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EP014: Brian Mahan - The Wounded Healer of Trauma and Shame

episodes show notes Jul 03, 2020

Today I talk with Brian D. Mahan. He is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner. 

I wanted to talk to Brian because he is a treasure trove of information on healing trauma. Trauma is something all humans experience, but gay people and people labeled as “the other” tend to experience more than our fair share of it.

Brian is a self-described “wounded healer” who describes how we can use our bodies as a conduit to the wisdom of our intuition. Since our intuition is where the answers to happiness lives, I wanted to hear more about reclaiming our true selves. I was not disappointed.

We talked about:

  • What is Somatic Therapy?  [1:32]
  • Why deal with trauma? [17:38]
  • Sex and shame [27:07]
  • Feeling Intuition [33:47]
  • Being a wounded healer [39:57]
  • Boundaries [46:37]

Mentioned in this episode

More about Brian D: Mahan:

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Episode full transcript:

Mike Gerle  0:00  

This is the GerleMen podcast. My name is Mike Gerle, and I'm the host and founder of; a community of gay men and anyone self identified as the other designed to help you own your personal dignity, strengthen your connection with your chosen families and thrive in general society. Today I talk with Brian D. Mahan. He is a Somatic Experiencing practitioner. I wanted to talk to Brian because he is a treasure trove of information on healing trauma. And trauma is something all humans experience but gay people and people labeled as the other tend to experience more than our fair share of it. Brian is a self described wounded healer who describes how we can use our bodies as a conduit for the wisdom of our intuition. Since our intuition is where all the answers to happiness live. I wanted to hear all about reclaiming our true selves and I was not disappointed. Enjoy the show.


Mike Gerle  0:57  

The moment you realized you're a gay man You were forced onto the path of the other, so you know oppression inside now. the calling of otherness has led you on your own hero's journey. And that journey has prepared you for greatness. You were a man entering the cult of brotherhood to conscious sex into heart centered connection. Welcome home brother.

Mike Gerle  1:23  

Welcome Brian Mahan to the GerleMen podcast. Thank you for being here.


Brian Mahan  1:28  

My pleasure, Gerle Man.


Mike Gerle  1:32  

So you're a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, right? Tell me about the word somatic. And would it be in a Somatic Experiencing practitioner? How would that's different than other kinds of therapy?


Brian Mahan  1:44  

Well, first of all, thank you for questioning about because I've always thought it's a terrible name. Amazing technique, but it actually it is the perfect name because so much in Latin means body. And so the whole idea of Somatic Experiencing is experiencing the body. So Somatic Experiencing was developed by Dr. Peter Levine about 35 to 40 years ago, I think. And since then this approach to working with trauma has spread to 125 countries and 25 languages. So it's taught all over the world. And it's considered one of the foremost approaches to working with trauma. And it's also considered a short term therapy, specifically, and especially compared to traditional talk therapy. What we're looking at that differentiates it from traditional talk therapy as we focus more on the biology than the biography, the biography or the narrative someone's memory is an access point. It's the gateway into the experience of that memory and the experience of that memory is a recollection of the physiological wounding process. So anytime we have a unhealed unresolved wound, we consider that trauma, right? Another way to look at it is just from a pure biology and physiology perspective is the only thing that separates a stressful event from a traumatic one is based on the autonomic nervous system. Predominantly, we go through a sympathetic charge, right? So the sympathetic nervous system comes online. And then if it pierces the bank of toleration, whatever that may be for someone, then the parasympathetic nervous system comes in to manage it, right? So the parasympathetic nervous system, we say governs rest and digest. And it also is a major player and our early detection warning system and our survival strategies.


Mike Gerle  3:45  

You're talking about the difference between stress and trauma. And that's a physiological thing not as opposed to the mental component.


Brian Mahan  3:53  

Exactly. So if the nervous system is able to go through its normal, complete process of activation or arousal, it finds its natural peak at unwinds and then that arousal, you know what goes up must come down. So that arousal then needs to unwind and discharge from the nervous system so that the nervous system can return to homeostasis or resilience. So if that entire process is able to complete, we consider that event stressful. If that process gets interrupted in any way, we consider that about traumatic. So any two humans in the same location carrying out the same behavior at the same time can have two completely different experiences. And what it's based on is each individual's nervous system.


Mike Gerle  4:34  



Brian Mahan  4:34  

Now one of the reasons why we also look at trauma specifically as a physiological condition more than a psychological one is that we can become traumatized pre verbal, pre cognitive and pre conceptual. So if we can become traumatized before we can think and reason and put things into perspective, obviously there's another system at play, and that's the lower brain, the freeze flight, fight, fornicate and feed mechanism, right? and that governs the autonomic nervous system. So Somatic Experiencing specifically looks at that system and how it becomes dysregulated or truncated or stuck and holding patterns, and incomplete defense responses and things like that we have implicit memory and we have explicit memory. So explicit memory doesn't even come online until about 18 to 24 months, but we have implicit memory in utero, right? So the body remembers in utero, the body remembers the birth process. And the body remembers your experience on planet earth up until and including when explicit memory starts to come online.


Mike Gerle  5:41  

Wow. Well, that's, that's fascinating. So I'm really excited to talk about that. But first, I want to ask you the question that I usually asked you at the top and since you're a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, I you know, the question is, how are you feeling? It's really... our lives are better if we know how we're feeling. I'm not saying you have to be in a good mood, I'm just saying if we know where we are.


Brian Mahan  6:09  

And that's it. That's it. That's a really big question. From my perspective, we'd love you know, we talked about feeling and context of emotion, generally speaking, right? Then there's also the context of what am I feeling and how am I feeling right yeah, so there's a difference between how my body is feeling and how perhaps I'm emotionally feel they're all interrelated, right?


Brian Mahan  6:32  



Brian Mahan  6:32  

Because an emotion is nothing more than a collection of sensations, varying sensations to various degrees and various locations, right. Then we have a collection of sensations, a neuro chemicals, and micro movements and gross behaviors. So that is what an emotion is. It's just sensation, neural chemicals and behavior.


Mike Gerle  6:56  



Brian Mahan  6:56  

Right? So if we can Take an emotion and get out of the concept of it. I'm angry and get into the physiology of it. My jaw is tight. I've got a pit in my stomach, my fists feel like they want to clench. My hips are locked. Hear Me?


