The Self-Connection Podcast: S1 E 15: A “Zap” of insight with Laura Dodson

Laura Dodson, a former student and eventual colleague of Virginia Satir joins the podcast today. Laura shares her wisdom through the telling of her own healing journey of shame and describes her experience working with Virginia and her own family of origin issues as essential to healing and finding peace. I found my conversation with Laura to be deeply enriching and hope that her passion, heart and wisdom shine through in this podcast.

0:00 Tim provides a brief introduction to Laura Dodson. Laura did her first training with Virginia in 1963 Laura Dodson was a close friend of Virginia Satir and was by her side as she died of Pancreatic cancer in 1988.

In addition to her extensive training with Virginia, Laura is also a Jungian analyst and did her postdoctoral thesis integrating Virginia’s work with Carl Jung with her insights.

Laura is one of the key leaders in sharing Virginia’s work with the world. She has travelled to many parts of hte world including, Russia, Lithuania, and Thailand to offer training and workshops and has been doing so since the 80s.

2:50 Laura does a meditation:

6:00 Tim offers a brief commentary to transition into the conversation between himself and Laura.

7:23 Tim asks Laura to share her own experiences of “Zap” . Laura shares about her early experiences of being a teacher and quickly transitioning to becoming a social worker as she was more interested in connecting to the inner lives of her students and family life and supporting growth at a deeper level. In this way, her life parallels Virginia as they both connected to their students' families to help support them with their learning. Laura wrote letters to the top family therapist of the time and Virginia was the only one to respond inviting her to train with her and offering something for her mind, body and soul.

12:20 Laura talks about her first impressions of Virginia. She was present and expressive of what she felt and thought and Laura found this to be very exciting. She listened carefully to others. Laura worked in an adult inpatient mental health facility and she invited Virginia to come to teach, do demonstrations, and train the staff there two or three times a year over nine years.

16:50 In this work, the emphasis was with families and creating community and the demonstrated successful outcomes over 5 year follow up.

18:10 Laura shares that Virginia had a deep respect for others and did not allow for any blaming or shaming to occur in her work. Laura learned from Virginia to see the problem as one of coping not as one of pathology residing within a specific person which would foretell blame and shame. The intervention at the level of family and community created a sense of community around the problems that were occurring and the presenting problems could then resolve or lessen as a result of working in this way, that is, systemically.

19:22 Understanding logically the futility of blame and understanding family of origin issues, and approaching emotional and family life from a stance of learned patterns and behaviors. Laura talks about Virginia's preparation in meeting a family, putting aside her concerns and agenda so she can be present and meet the individuals of the family with a sense of awe at the miracles they each are. She differentiated between peoples behavior from their essence. “We are all miracles. And I feel I am about to meet a miracle. So I feel respect and awe of that person. “ From that attitude, she would make contact and often physical touch contact to meet people. She wanted to join the family to explore what was happening and to explore choices of what other things could happen.

Virginia approached people with a detective hat (sometimes literally!) , which symbolized an attitude of curiosity rather than blame. Virginia talked about blame being our first attempts at trying to understand what's happening and we don’t have in our minds a broader way of looking at it. Seeing people and situations beyond blame is central to understanding how Virginia worked.

Laura shares her view that people’s intention and goals is not to hurt, unless its revenge for the hurt that they feel they’ve experienced. Revenge is not inherent in our nature but rather a reaction to pain.

24:40 Tim asks how Virginia was able to have such confidence in the essence of people beyond their behavior and patterns. Virginia talked about each person have the seed of creativity within us. A problem is a block in energy. We are geared towards growth.

26:00 Laura provides an example of someone suffering with Schizophrenia saying "people in this family never liked me|". Virginia would thank them for sharing and ask when they first felt that. They would go into the past and that’s when the creative energy started to be blocked, the energy to solve problems was blocked because the solution or formulation is somehow they are ‘wrong, bad, dirty, evil, stupid or crazy’. Virginia would explore how differences were handled and talked about. Were they labelled as "bad". Then she would offer a new perspective, “What if we called your difference your uniqueness?” She worked to take blame and shame out of the conversation. Shame is particularly difficult because with shame we feel we should just disappear and not exist. She worked to help people see themselves as she saw them, as a miracle of life.

27:42 Tim asks what Laura’s experience of Zap. Laura describes growing up feeling shame about her body being tall and very thin. Laura was different in being attracted to people’s emotional life which was very unlike those in her family. Laura recalls noticing tension in the family and taking on the blame and responsibility for that. “It’s because of me. I did something wrong. I’m not loveable anymore. It must be my fault.”

