What Is Trauma? The Mind-Mitochondria Connection with Dr. Keesha Ewers

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. Keesha Ewers

In this episode, I’m speaking with Dr. Keesha Ewers, a trauma-informed therapist who shares her deeply personal story that led to a life of self-transformation, education, and the mind-mitochondria connection.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Keesha and I discuss:

  • The life-changing differences between PTSD and post-traumatic growth…and how to skew your experiences toward growth versus stress
  • Current problems with plant medicine and the significant step this trend is missing
  • The toxic mistake you might be making (and passing on to your kids) that’s holding you back from healthy cognitive and emotional capabilities
  • The missing step of limbic system retraining that everyone’s missing!
  • The indisputable connection between your mind, emotions, and mitochondrial function…and a practical step to take you from muck to unstuck

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Ari Whitten, MS  Dr. Ewers, welcome back. It is such a pleasure to get to chat with you again. You’re one of my  favorite people to have a conversation with, so. Welcome.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Thank you. It’s so great to be here. And likewise.

Ari Whitten, MS Okay. So first of all, you have a very, very interesting background, a very diverse background.  You’ve done a lot of different stuff. You’ve been involved in trauma, in psychotherapy. You are a  deaf dula, which I think is super cool and is a really important aspect of I think it’s a really  important aspect of human life that we are really neglecting in the modern Western world. And  so I think it’s amazing that you’ve gone deep in that area. Tell us your story. I want people to hear  your background and how you came to do what you do.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C Mm hmm. Well, like everyone, there’s always a reason, right? So I started out as an r n at the age  of 19, and I was kind of pulled towards the high adrenaline junkie, sort of life in the ICU and did a  lot of skydiving and marathon running in that decade of my life. And then I got diagnosed with  rheumatoid arthritis and I was in my early thirties. I’d had four children and I was in that like  trying to be perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect everything. People pleasing all things. I had no  self-awareness around. I didn’t know what drove me, what motivated me. I was just doing it. And  when I got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that was in my genetics, my grandfather  had been wheelchair bound with it and died. At the age I am right now. I’m 58. And, you know, I thought, oh, okay. I, you know, I all of a sudden had to become self aware. And then it went on  that Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the physician that diagnosed me and gave me a couple  prescriptions for methotrexate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and said, when you get  worse, come back. And I just remember saying, well, hang on. Is there anything else? I’m very  disciplined. I make my own food, you know, is there anything else I can do? It’s said now it’s  genetic. And so I remember driving home thinking there has to be something else here. And it’s  not in my framework of medicine. And so let’s start exploring. And I went on to pub Med and  quickly found yoga in Vedic medicine and started practicing bowls and realized quite quickly  when I learned that diabetes as autoimmunity, as undigested anger, which was quite  revolutionary to me, what you have to digest your emotions, your memories, your experiences,  your thoughts, you know, in the same way that you digest food. We don’t think about that in our  culture in that same way and that’s how we do that. If we do it well, we develop healthy tissue  layers. If we don’t, we don’t.

And it was just so intelligent what I was reading. And I thought, okay, well, I’m not an angry  person. And then after that, that followed was, well, maybe that’s a problem. The fact that I don’t  recognize anger and that I start running shoes on and go and pound it out. So that got me to  start really investigating. Autoimmunity means I’m attacking my own self. That means I’m killing  myself in a societally accepted manner. When did I want to die? You know? And that was a really  good question, because at the time I didn’t and I thought there must’ve been somewhere along  the way that I told myself that I want out. And so as I had learned, I’d started meditating and I  decided to go backwards in my little life stream of memories and see if there was a time that I  had wanted to die anywhere in there. And I found this ten year old little girl version of myself  who was being sexually abused by the vice principal of my elementary school. And as I looked at  her, I thought, Oh, you did one off the planet. You didn’t understand what was going on, didn’t  have the right language to tell people. Tried to tell people, my dad was out to sea in the Navy.  You know, and I just probably didn’t have the right words. I was raised with no TV. I just didn’t I  was very naive, didn’t know anything.