Mike Gerle  7:15  



Brian Mahan  7:16  

Feeling in my arms like I want to strike, right?


Mike Gerle  7:20  



Brian Mahan  7:21  

Now we're breaking down the emotion into all of its different parts. Right? Then it becomes more tolerable to feel because what we've done is gotten rid of the resistance to feeling what we feel because most of the experience of feeling anything, is our resistance to feeling it. Because our higher brain thinks if I feel something, something's wrong, and so therefore, I need to change it, I need to get out of it, or distract myself from it. Right? So by adding the inquiry of how and where am I feeling that anger in my body, we've gotten rid of the resistance because now we're leaning in and we become willing to feel it and when we can focus on one sensations, they say we have anxiety and it's a collection of let's say, five, you know, your anxiety is different than my anxiety. But you know, if we were to say, let's say my anxiety might be elevated heart rate, short, shallow breath, trembling and shaking and my hands, expression of heat, you know, out of my head, right? So I've got all these sensations that when combined together my brain conceptualizes as excited, right? Well, there's also a really interesting phenomenon. Excitement feels identical to this interpretation, right? Because we can misinterpret what we're feeling like people mistake the sensation of hunger for thirst and so they eat instead a drink, right? But if we can go back into this idea of anxiety, so now I've got these five sensations say, and if I can bring my attention awareness willingly with curiosity into one of those sensations, and just hang out with it and explore it and hold the space for the nervous system is being listened to, because it's communicating to that sensation and then it will begin to self regulate. So that sensation will start to reorganize and settle, then I move my attention to another sensation and do the same thing. Well, now I've got three sensations, not five. So it's no longer anxiety, it's something else and maybe we call that nervousness. And nervousness is a hell of a lot easier to handle than anxiety is, right?


Mike Gerle  9:18  



Brian Mahan  9:18  

And we can continue to break that down as well, until we get the client into a place of where they feel settled and relaxed, perhaps even alive and vital.


Mike Gerle  9:30  

Well, and I'm still gonna ask you how you feel. But before we get there, though, I love this whole somatic thing because I took a somatic meditation course. And it was a huge breakthrough for me to get out of that cognitive clearing your mind, you know, all of these visualizations and all this stuff in my head to noticing what is going on in my body and we did this 45 minute body scan the first time and I just walked away from that feeling It was so informative. And I also thought it was really helpful for men in sense that I think even gay men are culturally programmed to express a very limited array of feelings, but what's going on in my body, you know, was a lot more accessible. And that's what I hear you saying that we are listening to the physiological stuff that's going inside of my body. And I've just found that as a huge, huge breakthrough. And it turns out that it's connected to Buddhist traditions and a lot of other things that have been going on for like 5000 years. And it's interesting to me that this is a fairly recent issue.


Brian Mahan  10:38  

Made it into the American vernacular. Yeah, well, and it's important to recognize that most people, their bodies are nothing more than a vehicle to move their head through space. Most people's bodies are a Shop of Horrors. They don't want to feel that's there. And the higher brain says there's something wrong when we do you know, so we've been not only indoctrinated and shamed out of feeling what we're feeling, right because big boys don't cry.


Mike Gerle  11:05  



Brian Mahan  11:06  

And vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Yeah. And sadness is unacceptable and anger gets me punished, you know, so we get all of this messaging around our emotions that it's not okay to feel them. Yeah, right and so we disconnect and dissociate from them. We're disconnecting and dissociating from our bodies.


Mike Gerle  11:27  

Mm hmm. Right. So then how are you feeling? Brian?


Brian Mahan  11:33  

Fine. Yeah.


Mike Gerle  11:36  

That will be unacceptable answer.


Brian Mahan  11:40  

Now I'm feeling I'm feeling a lot of things because right before I sat down, to open up zoom and everything, I realized that my dog had peed in my office that I deal with all that so I'm a little charged from, you know, I can definitely feel that I don't really have ownership of my breath right now. I can feel how I'm managing my breaths. And so I'm trying to kind of let go around that and just let my body breathe the way it needs or wants to. But I don't want to be panting because you can't see the lower half of me here. So I just don't want there to be any confusion if I start panting. Because this is, by the way, zoom is pantsless business meetings, right? So anyway, I'm trying not to Pat, I feel excited. I'm really really and, you know, I enjoyed our conversation the other day, and looking forward to this one. And I just love talking about all of this, you know, it's why I'm a teacher and all of that I just love the work and I love sharing the work. So I'm really excited about that as well. I take a moment and just kind of really let myself settle which I should have done before joining the meeting. So now I can feel my ass in the chair, my feet on the ground, have my arms being supported by the arms of the chair and my back being supported. And so now I feel held hand I can really kind of just drop and you can hear how even my rhythm is slowing down the way that I'm talking, my voice is lowered a bit.


Mike Gerle  13:05  

I felt it, I feel more seated in my chair.


Brian Mahan  13:09  

Right? Our nervous systems resonate with one another. That's just a physiological phenomenon. Energetic resonance, right? So if we walk into a room and say, Oh my god, the energy was so sick, I could cut it with a knife. What does that mean? That means that your nervous system was in one place. And when you walked into the room, your nervous system recognized that that collective experience that was going on in that room, all of those nervous systems were in a heightened state of arousal, and your nervous system felt the difference.


Mike Gerle  13:39  

Wow. Well, with that in mind, we have a global collective experiencing happening right now. I know this is new, and I don't know if it's a fair question, but you know, what do you suspect might be the consequence of us having this collective anxiety and fear and and beyond that being deprived human touch.