31:55 Laura recalls Virginia doing a sculpt with Fritz Perls (the founder of Gestalt therapy) role-playing her father and sitting his lap. Virginia said to her “You know something more happened to you when you were 5, something more than having long legs. You need to go find out.”

Laura questioned her mother and finally found out that her father had an affair. Laura realized that what was happening in the family was not her fault. She explains that she felt relief. This was one example of a Zap moment for her.

36:00 Laura shares that she had learned that shame was a reaction to anything wrong. She expanded her possibilities of how to react when something was wrong; beyond what a child would do, thinking “It’s all my fault” Realizing that she was not the center of the universe as a child would think.

Laura shares that her defence of pulling back and not talking, not being seen, was rooted in the shame of “I’m not ok” Before her work with Virginia, she couldn’t become a woman and integrate her sensual side.

39:50 Shame disconnects us from our Self, or Life force. We can apply the ideas of unravelling shame to healing from cultural trauma. Laura talks about her work in Lithuania as an experience of a nation experiencing shame. “Healing of shame applies to all systems.”

45:25 We talk about Virginia's incorporation of the body, breath, movement. Tim asks Laura to share what she learned from Virginia about the importance of the body in the work of growth and healing. Laura relates her experience of Virginia dying and having an insight of what to do that came from meditation that was preverbal and body-based.

49:20 Laura also shares another experience training with Virginia working with a woman who was in a car accident and walks us through the bodywork that occurred in her process of healing. “Leading by following a half a step behind.” is how Laura likes to work and how she witnessed Virginia working. She helped to help make conscious that is unconscious and almost conscious. She recalls Virginia stroking her hands and asking “if your hands could speak what would they say” so that she could come to her senses more and more.

There is a relief when you can place in time and space the feeling tone that you carry within a particular context. Laura describes this as comforting and making sense of her pain. “To become familiar with that part of life that she had repressed”

Virginia was very mindful not to interrupt the individual's process and encouraged her to experience her experience for herself. She was present to help Jackie find what her body was remembering. There is an art to staying out of the way and being a guide. Laura describes the importance of creating that bond between therapist and client before being able to go deep into bodywork or any healing process.

58:50 Laura talks about how thrilling it can be to have a partner doing the work together and not getting in the way of it. Laura describes Freud's use of the couch with the patient lying down and facing away from the therapist as a way of doing this but analysts were not trained to show they care and to bond and to journey together was not present in Laura’s experience of analysis of the time.

1:00:00 We talk about the connection at the level of Self being the essential ingredient to transformation. That an overemphasis on method and technique can lose sight of this.

1:01:30 We talk about the use of touch in therapy. Tim appreciates Virginia's use of the whole body and Self in therapy and Virginia’s fearlessness in doing so. Laura talks about the important risk a therapist must take to speak the unspeakable, to bring to light what is felt but not yet said. The risks that a therapist takes an important ingredient according to Laura of what makes the work therapeutic and not just a casual conversation. To make the hypothesizing together and not needing to be right is an important part of being able to grow and learn in relationships.

The Self-Connection Podcast: S1 E 14: Evolving Consciousness through Congruence

In today’s episode, Tim and Sharon explore the importance of evolving consciousness and what this growing process looks like. Evolving consciousness for each individual is a growing capacity to account for themselves, others and their environment with truth, compassion, curiosity and harmony. It is a never ending process of growing and learning, which seems to benefit from the differentiation of Self and ego.

The Self-Connection Podcast: S1 E 13: Feelings as Resources

Show notes:

What are feelings? Why are they so tricky and difficult to cope with sometimes? 

Sharon and Tim explore some definitions of feelings as it relates to Virginia Satir’s experiential model and we explore ways of relating to and coping with feelings that are healthy, constructive and positive.  The healthy relating to and coping with feelings seems to require at least three elements: self-connection, responsibility for the emotions, and relating to those feelings with an appreciation for their underlying resource and wisdom. 

0:00 meditation connecting to feelings building awareness 

5:00  We begin exploring definitions of feelings, how we work with them personally and professionally. Sharon talks about the idea of ‘listening profoundly’ where you listen from your heart your spirit and your presence that says “I’m here for you and I’m not making any judgments’. I’m working to understand you and I accept you. “ Listening to feelings allow feelings to expand and elaborate and increases their capacity for growth. Feelings are energy. 

12:00 Sharon describes that there are feelings about feelings and that there are primary and secondary emotions. 

