Nicole LePera, a.k.a. “The Holistic Psychologist”, spent years disconnected and disassociated from her truth. (“I was away on a spaceship,” she told me on today’s Dear Gabby.) 

Afraid to speak out freely for fear of what others would say or think, “I fell into a pattern of watering down my truth,” she said.

But when Nicole got real—really real, as her 5.3 million Instagram followers have seen—something miraculous happened. 

Her shame melted away. She regulated her nervous system. And she learned how to embrace new habits to embody the changes she craved. 

On today’s episode of the Dear Gabby podcast, Nicole and I will empower you to do the same. 

I am so psyched to share this Big Talk with you! In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The most effective way to form healthy new habits … and make them stick (Nicole calls this the “two stages of change,” and she breaks down each stage with actionable takeaways) 
  • The *real* reason we feel shame (it’s NOT because you did anything wrong) 
  • The first step to letting your shame melt away (this is a gentle exercise, and I’ll guide you through it step-by-step) 
  • How trauma from previous generations can get imprinted onto your DNA and affect your behavior (as a descendant of Holocaust survivors, I have felt this deeply) 
  • 3 proven ways to settle your nervous system when you’re feeling triggered

How to Self-Soothe When You’re Feeling Triggered

There are a ton of triggers in the world right now. Women’s reproductive rights have been taken away. There’s a war in Ukraine. The effects of the pandemic are lingering… the list of triggers goes on and on.  

When all of us are living in such a triggered state, how can we “do the work” on ourselves?

Nicole offers three simple techniques for regulating the nervous system in a moment of heightened emotion or upset. I love these gentle exercises, and I want to share them with you here. 

You can also hear Nicole lead you through these steps on Dear Gabby today.

1. Become Curious About Your Feelings and Sensations

Many of us have habitual responses to triggers that we might not even be aware of. The next time you find yourself yelling, or disassociating, or doing whatever it is that you do when you’re upset, just take a beat. 

Get curious. 

Be the gentle witness of your own emotions. 

Your trigger contains valuable information, so open yourself to receiving whatever it is that your emotions are trying to tell you. 

Ask yourself, What am I feeling? And, What feels unsafe about this situation?

Don’t judge your answers. Just witness them.  

2. Embody a New Choice

After gently witnessing your triggers, you can choose to do something different in the moment. Instead of reverting to your habitual response to a trigger, consider some of these self-soothing techniques.

Gabby Bernstein photo - escape fight fright or freeze mode
  • Tune in to your environment and explore it through your five senses. What can you smell, what can you touch, what can you taste, hear and see? 
  • You can also soothe your nervous system by playing with your pet. “Pets can be incredibly regulating,” Nicole said. (Shout-out to my cats Jimi Blue and Lilly!)

Be gentle with yourself as you work to embody new choices when you’re feeling triggered. 

This takes practice because our brain is often hardwired to dive back into that old fear response. 

This is why step 3 is crucial:

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Even in the moments when you’re not feeling triggered, practice some of the self-soothing techniques I mentioned above. Practice them consistently, so they become habits. 

“Little by little, we can learn how to regulate ourselves before the cap blows off,” Nicole said.

A Gift of Hope

Deep in my trauma recovery, I didn’t know yet that there was a way out of pain, trauma and patterns that hold us back.

I’ll admit it: I went through periods where I thought, I don’t know if I can ever get through this. 

But there is a way out. I can promise you that.

And I want to offer today’s Big Talk as a gift of hope for you. I hope this episode serves you greatly.


The following are helpful resources and books I mention in the episode: 

On today’s episode of the Dear Gabby podcast we are joined by Nicole LePera, who’s known as “The Holistic Psychologist” on Instagram. In her SelfHealers Circle, Nicole facilitates self-led healing journeys, opening space for people to escape old patterns and create real change. Make sure to check out her new book, How to Do the Work.

Want even more support?

I created the Miracle Membership to help you design a spiritual practice you can stick to—so you can feel connected, supported and inspired every day. Each week I deliver brand new workshops, guided meditations, and community connection, along with a different challenge each quarter. Plus, it’s easy to access on your phone, computer or tablet. Click here to join.

In today’s Dear Gabby I mention my new book, Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace. In this book, I share my story of trauma recovery, along with several exercises for self-soothing. It is my mission to get this book into as many hands as possible. If you’ve read it, I hope you’ll share your copy with a friend or get them the audiobook. And if you’ve yet to take the guided path toward inner peace, this is your heartfelt invitation to take the journey with me. I’ll meet you on page one. 

For more on soothing your children (and yourself), listen to this Dear Gabby Big Talk with Dr. Becky.

You can also find tips for parenting your child and your inner child on this Dear Gabby Big Talk with Dan Siegel.

In today’s episode I also talk about attachment styles. To hear more about what attachment styles are, when they form, and how your attachment style affects your behavior, check out this episode of Dear Gabby

If you feel you need additional support, please refer to this list of mental health resources. I’m proud of you for being here. 

This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey toward inner peace. I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from any psychological  or medical conditions, please seek help from  a qualified health professional.


The following podcast is a Dear Media production. Hi there, Gabby here, this podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey towards inner peace. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do no...

The following podcast is a Dear Media production. Hi there, Gabby here, this podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey towards inner peace. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from a psychological or medical condition, please seek help from a qualified health professional.

GABBY: Hey there. Welcome to Dear Gabby. I’m your host Gabby Bernstein. And if you landed here, it is absolutely no accident. It means that you’re ready to feel good and manifest a life beyond your wildest dreams. Let’s get started.