Brian Mahan  14:03  

So, I did a series, I was a part of a series of webinars where me and two of my mentors reached out to healing and helping professionals. Because we want to help more people get through to the other side of this without being traumatized by it. And so the more healing and helping professionals that we can help, the greater reach we have, because then they're taking all that information to their clients as well. So the way that I look at what's going on right here from a Somatic Experiencing perspective, from a trauma perspective, there's a difference between how we may cognitively be thinking about what's happening and how our bodies may be reacting and responding to what's going on. Because from a lower brain perspective, and lower brain is without thought or perspective or reason, it can't compare and contrast that has no judgment, it's not rational. It's just animal behavior of survival. So from a lower brain perspective, we're experiencing COVID-19 as an inescapable attack from an invisible assailant, it's coupled in horror, because we're witnessing all of this happening to other people, right? unless we've gone through it personally had COVID-19 ourselves personally. And then all of that we're having to deal with in isolation. And isolation means separation. So there's a loss of boundary, there's a loss of empowerment, there's a loss of, you know, freedom. And in that separation, there's two other things happening. One is intrusion, meaning if you live with people, you're now having to deal with the intrusion, the lack of boundary, the lack of privacy, the lack of solitude, that we normally have to regulate our nervous systems. And if you're living alone, you're living in isolation. And what's the worst punishment we can put a human being through save the death penalty, solitary confinement, you know, so I went 30 Three days in complete isolation because one of my best friends is 85 years old and has OCPD. And I wanted to make sure that if anything went down, I could safely go and hang out with her or take care of her. And so for 33 days, I was in complete isolation. I called her up, I said, Hey, I'm safe. My house is safe. We can get together and have our lunches now. And if you need help, I can be here for you. And she said, No way. I don't want anyone near me. Right. And so then I called up my bestie, who's also my ex, and I was like, let's have dinner. I know that he's totally freaked out about everything because he's a school teacher and right, and he was living in isolation in a studio apartment, you know, so seriously, that was like, you know, solitary confinement. And so he came over, and we were like, at first you know, elbow bounce, bumping and not, you know, not really knowing how to do other things. this weird thing where we reached around to keep our heads away from each other and we'd like grab each other's wastes from behind. And then we started laughing and then we like moved into a full on hog and my knees went up. I didn't realize the impact of that. Click to start crying prior.


Mike Gerle  17:20  

Okay, well... Yeah


Brian Mahan  17:23  

Yeah, it's hard. Yeah, it is. It is. And everybody's dealing with it differently.


Mike Gerle  17:28  



Brian Mahan  17:28  

Everybody's dealing with it differently.


Mike Gerle  17:30  

Well, thank you for that. Just, I feel seen. I feel understood from you sharing that story. Well, it's, I think it's really, really important to talk about trauma. Can you just say you already told us what trauma is, it's like why why is it important to dredge all that up again and bring up past memories and all these excuses we hear for like not looking at it.


Brian Mahan  17:54  

Because it creates habits, habituation patterns and vicious cycles. Anytime we have habituation is habits, this cycles patterns in our lives, especially when they're confounding and we've read all the books and we've gone to all the seminars, and we've sat with our legs and cross legged, and we put our hands in funny positions, and we've started our third eye and we've done you know, hours and hours and hours of every.


Mike Gerle  18:14  

I've done that date that means.


Brian Mahan  18:22  

I spent 25 years going every Voodoo witch doctor Kahuna I could find and I tried every pill, potion and powder, I read every book except for the one on self sabotage, I never finished. You know, I did it all. But you know, what the interesting phenomenon is that when we have a word, that's an unresolved word, right, and that's really what we're looking at in trauma. So we have this early wounding experience. And because at that time, in our lives, we did not have the skills, the tools, the knowledge, the resources, the support, whatever that was in order for that healed that wound to fully resolve and heal. So we have this unresolved wound during that wounding experience. We figure out defense mechanisms and coping mechanisms and survival strategies on how to deal with that. We also formed beliefs around that word. So before beliefs around ourselves, the perpetrator or the experience, or the location. Now, those beliefs that we set around that wounding experience are there to try to protect us so that if this event were to ever happening down, we'll have a better chance of dealing with it. But the beliefs are also scanning horizon 24/7 to try to head it off at the pass. You know, if I ever see this kind of thing coming at me again, I'm gonna figure out how to avoid it resistance, right? But quantum physics mechanics teaches us that we have a tendency to find what we look for. And so it draws to us, right? But there's a opportunity there that most people aren't aware of. And that is we're in the reenactment now, right? So this similar kind of person, place experience, location situation shows up and our higher brains go Oh, oh, here it is again, let me handle this. Let me deal with it and All we're focusing on is the current circumstance, the old wound is going, Hey, what about me? What about me? What about me and we're not paying attention to it. So it just goes dormant, waiting for the next trigger, right, or the next stimulus to apply pressure to the trigger of that old landmine. So if we're able to recognize in the reenactment that it's based on an old wound and were able to preferably with the support of someone who knows what the hell they're doing, we can go back into that old wound and get enough of that disorganization or that short circuit in the nervous system to discharge so the nervous system can reorganize and return to resilience or homeostasis. If we get enough of that around the original wound, and we can have enough reparative and corrective experiences in our present day, then the veracity of that belief gets called into question. And so the belief can fall away. And we can form a new belief based on who we are now, with our current life experience and support and resources and intelligence etc. Because here's the thing most people are walking around acting like children, yes, they're behaving now based on their early wounding experiences.


Mike Gerle  21:05  

Well, I'm hearing that when that is discharged, we're less likely to pull that trauma towards 


Brian Mahan  21:11  

Exactly, there's no need for it anymore.


Mike Gerle  21:13  

It's a fantastic explanation of why why we should look at trauma So...


Brian Mahan  21:19  

So ultimately beliefs have to change.


Mike Gerle  21:21  



Brian Mahan  21:22  

And that takes the belief that mental gymnastics, we got to work with a physiologically because the belief is formed around a physiological disorganization and wounding experience.

Mike Gerle  21:31  

Yeah, before we get into like any of those techniques or anything, you know, how is that affecting the guys who lived through AIDS and now all of a sudden I was really enjoying the sexual freedom of prep and all those things. I'm HIV positive, my boyfriend's on prep, and we enjoy an open relationship and it's very fulfilling and now that's gone and that does remind me of AIDS and how do you see this affecting people that went through trauma with AIDS?


