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Episode 630
The Doctor's Farmacy

How To Heal Genetic, Cultural, and Individual Trauma

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

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Trauma isn’t just psychological; it impacts us all the way down to our genes. And those epigenetic changes don’t just stay with us—they can be passed down through several generations.

That means the trauma we may be working through isn’t just our own, it’s the stress and trauma of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents. I know this might sound bleak, but today’s conversation on The Doctor’s Farmacy with Dr. James Gordon is about healing from all types of trauma to find greater mind-body peace. 

Dr. Gordon and I dive into the connection between trauma and epigenetics, and why the history of our families ends up written in our genes. He has traveled the world helping trauma survivors, creating a universal language of how the mind and body interact in order to facilitate the healing process.

His most recent journey took him to Ukraine where he experienced the massive weight the war has had on Ukrainians’ mental health. He shares some of the steps he walked through with these survivors, their perspectives, and how he’s working with Ukrainian therapists to create a significant support system there. 

Dr. Gordon and I discuss some of the techniques he’s found most helpful for healing generational, cultural, and individual trauma and how we can begin to use these methods to heal America’s divisiveness. He shares why it’s so important to move beyond the traditional medical model when addressing trauma and hone in on a more personalized approach for the greatest impact. We also hear some truly inspiring stories of transformation.

Whether you have experienced trauma first-hand, within your culture, or through your family history, it’s never too late to address it and begin the healing process. Dr. Gordon is a fantastic resource.  

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more of the details from our interview (audio):

  1. How the war in Ukraine is affecting Ukrainians’ mental health
    (5:24)
  2. Recognizing trauma as a universal part of life
    (11:15 )
  3. Epigenetics and generational trauma
    (13:35)
  4. Techniques Dr. Gordon uses to heal generational, cultural, and individual trauma
    (17:03 )
  5. Healing America’s divisiveness
    (24:53)
  6. Integrating unnamed and underlying cultural trauma
    (36:36)
  7. Moving beyond the medical model when it comes to trauma
    (41:59)
  8. Identifying and healing personal trauma
    (42:41)
  9. Stories of transformation from Dr. Gordon’s work
    (55:00)
  10. The importance of healing oneself first
    (1:00:54)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Dr. James Gordon

Dr. James Gordon, author of Transforming Trauma: The Path to Hope and Healing, is a Harvard-educated psychiatrist, and the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. Dr. Gordon is internationally recognized for using self-awareness, self-care, and group support to heal population-wide psychological trauma. He is a clinical professor at Georgetown Medical School and was chairman (under Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush) of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.

Show Notes

  1. o support his trauma healing work in Ukraine, visit cmbm.org and click DONATE.

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Introduction:
Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Dr. James Gordon:
Trauma suppresses those genes that help us deal more effectively with stress and make us more vulnerable to future stress. That’s what triggers are all about, in a sense. We’re reactivating on a biological level the trauma we’ve previously experienced.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman, and that’s a pharmacy that has a place for conversations that matter. If you’ve ever experienced trauma in your life, small or big, whether it’s the little traumas that happen to us as children or the big traumas that can happen to us through war or abuse, this is going to be an important conversation, because it’s with an extraordinary human being. A very close friend of mine, a Harvard trained psychiatrist and physician, Dr. James Gordon, who’s just come back from two and a half weeks in Ukraine.
He’s the author of Transforming Trauma: The Path to Hope and Healing. He is a founder and CEO of the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC. And he is recognized for using self-awareness, self-care group support to heal population and individual trauma. He’s a professor at Georgetown Medical School and was chairman under President Clinton and GW Bush of the White House Commission on complementary and alternative medicine policy. Welcome James. Jim.

Dr. James Gordon:
Thank you, Mark. It’s always good to be with you.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Well, I’m just really excited for this conversation, because we are living in a very traumatic time and we recently had Gabor Maté on the podcast talking about both micro traumas that happened to us throughout our lives and childhood and macro traumas. Right now, you are in a situation that is pretty fraught with macro trauma. You literally just came back from Ukraine, had bombs falling all around you. People you knew literally were killed from these bombs just a few feet away from you.
You’ve returned to America and it’s important that you share your story, and tell us about what happened, and give people an insight into what’s happening there on the ground as well as your overall work around trauma. You’ve written some of the worst traumas ever, or you’ve been to Kosovo and worked with war trauma. You’ve been in Haiti in the worst moments there in their history. I was there with you in 2010. You go to wherever the problems are, whether it’s the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where suicides are rampant amongst children, or Katrina in New Orleans after the hurricane.
Wherever there’s problems, you show up to help heal not just individuals but populations. You’ve created a model for doing it that’s quite powerful. But I’d like you to maybe share about what you’ve witnessed recently and how the war is affecting the state of mental health in both children and adults, and what you’re doing there to mitigate some of these long-term effects of trauma that the Ukrainians are now experiencing.