Before we jump into the episode, I wanna share something super cool with you. I have created a way for you to listen to the introduction, to my new book, Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace. You can listen to the intro for free at This is such a nice opportunity for you to get a taste of what the book’s about and hear my voice and see if it’s for you. See if this is your moment. See if this is your book. Go to

Welcome back to Dear Gabby. Today is one of those selfish, Big Talk days. This is one of my favorite, favorite ways to connect with my friends is having these big talks on the show. I get to pick out the people in the world that I love, that I admire, that I think are so damn cool and have conversations with them.

Big talk, no small talk. On today’s episode of Dear Gabby. My big talk is with the one and only holistic psychologist, Nicole Lepara. Nicole takes clinical psychological concepts, and she makes them really easy to digest. This is her superpower. If you haven’t found her on Instagram, you’re going to flip out when you head to her Instagram account, because she’s always helping people with tips on settling your nervous system or confronting shame or embracing new habits to create lasting change.

And, you know, that’s what we talk about here on the show. That’s everything that we stand for here on Dear Gabby. So I’m really excited to share this big talk with you. In this episode, you’ll learn the most effective way to form healthy new habits and make them stick. Nicole calls this the Two Stages of Change.

You’ll also learn the real reason we feel shame. And it’s not because you did anything. You’ll learn the first step to letting your shame melt away. This is a gentle exercise and I’ll guide you through it. Step by step. We’ll also be talking about how trauma from previous generations can get imprinted onto our DNA and affect our behavior, and three proven methods to settle your nervous system when you’re feeling triggered.

Today’s big talk conversation is really, really cool. If you like the topics I talk about on this show, you’re not gonna wanna miss this. Dive in now. Enjoy Nicole. Enjoy our conversation. No small talk, only big talk.

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GABBY: This is my friend, Nicole Lepera. You guys know her, you know, her, you know, her as the holistic psychologist, she is just an extraordinary voice on Instagram. And that’s actually how I found you originally. I’m sure that’s how many people have found you because you’ve very bravely put yourself out there. And you’ve also been this expert voice in a very simplified lexicon because so much of the clinical psychological work that is so valuable to the average person, not necessarily somebody who is a therapist, but to the average human is so hard to digest when it is spoken of in these clinical terms or in a way that’s over someone’s head and you’ve done just this extraordinary job of demystifying these principles to help people more clearly understand what the fuck they’re going through.

So I just wanna just start there because this stuff is so big, but it’s also so valuable as someone who is not a psychologist and has been in the patient seat, right? Who’s been in treatment for many years and has spoken very openly about that. The more I learn about psychology, the more effective it is for me and my own practice.

In your book, How to Do the Work, you really do just that you really demystify it. You bring it to a baseline that’s easy for us to understand so that we can actually do the work.

So let, let’s just start there, you know, like what is holistic psychology? What does that even mean?

NICOLE: Well, I, I appreciate all of that kindness and I couldn’t agree more Gabby. I obviously–I’ve met your work well before. Um, we connected on Instagram and I was very gleeful when you and I ended up following each other, you ended up following me, I should say, I’m just such a fan of you and your work.

And so thank you, I believe. And I’m holding the vision actually that we do cross paths in human forms. So we can have that hang out. I know it’s gonna happen very soon.


NICOLE: Okay. Um, and I appreciate hearing you say kind of the understandable nature. And a little background joke aside because for a very long time, Lolli, my partner would joke with me and would say, I speak Shakespearean, that was her language.

And I understand what she was saying. You know, there is this kind of clinical speak and the longer, of course, you go to school and you’re, you know, indoctrinated in this way of thinking and then communicating. I had that myself. And so her language was I speak Shakespearean and over time I really, you know, understood how important it is to speak in ways that make these concepts not only understandable but practically applicable.

And to answer your question, holistically to me means really incorporating our whole being. We have a body, we have a mind, we have a soul, an essence, whatever the name, it is an energy that makes us uniquely us. And the reality of it is the ways that we’re struggling, the ways that we’re stuck, the habits that aren’t serving us and for a lot of us, the symptoms and the diagnoses that, you know, we have wrapped around our identity are in my opinion at least, symptoms of underlying survival adaptations, ways of being that were for many of us, the only way that we could survive or keep ourselves safe in our, in earliest environment.

So when I understood working with very aware humans in my private practice, having been on both sides of the couch, having been in my own therapy, trying to address my longstanding anxiety. Then of course opening up my practice and logging hour after hour with clients week after week, very insightful humans.

We were aware a lot of the times where our habits came from yet, what I kept finding and the word I kept hearing time and time again is I’m still so stuck. I can’t break my habits. I have a new plan of action. And for whatever reason, I get swept away in my emotion. I become completely dysregulated and I’m doing the same things I always do. Why?

So for me, it was really curiosity and disempowerment seeing that same pattern Gabby in my own life, having so much awareness, and knowledge, and not being able to cross that bridge into action. And that’s when I began to understand that we do need to incorporate a whole-body approach. We do need to start making embodying new choices every day or we will continue to repeat those, those habits and patterns that live in that autopilot that’s alive in all of our subconscious minds.

GABBY: Right? It’s about those subtle shifts. If it’s, if you’re in the commitment to the daily subtle shifts, that’s when you can have that holistic experience, rather than it can feel like a huge uphill battle.