Brian Mahan  22:05  

Sure. Well, you know, I am seeing it certainly amongst friends and clients. And, you know, there's a PTSD kind of element in this because a lot of people are kind of experiencing flashbacks, we kind of feel like, you know, it's behind us, we won. So once again, we're under this inescapable attack. And you know, when I was in New York City, when all of this was coming down, you know, we were flushing toilets with our feet and opening doors with our elbows, and there was no such thing as finger food at a cocktail party, and everybody was just completely freaked out. But But yeah, but that's bringing back all of that, you know, it's kind of like, you know, now I'm looking at surfaces the same way I used to look at, you know, toilet handles, yeah. You know, and go into a bar and it's like, ooh, you know, I mean, not that we can go into bars right now, but you know, it's like using your elbows and there's just this weird kind of thing like I'm disconnected from my physical environment, I can't engage in my physical environment the way that I used to. So there's that piece. And then there's also just the whole human engagement piece. We are hardwired as human beings to belong to socially engage. Because we're the only animal on the planet that spends at least 25% of its life and 100% dependence upon other, without other we would die. Well, right. Yeah. So, you know, it's freeing up a lot for people. It really is, you know, I mean, we've had this, you know, this beautiful, long period of time where we've experienced freedom again. And, you know, there's that survivor's guilt that we're finally through, you know, and now we're kind of entering back into this kind of inescapable attack where Nowhere is safe again, because, you know, in New York, we didn't know what it was we didn't know where it was coming from. So you know, it was just like, gay equals death, you know, and then it went, you know, silence equals death and then it was body fluids equals death, and you know, submit all this kind of correlation there. And now we're kind of back in that same thing of, you know, there's this potential of dying. But there's even a greater potential here in a weird way, because there's this period of time where we're non symptomatic, which is the same with HIV. But we didn't know that early on. We know that right from the start here. And so now you know, it's like, I have my best who's 85 with OCPD, I don't want to contract COVID. So I'm not worried about myself. I'm worried about her.


Mike Gerle  24:30  

I'm in the same situation with my father. I have a visit scheduled for July. And I'm just in a lot of anxiety about that, you know, and even if I'm able to self isolate here, I need to get to Missouri and am I going to just pick something up on that trip, you know, and bring it into his house, and he's vulnerable for all the reasons age and weight and pre existing condition. Yeah.


Brian Mahan  24:55  

Yeah. I mean, I think that what's happening right now, that's really vital, because we've been in seclusion for so long, we've been in seclusion, isolation and intrusion. And everybody is gagging to get back to some sort of sense of normalcy. And so you know what I'm doing and what I'm recognizing other people are doing. And I understand you guys have kind of coined a phrase for this, but I was calling it a QuaranTeam, which now has gone viral. I don't know if I picked it up from somewhere, or if I originated it, but I probably didn't originate it. And so what I've done is, you know, I have a group of friends, we all know each other really, really well. And coincidentally, everybody has someone in their life that they have to protect. And so those of us who are in the team are extra cautious and careful because there's this one person. Well, now we've got six people, right, because there's six of us. So actually seven people because you know, some we've all got seven people in our lives that we're wanting to protect. And so that brings a whole nother layer and level into the responsibility that we're taking, and therefore, the sense of safety that we can and we're together. And so we had our first QuaranTeam a couple of weeks ago, where we got together and actually had a friendsgiving we had turkey and stuffing and the whole thing and you know, and that was just amazing just to be able to, like, cook a meal together and hang out and hug each other and laugh and, you know, not worry about, you know, all the stuff. Of course, we're washing our hands, you know, all that, but we weren't social distancing. And then we took two weeks. So now, you know, we're coming out of that again now just to make sure we wanted to make sure so we're building this, you know, concentric circles of safety, which I think is, you know, an important thing to take a look at. But the other thing I just want to point on.


Mike Gerle  26:40  

I just take a second and just let that sink in for a minute. Because that just that sounds wonderful.


Brian Mahan  26:46  

We're in tribe again, and we're tribal matters, right? And our tribes have gotten really kind of loosey goosey and spread all over the place. You know, we don't really have this sense of real strong tribe. Yeah, it's a nice way to go. Round up.


Mike Gerle  27:00  

I'm with my boyfriend. And that's great. So I get hugs and sex, but our lives are completely different.


Brian Mahan  27:07  

So let's talk about sex. I would love to talk about sex.


Mike Gerle  27:12  

That's one of my I feel like I have a lot of experience with sex.


Brian Mahan  27:17  

Were you serious? Do you want to talk about sex? Yeah, yeah. Because this is all part of you know, like, how are we engaging in the world? You know, as gay men.


Mike Gerle  27:25  



Brian Mahan  27:26  

Because we're in this tribe, right? We're in this subset of culture, this 10% group, right. And part of our identity and main part of identity, where, you know, we have to talk about the elephant in the room, when we're talking about sex and gay men or homosexuality in general  in sex, the elephant in the room is shame.


Mike Gerle  27:48  



Brian Mahan  27:48  

And one of the things that drives that need for promiscuity or hooking up, you know, with, you know, as much as we can, is, it's validating I'm not the only vampire in the world.


Mike Gerle  28:01  



Brian Mahan  28:02  

And so the more people I have sex with the more validated I feel, which is countering to the shame that I feel that there's something so intrinsically different about me that I'm afraid even my parents will throw me out. And I'll be cast out of the tribe, you know, so there's just yeah, extraordinary shame that we hold and carry and explore. And then there's this defense against the shame, which is all the puffing and the pride and ego and, ya know, the the provider and the that we try to establish in our own tribe, right?


Mike Gerle  28:40  

Yes, yes.


Brian Mahan  28:41  

So we're trying to overcome that shame. And so we get into things like reading each other, shaming each other.


Mike Gerle  28:48  

And that's why I'm really glad you brought up that topic in this discussion. It's because I'm trying to simplify it or give us a tool and say, you know, we need to move. If we're moving away from shame. That's what I hear you We're talking about there, that's, you know, we have this instinct that, you know, we have this shame and we're moving away from something as opposed to like, just reframing it, putting it into a different lens and moving towards something. We're moving towards celebrating conscious, connected sex with other people, even if it's an anonymous encounter, we go into it, respecting our brother.


Brian Mahan  29:22  

Right. And just for a little bit of clarity, I don't really think I'm an expert and shame right. I teach a series of trainings to mental health and helping professionals on how to work with healthy shame and effectively heal toxic shame. So we don't want to we don't want to get rid of shame. Right?


Mike Gerle  29:41  

Yeah, we need it to...


Brian Mahan  29:42  

We want to transmute toxic shame into healthy shame because without healthy shame, we'd all be sociopaths, there'd be no rule of law. Right?


Mike Gerle  29:51  

Right. Well, and I guess I want to replace I want to change the shame. I want there to be a shame for what I'm calling bad behavior. You know.


Brian Mahan  29:59  

It's what I call discernment. So another name for healthy shame is discernment. Because that's the superhero power that we glean from healing toxic shame and transmuting it into into healthy shame. We get discernment, we get to understand what's right and wrong, good and bad, correct and incorrect for ourselves, which may be different than society at large, which may be different for each tribe within the society of the human species. Right?