Dr. James Gordon:
Well, yeah. I think as you’re talking about where I’ve been and what I’ve done, I think one of the functions, certainly for me, and I think for all of us as physicians, is to be with people when they’re going through the most difficult times. Whether those times are manifested in physical illness or psychological trauma, this is work that I feel called to do and that feels very much a part of my identity as a physician, as a psychiatrist.
I think the important thing to understand about Ukraine, which is, well, one of the important things to understand, is that everybody in the country is both mobilized to deal with the Russian invasion and committed, just about everybody is 100% committed to it, and just about everybody is seriously traumatized. When I talk with people there, they also have a wonderful sense of humor, which mitigates the trauma in some ways. They say, “Nobody’s normal here, traumas in our DNA.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Dr. James Gordon:
And it’s true. It’s a whole country that’s under assault. If you read what Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, says, it’s clear that he wants to exterminate the people and the country and has no regard for human life. The actions in any part of the country, primarily in the eastern part of the country, demonstrate that. People in Ukraine are very connected to one another. Everybody I met in the western part of Ukraine, close to 1,000 miles away from the east, they all have connections. “My cousins in Crimea, my friend I went to school with are in Donbas,” where the fighting has been raging for so long, for eight years now, really not just since last February.
They feel all of the losses, the losses of life, the destruction of homes, the utter annihilation of cities feels very personal to everybody. Everybody is deeply affected. I think for us to understand it. I’m thinking, you live in Western Massachusetts. If Boston were wiped out, what would the repercussions of that be like for you? For me, when I was Kiev, in the capital, there were bombs falling, 500 yards away was the closest one. What if a bomb was falling 500 yards away from me here in DC, what would that feel like? I think that gives a sense of the forces that are producing the trauma in the entire population.
What’s happening now is that people all over Ukraine are waking up to the effects of psychological trauma. The focus for the first months of the war was very much on, “We’ve got to win this fight, we’ve got to keep the Russians from invading Kiev, we’ve got to push them back.” All still absolutely vitally important, but they’re beginning to recognize in the schools, and the hospitals, and the clinics, and the community based organizations, and in the military, the effect of psychological trauma on everybody of every age.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Incredible, Jim, to hear what you’re sharing about being there with bombs dropping just a few hundred yards away. I think it’s really, and you look at the history of Ukrainians, and I actually, part of my family is from Ukraine, from Kiev. Way back when, 100 years ago, when they were you traumatized from the pogroms, and the shtetls, and were beaten by the Russians, and the Ukrainians that had to leave and flee to America.
Then, the Ukrainians were subject to Nazi occupation and to Stalinist terror. I remember being in Kiev years ago, and I remember walking down this incredible boulevard with these beautiful chestnut trees. It was the march that the Nazis took 100,000 Jews on to a trench outside town and literally just lined them up at this place called Babyn Yar and shot 100,000 Jews like nothing. Buried them alive, many of them still alive. I remember the incredible gravity, and power, and pain, and immensity of that feeling of being there in that spot and re-imagining what that must have been like. It’s happening again.

Dr. James Gordon:
Yes, yes.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s happening again. It’s like it’s generational trauma. A lot of you kind of share a little bit from a physician’s point of view and a psychiatrist point of view, what are the biological, psychological and social damage that trauma inflicts? The reason I think this is important, because I don’t… You’ve been doing this work for decades. You’ve been doing this work for 50 years, probably, and you were way ahead of the curve on the trauma story. But now, the conversation about trauma is emerging. There’s conversations around psychedelic therapy, we’ve had on the podcast, people are using ketamine therapy, and psilocybin therapy, and MDMA therapy to actually deal with some of these deep-seated traumatic experiences that people share.
Trauma can be big or small, but it often registers in the same way, whether it’s just neglect as a child, or whether it’s physical or sexual abuse, or being in a war zone. It seems like culturally we’re kind of now having this new conversation about trauma that we never really had before and allowing us to have permission to talk about it. In my own life, I never identified myself as being a trauma victim. But when I look at my childhood and my abusive stepfather, my neglectful father, and the challenges my mother had, being a child growing up in a deaf family and sexual abuse that I experienced as a young boy, I’m kind of like, “Whoa, this is explaining a lot about me.”
I bring this up, not to talk about me, but to really talk about how this is so universal and how your work really looks at this. Take us back through the biological, psychological, and social phenomena of trauma, and then let’s talk about some of your work and how you help people heal with that.

Dr. James Gordon:
Sure. But Mark, as you’re talking, my family, my grandfather came from Odessa and I went to Odessa to celebrate my birthday on this trip.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, your 81st birthday.