If you kind of, you know, put it into this big vision of, okay, how am I gonna get there? I gotta go to therapy once a week, but what’s that gonna do? And it’s applying. Simple steps in a holistic way. I think that’s when, for me, when therapy really clicked when I was safe enough in my system to start to just be in the moment with these practices.

NICOLE: Yes. And there’s actually, there’s a reason why we actually, our subconscious prefers the familiarity of our habits. So to speak to your point, when we try to change our life from top to bottom, as a lot of us do from a well-intentioned, oftentimes deep, dark hole, where we can’t imagine life going on the same.

So, you know, we might make a, an intention or a commitment to change life, to start with, you know, five new habits starting tomorrow. And that, because any new direction, any new choice is going to register to our subconscious mind as unfamiliar. And according to our subconscious mind. In that uncertainty of the unfamiliar could be something that’s threatening.

That’s almost worse than the habit and pattern I’m familiar with for lack of a better word. So there’s value. And that’s a reason why then we seek to stay. So to speak to your point, it is actually through the gradual, because what we’re looking to do is. Consistently keep these new small promises, understanding that any new gesture, anything new we do will feel uncomfortable.

So of course, if we lay on five new discomforts starting tomorrow, then chances are we’re gonna overwhelm our system and be right back in those old habits.

GABBY: I love exactly what you’re saying, because in my language, as having been trained in IFS, we need to honor the protector parts, the habits that have been really, really, really, uh, repeated and built up for decades and decades as for what they are in the moment, right? So it’s like, if you have a controlling pattern and you just immediately stop controlling, you’re gonna relapse. If you’re an alcoholic and you just decide to white-knuckle it, you’re gonna relapse because that pattern actually is a form of protection. And this actually brings me to such a, a big topic, which is the topic of shame.

And in your book, you have such a beautiful sort of analysis of shame and you write: “Feeling shamed is a threatening, fearful experience without realizing it. Every time we experience shame, it sends the message that I am not safe to the nervous system that threat ignites a sympathetic charge. That can be more than our nervous system can tolerate. At this point, the parasympathetic nervous system tries to contain the charge. This can present like a freeze response, but underneath that freeze resides a tremendous amount of emotional energy in the form of fear, vulnerability, defensiveness, and sadness.”

What I love about this just to unpack it is that we have this shame that’s so impermissible, and then we have this nervous system response, right? That thread ignites a sympathetic charge, a charge, and it can be more than our nervous system can handle. So we’re charging and it’s almost like we truncate the charge, right? We push it down. The parasympathetic nervous system is trying to contain it and that can put us into a frozen place.

Frozen also in these forms of protection, right? Frozen is a form of protection or all the ways that we try to numb that charge.

NICOLE: Yeah, absolutely. I think what you’re hitting on here and what this is really illustrating is the reality that we all, regardless of how connected we are or not to it live. As energy in an energetic body mm-hmm and to really simplify what emotions are, you know, of course, they complicate our life for many of us though, emotions if we really boil them down in their simplest form, emotions are sensations that happen in our body. And they’re actually incredibly valuable sensations because there our body’s energy interacting with our environment and the sensations that we then feel at this point of interaction. Give us information namely around.

Is this a safe environment for me that I can proceed, expand, you know, settle into receive, or is there a possible threat? Um, in, in which case I need to, you know, divert my action and deal with the threat for survival purposes. The large majority of us in childhood have these same emotions available to us yet we are in a complete state of dependency, our nervous system in particular. And I’m sure maybe many listeners have heard human nervous systems are humans being referred to as interpersonal creatures or sometimes the language is wired to connect. All of this again is really simplifying or highlighting the fact that our nervous system is always seeking to co-regulate with our environment around us and in infancy when we are incredibly dysregulated or incredibly overwhelmed and dependent, I should say we become dysregulated overwhelmed, and then we need someone to help us.

The large majority of us who didn’t have an attuned caregiver, right. Who didn’t have someone to show up when we were distressed, crying out, you know, and to identify or explore with us, what need we were having? Are we hungry? Are we tired? Or we are upset or distressed having an agitated emotion and then help us bring us back into safety.

When that didn’t happen consistently, we go into survival mode. We adapt, we do all of these. Our nervous system finds a way to deal with that overwhelm. So for me, what that looked like as I think very similarly it did for you. We detached from our bodies. We dissociate, we might numb right through behaviors, endless achievement or substance use, or many other different things.

Again, going back to the reality that our feelings, just because we’re suppressing them, we’re denying them, we’re not tending to them doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. So feelings and emotions get constricted in us. And sometimes that constriction is our best attempt at keeping ourselves safe. If we can minimize the emotional impact or the felt emotional impact, right?

Cause I’m away on my spaceship. Now I feel a bit safer to proceed. Again, that doesn’t mean that that emotional charge still isn’t present. And it is present for a lot of us

GABBY: And it shows up in subconscious ways. It shows up in our jaw, it shows up in our hips. It shows up in our gastro issues, migraine sleep issues, all of it.

I wanna take a moment out of our show to talk about something that’s really important to me. And that’s my physical activity. My workout method is really simple. I move my body in some way every day, that simple commitment really takes the pressure off and I believe it’s progress. Not perfection. I truly believe that you don’t need to kill yourself every single day to be fit.

In fact, pushing yourself over the top really can be detrimental. I’m 42 years old. Now I’m not trying to push myself to a point where I can’t walk the next day. And the EVLO method was designed by Dr. Shannon Ritchey, a doctor of physical therapy who is proving that no pain, no gain fitness mindset is just not necessary.