Mike Gerle  30:29  

Right. So So you're saying shame is a different for each individual? Like I need to do my own work and define what constitutes shame for me, is that what you're saying?


Brian Mahan  30:40  

Well, it's it's Yes, I mean, to some degree, it's the ownership of my moral compass, my values, what matters to me What doesn't matter to me what feels good, what doesn't feel good, what's right, what's wrong, what's good, what's bad. You know, what's evil. Well, you know, all of that kind of stuff is discernment. How that lands in me and what that means to me.


Mike Gerle  31:03  

So can you go in and get a good? Like, what's the difference between discernment and toxic shame?


Brian Mahan  31:08  

So toxic shame is I'm bad, I'm wrong. There's something wrong with me. I'm different than other. I'm not like anyone, I'm damaged, I'm broken, I'm unfixable. And therefore, I'm unlovable. Healthy shame or discernment is I'm flawed and awesome. So that's my new favorite word, flawesome. Right? Awesome. I make mistakes. And it's okay because I learned from them. Because I make a mistake doesn't mean there's something wrong with me or that I'm bad. And that's what happens. That's what happens with toxic shame is children can't tell the difference between who they are and their behavior. And so when we course correct their behavior, they interpret it as there's something wrong with me. So, you know, if I say gross, don't pick your nose, that's nasty. What they're hearing is you You're gross, you're nasty. Yeah. And so that's also the discernment of being able to tease out and separate. There's a difference between my behavior and my character or who I am. Because I can have great character and I can have great values. And I can diverged from them on occasion, right consciously. Yeah, cuz I have discernment and I have freewill. And I can say, Okay, in this circumstance, I'm going to go let the 12th hairstyle and I'm going to do things that I normally wouldn't do.


Mike Gerle  32:29  

But so what I hear in there is I need to know my values are and not accept somebody else's values that come up with my own. Is that what you're saying?


Brian Mahan  32:39  

Absolutely. And where can we begin that investigation? In our bodies and how we feel and how is my body reacting and responding? When I'm thinking about this


Mike Gerle  32:50  

Inside my body is so counterintuitive to the majority of western stuff.


Brian Mahan  32:56  

Absolutely. And there's so much information that can be gleaned because you know, we say follow your intuition. And a lot of people think that intuition is that little voice in the back of your head. Now, that just means you're fucking nuts. So intuition is the felt sense. It's a gut feeling. So it's the body talking. And so when I have clients, very, very successful clients, and I'll ask them, you know, was there ever a time when you went against what made logical sense and found you made the right decision? and nine times out of 10, they will say, absolutely, it was a turning point in my life, and it's what led to my success is when I started to listen to my gut feeling.


Mike Gerle  33:34  

And can you I think this is really important to me because I really do think our intuition is the gateway to our living in our genius. It's for us to like, be happy and free in a sense, can you describe what feeling my intuition and my body is like are? Or is it different for everybody? What's it like for you?


Brian Mahan  33:55  

Well, clearly it's different for everybody because everybody has a fingerprint. And so you know, and we all have our capacity and agency to feel what we're feeling. And so, okay, so I have to digress just for a second because I want to put all of this into perspective. And it's based on a 20 year long study that was done at the University of Chicago by Dr. Eugene Chang. He was trying to figure out why some patients were getting better in a therapeutic practice and others weren't. And so for 20 years, he looked at all the different types of therapy young in parting shot, Primal Scream, cognitive, behavioral, etc. He was also looking to the therapists their ability to create rapport safety, containment, attunement, and to apply their book learning into the practice. And after 20 years, he determined none of that really mattered


Mike Gerle  34:34  



Brian Mahan  34:34  

If anyone is to get better with any practitioner in any practice. The single most determining factor as to whether or not they actually get better is based in the client's ability to feel sensations in their bodies, to language those sensations appropriately, then to attach the right effect or emotion, and then the right meaning or belief there in lies room for misinterpretation.


Mike Gerle  34:57  



Brian Mahan  34:58  

We can feel a sensation And misinterpreted, we can recognize a collection of sensations and call it anxiety when actually it's excitement. And so we may move away from good things and towards danger, okay? And we may form beliefs or meaning about that emotion. And there's room for misinterpretation there too. Because we can interpret that anger is dangerous and doesn't serve us, it gets us in trouble. But the reality is that if we look at anger on the continuum of the full expression of what it is, because we live in a polarized universe, there's two opposite ends of that spectrum. On the positive polarity we have healthy aggression, which is self care, and self preservation. It's the energy we use to set boundaries and protect them. It's also the energy of drive, dedication, discipline, get up and go klitz, embodiment, empowerment, etc, etc. And then on the opposite end of the scale, we have homicidal rage and suicidal ideation. So if anger is inhibited regardless, just because anger is bad, I have a belief anger is bad if anger is inhibited, such as our ability for self care.


Mike Gerle  36:06  

That's crazy. That's that's an aha moment for me just, I'm feeling these things instinctively, over the last couple of years with, like I said, starting somatic meditation, not going through the head, but through the body and different things. So this talking about anger being useful, and that list of self care, things that you mentioned, makes total sense.


Brian Mahan  36:29  

My emotional life was so inhibited. So I grew up in a wealthy family, but my dad was nouveau riche. So my mom and dad were dirt poor. My mom had horrible background and my dad had difficult background, right? But then he put himself to college med school men, you know, real estate Empire, blah, blah, blah, blah, but they wanted to raise us as if we were fifth generation well bred blue blooded children. But they didn't know how to do that. So what they wanted to do was for Mice into the mold of what they thought would be embraced by that echelon of society. So my every thought word action and emotion was course correct. Oh goodness. So what I came to learn was there wasn't anything about me That was good. There wasn't anything that I could do, right? There wasn't anything that I could say, well enough, and there wasn't any emotion. That was acceptable, other than happiness. joyfulness wasn't accepted because when we were exuberant run around the house screaming our full head off having a great time, we would get the knock it off


Mike Gerle  37:32  

Ah, yeah.


Brian Mahan  37:34  

Go on hide, you know, so we learned all that wasn't acceptable either. So for most of my life, I was in a highly dissociative state where I had no ability for social engagement. I didn't talk to my hands on a monotone whisper voice. I was dead behind the eyes. You know, I had no facial expression flat effect. And when I go to see a movie, and people would laugh, I think okay, remember that? That's what people think is funny because what I did learn to do is become a chameleon, because wasn't anything good to write about me. So when I was with someone and I so desperately wanted to connect, I became that, I mirrored them.


