relationship with culture, our relationship with education, it's connected to everything. I felt like I started pulling on this thread and I was finally able to be met, to be mirrored, by people in the gifted community in ways that I hadn't before.

I was always able to look at anything, you know, formative religious experience and trauma, right? I could see it more clearly through this lens of not just religious trauma, but religious trauma and my unique neurodivergent differences, right? Even exploring the nature of neurodivergence turns out I'm pretty existential, intellectual. Those two spaces are really where I show up quite a bit, making meaning of what giftedness means to me and what neurodivergence means to me and exploring those things in really intersectional ways. I found a lot of value in understanding anatomy and philosophy or of anatomy and physiology really, as a handbook to what it is to be a human. There's nothing more existential than the body, but the giftedness had to be a part of the unraveling and of the exploration and of the disintegration. Without it, I don't think I could have actually gone to where I needed to go, if that makes sense.

Chris: It does make sense. And I appreciate that very much. In my work with people, I am constantly hearing how hard it is for people to embrace the word gifted, and how it's just a loaded term and they wish that there was some other term for it. And yet, as much as I can resonate with that,  I agree that it's a kind of problematic term and it's hard to embrace at times. Like you, I feel like it was the term that helped me make the connections that I really needed to make for myself and my journey. And so it's a tough one, this word ‘gifted’ and ‘giftedness’.

Rachel: Yeah, well, you know what's funny about that, Chris, is when I first came to spaces and places where I was working with coaches, I was doing a lot of self-reflection, I was really exploring and… the disintegration:  I'm gonna participate, you show up and you're gonna participate in it, right? Because it's happening. I was spinning out about the nature of language when I first came to this whole process. And really, what does any word mean? I think a lot about semantics and people often brush off semantics like, oh, that's just semantics. Well, semantics are incredibly pragmatic. What does gifted mean to you? And what does gifted mean to me? Or what does it mean to Emma?

There's a lot of space to play and explore there. I think there is this shadow in the word, around our collective cultural values about intelligence, exceptionalism, eminence, better than, competition, right? But we can see those and hold those up and also understand that the word is a word and that there is all this other stuff there too that's really important to acknowledge. It can be hard for some of us to accept our difference when it is perceived in these ways that really push on the collective, if that makes sense.

Chris: It does. Thank you. Yeah, you put that really beautifully. It's true. There's so much here in the world of giftedness and intelligence and other kinds of giftedness. You've been in my study group that I have, this monthly study group that I haven't talked about much, honestly, in the podcast. Probably part of it is that I'm afraid now that more people are going to want to join…  [laughter] it's hard because part of what I want to do moving forward at this point is be more intentional around creating community. But my study group has been kind of my safe space with a pretty small number of people who I feel comfortable with. It's been a pleasure to have you there.

I've really appreciated the way that you bring this questioning that I have found really valuable. The way that you are always in this dialectic place of holding up conflicting ideas or looking to the shadow side of things- it’s good for me, it challenges me. That's why I wanted to have you here with us on the podcast because like these things that we're exploring, giftedness, trauma, you know, 2e and neurodivergence, all of this stuff, it's so deep and rich. And yet I'm often finding people ready to dismiss any of it as, it's hard to explain, you know, I'm not sure, maybe dismiss isn't the right word, but I get a lot of pushback around Dabrowski and positive disintegration. And so, I don't know, it's been good to have you.

Rachel: Well, thank you. That's really kind of you to say, Chris, and really coming into embracing that deeply existential nature I have. It wouldn't be possible without mirroring and without community. It's been great to be there. I think it's really important that we create consensus reality and that we co-create with one another. And I don't think honesty and kindness have to be mutually exclusive. One of the things I love about the theory is when I think about level three and disintegrating and sort of this rebuilding. I love how Dabrowski talks about it as vertical, uses some spatial language.

I really, really deeply believe that we have to have a sort of relationship with ourselves that's predicated on our sovereignty and on some sort of applied philosophy that we create for ourselves that we release. What we don't necessarily believe, we might say we believe something, but do we really believe it? Level three I think is all about going inward and breaking down the frameworks by which you view reality, and there's nothing more existential than that; it's what is the nature of a self. What's the nature of a word? What's the nature of a concept? When you have that kind of relationship with yourself where you really can create meaning and you can do that in kindness and you can do that with honesty, you can be nice to yourself and release expectations of self and needing to prove things, then you can meet the outside world and you can meet other people and you can really explore to the edges and to the depths.