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Now, let’s talk a little bit about the origins of shame, because, so we’re talking about a shame response and then building up all these different ways of numbing, that initial response. But the shame is actually important for us as children because it creates the need to be bonded to the parent. Like if, if, you know, if the parent walks away, the shame response is to go run after the parent.

But to your point, if that shame is intended to, if that response isn’t cared for, with the co-regulating parent, then we’re gonna, we’re gonna find all these other ways to protect ourselves from feeling that shame. In the moment, now let’s say you are just for the first time listening and you’re like, oh, wow, shame may be what’s behind my addiction. What’s the first step into getting into the safely, getting into the inquiry and the curiosity behind the shame?

NICOLE: Yeah. So to go back and to speak to your point, we need those relationships because we’re so dependent. We need to stay bonded to the best of our ability so that someone cares enough—quote unquote—loves us enough to continue, right? To meet our needs. And yet again, like I described earlier, we all have this ‘usness’ inside of us, right? These desires, these ideas, you see it very clear in most children, they’ll say what’s on their mind. They’ll dance around; they’ll express themselves. And when we didn’t have a safe environment or an attuned caregiver who could hold that space for that self-expression. So to go back to one of your examples, the reason why mom or dad or whomever the caregiver was might have left the room might have been based on something we were doing. We, we might be crying. We might, you know, be looking for support in some way. And if we don’t have a caregiver that’s equipped enough in navigating their own emotions, they might take leave for whatever reason.

Where shame comes into play because developmentally we don’t have the maturity to understand all of the different reasons. Why mom or dad or caregiver, whomever might not be able to tolerate us in our state of need right now, the only… Because all of our brains, even from infancy on seek to make meaning, um, as, again, as a drive for survival, the quicker we can understand an event that’s happening to us the quicker we can deal with it if we need to.

So we all have these little meaning-making brains, and again, lacking the developmental maturity to understand that, you know, maybe mom or dad didn’t have an emotionally-attuned parent. So when we cry, they’re completely overwhelmed with how they feel about it. So they take leave to create safety for themselves.

The only—one of the only narratives that our developmentally immature brain can assign is something that’s based in us. It’s because of something we’re doing or not doing. And the more consistently that happens. So say it is around sadness. You come and you express sadness to your parent. And again, they continue to divert their attention away or not be available to help you process your sadness before long that part of you, isn’t gonna feel safe to continue to express because your parent/caregiver left every time you did that.

So now you feel like, okay, this is a part of me that’s not desirable. It’s shameful. This is a part of me that I can’t continue to show the world because the impact on the world is someone leaves me. I get abandoned when I’m in this state of being. So then we internalize this belief and for some of us, we throw a lot in this grab bag of parts of me, parts in terms of parts work included that aren’t acceptable, that are shameful.

And then we continue again to repress. So as we’re going, you know, as on the healing journey, we have to understand that that’s part of ourself still, even if we stopped expressing this sadness or this way of being this artistic expression, maybe even just stop sharing our ideas doesn’t mean that, that energy go back and right, going back to that, Charge doesn’t mean that, that essence, that part of ourself is gone. It’s still there.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: So becoming aware, um, becoming a conscious witness, as I often talk about, um, of these aspects of ourselves, of our repression, of the places of our life that we’re shameful about and the way that we can begin to observe. In real-time, you know, do you see yourself speaking your thoughts freely?

Do you see yourself as comfortable and safe to share your emotions? Do you see yourself able to connect with and express your desires or your wants, or are there certain or all of your relationships where it just doesn’t feel safe or you don’t feel worthy enough to have that space or to be heard or to be seen in that way?

And then that becomes that, that point of exploration and for a lot of us understanding, even, even hearing maybe a talk like this, understanding that the reason we might feel shameful isn’t connected to something that we are lacking or that we express, you know, very readily, it’s connected to these earliest environments and experiences.

So it’s not that we are unworthy. We definitely have a deep-rooted belief. And now all of these behaviors to protect us from feeling unworthy, though, we’re not unworthy. And for a lot of us that allows us to work with our shame, which really just simply means observe it. Understand it, and then over time that gifts us with the opportunity to make a new choice, maybe to just show a little more of yourself in this safe container and this safe relationship.

GABBY: Right. And what I love, what you that you said was the conscious witness. I often would say like the nonjudgmental witness, right? To just be in this place of curiosity and compassion towards, and this conscious witnessing of these patterns, cuz sometimes we, most of the time and this was the case for me. I couldn’t identify shame no fucking way, but I could see, okay, well I’m definitely a control freak, and I’m definitely an addict in recovery, you know?

And I could see all the patterns. And so sometimes the first place to, to, to be the conscious witness is simply just witnessing the habits or patterns or in my case, I call them parts as in IFS. And so just seeing these protective parts of ourselves that are in these habitual ways, that may be too extreme.

And so just gently become, we’re saying the same thing in different ways, but just becoming curious about those parts of ourselves and just being in the inquiry, you know, I, I love the, um, in IFS, there’s a practice of saying, what do I notice? You know, how do I notice… in that moment when the controllers present?

What do I notice about it? Is there a shape in my body or a feeling or some kind of sensation or image that comes to mind? What do I know about it? Right. So that’s the, I know it’s a girl. I know she’s young. I know she’s pissed, you know, I know she really needs to be heard and seen just whatever I know.