And so I remember thinking, you know, I was busy talking to angels. I was out in spiritual realms  at that age trying to figure things out and really didn’t really want to be on this planet. And I

 thought I put these things are connected. I’ll bet that something in my cells made it and said,  okay, you know, and science tells us it takes you 20 to 30 years to develop a full blown  autoimmune disease, which was about time. And so I thought is like a turkey timer went off and  my genetics upregulated that we’re coded for this particular disease and it’s like if you want out  here you go and I just turn everything. But that’s not my reality anymore. And so I must have to  do some work here and started diving really deeply into that. And my R.A. was done within six  months. So, you know, and my vitality returned everything back that I had had, but also a whole  lot of self awareness. And so that set me on this track of, hmm, I bet there’s a different way to  work with relieving the suffering of all beings that does not involve matching a drug to a  symptom. Let’s go explore that. And so I always tell people whenever someone’s come into my  practice and stomp the chump, the chump goes back to school. So that’s why I have an array of  letters behind my name. Is this because they’re trying to figure things out?

Ari Whitten, MS  Yeah, well, you know, I’m somewhat on that spectrum. I don’t have a lot of letters on the back  side of my last name, but I have a lot of years of schooling that went into it. I went to medical  school for two years, decided I didn’t want to do that. It was disgusting to me to be in an internal  medicine ward and seeing patients with heart disease and diabetes and other diseases of  lifestyle being fed a garbage diet, being taught nothing about nutrition or lifestyle. When we  know, you know, for example, with diabetes, the condition can be reversed in a matter of weeks  or months by altering diet. And to see someone there in the hospital receiving zero education  on.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  The red just.

Ari Whitten, MS  Described, you know on 12 or 15 different drugs, one drug after another, seeing these patients  come in, you know, a month later, getting a new drug for a new side effect from another drug.  And it just seemed mad to me and I was like, you know what this is? This is not for me. I’m out of  here. I did a PhD program in clinical psychology, completed all three years of coursework for that,  and then decided that I wanted to go do my own thing teaching people about nutrition and  lifestyle. And so I didn’t do the dissertation and internship years for that and then did a master’s  degree in human nutrition and functional medicine. So I have all these years of school without  all the letters. After my.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Answer letters. I mean, that’s the thing, right? Is you just my dissertation happened to be a study  on what the impact of unresolved trauma is on female sexual desire. And it turns out it’s very  similar to if your note heal your trauma hair, things that also happen with your immune system,  you know. And so my dissertation was interesting to me. I would never finish the things I finished  if I weren’t interested. So bravo to you are for not just, like, slugging and slogging through  something that you didn’t believe in because the impact you’re having in the world is so much  greater. Had you not done it this way and gone through internal medicine, for sure. Yeah, yeah.

What is trauma?

Ari Whitten, MS  Well, you know, it’s all part of the story. And it was good, good learnings and good experience  and wisdom for me along the way for sure. So let’s talk about what trauma is. So can you define  this word? Because I think there’s so much discussion now of trauma. And I think in the younger  generation, it’s we now have a culture in the youngest generation of adolescents and teenagers  that I would say is almost obsessed with trauma. And yet I would imagine that if I took any of  those people and actually asked them what trauma is, I would probably object to most of their  definitions. So I’m curious how, given your vast experience in this area, how do you define  trauma?

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  That’s a great question. And, you know, the same generation is bandying about the word  narcissist, too. And, you know, I my dissertation had a lot to do around forgiveness and people  can’t really define forgiveness very well either. So I think this is a fantastic place to start. The way  that I define drama is that, you go through an event in life that you don’t have the skill set to  manage, and it’s overwhelming. And so that can be a capital T trauma, it can be a lowercase T  trauma. It’s why some people come out of capital T traumas or gigantic natural disasters or war,  and they have a different way of being in their nervous system, in their body, in their genetic  expression. Then another person that has the same exact event. So this just happens to be does  it match your skill set of being able to manage it, to navigate it? It’s going to be traumatic if you  don’t have it.