Dr. James Gordon:
I feel that connection. When you talk about trauma, I think it is important to recognize trauma as a part of life. Everybody experiences trauma sooner or later, and that’s really important. It’s not something strange and different. The trauma that’s come to us may have to do with what’s happened to us in our early life or midlife. It can happen anytime. But also the effects of that trauma that happened to our grandparents or great grandparents, whoever it was in the family. In Ukraine, that’s there. I could see it.
I could see the behavioral aspects of my father, on the one hand, wanting to please the large people in the larger society, the way Jews absolutely had to, otherwise they’d be annihilated when they were in Ukraine. At the same time a rebellion against it. I can feel some of those same impulses in myself. It’s really curious how things get transmitted from generation to generation. We know now that this is an actual, as you were suggesting, this is an actual biological phenomenon. The trauma causes changes in the chromosomes that are called epigenetic changes. Epi is a Greek word that means above.
These are changes that happen in molecules, in the chromosomes that in turn affect the genes and affect how the genes express themselves, how they act in our bodies. In a kind of simple way, trauma suppresses those genes that help us deal more effectively with stress and make us more vulnerable to future stress. That’s what triggers are all about, in a sense. We’re reactivating on a biological level, the trauma we’ve previously experienced.
We know now from studies on animals and on Holocaust survivors that this trauma can be transmitted for three generations from grandparents to parents to the children. That these changes, these epigenetic changes, go along with the behavioral, the psychological, the emotional changes. I think this is really important for all of us, because I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, you wonder at times, “Well, why am I so affected by X, Y, or Z?” Then, as you begin to look at the sort of family history, it becomes a little bit clearer. Why do I act the way I do?
I remember I was doing a group in one of our training programs and there was a young woman from Mexico and she was saying how ashamed she feels, but she said, “I don’t know why I feel ashamed and I have no reason in my life.” Then she began to reflect on the shame that her parents, who were native people, indigenous people, felt when they would go to the market, and how the oppression of indigenous people was somehow transmitted to this young woman who was quite assimilated. I think this helps explain some of the difficulties that any of us may be having in our lives.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, it’s really true. I think the history of our families is written in our genes. That seems a little bit daunting because the question is then how do we undo that? But the beautiful thing about epigenetics and the epigenome is that while your genes can’t be changed, your epigenome can. It’s influenced by so many things. We can literally rewrite the story not only of our lives, but we can heal generational trauma. We talked about past lives, and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in a sense, our past lives and our ancestors, past lives are written in our genes.
Those affect us and how we respond to our life, our nervous systems, our cortisol receptors, our immune system. In very granular ways we now understand this scientifically. What we also understand is that you can actually rewrite the epigenome by certain practices, certain behaviors, certain molecules, maybe some of these psychedelics that are now being researched to do this. We’re seeing profound changes in people.
I think what I’d love you to talk about is how you actually came to this work and then how you use it and what the model is and how you then go from one psychiatrist who has a good heart, who wants to help heal trauma, to training 300,000 people in a country in a model of healing in a few months. It’s pretty remarkable. You’ve done this over and over again. I was just astounded by it.

Dr. James Gordon:
I think that the first thing to say is that the techniques that we use actually can reverse those epigenetic changes. There is research on it. As you know, there’s research on meditation, being able to reverse some of those changes, research on nutrition and research on movement and physical exercise, all of them, as well as connection with other people. I think those are all key elements. Our program at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine makes use of all of those tools.
We begin by bringing people into biological and psychological balance by teaching them slow, deep, soft belly breathing as a kind of antidote to the fight or flight response. Then we also use active, and I did when I was in Ukraine this last time, working with people who’d been bombed out of their homes and tortured in the eastern part of Ukraine. I did a workshop for them, I got them up shaking and dancing. They looked at me at first, “What is this?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
“What are you doing?”

Dr. James Gordon:
“What Are you doing? Who is this guy?” But they did it. I said, “Well, how was it? You know, tell me.” They said, “Well, I feel more energized. I feel a little like laughing. I haven’t felt like laughing in four months. I feel like laughing and my body feels better.” The tools and techniques that we use at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, we teach about 15 self care techniques and people who want to learn what we’re doing can look at our website, cmbm.org, or read the book of mine that you mentioned in the beginning, Transforming Trauma.
They describe all the techniques that we use, all the techniques we’ve used in all the places you mentioned, Israel, Gaza, Haiti that we’re now using in Ukraine. I originally came up along with some colleagues, but basically, I came up with this approach as a way, a kind of universal language kind of vocabulary and grammar of how our mind and body function and making use of the complete interpenetration of mind and body. Making use of our understanding that our thoughts and feelings and how we relate to other people as well as what we eat and how we look at the world, that they affect every physiological as well as every psychological function.
It’s like teaching a new language to people. I kind of put together from many different traditions, including modern medicine, but learning from the traditional Zulu healers, and indigenous North American people, my teacher who was a North Indian from India, a healer, putting all these techniques together. Initially I saw this as a way of dealing with them, as a way of dealing with almost any problem or issue that comes up, because stress and dysfunction play such a major role in every physical and psychological condition. It became clear that this was indeed true, back when I started the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in 1991, and we began to train individual practitioners.
Then, as I saw how well it was working in their practices and hospitals and clinics, I thought, “Well, let me see. Let me go to some of the places in the world where the worst things have happened and let me see if it can be helpful.” I started. It was a question, I had a feeling it could be helpful. I sometimes go by myself as I did to Ukraine, but I have a whole team of people. We have 160 faculty at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, on our mind-body program. You’ve been part of our faculty as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Dr. James Gordon:
Teaching nutrition. We’re a team, we’re a group of people who’ve come together, what I think of and describe as a healing community, and a community of healers. It’s not, I’m going, I’m laying the foundation, I’m sort of making the connections, I’m doing the scouting and the pioneering work, but we’re already bringing our team to do training. We’re doing the training online in Ukraine. Already, 270 Ukrainian psychotherapists and physicians have come through the first two days of our online training.
They’re using the work. They’re using the work in the military, they’re using it in combat zones, they’re using it in clinics and hospitals that are in parts of the country that have not been heavily bombed. It’s already happening. I think that the idea that I had, this sense of wanting to heal population-wide trauma, obviously also appeals to other people. That it’s something that we want to be part of something larger than ourselves, that’s part of who we are as human beings. If I can offer people the opportunity to do that, a lot of people will respond.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think it is incredible what you’ve done, Jim. I think as a physician, trying to change how people eat, it’s tough. It’s kind of one by one, or we’ve created some models and groups like The Daniel Plan, but the scalability of what you’ve done is pretty remarkable. The places you’ve gone to are also really unusual. It reminds me of the work of Desmond Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa with the white oppressors and the black oppressed.
You’ve been to Gaza and work with Israelis and Palestinians who are in kind of a death fight almost, and bring them together in ways that help bridge the gap, create healing, understanding, connection. As I think about your work, I think about the incredible divisiveness now in the world, the sort of acceleration of social media that’s driven us further and further apart, because of the algorithms that amplify more divisive, and inflammatory, and hateful content. I wonder as I think about America, where we can bring this home and how we can begin to connect in a way that brings people together.
Whether it’s you’re a vegan, or you’re a paleo eater, or whether you’re a Republican, or Democrat, or whether you’re Christian or you’re not. The amount of divisiveness that takes us away from the essential fact that we’re human first and whatever else we are second, it just breaks my heart. I would love to hear your thoughts on how we begin to heal this crisis where now 54% of Republicans believe that, or strong Republicans believe that we’re going to have civil war within the next 10 years. I mean that’s just a terrifying idea to me. In 2022, we’re talking about civil war again in this country.