And then what does she need? She needs to speak up for herself. That’s often what I hear. She needs, to calm down and then write a letter or she needs to just go for a walk or she needs to play is often what they need. Right? So being in that sort of gentle inquiry of these habitual, uh, hardcore habits, um, is, is a first step melting away that shame freeze, right?

Because the habits almost just correct me if I’m wrong, Nicole, but the habits almost keep us stuck in the freeze.

NICOLE: Yes. The habit. It’s the behaviors. It’s how we’re embodying, right? That system, that whole system, even if we, you know, are only caught in our thoughts and we completely, you know, diminish the body’s role, or maybe you’re someone who doesn’t believe in this kind of spiritual entity doesn’t mean that that’s, that’s not all present.

It absolutely is. And I really appreciate you speaking to the point that a lot of our journeys begin. First with witnessing our habits, especially if you’re someone like myself who lived half of your life away on a spaceship.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: It took me a very long time when people would ask me how I feel. And especially as a clinical psychologist, you think I should have, right? Talk about language and a vocabulary, I should have this great feelings vocabulary, and be able to give a very nuanced version of what I feel. And I couldn’t even tell you, I either felt stressed, fine or not fine. Those were my language is around emotions. Again, all of this goes back to how much time that I spent in connection with my body to get to become curious, to get to know.

I know I didn’t have a caregiver that was helping me along that process. So. I spent little to no time connected. So a lot of us aren’t gonna be able to, to drill down and we might even hear people speaking or sharing words, like shame, guilt, you know, these deeper feelings and not really be able to map them on to our experience and to speak to your point, the behaviors, you know, a lot of times are sending those continue to send those older messages to our mind and our body.

GABBY: Right.

NICOLE: So if we grew up in a space that was unsafe, and if we’re continuing to live in a dysregulated nervous system, maybe a lot of our habits aren’t regulating, we probably aren’t sleeping well. That’s one of the first things that goes out the window or in our nervous system is dysregulated. We might not be eating nutritionally, dense foods. We might be eating foods that are actually causing some dysregulation in our bodies. Starting with the habit, starting with what are the things that I’m doing every day and are they helping my nervous system create safety or, or create regulation or helping me create regulation in my nervous system, or are the things I’m doing continuing to keep me locked in my fight or flight or freeze mode.

And a lot of us daily, not even…unbeknownst to us, not even aware of the impact that some of these environmental or lifestyle choices that we’re making are having are continuing again to send our body those messages that we actually are as unsafe as we once were.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: Even if we’re not in our objective environment around us.

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GABBY: There are so many places I wanna go with this, but I, I do wanna really emphasize that this is why I love your work so much, which is that the more we understand what’s happening in some ways, I mean, this may not be for everybody, but I really can speak for myself. The more I educated myself on what was happening from a brain perspective, from a biological perspective, from a shame response perspective, the more I understood one, the more compassionate I could be towards myself. Because I could say, oh, I’m not a piece of shit. I’m not inadequate. I’m not unlovable. I have a shame response that I’m completely activated in, in all these different moments.

Even understanding more about my attachment style, which we’ve talked about. I’ve talked about that on this. We had a whole episode on this, on this show and we have an attachment quiz that people can go to, but understanding what your attachment style is, is also really telling from the standpoint of, oh, okay, this is the type of upbringing I had. And obviously, this is why I am who I am. And in a way, it makes us just feel like a little textbook, which is, which is kind of awesome because we’re not such, we don’t see ourselves as like this unique unicorn who’s totally fucked up, but we’re actually, you know, textbook.

NICOLE: I’m laughing and there’s so much truth in that Gabby. You don’t know how many times, whether. You know, people are picking up how to do the work or hearing blips of my story. And it happens all the time in, in our global membership to self-healer circle. I’ll share something that, you know, is this knowing and, and I’ll get, you know, inundated with relief.
From people having heard an aspect of their journey that they maybe never even shared with anyone because they were too shameful to, to admit the reality, hearing someone else. And then, of course, having a large community, as I do seeing oftentimes many other people in the comments resonating. And if you ask me, that’s how that account, my account, the holistic psychologist grew as it did.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: I used it as a platform for me first and foremost, to begin to share my story. To speak my truth. After having come from a personal history and pattern of not doing that, of watering down my truth based on worry, fear, what will people say or think, and having that same fear validated in my profession, having been told for the seven-plus years that I was in training, not to be a human, don’t share my story.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: I mean, the internet was vilified. Um, when the first therapists, including myself, started to go on and use social media platforms, we were looked at as pariahs and not to do that. Um, but to speak to your point, it’s in our story, it’s in us, empowering ourselves through maybe the shame that we once, you know, worried that we were so unique and I truly believe, and I, I will speak this till the end of time that no matter. And, and we do have at the self healers and. In my community and also in my, membership, a global community.

So I’m gonna speak this with a pretty big sample, of individuals from around the globe. We’re more similar than we are different. Mm-hmm um, and again, if you ask me when we are so hyperfocused on our differences, a lot of times just. Part and parcel of this conversation. That’s connected again in this dysregulation and the safety that we once felt right in having this division between humans.

But if you ask me, um, we all have things that we’re shameful of. We all have aspects of ourselves that we don’t feel comfortable yet to express. And the large majority of us at this point are beginning to awaken to become right, the non, the objective witness to see this aspect and having, um, making new choices around how we are expressing and telling our stories, as I believe, um, one of the major ways that we are able to see and highlight this similarity.