Ari Whitten, MS  Mm hmm. That’s a very simple way of putting it. And I think if we can dig a little deeper here,  there’s an important distinction, because I find a lot of people have a misconception around this  and they have kind of a bad relationship with stress and with adversity, where stress and  adversity become these things to fear. Yeah. And that oh, god, you know, God forbid we might  encounter some adversity because that would be really bad. We would suffer. It would be bad for  us, it would be stressful for us. Or the parallel from the wellness and functional medicine side of  this is like stress is bad, stress harms your physiology. And I think what we’re missing in this story  is, yes, of course, there’s very serious kinds of trauma that leave a very lasting impact when it  exceeds a person’s capacity to to handle it. And it’s also true that adversity is what shapes us into  stronger and wiser people. And we shouldn’t wish for a life without adversity, like no one  becomes their fullest, grows into their fullest potentials and capacities by sitting on a beach,  sipping margaritas in a totally stressed and adversity, free life.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  We and the attachment and wish for that is actually a big cause of suffering

Post-traumatic growth

Ari Whitten, MS  Yes. Yes. So what what? There’s such a thing as post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s also such a  thing as post-traumatic growth.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Yes.

Ari Whitten, MS How would you distinguish between those? What’s the difference.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  In the hurt model, the healing, unresolved trauma work that I did in 2013? There’s this initial loop  that happens where you have an event here, you have a feeling that happens in your body,  whether it’s fear, anger, sadness, whatever it is, and then you’re going to have a nervous system.  Upregulation We always say fight, flight, freeze or faint, but in childhood it’s freeze. Usually you’re  not you’re not autonomous, you’re not powerful. It freezes, and then you make the meaning  immediately to fit whatever just happened with a brain that in childhood doesn’t have a fully  developed prefrontal cortex. So you’re going to be operating from the developmental state  you’re at at that moment. So that then gets frozen in your system, creates a belief, and then you  have an adaptive behavior that you create to go with that in that moment later on, when that  button is pushed again and again and again in adulthood, when you do get through more  developmental states, you have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. There’s a bifurcation in that  model where over here it says willingness to self confront. Over here, it says unwillingness to  confront post-traumatic stress disorder will continue in this looping of maladaptive memory  processing, where you get the same feeling you had, you have the same meaning to it. I’m not  safe.

Whatever it is that happened with your meaning and your belief, and then you’re going to go  into your now maladaptive behavior response system, automatic negative thoughts that  ruminate and loop judgments that those things will all lead to disease eventually because that  cortisol breaking down, you know, you know the drill. So that’s post-traumatic stress disorder.  When you have willingness to self confront with curious compassion, with an ability to have  enough self-awareness, is that you can recognize every time I’m unhappy, I’m present. Maybe  there’s something here and a willingness and a desire to, instead of being living an adverse free  life, to say, oh, bring it every single time that I learn something because I’ve gone through this  cycle and I’ve come out on the other end with a new skill set. I’ve integrated it and now I have an  expertize there with a knowledge that life is going to give you another one soon, right? When  you have that like here’s the capital t, truth of life.

Hey, that you can you can’t have attachment aversion to suffering because as part of life or  attachment to your happiness or everyone that’s in your life is going to remain there  permanently or your house will be permanent or your financial status will be permanent. These  are called the three poisons in Buddhism. You know that you have an ignorance, that there’s  impermanence when you can enter into life in the stream that acknowledges the reality in these  capital t t truths, things will die. Everything that is born hatches, you know, is planted. Everything  we can see right now in our screens, it will all turn to dust and die. That’s a life reality that we’re  never presented with when we’re children. And so when you enter into that stream of truths,  then you get into a place where you are excited about post-traumatic growth. You know, that’s  the difference. It’s a willingness to self confront and a willingness to integrate. Those two words  are so powerful and without them, it doesn’t happen. Post-Traumatic growth.