For stuff like neurodivergence or giftedness, stuff that's like really complicated and unfolding, I think we need more of that depth exploration where we can [get to a place of] really not needing to prove and not need to be right, but just be open to different ways of thinking about, and even feeling, understanding this stuff, right? Like I mentioned, physiology, learning about evolutionary neurobiology and the nervous system has helped me so much in my journey to understanding myself. I can kind of see it in the theory too, a little bit, you can see it in discourse around neurodivergence. So I think that's just an example, but all that to say, being able to explore within ourselves definitely connects to our ability to explore with others, I think.

Chris: I agree. It totally does.

Emma: I've got a question for you that sort of sprung from some stuff I've seen posted on Facebook when people are talking about Dabrowski's theory and its use. One thing that comes up is the interrelationship between the different terms and how the pieces of the puzzle actually connect for different people. So even with you grappling with giftedness and the term and what does it mean, and then figuring out, well, how does that relate to Dabrowski's theory, even though he doesn't really talk about it all that much? The other thing is, what is the difference between trauma and positive disintegration?

They're clearly two different things, but there is some correlation between them. So, you know, people who go through trauma or are gifted are probably more likely to experience things like disintegration. I think it's important that everybody's looking at it from their perspective and saying, this is how the things fit in for me personally. I just think it's fascinating that you're looking not only at the different pieces, but sort of how everybody connects them on their own individual level. I'm particularly interested in what you might have to say about trauma in particular, and where that fits in to the whole picture, because that's something that often comes up particularly in gifted circles online, is their experiences and how it relates to their trauma.

Rachel: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So much here, you two. I'm so excited. Let's just see how this unfolds. I feel like, you know how in some languages they have like 20 words for snow? Are you familiar with it? Okay, we need that for trauma. We need more nuanced and specific and precise ways to engage what feels like a very, ‘complex’ isn't the word, but it feels like one word just ain't doing it justice. So I want to start there and then also say that nothing more existential than to examine the nature of things. I'd like to volley it back to both of you and ask you: how do either of you define trauma?

Chris: Well, personally, when I think of it from my own experience, and this is not from any kind of academic perspective or anything I've read… for me, traumas have been kind of earth shattering moments in my life. And I would say that's true for me personally and as a parent. In fact, I think that they're not always moments so much as they can be many moments. I'm thinking there more as a parent. My son was bullied when he was in first grade and that was months and months of trauma, unfolding. At the time I didn't even realize how traumatic it would be because I was like, well, lots of kids get bullied. You don't realize until the damage has been done sometimes, how deep it has been.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely, If I can reflect back what I heard in there is like capital T trauma, and then also like C-PTSD or sort of more compounding interest on a set of experiences that's more ongoing. So even there, right? This educational setting, there's your son and his experiences, and then how you interact with his experiences, your own experiences. So already, we're in this territory where it can mean so many things. I'm curious, Emma, how do you make meaning of the word?

Emma: My way is to relate it to something else. So if I compare it to physical trauma, you have the difference between something that causes you injury and something that causes the body real trauma, and whether or not that's a singular event or a bunch of events, I suppose it comes to the difficulty to recover from it. You can have something in your life knock you down, but you can get back up from it. Whereas trauma is something that knocks you down and keeps you on the canvas for a significant amount of time.

Rachel: Yeah, so interesting how the two of you have relatively different ways of making meaning of the word, even though we talk about it, right? I think that it's really important to slow down and explore that stuff. So if I add my own, it's actually quite straightforward in the sense that I would say that trauma is the emotional impact, the emotional impact, or the impact on the nervous system in the organism. Can animals experience trauma? We have emotional trauma, psychological trauma, physical trauma.

There's C-PTSD, there's acute trauma, really the subjective nature of trauma and starting with our own subjective definitions is really important, I think, to begin exploring it as a collective. How I map an experience is going to be different than how you do, Emma, or how you do, Chris, and what might be impactful for me may not be impactful for one of you or both of you.

I like to think about our collective definitions and our current discourse on trauma. I sense a climate of fear or hesitation to engage when talking about trauma. It's like wanting to be sensitive, but where does being sensitive become fragility? I want to be able to work with this in myself, right? I want to understand the nature of this thing so I can better work with it in myself, let's say. Then, of course, if I can work with it in myself, hopefully I can more sensitively and thoughtfully work with it in others. But if it's the impact on an organism, then there's no universal, not everything is universally traumatic.