GABBY: Yeah, I guess to that point, wondering what your thoughts are on this. But I, as you know, I wrote this book about trauma and I’ve been out talking about my own trauma journey and pretty much just very openly and unapologetically just expressing that. I think all people are traumatized, you know, whether it be big T or small t trauma, but you know, that’s like a pretty blanket statement, but I really do believe it because we’ve all had experiences of shame and that shame creates a trauma response as we shared earlier. So, so are you in agreement with me on that? That we’re all we all have trauma.

NICOLE: I could not agree more. And the simple sole fact in my opinion is that we are all humans raised by other humans. Um, we are all epigenetically impacted, which means the life of the lifetime of the generations that come before us are actually imprinted in our genetics in the way that, our DNA or our genes express itself and are passed on through generations. So even looking back in all of the listeners’ family lineages, right environments have changed. I mean, we’ve our civilization, as humanity has gone through really difficult, you know, kind of periods of conflict of trauma of stress. That, again, even if you’re several generations down the lineage doesn’t mean that that impact isn’t in your blood, in your bones in the way that your cells are epigenetically expressing themselves. So. We are all then not only…

GABBY: Holocaust survivor lineage right here, right? Yes.

NICOLE: Not only, not only just, the genetics of it right now. We have the actual environment how equipped, and I know my parents coming from an older generation, my dad being second generation Italian from a, you know, a poor Italian village. There was a lot of focus. My parents were born in 37 and 40 right around after the depression.

There was a lot of financial instability and I’m sharing that because a lot of older generations were of the belief that emotions there’s no emotional need that children have, or that I need to tend to, or even if I did think I, you know, had an idea that emotions existed, I might be so caught in my own survival mode that even a very well-intentioned parent might not have had their own resources available to them to show up again in, in this attuned way to care for the children around them.

GABBY: Yeah.

NICOLE: So yes, the simple answer is I believe we are all carrying the after effects and some of us are still living in a very dysregulated, unsafe, traumatizing environment. So I, I have yet to meet a human, a unicorn as I call them who, you know, is regulated to that deep degree. I just don’t think it happens again. Cause we’re all humans raising humans coming through generations of impact.

GABBY: The good news is, is when you do the work, you can reprocess those impermissible feelings and emotions that need care.


GABBY: And, you know, so I, that’s why I think you and I are just, you know, such sisters in this mission of just in, in our own unique ways, just sharing that there is a way out. And I remember deep in my trauma recovery. I didn’t know yet that there was a way out. I knew I was gonna go as far as I had to go and continue to for the rest of my life to experience that freedom. But I, I did go through periods where I was like is, I don’t know if I can ever.

Get through this. I wanna honor that for the listener as well. Just drive this home a little bit more and get my selfish question in there. So a close family member yesterday said to my husband and I, I won’t name names said, I have a question for you about, you know, your parenting style. And we were like, oh fuck.

And they said, when Oliver gets, so have a three-year-old, as you know, when Oliver gets, you know, so, so worked up, why don’t you just walk away from him? And my, like my, my, my jaw dropped and I was like, and, and I explained that I was like, we, we practice this different type of parenting where we are there to be present with his big feelings and emotions and contain him in a smaller space so he doesn’t flip his shit and, you know, just be present with him completely. Was very like confident in my response. And so I felt good about that reaction and response. And I also felt really great about the type of parenting that my husband and I have chosen to do, but there’s a lot of talk these days about overly gently parenting, like, like the overdoing the gentle parenting.

And so that’s sort of. The balance that I kind of wanna hear from you just my own personal, and I’m sure this will benefit a lot of the listeners that, you know, how can we be super committed to our children’s emotional state and attuned to their emotional state and be a, a steady force of co-regulation for them.

But at the same time, have those really strong boundaries and be the, be the boss still. Right?

NICOLE: Absolutely. And I think you, you spoke the word very beautifully there, Gabby, which is boundaries, being a space, a safe space for co-regulation still and having a boundary right around that still allows… And actually, the boundary is necessary for the parent, oftentimes to stay regulated. Still allows separation right between the child Oliver’s side, that’s upset and the parent who’s able to remain in that safe state of the nervous system activation, the parasympathetic. If however, there is a lacking of boundaries and the parent feels responsible for taking the feeling away and making the child feel better removing right the issue where the problem at hand as a lot of, kind of the quote-unquote helicopter parents.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: Um, often do, I don’t know if that’s technically what the definition of gentle parenting is, but that’s the concept that flows to mind but so. I’d be interested in gentle parenting, and how it is exactly defined.

But I think that there can be blurred boundaries where there’s a responsibility assumed, um, by the parent to make the child feel better, to, to remove the cause of, of the the problem or the stress. And that’s actually really problematic because we need to be resilient. What resilience means is able to tolerate stress and stress includes any emotion we might feel.

Anytime we kind of fall off that equilibrium, or we’re not in that very safe space of the parasympathetic, we are, you know, distressed and to, to, to navigate life as a human, we need to have that increasing ability to be stressed. And then to before, you know, long come back into that safe space. So allowing our kids to have their feelings, to not prevent them by solving all the problems around them or by taking, you know, the issue away to allowing them to sit in that state of dysregulation safely because we’re safe. So that we know that before long, the whole system will return. And the unconscious learning is so important for the child. Cause not only is their nervous system now learning that flexibility, right? It was stressed and now it, it through help has returned.

The subconscious message that is sent, the more consistently that happens is, is one of confidence of empowerment. It’s this little idea that the child now gets it. You know what? I can feel big emotions.