You can have all kinds like this is in the plant medicine world now. Right. It’s a lot of people will  have spiritual experiences and insights and breakthroughs, but then they don’t do the  integration process and there’s no growth that happens, no transformation like in spiral  dynamics moving into the next level because they’re taking their developmental state viewing  from that perception that’s always been there and not understanding that that perceptual field  needs to broaden and change. And that’s what the whole use of plant medicine is for, not just for  you to have pretty experience with a download or an inspiration that then goes out through your  nervous system like a sieve if you don’t have a stabilized nervous system to hold it and a  willingness to say, All right, here we go. Next level.

Ari Whitten, MS  Yeah.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  So that’s part of post-traumatic growth.

We need adversity

Ari Whitten, MS  Very nice. There’s an expression this is a bit male centric. I don’t know who said this, but it’s a  circular thing. And it says hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good  times create weak men. Weak men create hard times, hard times create strongmen and so on.  So this moves in a circular pattern. And if we think about this outside of that context, let’s  imagine my brain goes to childhood development and parenting. And I think of like the example  of a super wealthy, super wealthy parents who live in a mansion and drive fancy cars and they  have enough money to do whatever they want and buy whatever they want and their kid give  their kid whatever they want and do all the nice things and protect them from the bad things.  And, you know, and you contrast that with maybe a kid who grows up in the inner city, who has a  very, you know, in poverty, who has a very hard life.And it is very often that you know, there’s certainly lots of exceptions to this rule. But as a generalization, it’s very often the case that the kid who was spoiled rotten, who was given  everything without having to work for it, ends up being disabled or dysfunctional or not highly  functional adult because they never had the striving and the hard work attached to the rewards.  The rewards were just given. And I think, you know, what we know now from modern  neuroscience is that actually giving strong rewards without it being preceded by hard work is  one of the most toxic things we can do for our brain. And, you know, obviously, the modern world  technology, the processed food environment, porn, all these kinds of things are essentially that  it’s like here’s a super potent neurological reward without having to do any work for it.

Right. And that that is is what is is a big driver of of dysfunction in in the modern brain and  conversely, a lot of kids who who grow up in difficult circumstances end up being super strong  adults, end up being some of the most inspirational people, successful people, you know, and  who who literally their drive was created from all the difficulty and adversity that they had with a  kid as a child or created from the fact that they were poor, their parents were poor and that they  hated being poor so much that they dedicated their self themselves to to being successful and  making money and became super wealthy again. I know there’s many exceptions to this kind of  rule, but these dynamics often play out in this sort of way. So it’s it’s interesting and kind of  counterintuitive and paradoxical, the way that, you know, the hard times often create something  beautiful and doing doing what we all intuitively feel is to be a good parent is like to protect our  kids from any harm and stress and adversity and suffering and make their life as easy as possible,  actually oftentimes creates dysfunctional adults. Do you have any thoughts on that kind of  landscape?

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C   I remember I presented my work at Harvard years ago and every but there were a whole bunch  of people who were doing the same thing. And as I was listening to each person present their  work and do a back story about how they got to where they got to, this hypothesis, this study,  these outcomes, I turned to this person who’s sitting next to me who I didn’t know I was another  scientist. And I just muttered under my breath, my kids did not have enough adversity in their  lives, you know, because every single person in that room had gone through some kind of  adversity that had created the problem in their mind that they had to find a solution for. And  then I went and I sat in a ten day Vipassana silent meditation retreat. And throughout the course  of that retreat that percolated further.