14:45 Emotions are an aspect of experience or consciousness that we try to discuss independently albeit artificially so that we can try to come to understand what is unique and distinct about feelings. “Feelings fire first” They are fast and could be tied to unconscious and implicit beliefs.  We feel emotions based on a particular way of thinking and physical sensation. Emotions are preverbal. These patterns of relating were established based on family or origin become recurring emotional patterns throughout life. 


16:17 We acknowledge that there are cultural or family rules that resist the experience of feelings and talking about feelings. Virginia talked about emotions being the ‘juice of life’. 

17:10 Emotions put us into motivation. Our emotions both positive and negative are resources that help us being fully motivated in life.   

The way that we utilize the energy of emotions requires us to use resources like intelligence, compassion, wisdom, honesty and awareness.  

18:20 “To be disconnected from our emotions is to be disconnected from the life within us. It would be the same as being cut off from oxygen.” Being stuck in emotional states creates behavioural and relational patterns that leave us rigid and unfulfilled. 

19:20 Violence can stem from the identification with another person’s behaviour being a comment on a person’s worthiness.  Not being served well at a restaurant. I can feel unworthy and it doesn’t mean that I am worthy. 

20:00 the way that our emotions are related to by others when we are young becomes the way that we relate to our own emotions later on.  We learn as a child which emotions are forbidden and we can either suppress them or project them, but any emotions that are forbidden can not be processed in a healthy way.   

21:00 when we relate to our emotional experience positively, lovingly, constructively then we open up new possibilities that create deeper connections and creativity.  

22:00 Sharon describes 4 primary emotions and an additional 2.  These are angry, fears, sadness and joy.  You could add shame and excitement as other primary emotions based on the research on primary emotions.

23:00 We discuss the importance of just being able to be with emotions without trying to change or get rid of it immediately. To be with emotions in this way we need to make a few decisions about what we believe to be true:

  1. I am responsible for creating and maintaining my emotions.

  2. It’s to appreciate the resource and wisdom of the emotional response and responses that occurred and are occurring.

  3. I can relate to my emotions openly, constructively if I am rooted and connected to myself. (That I am worthy) not that if I feel bad, that I bad.

27:45 Without the connection to our emotions and it’s honest expression to those we care about, intimacy can not take place.  The difficult, negative emotions are challenging and the initial temptation is to avoid them and not talk about them, but when we are in touch with our higher goals of genuine connection and the valuing of our relationships; feeling the feelings and conversations about them can result in a greater connection. 

29:28  The root of the word encourage has to do with courage and the courage to express what is deep in your heart. Some people believe that feeling vulnerable emotions makes a person weak so they hide from that, but the opposite is true. Expressing vulnerability is an expression of courage and strength. 

31:45 Courage, truthfulness, love and awareness are meta-resources and values that help us process, move through and transform our emotions. 

32:50 You can not change the event, but you can change the impact that is occurring inside of you. 

33:30 we discuss the inevitable occurrence of loss, trauma and death which will erupt negative and difficult emotions. We are all capable of building our resource to contain these experiences, to express the emotions and our ability to ask for help. 

The Self-Connection Podcast: S1 E 12 : Choices as Resources part 2

Today we continued our conversation about choice and hinted at a future topic of integration. Our choicemaking evolves from our ability to be aware and awareness requires a connection to what we feel, what we are needing and yearning for, awareness of others feelings and needs and the ability to differentiate between Self and role within each person. If we can communicate from the basis of our Self we can make whatever constructive criticisms about our roles and functions that are needed. 

The Self-Connection Podcast: S1 E 11 : Choices as Resources

This episode was inspired by a quote from Virginia Satir that is: “Your ability to create is based on your ability to choose.” Virginia focused on helping people become choicemakers, which means people who could be aware of themselves and make conscious growth-oriented choices that were positively directed towards themselves, others and their environment. Sharon and Tim talk about the importance of choosing to engage in conversations that involve the whole Self as an important means of coping and growing through difficulties. 

0:15 We start with a mediation that focuses on making choices and relaxing the body and appreciating oneself.

7:00 we begin discussing the topic for today of choices as an important resources with coping with the recent mass shootings in the United States.  

9:00 Sharon discusses Thomas Abt work related to mass shootings and his book, “Bleeding Out” In this book, Thomas Abt discusses different categories of gun violence. Sharon is about to publish a book with people who have been incarcerated and who have chosen to turn their life around. She makes the connection that there are different categories of choices. She talks about mini-choices of how we deal with events on the outside, internal choices of how a person is treating themselves moment by moment, and there are fundamental choices. In her work with and in collecting the stories of people who had turned their lives around, they made fundamental choices which seemed to have a common spiritual element that has stayed with them.