So, as related to positive disintegration, I do wonder, what are the conditions that make for…Dabrowski worked with the folks coming back from the war and they're having these big capital T traumatic experiences. For a neurodivergent kid that gets bullied, that's really traumatic too. So I don't have answers. I have mostly more questions, but coming back to the nature of trauma, it's definitely subjective. I think it definitely has to do with the nervous system and neuroception and a felt sense of safety, acceptance, things like that.

Chris: It's been really interesting over the past few years to spend more time thinking about trauma's impact on the nervous system and to learn about things like polyvagal theory and neuroception. Just this week I was writing to Michael about how I almost feel foolish for not recognizing until fairly recently, how important co-regulation is for me. That I can't think my way out of it when I'm dysregulated emotionally. I need somebody, or nature, to co-regulate with. You can't send me to a room by myself to write and think my way out of that state when my nervous system is kind of a mess. How did it take me until deep into my 40s to figure that out?! It's really something.

Rachel: I wouldn't blame yourself too hard because the mind body split is very pervasive in everything. I have a pretty serious beef with Descartes. “I think therefore I am” does not feel right because if we're talking about trauma and we're not talking about the body, I don't think we're doing it right. The unseen human experience is rooted in the physical body. The nervous system is, if we really want to explore this and give it as much objective framing as possible, all humans have a nervous system. So if trauma is the impact on the nervous system, it's going to translate in both the unseen experiences of the human being and sometimes physical too, right? We know anxiety, upregulation- shaking, there's all sorts of physical manifestations of trauma. I think that it's really important to talk about the body when we're talking about trauma and we're seeing this, right.? We're seeing this with [the books] “My Grandmother's Hands” and “The Body Keeps the Score”. We're finally, as a collective, starting to reach this like mind body divide, which is a pretty artificial divide, actually. It's all one thing.

Chris: That's true. I mean, we're definitely making progress, but we still have a long way to go too. Sometimes it strikes me that I spend so much time talking with people who get this stuff and study this stuff and work with it in their practice, that I'll talk with people who don't get it, and I'm kind of struck by how far we still have to go. I would argue that that's especially true when I'm dealing with people in gifted education, because the theory lives in this field that is a subset of education. It's easy for me to forget that educators often aren't educated about this stuff, and they're not clinicians, and they haven't been trained to do clinical work. We do still have a long way to go.

Rachel: Well, if I may suggest… I feel like we're at this moment right now where there's so much need, there's so much need. What may serve that [need], doesn't really feel terribly pragmatic or available to become a clinician, right? But what you can do is, you can go in and start to work with it in yourself. This is where I am, I'd love to learn more from the two of you and talk a little bit more about this.

Sovereignty is really important to me in my work. It would feel unethical to force a disintegration. A person has to want to step into the undoing or to the disintegration process. Something you said earlier, Emma, there I think there is a difference, right? There is a difference between a larger bout of positive disintegration but there can be smaller bouts. When is it that I am choosing to go in and work with my inner world and my framework of making sense of the world and my applied philosophy and that kind of thing- and when is it being forced upon me by some sort of stimulus? My understanding is that it's like some sort of event, inner or outer, compels the person in the theory, is that right?

Chris: Yeah, I would say that, it can be either. One, it can be kind of a shocking event, I would say, or a sudden moment of insight, but it can also be more long-term, the disintegration where you have would have different dynamisms kind of acting. It’s not always like a whole global disintegration where you fall apart, completely. In episode eight for us, we talked about our own experiences of disintegration and I talked about how in my own life, I've seen ones that are more partial and not quite as dramatic and some that are more dramatic and kind of devastating, or at least that's how they felt.

Emma: Also too, about the fact that eventually you get to a stage where you're brave enough to invite it… particularly when you're going through autopsychotherapy things, you get to the point where you're like, ‘okay, I can recognize that I've got an issue here. I need to work on it’. So I'm going to lean in on it in full knowledge that this is probably going to cause some sort of paradigm shift or maybe it's going to bring out a whole bunch of emotions that I don't particularly want to face. Eventually, you can learn to embrace that process.