Dr. James Gordon:
It is terrifying. We’re doing some of this work in places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Broward County, Florida, done some in California. Where members of the community who are interested in helping others in their community come together with each other to learn what we have to teach. They’ll kind of reluctantly be sitting in the same room with people. For example, community organizers sitting in the same room with police, who they’re organizing against. The cops are very suspicious of the community organizers, but they’re interested in learning what we have to teach.
In the course of being in our trainings, and sitting in a small group with other people who you have all these prejudices and ideas about, over a period of time, you begin to see the reality. The reality that’s there behind the mask of the propaganda. I remember one time, you mentioned Gaza. The first training we did in Gaza, there was a guy. When we do training, we work in a large group, maybe training 200 people at a time. Then, we’ll have 20 small groups. I was leading a small group and I had some of the leaders in medicine and public health in the group, and a guy who was a nurse was in the group who didn’t have very high status in the community. He’s one of the angriest people I’d ever met.
You could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears all the time. In about the fourth day of the group, he looked at the guy across from him, and I’ll spare our watchers the profanity, but basically he said, “I’ve always thought you were the worst kind of arrogant son of a, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve seen you on television, I’ve seen you pontificating. But being in this group for four days, I see you’re actually a human being.” He said, “That gives me the idea that maybe some of the Israelis are human too.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, right.

Dr. James Gordon:
It’s possible, but people have to be willing to come together. I’ve been working with some members of Congress since January 6th.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Amazing.

Dr. James Gordon:
They happen to be all Democrats. I say, “Can you get some of the Republicans to come into the group?” People will say, “We’ve tried, but it’s not happening.” There has to be a reason for people to come together. One of the things that’s so interesting about Ukraine, and I just published this piece on lessons that Americans have to learn, is that people in Ukraine have come together across these divides, across religious divides, across cultural divides, economic divides, political divides, because the importance of saving their country is so much greater than the differences they have.
We have to find some kind of common ground, some kind of common interest that will bring us together. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I don’t know whether it’s going to be the welfare of children. I don’t know whether it’s going to be climate change. I heard the pessimism or the concern and what you were saying. It may be that things are going to have to get worse, before people are willing to step outside of these boxes that they live in and come together with one another.
But also I think it’s important to do exactly what we’re doing here, is to be talking about the issue so that some of the people, I’m sure you have people who are tuning in who think that the revolution is going to come and that they have to recover America for whoever, but maybe something will touch them. It’s a real process. I think at the community level, it’s easier because there are common interests in a community. Communities don’t want people to be killing each other.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, the othering is really a problem. I mean the othering of each other is really striking. I have a friend, an African American actor who told me an incredible story about how he was campaigning in Pennsylvania, and between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, he says it’s more like the deep South. He was in a mall shopping mall and went around to try to register people to vote, not asking them who to vote for. This was, I think, in 2008. He went to this one gentleman and said, “Can you vote?”
He’s like, “Are you registered to vote?” He’s like, “No.” Then he came back a second time, he says, “Come on, why don’t we register you to vote?” He was like, “No.” Then he said, “Well, why don’t we have lunch?” My friend asked him, “Why don’t we have lunch?” He had lunch and he said, “Let’s just, what do you care about?” He started talking about things that are really political stuff. He said, “What do you really care about?” His family and these issues. He started really getting into what he really cared about. Then, he took the pamphlets from McCain and Obama and he ripped off the front and just put what their policy platforms were. He said, “Well, who do you feel more aligned with here?”
It was Obama. He was kind of shocked. It turned out this guy, it was able to change his thinking and then convince him, his family and his friends to actually vote for Obama, which was really his kind of striking about humanizing each other. I know a similar story of a black supremacist, I’m sorry, a white supremacist who was one of the leaders in the white supremacy movement and went to a college that was not a white supremacist college or a kind of primarily white college. He was ostracized. This one Jewish kid said, “Why don’t you come over for Shabbat dinner?”
He started making friends with them. Then, they started having conversations and they started to talk and they started to share their perspectives. Over the course of a year, by sharing information, research in this guy completely changed his view. I think we all have the capacity to begin to create understanding, instead of creating somebody as the other and the enemy and the bad person. When I was in medical school, I went to Russia as part of this program called Citizens Diplomacy. We tend to vilify the other. The idea of this group of medical students was to go to Russia, the Soviet Union at the time, and I’m that old, it was still the Soviet Union.
To go and meet with other medical students and become friends with them and develop relationships and to humanize the other and the enemy. It was so profound. A lot of that group actually, that I was involved with, was involved in a lot of the activities that supported some of the underground work that was happening in the Soviet Union with people who were trying to change it. They were involved in some of the uprisings. It taught me a lot about how we can begin to create bridges. Your work is really about creating those bridges and healing those beliefs and those attitudes. Because it goes beyond just their individual trauma, it’s really cultural trauma.