12:30 We discuss the relationship between fundamental choices and beliefs as they relate to one’s orientation to life and the nature of human beings. The beliefs we choose to hang out to can influence our actions and what we are creating in our life; whether we are oriented towards life and growth or destruction and death.

13:50 We discuss the iceberg metaphor as a way of understanding how our power to choose interacts with all levels of our experience. We can choose what we do about our experience. We can choose what we do with our perceptions, expectations, rules, etc.

15:30 We can think about making choices around the primary ways that we experience life. Some people are deeply connected to their feelings and others to their cognitions. Our dominant orientation can become the arena from which to make choices and to empower oneself

16:45 Tim discusses the importance of not identifying oneself with a particular choice at a moment in time, but rather to identify oneself with the ability, capacity, resource of being able to make choices. Thinking about choices as a resource; rather than identifying oneself with specific choices, frees us to explore and to learn and to strengthen our ability to choose. 

Choices represent the best we could do with the information, experiences and strength we had at a moment in time. The outcome of a particular choice is not the Self.

I have choices about all aspects of my experience because my experience belongs to me.  

18:15 Sharon shares that people often believe that their perceptions are facts and are not aware of the extent to which their perceptions come from an interpretation of facts/events. 

“Only when we come to a place of process with each other that we are going to be able to talk to each other.” 

This meaning only by helping each other come to an understanding of how we arrived at our perceptions and beliefs can we find peace. This dialogical process is the key. 

When we are locked into defensiveness and rigidity then we can not engage in this kind of process.  

22:40 We discuss the difference between the Whole Self and parts. Certain parts can be tied to defensive patterns related to fighting, flight and freeze which create set patterns of behaving that make it impossible to engage in dialogue with each other. The process then needs to be based on engaging in Whole Self together in communication with one another. 

24:00 Attachment in a particular worldview, perception or ideology necessitates a defensive wall psychologically or that prevents new information from coming in. 

What are the choices that people can make to help get them out of locked-in positions and engage in a healthy dialogue that moves all towards life? 

24:30 Sharon shares that she experienced going into a shame part and feeling like she wasn’t doing well with our conversation today. Sharon explained that she could feel the difference in her connection to herself when feeling shame and embarrassment, but that when she heard Tim use the phrase “Whole Self” she was able to come back and be present to the conversation and feel open and feel supported together. Sharon could give space to the part that felt shame and not let it be in the driver seat anymore. 

26:30 We discuss the importance of a safe, trusting relationship which gives us both the freedom to comment on the here and now process of our conversations and the ability for both of us to take risks. Tim shares that all these elements are different choices: the choice to comment and also a fundamental choice: how am I going to be? Am I willing to be vulnerable? To take a risk? For example, I want to be someone who can check out his and other perceptions. With these resources, we can be better equipped to work on solving problems together. 

28:15 We talk about the overarching them of Self-connection and that Sharon’s ability to connect to her experience of shame and to express it occurs because she has the wisdom to know that she is not her shame. Not being identified with it empowers her to process and cope with it. Without this wisdom, it is easy to get overwhelmed and wrapped up in identifying with shame. 

28:50 A fundamental choice is the deep inner knowing that “I am of value and matter at the level of my Whole Self” and “I can feel what I feel without becoming identified with it” 

30:00 A central theme that all human beings are confronted with is a sense of ‘Do I matter?” Sharon described her research into the characteristics common to perpetrators of mass shootings. These included: having a grievance, having family pain, seeking glory. How can we help people deal with their pain other than killing? Whether that means suicide or homicide.

33:15 We talk about the importance of containing healing the difficult emotion of anger and resentment that can result in the actions of vengeance/revenge.

34:40 When we are lost in an emotion like anger or resentment, we are likely lost in our ego or small self or a part of self and disconnected from our Whole Self. A challenging emotion like anger can also isolate individuals. 

35:57 In the face of tragedy and violence, it is challenging not to get lost in our reactive survival patterns, our limited ego, and to stay connected to our Whole Self, our wisdom. Engaging in the process of authentic dialogue and speaking from the Whole Self is an important way of coping, healing and dealing with the pain of tragedy. 

37:00 Sharon proposes that it is important for boys/men to be able to identify the feelings underneath the anger. If they are not aware that there are underlying emotions under the anger, which then limits their ability to be self-aware and to make choices to get their needs met. 

 39:30 What are the ingredients that empower someone to become a congruent choicemaker? Some beginning ideas are sense of responsibility, self-awarenesses, love, connection to Self/Will, creativity, and one’s values.