Rachel: Yes, yes. That really clarifies something that I said earlier and I wanted to go a little deeper on, give a little more context to. Yes, learning to value, as a collective, going in and looking at that sort of relationship we have to the self and the things that we value; the way we make meaning of the world, if there is any sense of felt dissonance it's like, ‘well, can we explore that’… can we explore that with kindness and courage?  I really feel like that.

I totally believe that if people were to do what you're saying, Emma, and it's like how the first time through Plato's cave is really scary because it's the first time through. But the second time through and any subsequent times through, you know it's a cave. You know it's shadows on the wall. So you have this felt, lived experience of having been through it. That is really important. That, if you do that, you can have empathy for somebody else and you can genuinely hold space in a way- this is their process and I can be here with you in it, you know, and not take on the role of a clinician. But when you're talking about educators, Chris, or we're talking about parents, or we're talking about leaders and organizations, we're in this moment where we need more of this empathy and this awareness. So going through that with yourself really feels like it does something to a person's ability to hold space with another individual. And then, yes, is it a big disintegration? I mean, my first one, yes, it was terrifying. It was absolutely terrifying. But now I feel like I'm better equipped to serve any ones that come up in the future.

Chris: You know, it does get easier to deal with it over time and you feel better equipped. That's exactly right.

Emma: I think part of that, too, is if you just trundle along and the universe has to push you through trauma into a moment of disintegration, it's going to be a shock because you're unprepared for it. It's like someone pushing you into the pool, you know, unexpectedly and you fall in the water and it's cold and it's shocking. Whereas if you're prepared to go there yourself, you can sort of ease yourself into the water a little bit and you understand a bit more about what's going on and why. So I think when, if you're waiting for those moments where the universe is going to thrust that upon you, it's not going to be when you're expecting it or when you're prepared for it.

Rachel: Yeah, that's such a good analogy. This gets it right back into talking about trauma and neurodivergence and the body. If it's gotten to a point where it's too much to handle for the person, the universe is going to take you and your psyche, or your body, is going to take you and it's going to shove you into the pool essentially, if it's not an external stimulus.

Back to my definition [of trauma] is the impact on the organism. Chris, when you were talking about gifted and neurodivergence but also capital ‘T’ trauma and how Dabrowski didn't necessarily speak to neurodivergence or giftedness specifically. I know there's a lot of conversation about that and that's long been a thing in the giftedness space, back and forth: what does that mean?

I think the answer is found in the body. If the impact is there, of the experience or the experiences, and there's some sort of threshold on containment of that or it kind of tips the scale and it shoves you into the pool…  now you're in disintegration. So is that being bullied over time? Is that overwhelming sensory stimulation? Is that having really traumatic experiences in a war? It could be any of those things. Each organism, each human being, maps those things, carries those things, holds those things differently. It's like a feeling I have, I suppose, but I can see how it works for any number of populations. Applied to neurodivergence and giftedness, I can definitely see that.

We are in the beginnings of understanding [this]. Neurology is different in neurodivergent people. The nervous system, there's the, nature/nurture formative experiences of birth to seven, birth to 17- really calibrates nervous system function for all sorts of reasons that we're still uncovering. The people that are neurodivergent, they map experience differently. Interoception, neuroception, sensory perception, all this stuff, right? They just have nervous systems that work differently. So they would perhaps respond to stuff differently. Perhaps that would make sense with positive disintegration.

Chris: I love how you just put that. When you were saying it, I was able to kind of see in my mind that we've made a whole circle here of “this is where overexcitability came from.”

Michael has said so many times in his work over the years that it's a property of the nervous system, it's in the nervous system. And that's totally it. It's interesting to me because I've talked before about how I've done this translation work with Michael or how he has, of course, done the real translation work and I'm just kind of along for the ride. But he's translating this book from 1935 and people's minds are going to be blown when it comes out. To see that Dabrowski did talk about trauma. And he talked about overexcitability, not necessarily as something that you're born with. He does talk about that, but he also talks about the possibility of acquired nervousness and he gives examples of children who weren't particularly nervous children until some traumatic event happened to them, and then they were.

Rachel: Which makes sense because kids are their experiences, and their lives calibrate how their nervous system and their overall growth and development. It's real time nature/nurture reciprocity between the external and the internal, because they're growing and they're forming in the world, around and with the world they're in. This directly connects to the idea [of] what is neurodivergence? What is giftedness? What is autism? Is having complex trauma or acute trauma, is that neurodivergence? Well, in my book, it's when the neurology, the neurobiology, is functioning or mapping things differently.