Dr. James Gordon:
Exactly. I think what happens is, if people are willing to participate in the kind of process that we offer them, they start opening up, without us trying to tell them they should be more open or they should change their mind. Human beings have, as you well know, have tremendous capacity for change, but we have to allow that to happen. We have to put ourselves in a position, whether it’s through a conversation with somebody with whom we disagree, or by simply being willing to discover what is true.
That’s kind of what your friend was suggesting to take a look, a look at what the positions are then. I would suggest it’s good to take a few deep breaths, so you’re not in tight or flight mode. You can just sit there and look at things with the Zen Buddhist called beginner’s mind. Yeah, that’s what we encourage at the beginning of our training, at the beginning of our work with people, we say, “Profound change is possible. Post traumatic growth is possible. It is possible even after the worst trauma to become more old and healthy and more integrated and more committed and find more meaning and purpose than you ever had. If you can come into balance psychologically, physiologically, you can find your way there.”
I think we’re offering one path. I think there are many, many ways. Desmond Tutu, whom you mentioned, who was a friend of mine, was on my board, my board of advisors. One, he always, one of the things that he did is he exuded this kind of enjoyment and respect of other people. I think that’s incumbent on all of us as we think about people with whom we disagree. How can we connect with them? You would see him, I would go out and have a meal with him and he was just enjoying everybody who was cleaning the floor, or serving the food, or the driver who brought him there.
That’s a beautiful example. I think that people sort of, “Oh, okay, maybe that’s possible inside me, that possibility of enjoyment and of enjoying other people and respecting other people.” We have to keep doing the work on ourselves. I think this is very important that we have to, and this is part of what I was working, am working on with people in Congress, that yes, there are going to be disagreements, but we have to treat the other as human. Even if the other’s positions are white supremacist positions, they’re still human beings and let’s treat them. Not that we have to agree with them, but we have to see their humanity and approach them that way.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think what I think is going on is this cultural trauma now that we’re not even naming and it’s creating a lot of the suffering and pain we see and a lot of the mental illness. We see mental illness just rise and rise, anxiety, depression, PTSD. We haven’t really historically talked about that from a causal point of view. We’re very good with psychiatry naming conditions. We have the DSM-5, which is the diagnostic and statistical manual that allows you to describe my symptoms, exactly what type of mental illness you have.
It’s pages and pages of what type of anxiety, and what type of depression, and what time of this and that. None of it talks about the root cause. I think there are obviously many causes. There’s environmental toxins, there’s nutritional factors, there’s your microbiome, but there’s also the story of our lives, and the story of our ancestors’ lives, and the trauma that often underlies mental illness and addiction. With the opioid addiction, it wasn’t just because these drug companies were pushing these drugs, it’s because there’s underlying trauma in our culture that we haven’t really named, haven’t addressed, haven’t really talked about, and that needs healing.
It’s really taking us down as a society, as a nation, as a world leader, as an innovator, as a global competitor. We see this happening and it means it’s like a slow motion train wreck in America. We’re kind of passing as sentencing on the decline unless we really take stock of what’s happening. I think the trauma conversation and the acknowledgement of us in some ways, whether we have small or large traumas, what Gabor Maté calls micro or macro traumas, we all are victims of trauma at some level.
Figuring that out and naming it helps to remove some of the stigma of mental illness and the stigma of a lot of things that people are suffering with. As a psychiatrist, as someone who works for trauma, as someone who’s really deeply involved in this, how do we bring this conversation to the surface and how do we start to embed this in our healthcare system, in our national conversations, in our policies and our approach? Because to me, it seems without doing that, we’re just going to be on this treadmill of mental illness and recapitulating all the suffering that we’re constantly seeing.

Dr. James Gordon:
Well, I think that some of what you’ve said touches on what’s necessary. First of all, we have to have the conversation and we have to understand. I don’t really think of myself as a victim, but we have to understand that trauma affects us all. It’s part of being human. We’re all, I suppose, a victim of death. Death’s going to come to us. Trauma’s going to come to us. We need to understand that and not see it as something that just happens to those other people who have been in a war or have had the most horrible parents.
That’s number one. Number two, we have to see that it is possible to move through and beyond the trauma. That if we recognize it, we’re willing to allow it to appear in our lives and our imagination to see its effects, we can deal with it and we can move through and beyond. This is an ancient Aboriginal understanding. We have to recover that. The medical model as in some ways, as you’re suggesting, has fetishized trauma and turned it into these diagnostic categories that are suffered. I think that sometimes that’s helpful. I’m trying to understand what these symptoms mean.
But in the long run, first of all, it defines something as medical that is part of the human condition. Then it seems to dictate that we need to fix that individual. Whereas, in fact, what we need to do is to create the opportunity, and the setting, and the attitude that encourages people to understand and help themselves and to move, that this is possible and we need to look at it not so much as a medical problem, but as a public health problem. In the United States we’re so divided with each other, we’re going to give a diagnosis to everybody who’s left, or right, or center has some kind of personality disorder? That’s not the point.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
No.

