Dr. Shelley Uram, a triple board-certified psychiatrist and Senior Fellow at The Meadows, was recently a guest on The Dr. Drew podcast.
The podcast is hosted by Dr. Drew Pinsky, a board-certified internist and addiction medicine specialist who is well known for his work both as a physician and as a TV and radio personality. On The Dr. Drew podcast, he takes listener calls and talks to experts on a variety of topics relating to health, relationships, sex, and addiction.
He and Dr. Uram had a fascinating and in-depth conversation about the ubiquity of relational trauma in today’s society, how trauma impacts the brain and body, and treatment modalities like mindfulness, yoga, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing, and 12-step frameworks.
Here are a few highlights from the show:
On The Prevalence of Trauma in Our Culture
Dr. Drew: What are you seeing with trauma these days?
Dr. Uram: There’s a lot of stress and strain and what I call relational trauma that’s inherent to modern American culture… It often leads to addiction, trauma, and depression.
The ACEs study showed us that when we’re children and we’re exposed to the stresses and strains of family and psychological traumas— “soft” traumas that are really not soft—they go on to create all kinds of psychological problems, medical problems, heart problems, lower socioeconomic levels, and more. So, those traumas we are exposed to as children and may not even recognize as traumas can go on to wreak havoc in the body, the brain, and the mind… I see that a lot.
On Unhealthy Relationship Patterns
Dr. Drew: People with traumas often seem to be magically attracted to the kinds of people who have features or qualities similar to the perpetrators of those traumas. And, of course, if you are drawn to a perpetrator they will oblige you and re-perpetrate. Where is your sense of where that’s coming from?
Dr. Uram: There’s a part of the brain called the brain stem, which is located physically at the lowest level of the brain and is evolutionally hundreds of millions of years of years old. Since it’s so ancient it doesn’t have sophisticated wiring. In addition to homeostasis, procedural memory is one of its functions. Procedural memories are habits or patterns that get locked into our brains. Every single function of the brain stem, including procedural memories, is unconscious. So, when patterns get locked in there, we are no longer aware of them. It’s like learning to tie your shoes. At first, it took a lot of effort, but once you got it, you could do it without thinking. So, how to tie your shoes is a procedural memory.
Procedural memories are also made up of any types of patterns that we picked up from our formative years, mainly birth to age five. They can be simple motor activities, like tying your shoes, or they can be tied in with strong emotions, fears, and expectations. Once something gets registered as a procedural memory, we’re off to the races. We’re going to keep repeating procedures related to those early emotions and all we can do is notice it. We have little to no control.
Another rule of thumb with the ancient brain areas like the brain stem is that they like for us to stay in the zone of comfort. Even if we consciously hate the zone of comfort we end up staying with it. So, for a woman who has been abused as a child and ends up in abusive relationships as an adult over and over and over—She may hate that she does that, but to her ancient survival brain areas, that’s the zone of comfort. That’s what it knows. It knows abuse. It knows neglect. It knows perpetrators…
Dr. Drew: Some people can trust their so-called instincts, but if you’ve had trauma… No. Or if you find that you repeat behavior you don’t like, or repeating circumstances you don’t like or relationships you don’t like—that’s when you can’t trust your instincts.
Dr. Uram: The real wisdom that we all have deep inside of us tends to be a very quiet voice—most of us don’t hear it all. But the voice of addiction, the voice of trauma, and the Fight, Flight, Freeze voice screams at us… By the time most of are three months old, our thinking brain has started to come online and we have our first dawning sense of “Oh, there’s a me.” That triggers our flight, fight, freeze survival responses like crazy. Especially if we are exposed to trauma, the survival voices are screaming loud voices inside our heads. They make us forget entirely how to listen to the quiet voice inside of us that contains our sixth sense and our wisdom.
On The Essential Self
Dr. Uram: We all have a soul—an essential self that we are born with and die with. It gives us our inherent sense of worth, and our wisdom, and our sense of peace and happiness—real, deep happiness… By the time we are young adults, most of us have long forgotten who we really are, because layer upon layer of false beliefs, expectations, symptoms, and negative feelings have built around our essence. We have to learn how to reclaim the essential self—How to get back down to that essential self and connect with it.
Learn more about The Essential Self and Trauma
Listen to the entire, hour-long podcast for more of Dr. Uram’s conversation with Dr. Drew. They go into more depth about the essential self, building interpersonal relationships, and the implications of trauma and the ACEs study.
Dr. Uram’s book, Essential Living: A Guide to Having Happiness and Peace by Reclaiming Your Essential Self is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com. It will be available April 4 wherever books are sold.