And I came home after ten days and I sat my kids down. My youngest was seven and I said,  There’s a new sheriff in town. My job is not to make you happy, unlike what I thought it was. My  job is to give you the tools to be able to manage life when it is inevitably unhappy and  challenging for you. And that is the new mandate of this parent. Yeah. And you know, they were  not very happy about that to start with. And now they’re just very cool people and, you know,  with a lot of great tools to manage life’s inedible challenges, you know? And so I think you’re  absolutely spot on. And, you know, in those two instances, I just remember sitting in that room  with all these scientists going, Oh, no, my kids still have enough adversity like this is not good,  you know?

Ari Whitten, MS  But I feel like this is a core truth of human development. And it’s like we have left this piece of  the story out of our collective cultural narrative. I agree. We have we have. We have created a  cultural narrative where we’re afraid of adversity, where we’re afraid of encountering challenges  in our life. And we see it as a quote unquote bad thing that, you know, we it’s like we wish,  especially for our kids. We wish for them to go through life where everything is just easy and  adversity free and stress free and suffering free. But actually, if we really understand human  development, the only way we become stronger and wiser is through challenge and adversity.  And again, it’s like we’ve left this out of our story.

It’s exactly the same principle as like, Hey, you want to grow your muscle bigger, you have to you  want to get smarter. You have to spend time learning and challenging your brain to learn new  information. It’s you want to be more energetic. I talk about this all the time. It’s like you have to  build your mitochondria to be bigger and stronger. How do you do that? Or medics stress you  have to challenge them. And without the challenge, these systems just shrivel and atrophy. And  that’s the other aspect of this is our bodies are and brains are living dynamic systems and they’re  always changing and reshaping themselves to respond to the inputs you’re giving them. For  better or for worse, they don’t just remain stagnant. So it’s either you’re in you’re either  challenging them to grow bigger and stronger, or hopefully challenging them at least enough to  maintain their strength. Or they are going to tend towards atrophying and getting weaker.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  And here’s the thing about that. Like physically, if you are focused on fear about a challenge, fear,  you’re going to lose all your money, fear you’re going to lose your relationship, fear you’re going  to lose your fame, your fortune, your reputation. But whatever it is, your ego identity, you got  these little microglia in your brain. They’re going to let early go in and start carving away matter  in your brain. They’re going to carve it away. Well, this isn’t necessary. We’re focused only on the  horizon. You know, she’s a zebra being chased by a lion. And then we only need to worry about  that safety. So let’s carve away anything else that, you know, the body is so amazing that way it  will adapt to what your perceptual field is giving it. And I always tell this to people like. Yeah,  cortisol, sure. But you know what? What gets that activated your perception is same with  mitochondria like your perceptions are first people will start talking about now like limbic system  we have to we have to heal our limbic system, you know, and I’m like, Oh no, you need to heal  your perceptions because that’s what activates the amazing. So, we keep coming in over the top  right? So in, in ancient Eastern philosophy called the Abbey done right there, it says there are 17  steps for one perception, 17 different steps that you go through. And they say, like, however, you  have been perceiving is how you will always perceive, unless halfway through that midway point,  you can create a little gap.

 They call it the gateway to karma, and you can, instead of react, respond with a new skill. And  that little gap right there is what we achieve when we’re doing contemplative work, when we’re  slowing down, we’re really bringing a wake and self-awareness that’s consistent and stabilized.  Then we don’t activate the limbic system unless we have someone chasing us and we need to  activate the learning right, which is so fascinating because no one is talking about look at God  and we talk about mindset, right? Yeah, change your mindset. But this idea is your perceptions  as you bring in an object through your five senses. I call it your five minds. So you see it. You can’t  see and hear at the same time it’s going like this, right? As you bring in an object, if you collapse  around it with an emotion, they call him one of the five afflicted emotions fear, anger. If you start  to attachment, aversion. I love that you’ve landed on aversion because whenever you collapse  around the object with aversion. Now you’ve just sent your perceptual field into the zero being  chased by a lion, and now the whole thing’s gone to the races, and you’ve got little guys carving  away your brain’s mast cells activating your immune system, starting to go nuts, you know? And  it’s okay. This is where we have to start, right? This is where we get mastery.