We can look to this great analogy that my colleague Ellen uses about evolutionary neurobiology with the brain: She says the brain is a ramshackle house. We have the brainstem, which is all about safety. It regulates the processes of breathing and the heart rate and everything, the reptilian brain, it's looking around asking, am I safe? Pretty much every animal does that- asks am I safe? Next up, more recently, is the limbic system. That's the seed of acceptance and belonging, the social engagement system. Emotions, habits, behaviors all live there. So those two working together, how do safety and acceptance map together?

You have this limbic system, you have this brainstem essentially. And then last to the party, the top part of the ramshackle house… you got the foundation, that's ancient, you got the mid layer, that's pretty old, but newer. Then you have the newest part to the house, which is the cortical brain, the prefrontal cortex, everything we think of as a collective, as the brain, language, reasoning, thoughts, rational, all that kind of stuff.

If there are experiences or reasons, those three parts are kind of mapped, if not in coherence, then the signals are not going to translate. There's a felt sense that it starts with the brainstem, am I safe? Then, how safety and belonging map together. In the case of your example with your son and the bullying, it can be found in the formative experiences and the nervous system. It's all there in, in physiology, in the body. (Chris: It is.) So Dabrowski knew, he knew!

Chris: He knew, he knew, he did. And, you know, I remember the point in my son's childhood where there was just this moment of recognition that protecting his mental health was more important than school and that we just had to pull him out of school. It was so damaging to him that suddenly it was obvious in his behaviors that it wasn't a safe place… as soon as your child starts eloping from school… There was one day he showed up at the back door of our house and I was like, holy shit, did my second grader just leave school and walk home? It's a moment like that as a parent where you're: well, school's not working for you anymore. Once your kid reaches a point where school is so unsafe they can't be there anymore? Good luck reducing that with the help of the school. Yeah. The institutional trauma there is serious.

Rachel: Well, and yeah, and this gets into… we could talk about compliance? We can talk about collective ideology and philosophy and norms? The shadow, what we don't talk about, the shadow side of what collective norms exclude and how that conflicts with human nature and nature in general.

Those early school experiences… I got kicked out of my first grade class by my teacher for reading too fast out loud. I sat in the hallway and I cried and I cried. And that mapped that I didn't belong because I read too fast. That doesn't, on paper, sound like capital T trauma, but was that really formative? And how did that wire me around my beliefs and my concept of self? There's so much we could explore there, but suffice it to say, I really think that the nervous system and really understanding developmental neurobiology is another way that people can empower themselves, be they clinicians or educators or parents or [independent] adults. I came to this as an adult, it was my own disintegration. I think that understanding [neurobiology] can be a really potent and very non-personal way in, which is good because then you can kind of frame it and then from that frame, you can explore it further if that interests you. It interests me. (chuckles)

Emma: Everything that both of you have been saying, the fact that Dabrowski discovered that nervousness doesn't always start in children but it can develop later and even the concept of disintegration itself can happen later in life. It gives me hope, particularly in the concept of neuroplasticity. The fact that we can retrain our brain in a way, even when we've got this sort of developmental trauma sitting there, maybe we miss pathways.

Something that's really fascinated me lately, going back and reaching into places that you never developed as a child. I recently did a bout of finger painting because it was something that I wasn't allowed to do when I was young because it was too messy. And because I didn't have those pathways there, with that freedom of expression, it was something that I didn't learn as a child. But as an adult, I can reach back and retrain my brain to embrace those things. So I think that the forming of neural pathways provides a problem, but it also provides a solution in a way.

Rachel: Yeah, yeah, I love that. I recently read somewhere that one of the very problematic things that happens a lot of times in more traditional educational institutions, is that the centers for creativity and the centers for critique get wired together very early on. And we can talk all about capitalism and productivity and alllll sorts of things that way.

I love that, Emma, because you're talking about basically how there's the actual physical action of finger painting and the joy of embracing something. There's also perhaps a more meta thing going on here too, where it's like, ‘it's okay to be messy, it's okay to have fun’. It's okay to do a thing without it having some sort of commodified end, you know? There's a coherence. There's a coherence happening between where those two pathways might've been the creativity and the critique. Or, if it's not okay, that adds another pathway: “this is not allowed”. You are totally playing around with rewiring those things, in essence.