GABBY: Totally.

NICOLE: Like you just said, right. And find my way through them. Maybe with the help of supportive others. And maybe over time, I can learn ways to self- soothe and every time it’s avoided or we have a problem-solving parent that happens the more consistently that message is just the opposite. I can’t deal with this. I need someone outside of me to fix or to take my problems, or I need the environment to be a specific way. Yeah. Right. So that I don’t get upset in the first place.

GABBY: That’s right. That’s actually what I wanted to lean into, cuz I think first of all, this was so valuable and, and if anyone’s really interested in the parenting stuff, you should go back and listen to our episode with Dr. Becky…she’s just the back best. Oh. And then we also have, um, Dan Siegel and Dan, Dan gave some great advice in our show, but, but what I do wanna really emphasize is that. This, um, the idea of in many cases these days. So there’s the old school parenting of like, you know, walk away or just fix it for them or whatever that is. Right. Uh, and then in, and then there’s the helicopter parenting of like fix, fix, fix, and just make everything right for them.

The choice I’ve made is to be present with his feelings and emotions and to hold him in that completely. And then there’s just this other boundary, I think, which is not necessarily an energetic boundary, because I don’t feel that my energy is meant to fix his energy. I feel that my steadiness is allows him the space to fully process and resiliently come through.

So I hold that space for him. But what I do find is that he’s a single child. He will be, that’s the commitment we’ve now made. Well, God made that for us and I just, I, I mainly just wanna have the boundaries around him not being the boss baby cause you can be really gentle and you can be like, oh, I wanna hold you in your emotions and I wanna be there.

But then you were like, you know, up at three o’clock in the morning and he’s like, I want my toy. I want my water. I want my, you know what I mean? And so it’s sort of this balance of like, don’t walk away, but also don’t like, just give in.

NICOLE: I think, you know, too, there, there are definitely developmental, um, ages where having those wants and expressing, like, I just want this and I want it now.

And I don’t want anything, except that is actually really developmentally necessary for, for children. Cause it often happens at a time where they’ve just, you know, over, you know, the development, they, they’re just coming to the awareness. They are a person. They have a self. Yeah. Right. Yeah. And that self is different.

And a lot of times they like to flex that difference, that separation to emphasize, and it looks like controlling behaviors, boss baby, you know, diva type stuff.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: But again, it’s developmentally necessary because putting such a hard separation. No, mom, I don’t want that. I want this. For that sense of self is the beginnings of difference, of creating that space.

I love how you kind of kept weaving that word in because I actually that’s what relationships are about. You know, we have this idea of love and meeting people’s needs and showing up in service. I believe that love is holding space for people’s self-expression for our partners, our loved ones, our children’s needs to be identified and met.

And there’s actually incredible value. In difference in differentiation and having that space between a child who has different wants, needs, desires than the parent. Um, if we had a homogenous society, we wouldn’t be, we wouldn’t have evolved as we did, right. Having division of labor, having people of different gifts, having people of different opinions, I wanna express them differently, allows us to, I believe, kind of enter a, a, a more universal, um, intelligence.

GABBY: Beautiful. Yeah, exactly.

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GABBY: Well, my last question is related to the work doing how, How to Do the Work, which is Nicole’s book. I actually love this subtitle. Recognize your patterns, heal from your past, and create yourself. I just love clear subtitles so much. Uh, so what I wanna ask is right now, there’s a shitload of triggers, right? So there’s like reproductive health being completely taken from us. And this was the trigger around being a woman and not having rights. Right? The triggers of war. If you have that sort of, for me, I can speak like the ancestral story of the Holocaust and then seeing what’s happening in the Ukraine. If you, you know, the, the triggers of COVID, there’s just so many, there always have been, but there are very heightened and elevated, particularly right now.

What would be the best piece of advice from the book or just in general? That someone could do you know how to do the work in with their triggers in this time that we’re living in? Something that would be a simple takeaway for our listeners?

NICOLE: Yeah, absolutely. Very interestingly, it kind of comes full circle to understand that when we’re having a trigger or an emotion, right?

When we’re saying we’re triggered, usually we’re having an emotion, we feel, you know, whatever it is, we feel some version of upset that, that emotion just like I described them. Right. Space in our body, they belong to us. Right? The emotion we’re having. Yes, it’s in connection to an event that’s happening.

Something someone said did or didn’t do though when the emotion’s happening in our body and when we’re activated, that’s actually information for us that indicates that there is something deeper that’s going on. There is a feeling, a similar experience, right, that resulted in a deeper feeling that we’ve revisited time and time again.

And typically then, the way we react from the trigger becomes very habitual as well. We tend to do the same sort of thing. So like you were saying earlier, follow the behavioral pattern. When I’m yelling and screaming. When I’m dissociating, that’s the time to come to the awareness that, oh, I’ve been triggered–something’s happening.

So the first thing that I wanna offer listeners is the suggestion to become curious around our triggers, as overwhelming as they might be. Again, they contain valuable information. They are indicating some degree of how we’re experiencing our environment. And typically when we’re triggered, they’re indicating that we’re experiencing or we’re perceiving something as unsafe. Now, again, that that can allow us to explore for ourselves. What is it, you know, what are we feeling? What’s feeling unsafe?

However, there’s another important suggestion that I wanna offer outside of the curiosity. Cause I think that’s a, you know, an action and like, observation, like we’ve been talking about the witnessing the self-understanding, and let’s be honest, that goes so far because we’re still triggered. Our body is still reacting.