Mike Gerle  38:07  



Brian Mahan  38:08  

And then when I was in a group, I couldn't do that. So I became invisible. So I was the six foot three wallflower standing up.


Mike Gerle  38:14  

Yeah, it sounds like, yeah, authenticity was really just dangerous for you.


Brian Mahan  38:20  

That's what shame does is it reduces our authenticity, it inhibits our authenticity, because what shame is doing is saying this part of you not welcome, that behavior, not okay, you need to hide this bit. You need to suppress this bit. So shame is about this memorizing parts of us. So we're losing our authenticity. So healing shame is about expanding the container of who we are, to be able to remember those dismembered parts, so that we can become whole again, because all parts of us belong here. Or we wouldn't have them but we live in a polarized universe and so there are going to be parts of us that In polarized opposition of each other, but that doesn't mean that one's good and one's bad. They both have value and purpose. But the superhero power of discernment comes in and says, Ah, so in this group over there, I bring forward these parts of me, right, hold these parts back doesn't mean I'm killing them off denying them and refusing their existence. It's just that I understand that this group over there values and appreciates these parts of me. And then I find this group over there when I can bring forward the parts that I held back over there. And maybe I even need to hold back some of those parts, you know, other.


Mike Gerle  39:36  

That's amazing. Yeah. Well, you say you, you know your full expression. The difference is, you know, your full expression. And I'm making a choice to show up for this group in the most service for me, with the group as opposed to what's in most service to those people, and I don't matter,


Brian Mahan  39:54  



Mike Gerle  39:55  

That's crazy. Well, you've talked about being like an arc. Talk or maybe I read it on a website about the, you know, the wounded healer and you were talking a little bit about that. How does that, you know, inform your work? You know...


Brian Mahan  40:12  

Right, because I specialize in working with developmental trauma. So I just told you about my developmental trauma. Yeah, the kingpin of developmental trauma, shame. It's ubiquitous. It's, you know, in every culture throughout the world since the beginning of time, because shame is used to socialize children, protect the tribe and establish power and hierarchy. Right, so shame is a major piece of developmental trauma. So that's what I specialize in. Why? Because I'm on the other side of it now. And I understand I've lived it, I get it, and I understand it. And then on December 21 2003, I was in a catastrophic car wreck on the 10 freeway were one of two cars that were racing like Fast and Furious. The first car blew by me the second card clipped me and my car went and over and then rolled three times sideways across three lanes, of traffic slid on the driver's door 150 feet and crashed into a concrete wall. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.


Mike Gerle  41:06  

Sounds awesome.


Brian Mahan  41:08  

Because what happened is several days later, I started having panic attacks. But I didn't know there were panic attacks. I thought I was either going crazy or had become possessed. Because for several several days on end, I was laying in the middle of the living room floor with the phones off the curtains drawn the doors locked because I didn't want anybody to know what was happening. I was in the fetal position howling at the moon, my body was trembling and shaking and flailing around like a flounder on the hot rock. And I was like what the hell is going on here? And this is after 25 years of sitting at the foot of every guru and praying and meditating and meditating and all the stuff I've done and I'm like, Oh my god, you know like and everything that I thought I had healed I'd come back and say wow, all my old negative cyclical thinking all of my self loathing all the everything that I thought I had been feeling through all these pursuits over the years, I come back fully realized and I thought, oh my god, what am I gonna do? I've already tried everything. I'm a goner, or maybe and then I got so crazy. I thought maybe I'm possessed. And so I went and I asked kind of like my first point in health at that time. I went to Dr. Connie and I said, Dr. Connie, I need a referral. And she said, What's going on? And I said, I need an exorcist. And she was like, Honey, what's happening? Told her and she was like, Oh, no, I think you need a trauma specialist. And I was like, Oh, what's that? And she sent me to Somatic Experiencing practitioner. three sessions, my panic attack, stop. I haven't had one in nearly 17 years now. And within two weeks of that third session, I started the somatic experiencing training, because I was like, I don't know what Voodoo this is, but I got to learn it, you know? Yeah. So that's, you know, what got me here, you know.


Mike Gerle  42:48  

Actual experience. I gotta tell you, I really trust that a lot more than I learned. Yeah. What's this whole thing is with the You Be You.


Brian Mahan  42:58  

So yeah, it's just something that I came up with and working with shame, because there's so much inhibition and suppression of so much of who we are through the same experience. And so there's a lot of internal conflict as a result. And one of the things I say to my clients, you know, if an amount appropriate and all that kind of thing, I'll just look at them and I'll lean forward and I'll just like, slow things down and I just deep into their eyes and go, you be you, boo. You get to be you. You get to be all of you, all of you. And I embrace all of you, all of you as welcome here. All of your emotion. Even if your anger feels like it's too much for you to handle. It's not too much for me. I'm here with you, all of you.


Mike Gerle  43:54  

I feel that so deep in my chest, it's just like it makes me like want to cry with joy and a sense that because that people are afraid of being authentic, you know?


Brian Mahan  44:10  

Because we get it from everywhere. We don't just get it in the developmental stage of our lives. We get it constantly, all day long we're being compared to, or compare ourselves to. There's no wonder that suicide rates have gone up since social media came into the field. Because what are we seeing? We're seeing the best moments of people's lives, magnified, you know, on a daily stream, and we're looking and feeling about our own lives as if I don't stack up. Yeah, match this. That's not where I am. It's not how I'm feeling today.


Mike Gerle  44:46  

Do you have any advice on healthy, safe places for people to express being authentic? especially with what people call the negative feelings, you know, sadness or grief or fear or anger, What's a good way to be authentic with that?


Brian Mahan  45:04  

Well, the interesting thing is that because of inhibition, oftentimes there's a lack of connection to it within ourselves as it is, right. And so I have clients that say, I don't feel anger. And so I have to work with them and engaging and bringing online the experiential, sentience, experience of anger. So first and foremost, we want to bring it online and embrace it and explore it with curiosity, and acceptance before we even get to a place of beginning to negotiate expressing.


Mike Gerle  45:38  

Yeah, I believe it was such a problem in my judgment, that yeah, we can't even. I met those people, I met a guy that said he has no resentments. I'm like, Is that possible? You're a 34-year old man.