That’s where we see how a lot of this goes… back to trauma… and things like disintegration. I just encourage us to bring the body along too. Can we notice that our nervous system is kicked up? Can we develop a relationship with our nervous system and start to develop some flexibility with it? It's gonna feel [difficult], this was a huge revelation for me. [I’d think] ‘I'm really nervous to take time off’ or ‘I'm really nervous to slow down and breathe’. I had this allegiance to fast and [I realized] I'm just not used to being in a ventral vagal state. I'm just not used to being calm. Of course it feels scary. I'm just not used to it.

So once I had that permission of: ‘oh, now I can relax’, I can understand it cognitively, to relax. But in any physical doing that recalibrates and creates that [feeling], promotes that coherence and promotes that flexibility I think is really good. Each person knows what that is, so you can coach and walk with people in finding what those unique things are for them.

Chris: Well, that makes me want to ask you more about your coaching work and how you work with adults. Interested in hearing more about what your work looks like and the kind of issues around disintegration or how it relates to trauma that you're seeing in people, if you can talk about it.

Rachel: Yeah, I'll try. It's so… it's pretty meta, so I end up applying it to each person or each subject, individually. What I think is interesting to note is even before all of this started, my own positive disintegration, my own rediscovering my giftedness and that kind of thing. When I look back on my career, it's like every place I worked at was in its own sort of version of level two, kind of trying to enter level three, or it was in some sort of state of growth or change or transformation. I look back and think ‘oh yeah, that company, they were moving, like they had about 30 employees and they were trying to grow’. Traditionally that's known as a ‘threshold’, this company was about to IPO or this one's a startup.

I feel like when I look back on my career, engaging transformation has very much been a theme, which is funny because even before my own, that was there. But yeah, engaging transformation is a great way to frame it, because usually people that reach out to me, they've done some therapy stuff, they've gotten to a certain place, but they're feeling: okay, what's next? I understand where my trauma comes from, but how do I work with it? How do I really work with it? Or how do I start to engage, that kind of thing. So not all, but many of my clients, seem to be navigating some sort of positive disintegration. That's definitely something I've noticed. I start exploring from really existential places and I definitely try to follow their interest and what's coming up for them. A lot of times we do talk about the mind-body connection.

I have a model that I use that I've built called ‘PACE’ that really helps bridge the mind-body divide. A lot of times people are very in their unseen experience. We talk about how it is all connected. But it really is about following what's coming up for them and exploring it together. I definitely offer reflection. It's very much like: take or leave this as it resonates. We're holding space. We're exploring. This is about you. But I'm also not afraid to sometimes offer up some of my own experiences because I think when you're going through a transformation or disintegration, it can feel really lonely. You can feel like the only person that's ever been through this thing before. You can feel really alone. I think that it is good to be able to appropriately, from time to time, share experiences.

I think it's all about developing inner authority. Right back to the theory! I really walk with my clients and really want them to connect to a sense of inner authority, at least to start. From there, it's about rebuilding and exploring, depending upon where they are, when they show up, how deep the disintegration is, that kind of thing. But it's actually pretty simple- sovereignty, inner authority. A lot of it is that dialectical or that shifting out of either/or, and moving into: we are the same and different, we are connected and separate. It's amazing how much I think of our collective compression comes from that either/or competitive underpinning. Sorry, that was a lot. [chuckles]

Chris: No, that was great. I love that. I love inner authority. That's a term that I enjoy too. For people, especially people who mask a lot, who have had so much conditioning or they really get caught up in the ‘shoulds’ and how things are supposed to be in their mind and helping wake up that sense of themselves and that trust. That ‘this is who I am’ and ‘this is what I need to do with my life’ or what I want to do with my life, even. These are things that I always heard that I need to do or that I should do or this is what my parents said and just all of that external stuff. Awakening that inner authority is a huge deal, but you have to be gentle with yourself.

Rachel: Yeah. I mean, it's very much ‘meet people where they are’, hold space for the story, which a lot of times is the cognitive, the thoughts imbued with the emotions and the beliefs, but then also the state [of the person]. So I usually am watching, if we're not in person (most of my work is done online). I am watching the speed of the thought, the speed of the language, the shifting of the body position, right? I am kind of looking for cues on nervous system state, but that reciprocity of inner authority, going out and meeting the external world. I think about the theory a lot because with that and in my work, I only use a theory. I don't reference it with all clients, but some, I’ll say there's a theory about this and it's completely normal to fall apart. It actually means you're going in and you're reclaiming yourself. You're going in to meet your inner authority.