And we’re sometimes when yelling that trigger you, can’t completely dissociated and, you know, dysregulated and uncomfortable, and maybe we’re actually causing harm to ourself or the environment around us. So as important as the insight piece is, and very interestingly we’ve been talking about the two stages of change, at least as I say it insight kind of, that’s been peppered all through our conversation awareness, being this conscious witness. So again, all of this applies when we’re, when we’re activated, when we’re triggered, really being curious, exploring what is coming up, it is something deeper.

And then allowing us the second stage of, of changing as well, which is beginning to embody a new choice, um, to do something different in that moment. And the best new choice that we can set or the most foundational I should say. Cause it is foundational. A new choice is creating a new habit of finding safety in that moment.

Right? So for some of us that might be through tuning into our breath, learning how to harness the intentional act of breathing in a calm way. I love to shout out the deep belly breath, cuz it’s something we can do anytime without anyone even noticing. Learning how to breathe really deeply and calmly and evenly from your belly will help activate that parasympathetic nervous system. For others it might be really tuning into our senses, right? Naming things in the environment, focusing on what can I touch? What can I taste? Maybe we even have an object that helps us feel safe that we…or maybe it’s our pet. Pets can be incredibly regulating. I shout out to, to Jimi Blue, right?

GABBY: Jimi Blue!

NICOLE: Maybe it’s it’s something then that we can help us along the way find safety.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: And I say that’s foundational because without that safety, without that ability to be in that parasympathetic state, we can’t think of new things, we have no access. We’re actually in an emotional part of our brain that is so hardwired that this is why back to those clients that I would see week after week coming in with like, oh, I did it again.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: When you did it again, you had no access to that conscious part of your brain to remind you that you have this very beautiful tool to create safety. So we really need to practice. This is my, my diatribe of getting to the final suggestion. So we have curiosity, we have learning how to regulate our body, and then we have the suggestion that I make that everyone loves to hate.

Practicing so consistently outside of those moments when you really need it so that when that moment happens, you can help yourself. You can help yourself remember this beautiful new tool you have. And I’m speaking to all of us who like myself, right? We don’t, we don’t have the consistent habit of maybe breathwork or of conscious grounding through our senses so that we’re really setting ourself… We’re doing ourself a disservice. We’re asking ourself to remember something in a very emotionally dysregulated time. That’s going to be near impossible.

GABBY: Mm-hmm.

NICOLE: So the more we practice, the more confident we then get. So that little by little, we can learn how to regulate ourself before the, the cap blows.

GABBY: Yeah. And the more, uh, uh, sense of, uh, proof that we have, that it works. In a sense. And, and also in some ways, those practices become so nourishing to us, like a heart hold or a belly breath, or even just, just, you know, a box breath, all the things that we can do to regulate in the moment becomes.

So, uh, when you practice them regular, they almost become something that you crave. I found myself at times just being like the second I put on binaural music and do a heart hold my whole, my whole system is just like, thank you. It’s like, it’s like getting a massage. And I really wanna emphasize that you have made such a commitment to us to guide us with this very easy to digest psychological lexicon for giving us the work and how to do the work and being our cheerleader. Truly. For our own personal wellbeing.

It’s just, it’s just so beautiful to witness. And I’m also really proud of you for, for kind of going against the grain in that clinical world, because it’s not easy.

NICOLE: Thank you. And, and it, it truly Gabby, you know, was my own journey, you know, like to speak to your point after giving yourself those heart hold or those belly breaths, you, you crave it.

It really does take practicing and giving yourself that new experience to even be able to have the contrast. Some of us don’t even have the idea that there’s change possible. And the reason why I’m so impassioned about the work that I do and so committed to, you know, speaking in understandable ways and giving these tools outside of even, you know, buying the book or, or being a member for free accessible across all of my platforms is coming from my own journey of change, my own journey of disbelief, where I began didn’t think any of these things were possible. I imagined I was just gonna continue to be a stressed-out, disconnected unfulfilled person for the rest of my life. It was really until I walked this path and I was my own proof like you said.

Um, and it really does take. Becoming our own proof, creating small changes along the way that you can tune back in. And now you give yourself a choice. Hmm. When I do these things, I feel this way. When I don’t do these things, I feel this way. Now you’re empowering yourself with choice and that’s why I’ll remain committed to speaking about my journey to speaking about these tools and to hopefully continuing to do so in a way that really does allow anyone wherever you are access to not only this information, but to the how-to, to cross that bridge to actually embody change. Cuz I believe this is how we change as a collective.

I think this is how our systems change. I think we really change as the humans that inhabit them become a whole connected and cooperative being that I think we all are at our core.

GABBY: Couldn’t agree more. I’ll close out with my favorite AA slogan: It works if you work it. And, and keep working it, people. Thank you for being here on Dear Gabby.

Thank you, my friend, Nicole. I adore you. Thank you. And everybody go follow the holistic psychologist and get the wisdom. Get the book, How to Do the Work. Follow Nicole. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, my dear.

If you made it to the end of this episode, that means you’re truly committed to miracles. I’m really proud of you. If you wanna get more Gabby, tune in every Monday for a new episode. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the guidance or special bonus episodes.

Your experience of this show means a lot to me. So I really wanna welcome you to leave an honest review and you can follow me on social media at @GabbyBernstein. And if you wanna get in on the action, sign up for a chance to be Dear Gabby’d live at See you next week.

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