Brian Mahan  45:53  

Well, what that means is that he's never had a boundary crossed... Really? Because when a boundary is disrespected or crossed, that creates resentment, period. understatement. Yeah. So but the reality is, is that he doesn't have access, perhaps I don't want to speak for him. But you know, my hypothesis would be is that he doesn't have the agency capacity to feel it. And to take ownership.


Mike Gerle  46:21  

Yeah. And now


Brian Mahan  46:23  

Resentment as part of anger. And so I'd really be more curious about what his relationship to anger is.


Mike Gerle  46:27  

Uh huh. And that just makes me sad. I mean, having done this work, where I'm fully feeling these things, is great. You're mentioning boundaries. This is an area that I'm still kind of just clueless I'll read a book or a blog post or whatever, on boundaries, and then I instantly forget what it is and I think I don't have clear enough boundaries in my own life.


Brian Mahan  46:51  

So you're in luck, because I teach workshops on boundaries.


Mike Gerle  46:54  

That's awesome.


Brian Mahan  46:57  

So we have to understand there's Physical boundaries Energetic boundaries. Mm hmm. So in order to understand energetic boundaries, because they're kind of gooey and gooey and unclear and conceptual, let's look at physical boundaries, right? So that's finite and real. And they exist and they're the same for all human beings, right? There's no variance there. So a boundary is a line in the sand. A boundary is my house. The outside walls of my house is a boundary, it separates the inside of my house from the outside my house, the property line is a boundary that separates my property from the city's property and my next door neighbor's property. In states we have boundaries, two oceans on one side and countries on the others, right. So that's what boundary is right? physical boundaries and demarcation. It's a line in the sand. So as a human being my primary physical boundary is my skin. It's the place where I end and the world begins. It's also the place where the world ends. And I begin.


Mike Gerle  47:55  

That's a great way of looking at it too. Yeah.


Brian Mahan  47:57  

So my skin holds and containes all that I am, and it separates me from all that I am not. So my skin says this is me, mine and of me. And it also says that is not me that is not mine. And that is not of me. Yeah, now I can choose to energetically engage with things outside of me. Right? energetic boundary, okay, I can choose not to. But I have this physical reality of this membrane balloon like structure called skin that separates me from all that I'm not, so clients, I'll have people say to me all the time. Oh my god. So all you do is work with trauma, that must take a toll on you, you know? And I'm like, No, I feel better. At the end of the day, the more clients I have, because I have a strong sense of boundary. I understand that whatever the client brings into the space, it's not me, it's not mine. It's not of me, I can empathize. I can sympathize, I can join, I can, you know, but I'm not going to inmerge in a mesh. Because if I do that, they're not going to feel safe. So it's really important for me to have this boundary. So that's part of why I feel so good. I also work into awareness. So I'm in a constant dual awareness of being grounded, centered, boundaried, embodied, empowered, in the moment, safe and joyful. So those are what I call the eight states of embodiment, which I also teach a workshop on. So it's part of my vernacular, right?


Mike Gerle  49:17  



Brian Mahan  49:17  

So at the end of the day, when I've seen 9-10 clients, I've spent 9 or 10 hours, grounded centered boundaries, embodied empowered in the moment, safe and joyful. I feel better. So we have a secondary physical boundary, which is the length of our arm. Okay, so we're able to claim the space. So what is the say, as I stretch my arms out with my hands flat parallel to you? What does it say to you? Well, that says, stay away. Yeah, yeah, back off. Yeah. This is my space. Yeah, this is my space. So now, I can claim and take up all of this space. This is my space. So I have a buffer between my primary physical boundary and the rest of the world because I can push it out in a way. Now I have a tertiary physical boundary, that's the length of my leg. Because it's longer than my arm. And our legs are our first line of defense. We use them to flee and to fight. They're our longest bones, our biggest muscles, our strongest muscles, except our jaws. And that's our last line of defense. It's our job, right? Okay, our legs can keep the assailant farthest away from our internal organs. If they get past that we've got our arms. And if they get past that we've got our jaws to bite into, to bite them. So those that's our tertiary boundary are our three physical boundaries. Then we've got the physical boundary of the room that we're in or the car that we're on, etc. So we're just concentric circles of physical boundaries. And then we have energetic boundaries, which are things like silence when I'm meditating and the ever present leaf blower shows up. My energetic boundary at silence has been ruptured.


Mike Gerle  50:52  



Brian Mahan  50:53  

So energetic boundaries can also be things like politics, racism, religion, you know, we have all these kind of energetic boundaries in our lives of what's right and wrong, good and bad, correct and incorrect and, and all of that as well.


Mike Gerle  51:06  



Brian Mahan  51:07  

So those energetic boundaries can get really kind of wishy washy. Now, to sum all of this up, people have a tendency to either be unbounded, to have fuzzy boundaries, to have healthy boundaries or to be over boundaries. And so obviously, what is best is healthy boundaries. Yeah. And so I help clients move from being over boundary, right where they may be shut down. Let's say they're shut down sexually. So that rigidity is a rigid, energetic boundary. I know there. And then a lack of boundaries is when there's codependence and measurement can't tell the difference between you know, me and my partner or what my partner is thinking and feeling. I'm thinking and feeling. So there's all of that exploration in there as well.


Mike Gerle  51:50  

I'm enjoying this so much. So you've written a book and it's coming out what's in your book?


Brian Mahan  51:56  

So the book is called I cried all the way to happy hour. trauma survivors guide to profound long lasting healing. And so it's a bit of a healing memoir. It's, you know, I kind of use myself as an example, you know my story. I'm not sure if I'm gonna have case studies in it because I really want it to be for the lay person.


Mike Gerle  52:14  

Okay, okay.


Brian Mahan  52:15  

But it's basically helping what I hope to be more people understand that trauma, in and of itself intrinsically, is predominantly a physiological condition, not a psychological disorder. So if we can switch the focus and look at trauma, as a physiological condition, and we can work with it physiologically, then we can heal it. If we're looking at it as a psychological from a psychological perspective, we may gain time, distance or space. We may compartmentalize it, we may be able to reframe it, so we're changing our relationship to it to some degree. So it's a management and mitigation, rather than an actual healing and transformation.


Mike Gerle  53:01  

Well, that sounds amazing. I've recently told somebody who does coaching work that. Yeah, I've done so much of that talk therapy and stuff and I and I highly recommend it.