Dr. James Gordon:
The point is that this is part of the way that we’re living right now. One of the things that I’m doing in Ukraine, and one of the reasons people I think are so welcoming is I’m saying, “Let’s drop the medical model. This is a universal problem.” There are 45 million people in Ukraine. The World Health Organization says 10 million people are going to have major depressive disorder, so many people are going to have post-traumatic stress disorder. Why not look at 45 million people who’ve gone through this incredibly hellacious traumatic experience and let’s create opportunities and rituals for everybody to heal themselves and understand that it’s possible.
It’s coming out of a medical model, which tends not only to be particularly effective, but also very isolating. One of the things that’s most important about healing trauma is having some sense of connection to other people and looking for and finding some meaning and purpose in our lives. That doesn’t come out of the medical model very easily, whereas it comes out of an educational and a public health model. We have to shift the way we look at things and what we as physicians are offering.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, I think that’s really true. We are so focused on a medicalization of mental illness and of our psychological issues, that it sort of prevents people from actually facing them and dealing with them, owning them. I think one of the most important teachings that you have, and it’s embedded in your work, is that we don’t have to continue to live in the effects of the trauma that we’ve experienced throughout our lives. That we can actually change that. Changing that is key not only to our psychological health, but also to our physical health.
I think I’d love you to talk for a minute about the implications of this trauma and how it manifests for people and how would they notice? Because I could tell you that I did not, until very recently, self-identify as someone who had any trauma in my life. But I realized as I began to look at the things that were challenges for me, at the relationship challenges, at life challenges, overworking or workaholism, or whatever I was struggling with, that the origins were actually quite deep. I really committed to working on these and to healing them and to looking at it and to shifting. I’d love to have you share how this manifests for people, how do they recognize it and how do they begin to start to heal these things for themselves?

Dr. James Gordon:
Sadly, or simply realistically, it usually comes just as you described it. Something is causing you pain right now. Trauma is a Greek word that means wound. You’re experiencing a wound in the present and you’re wondering, “What can I do about this?” Then the next question is, “Where did this come from? Why is this…” I think the first thing is to pay attention to those areas of our lives that are causing us trouble, that are either causing us distress or sometimes causing other people distress and they’re shouting to us to pay attention. What is going on if I’m being overbearing with other people? Am I going to keep on arguing about whether or not it’s their fault or my fault?
Or am I going to look at the fact that, well, maybe that came from something that was in my childhood and maybe this is something that’s working in me and maybe I need to address it. I think that’s where we begin. Then the approach that I’ve adopted over all these years is really a meditative approach and saying, by which I don’t mean anything fancy or anything that has to do with a particular religion. I mean, simply being aware moment to moment of what’s happening and paying attention to what I see. As well as using techniques of meditation to bring me into physiological and psychological balance. So we begin all of our meetings at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine by meditating, by doing a few minutes of slow, deep, soft building breathing, so we’re not ready to shout at each other.
“Everybody’s got to respect my opinion.” “No, be quiet, relax, listen to other people as they’re speaking.” If we put ourselves in that frame of mind, we’re able to listen more openly and more sympathetically to the difficulties that we have. Instead of trying to pretend that it’s not there, we’re willing to allow those pains, whether they’re past pains or present pains, allow them to surface. Then as we’re able to use the tools and techniques that I and others teach, the tools and techniques I teach in transforming trauma, we can use our imagination to say, “Okay, I’m, let’s say I’m overbearing. What do I do about that?” Well, I can use guided mental imagery.
I can ask that part of my mind that knows the answer, the part that doesn’t yet know the answer can say, “Okay.” You can even call it a wise guide. You go into a relaxed state and you allow a guide to appear to you. Say it’s Desmond Tutu, or an eagle, or a flower. Then you have a dialogue and you say, “Okay, flower, you’re there. What do I do about being so overbearing?” The flower says, “Well, what you have to do is open up, open your arms up a little more and be a little more embracing of other people, because these are people that you’re talking to.” I just did that right now, and it’s good advice for me. I do get overbearing. I need to open up to the people. Or maybe I do a drawing. We do a set of drawings.
Draw yourself, draw yourself with your biggest problem and draw yourself with your problem solved. It is amazing what people come up with. This will be the first time that I meet with them. We all have this capacity, but we haven’t been educated to use this capacity to either know ourselves or mobilize our intuition or unconsciousness. It’s there in all of us. We just need to have an understanding that there is the possibility of healing trauma. There’s the possibility that we have the answers within ourselves, and then we need to learn techniques to use, to access those answers.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Sometimes it’s important to look at the beliefs and how we’ve developed our beliefs about how to be in the world. I recently was reflecting on one of my behaviors that I struggle with most of my life, which is the trouble saying no. The sort of trouble with over-pleasing people, by not wanting to upset them. I kind of know where this came from, but I think there’s this sort of fight or flight response, which people really are very aware of. Then there’s the freeze response, which is another kind of playing possum, which many of us do. But I think there’s a fourth manifestation of trauma, which is a fight, flight, freeze, and fawn response, which I’ve recently been reading about.
Fawning is basically people pleasing and not being able to say no, because the consequences of saying the truth feel life threatening. For me, it did, as a child, when my stepfather would be upset, when I would say something that he didn’t like, whether it was that I didn’t take out the garbage, or whatever it was, that I didn’t wash my hands after I went to the bathroom. I mean, he literally grabbed me. When I was seven years old, I took a soup pan, because we didn’t have garbage disposals in the sinks back in the day and my mom’s like flushing the soup down the toilet. I did and I came out of the bathroom and he asked me if I washed my hands.
He went into a rage and he picked me up and he threw me against the wall, screamed at me. I was this tiny little boy. I’m 6’3″ now, but I was like a little kid. I was really little. It just shook me to my core and got wired into my nervous system in a way that made it really clear to me, it wasn’t safe to tell the truth. It wasn’t safe to disappoint people or to upset people. I had to do whatever I could to prevent that. I even see that still showing up, even though I’ve worked on it for years, I still see it showing up. These embedded patterns are so deep and they’re so powerful that it takes a lot of work to work through them.
The techniques of meditation, of journaling, of drawing, of breathing, of maybe even things like group support and talking about these things in settings that sort of normalizes it and makes it not so much that we’re doing this all on our own. I mean, we all share this common experience of being human and having these traumatic experiences. I don’t even know if there are other ways that are merging around the psychedelic therapies and MDMA. I think all of these are tools that we can use to start to heal this embedded trauma and then create a more understanding and connected and more whole society, which we certainly are not in right now.