I'll say that sometimes, then they’ll say, “really, there's a theory about that?!” I'm like, yep!. It's totally, it may not feel like a good thing right now, but it's a good thing. That homing beacon, right? I think of it as: where is your seat of authority? Is it in the external or is it the internal? So sometimes, this model I have, I have a couple of visuals that I'll use with clients that help cement better sometimes. You're really taking the seed of, let's say, truth from the outside and you're putting it back in yourself where it belongs. We're always kind of negotiating reality between the inner and the outer. But I do get the sense that we have this deep imbalance with looking to external reality for truth and that most people really have outsourced that inner authority. I think reclaiming it is definitely a thread with every client I work with. Every team, even if it's more of that consultant or leadership team kind of stuff. It's there too.

Emma: I was going to say, it sounds very much like you're encouraging them to embrace the hierarchization part of the theory and lean into thinking about who they ought to be, doing that shake off of socialization. And then at the other side of it, starting to look into the self-education and the auto-psychotherapy part of it. Really the way you work seems to mirror the theory quite closely to me.

Rachel: It actually really does and that's not intentional. [chuckles] It's probably just a byproduct of having gone through it in such depth with my first one. It was a straight up push into the pool and that water was cold and I was in there for a while. But yeah, that, that. It strikes me how the reorganization, or the hierarchy, of how the vertical axis, the nervous system, the spine, the brain, the vagus nerve and the spinal cord- that is where all the information moves between the mind, body, nerves branching out. “Come home to yourself”, come home to yourself and just develop a relationship. For each person it's different, right? So if I notice a lot of judgment of self or critique of self; we'll address that explicitly unless there's a lot of ‘shoulds’ right. You know, let's talk about ‘should’ for a while. It is intuitive in the sense that I'll notice where they might be getting hung up on coming back and reclaiming that inner authority. That’s spot on, Emma. It is definitely like the level three “hierarchical” organization.

When I talk to clients about it, I say you have to make your own, create your own philosophy, create your own reality, create your own worldview. What bits of your worldview are you carrying from other people that you actually don't want to carry anymore?

Chris: That’s very Dabrowskian. He talked about creating your own school of life, of school, of family or marriage or whatever. I love that. That totally makes sense to me. Your own philosophy. Yeah.

Rachel: Yeah! That's why I say it’s applied philosophy. “Walk your walk,” when we're in congruence, perfect is a myth, but if we have our own school of reality, or we have our own school of worldview, then that whole thing is the process that gets us in touch with our meaning and values and beliefs. And then you gotta go in and [see] where don't the beliefs match up. I say ‘I believe this but I'm doing this’. That's the sovereignty thing for sure.

Chris: This was a really great conversation.

Rachel: It's taken me a while to figure out how to talk about what I do. This gets back to what I was saying to you before, Emma, before we started recording… being seen in what you do and sharing that? The irony of being a brand and marketing director in my past life is not lost on me in how I've struggled to talk about what I do.

Chris: Yeah, I bet you're a great coach. Just knowing you, you have all of these elements. You're naturally inquisitive, you're empathic and caring, it all seems to come together. I can only imagine what it's like to be your client. This has been really great. Thanks so much for joining us, Rachel. This was a wonderful conversation. We're so grateful for you sharing your wisdom with us and our listeners. It's been really great.

Rachel: Thank you both so much. This was amazing and super fun. I'm super glad to be here and love what you two are doing. So yeah, thank you!

Emma: I agree. This has been a fantastic conversation and I think it's going to hit home with a lot of people. And thanks to you, Chris, as well, for coming on the podcast. I always appreciate you too.

Chris: Oh, yeah, of course. I'm glad to be here. And thank you.

Emma: And thank you, listeners. We always appreciate you joining us on each and every episode. And if you're listening to us on Apple or Spotify, please don't forget to hit those stars and give us a rating. As always, if you have any questions, feedback or topics that you'd like us to discuss, please get in contact with us. You can email us at positivedisintegration.pod@gmail.com or find us on Twitter or Instagram. And until next time, keep walking that important path to your authentic self.