Brian Mahan  53:13  

Do the right things just..


Mike Gerle  53:14  

not do the right things. And but I said, Now I know why I'm, I have this persistent condition, but I don't want to have this persistent condition.


Brian Mahan  53:24  

And no amount of mental gymnastics. I'm telling you right now, no amount of mental gymnastics is really going to be able to resolve a physiological disorganization, dysregulation or short circuit, you know, if there's a holding pattern, right? We're just not gonna be able to think our way out of it.


Mike Gerle  53:41  

Yeah, that sounds great. I can't I can't wait to read it and then talk to you more about that stuff. He'll if you'll come back. So there's some questions that I asked all my guests. I want to ask him to you. The first one is what advice would you have for your 16 year old self?


Brian Mahan  53:59  

I would my 16-year-old self, that it wasn't my fault, and that it wasn't necessarily that there was something wrong with me. And more than likely the reason I was suffering is because there was something wrong with them, because they were the... and I don't mean just my parents, I'm talking about him outside influence, right, because of their point of view, perspective, reflection and mirroring of me, doesn't mean that there was something wrong with me, and that I was bad or wrong. It may have been that their perspective, or their lack of agency or capacity or their inability to attune to me and meet my needs and desires was a deficiency on their behalf. Not that there was something wrong with me.


Mike Gerle  54:46  

I think that's a really, really important message. And I consider myself blessed by the universe and I have to say it through a sexual experience when I was 16 I hook up with an older guy, who was like 22, and and we began to talk. I was raised very religious and Mormon. And he finally said that to me, he said, You don't have a problem. The problem is other people accepting you.


Brian Mahan  55:17  

Ah, yeah. Wow.


Mike Gerle  55:21  

Wow. Thank you for that. That's, you know.


Brian Mahan  55:24  

That's so crazy how that just mirrored for you what you're marrying for me.


Mike Gerle  55:29  

How do you invest in your own dignity? What's your self care that keeps you grounded? You talked about the eight states, maybe anything else you have any kind of rituals.


Brian Mahan  55:41  

For me. It's more a matter of transparent, authentic honesty, forthright, transparent honesty. That's how I care for me


Mike Gerle  55:51  

That almost describes a person in dignity. How did your chosen family come together and how do you stay close to them?


Brian Mahan  56:00  

Ah, god... How did we come together? You know, all I can say is that like attracts like and birds of a feather flock together. And I have an extraordinarily eclectic group of friends. I don't really have a gay clique, I'd like to have a gay clique. But I don't really have a gay clique, but what I have as an extraordinarily diverse group of friends, like if you come to one of my soirees, and you're invited to the next one, you know, what people walk away with was, Oh, my God, I've never met so many different kinds of people in one place at one time who were all actively engaged and getting to know each other.


Mike Gerle  56:34  

That sounds delightful.


Brian Mahan  56:36  

There's nobody standing in the corner feeling like they don't fit in or they can't make a connection or whatever, because none of us would stand for that.


Mike Gerle  56:49  

That's fantastic. So my last question, as a man, as a gay man, What are your special gifts? And do you think some of them are related to being gay? are not related.


Brian Mahan  57:01  

What am I special gifts? Authenticity, my agency to join someone where they're at.


Mike Gerle  57:08  

That's huge today.


Brian Mahan  57:10  

And that's what I, you know, that's what I have to do, right? All day long. I have to join my client where they're at, because they're already coming in thinking, they're here and I'm here because, yeah, it's already shame in the relationship. There's something wrong with them and there's something better about me and so I have to join them. I have to meet them right where they are, and I have to be authentic, and I have to be self revelatory and work with self disclosure. So they feel joined.


Mike Gerle  57:41  

Do you think that level of it's more than just empathy but meeting people where they're at? Do you think your gayness anything to do with that, or is it just your life mission?


Brian Mahan  57:52  

Well, I mean, I think I'd have to say a lot of my healing around my gayness has to do with that, because my gayness and it's original form did not give me the agents and capacity to do that, because I was different. And I was other and I was suppressed and I was hiding. And I was, yeah, that didn't give me the ability to that now as I healed through all of that, and I've embraced all of that, that lends itself to that level of engagement.


Mike Gerle  58:17  

Oh my god, I could talk with you for another hour and a half.


Brian Mahan  58:21  

Let's do it again!


Mike Gerle  58:22  

I would love to and I can't wait to see you in person. I want to thank you for coming today. I just want to read this quote from one of your reviews, it's not the whole quote, and then I want you to let us know how we can get in touch with you and... We'll see this comes from Rebecca and she says that working with Brian has been utterly life changing. In a few months, I experienced a profound transformation from being anxious and depressed to feeling free and burdened from the heavy weight of my thoughts and most importantly excited about my life. Discovering Somatic Experiencing has been a blessing. As I had already tried traditional talk therapy with little lasting results.


Brian Mahan  59:09  

The inspiration that I'm filled with on a daily basis from every single session to see the difference between when they walk in and when they walk out, and then to see that accumulate over time to these massive shifts and transformations is the only reason why I do what I do.


Mike Gerle  59:29  

It's amazing. So how can how can we get in touch with you?


Brian Mahan  59:32  

Well, my website is So that's Brian with an i d is in Douglas and Mahan not mayhem, Mahan, M A H A N. So Mary, Alan, Henry Alan Nancy. So I got married Nancy in there. So that's Friday mayhem calm and then my email if people want to email me, although I don't like email is BDMSEP, so that's just my initials BDM an SEP Somatic Experiencing practitioner ([email protected])


Mike Gerle  1:00:06  

Brian Mahan, thank you for being on the GerleMen podcast. Thank you for your time and for helping people live their fullest possible lives.


Brian Mahan  1:00:16  

Such a pleasure. And thank you.


Mike Gerle  1:00:19  

Thank you. Bye Bye.


Mike Gerle  1:00:20  

Thanks for listening to the show my friend. Now stay connected by subscribing to GerleMen podcast and sharing with your friends on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere else podcasts can be found. Visit the webpage at Sign up for the newsletter and find more details about each episode. Let's make this a conversation because I'd really like to hear from you. Join us on Facebook at GerleMen. Submit your questions, suggest topics or just chat with your brothers. Want to add your own two cents? Use the voice memo feature on your smartphone. Ask a question or say anything, we just might play it on the podcast, email the phone to [email protected] Until next time.


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