Dr. James Gordon:
What have you come to? How are you going to deal with these people?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s a process of different things. It’s trying to deeply understand how it shows up and being able to witness it and notice it without judgment. It’s around understanding my physiological response, how it feels in my body at the time when this happens to me. I mean, someone sends an email to me about wanting something from me or asking help and I’m just sort of overloaded, my schedule’s full, and I get this stress response, because I don’t want to disappoint them or upset them and say, “No, I can’t do this for you,” or, “No, I can’t have this meeting,” or, “No, I can’t do this call,” or no…
I manage it by trying to be more aware and to try to realize that this is something that is not serving me or the people in my life. It’s not aligned with the values I have. I think it’s definitely gotten way better. I think I still have more work to do, but I think, I’m open to suggestions, Jim. I know this is [inaudible 00:48:14]-

Dr. James Gordon:
Well, you know what I suggest, is when that happens-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
… but we can talk about it.

Dr. James Gordon:
When it happens, try this shaking and dancing for a few minutes.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Dr. James Gordon:
Then, do the thing the with the wise guide, the thing I just did for myself with being overbearing, because sometimes am. My staff tells me, “You’re pushing us too hard. Just because you do this, you want everyone.” The answer to me came just in that moment when I was talking, which is open my arms to them as human beings. Now, the challenge is to remember that every time. I think in those few seconds, the insight that comes to me is the vital one.
That what is more important than my wanting to get something done or achieve something is to treat the other person as fully human. I think there may be little keys in there for you as well and for all of us as we look at this and then we have to, as we access, what is our, call it whatever you want, higher power, wise guide, imagination, what is it telling you to do? Do it for a moment now. When you get this feeling of wanting to please, what else, get some advice from whoever comes to you as a guide.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s a powerful exercise and I feel like the message is really clear. It’s just that you’re not serving yourself or them by doing that. I can let go of that behavior and not have to do that anymore.

Dr. James Gordon:
Find out what it is. I might guess that it’d be great to get up when you feel that, get up and not just shake and dance, but yell and scream. Get it out.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, no, I never had permission to be upset when I was a kid. Never. It was very clear. It’s all coming together. Thanks, Jim. I’ll send you the check for the psych consult after.

Dr. James Gordon:
I think the thing is, we can do these things. This is part of it. You’re not going to hurt anyone. You’re doing this for yourself, you’re doing this and we all have our issues and we all need to find a safe place where we can deal with them and then it can change. It can. I know sometimes it takes a lot of time, but not always. Sometimes change happens very fast.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What are you seeing in the Ukrainians, for example? Or what did you see when you were working with the Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza where just these are really intractable levels of stress and trauma. What were the outcomes you started to see with the groups you work with? Because it’s clear you’ve developed these techniques that the people seem to be using them. But tell us about some of the stories of transformation that you’ve seen, whether it’s there or even working with veterans and PTSD.

Dr. James Gordon:
I mean, you mentioned veterans, and I’ll talk about Gaza in a moment. I was doing a workshop for a group of veterans and we were talking about fight, flight, freeze response. I got these guys, they happened to be all guys. No, not all guys. There were a few women and mostly guys. I got everybody up shaking and dancing, and I explained that the shaking and dancing will help to break up the freeze response, help to mount bodies that have shut down to protect themselves. Once we finished, we did it for about 10 minutes. This guy, big, tall Marine said, “I realized I’ve been frozen for 12 years and since I was in Iraq, the image came to me as we were shaking and dancing, that there were two little kids who were bleeding out. I knew first aid, I knew what I should do to put tourniquets on, but I froze and I couldn’t do it. In some ways,” he said, “I’ve been frozen ever since, not being able to get close to other people.” He said, “Now, he said, “maybe now, I can use this shaking and dancing as a tool to help me, so that I can be unfrozen.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Dr. James Gordon:
Quicker story. I mean, that’s just one meeting with this guy. I don’t know if I have a follow up. I do have a follow up on a little girl and anyone who wants to can look at the CMBM website and there’s a, CBS 60 Minutes filmed us, filmed me and filmed this little girl in Gaza a few years ago. She was in a group with seven other kids, all of whose fathers had been killed in the 2014 war between
Hamas and Israel. All these kids had lost their fathers. When she drew in her first, the first session of a nine session group, she drew herself with her biggest problem, which was her father was dead, her two uncles were dead, her aunt was dead, her home was destroyed, her school was destroyed, her neighborhood was leveled. The solution to her problem, which is usually fairly positive in the drawings, for her, it was to be in the grave with her father.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow.

Dr. James Gordon:
She said, “There’s nothing for me in this life. The only thing that is a good thing to do is for me to be with my father in the grave.” She did the techniques that we teach in a group that was led not by me or you, not by a physician or a psychologist, but was led by a school teacher. She was in nine sessions with these seven other kids. At the end of the group, she did another set of drawings. This time she drew herself, instead of drawing herself as a little tiny figure off in the middle of this damage that had been done to the whole family and the whole neighborhood, she drew herself as a big girl with flowing curls.
There was an arrow coming out of her chest and it came through her heart. In the heart was written, “I love nature.” The arrow was headed for this beautiful tree with blossoms in it. When she drew where she was going to get, which was sort of the equivalent of the problem solved, instead of being in the grave with her father, she was standing up in a white coat with a stethoscope in her [inaudible 00:54:46], and on a table in front of her, there was somebody lying down. I said, “What’s going on?” People can see Scott Pelley saying it on 60 Minutes, “What’s going on?” She said, “Well, I’m a doctor, I’m a heart doctor.” In Gaza, after this war, so many people’s hearts have been hurt.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, wow.

Dr. James Gordon:
Scott Pelley and I both said to her, “Well, who are these other people?” Who were standing by the table. She said, “Oh, those are my other patients. They’re waiting for me.” She went from being this girl who was ready to die, and this is six months after the war, to being, after nine sessions of self-discovery and using these imaginative and expressive self care techniques, she discovered for herself a way to move through and beyond the trauma. It wasn’t that she stopped being sad. She told me how much she still missed her father, and she was wearing purple socks that he’d given her, but she was grieving. She was no longer frozen and shut down by her trauma. I have a follow up. A few years later, she’s now getting ready to go to medical school.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Amazing. She’s going to be a doctor. That’s crazy.

Dr. James Gordon:
She’s actually going to be an oncologist, because people in Gaza have very high rates of cancer and some of her family members have had cancer. She shifted. At nine years old, she wanted to be a heart doctor. Now, she has a better sense. She wants to be an oncologist.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Incredible.

Dr. James Gordon:
That’s possible. That’s possible for us, that kind of transformation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s quite amazing, Jim. Your work is so amazing and you’re very humble and brave. The work you’re doing by going to these places where literally bombs are falling and violence is happening and your own life is at risk, is quite inspiring. I remember the amount of trauma I experienced after I came back from Haiti and the nightmares I had and a degree of PTSD. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling having just been there and seeing this and having been there multiple times over the last number of months that the war’s been going on. How are you taking care of yourself in all this?

Dr. James Gordon:
Well, that’s what we have. We have to take care of ourselves. Right now, I’m a bit run down from my, I just got back a few days ago from Ukraine and I have to take it a little bit easy right now. I have to practice what I preach. [inaudible 00:57:14]-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Breathing and shaking and dancing.

Dr. James Gordon:
The other night, I was talking with a friend and all of a sudden I was talking about some of what happened in Ukraine and I started crying. I hadn’t cried. Tears have come to my eyes. Interestingly, my eyes got inflamed in and around my eyes, and I think those are the unshed tears. Part of my healing from the vicarious trauma.
I was not in, I mean, there were bombs falling, but they weren’t real close to me and I wasn’t on the front lines, but it was mostly not so much the threat to me, but the overwhelming pain that people were experiencing. Now, part of my healing is being willing to feel that pain and to cry and to let myself mourn for the losses that people have experienced there in Ukraine. That’s part of my self-healing. Aside from getting more rest, and eating in a healthy way, and being with friends, and hanging out with my son. We do have to take care of ourselves as well.
In fact, there’s no way to help other people heal from their trauma, if you’re going to teach them how to understand and help themselves, unless you’re doing it yourself. Part of our work, the beginning of our work, when we’re training people, we say, “Look, we know you’re dealing with a traumatized population. We know people are suffering greatly, but deal with your own suffering, with your own trauma first. That’s what we’re going to teach you. Use these techniques for yourself and then we’ll teach you how to use them with other people.” It always begins with us, which is where? From the Bible, “Physician heal thyself.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Exactly.

Dr. James Gordon:
Yes.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Exactly. Well, Jim, thank you so much for your work in the world, for what you do, for helping us understand that there’s a way out of the suffering and the trauma that we’ve experienced and that there is a new foundation for healing this possible by thinking about trauma in a different way, by learning different tools and practices that can help us heal both ourselves and each other. I encourage people to check out Jim’s work on the Center for Mind-Body Medicine website, cmbm.org.
You can contribute there if you like, and are inspired to help him with his work. It’s pretty important work. I don’t know of anybody else who just runs into the fire. It’s like when there’s a burning building, he runs inside. It’s always very inspiring. Check out Jim’s book, Transforming Trauma, it’s a path to hope and healing. It really provides a roadmap for people to start to begin to heal their own trauma and to heal our collective trauma. Thanks so much, Jim, for your work and for what you do, and for being an inspirational friend for me for many decades. Godspeed.

Dr. James Gordon:
Thank you, Mark. We want to invite those who are watching us if they want to become part of this work. We are a healing community. We want you to be part of our community. Thank you for all your contributions to our community as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thanks, Jim. If you’ve been inspired by this podcast, please share it with your friends and family. Leave a comment, How have you experienced trauma? How have you helped heal your own trauma and those in your community? We’d really love to hear that. Hopefully we’ll see you next week at The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Outro:
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their Find a Practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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