Maladaptive covert narcissism

Ari Whitten, MS There’s another piece of this related to what we’re talking about here that’s a modern  phenomenon. You know, I kind of alluded earlier to this to the issues going on in the youngest  generation. Now, specifically, it seems to be kids born after the year 1995. And with the rise of  tech and cell phones and social media, I think has has greatly accelerated this. But I think there’s  also a narrative, a cultural narrative that’s like, you know, with there’s so much talk of trauma now,  so much talk of people being triggered and things like that. And when we’re teaching kids to  think this way, we’re teaching them that someone else saying words.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C Yes.

Ari Whitten, MS  Has control all over my nervous system. If someone else says the wrong word, they need to be  censored. They need to be prevented from expressing that thought because that thought  controls my nervous system.

 Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C And I’m a victim of it.

Ari Whitten, MS And I’m exactly. And I’m a victim. And I need to be protected from this from mistakes.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C People.

Ari Whitten, MS Exactly. And so somebody else do some some authority, come in and censor this.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  I’m an impasse. I’m highly sensitive. I’m executive. And those toxic people, those narcissists out  there, I have to be kept away from them.

Ari Whitten, MS Exactly. And this idea, if you think about it, is essentially the opposite of resilience. You’re  teaching people and reinforcing them that what is desirable is to be as fragile as possible and to  be victimized by everything, and that you don’t have control over your own reactions,  perceptions. What happens with your own nervous system? It’s someone else saying a particular  word or doing a particular thing controls your physiology. And it’s like, what could possibly be  more disempowering than that? What could create a generation of less resilient people than  that? Jonathan Haidt talks about this as reverse CBT, like the opposite of cognitive behavioral  therapy. And he describes why particularly mental health, why mental health issues among  especially young girls are suffering so much right now because they’re being indoctrinated into  this kind of paradigm, this kind of self-perception, where your whole locus of control is external  to you. And if people outside of you do or say things that , it has so much power over you into.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C The developmental job of an adolescent to switch locus of control to internal not external. Right.  That is the developmental state. I think parents don’t know enough about this and they’re so  busy helicoptering and cocooning kids, you know, and supporting this. I, I say all of these things too. I think we might be two people up on the walls yelling, come on, this is really causing a lot of  trauma in our culture. It’s damaging to our species. And so we’re in this blame and shame  victimization thing when in fact, nobody has the power to activate your nervous system except  for you. There’s a saying that, again, I go to these ancient places because Eastern philosophies,  what I studied for so long. But the attribution goes to shocking money. Buddha, who said rather  than have the whole world mother covered in leather, rather put your own sandals on, you know.  And and this is I say this a lot these days when I teach is this is what when somebody takes a  quiz online and says, oh, this is it, I’m highly sensitive or, oh, I’m an impact, I’m a light worker, I am a light bearer or I’m whatever it is. Yes. And it is up to you to strengthen your own channels,  your own nervous system, so that when you are in this world, you’re not that fragile, because  actually you’re not. You are a luminous being that is vast and infinite in your consciousness and  your brain and nervous system. Act like a funnel dampener of what you can manage when it  comes to the light in the sound that’s actually present in the universe. And so when you leave  your body, you’re going to get all of that light in that sound. And so if you don’t practice here,  you’re going to go into a few responds at that time of death, which is very painful.

 I’ve watched it a million times. And so part of our practice here, we practice really hard to bring  our children into the world as mom, you know, birthing classes, really breathing, being present,  being conscious that it is the same thing to die because that’s another birth canal. You’re leaving  this one and you’re going into the next. And, you know, that makes us of strengthening your  systems so that when this downregulated nervous system that filters everything for you is gone,  you’ll freak out as your consciousness is released. So this is just like a microcosm of a macrocosm  that we’re seeing when people are so fragile and so hyper reactive. This is one of the root causes  of viral immunities, is as your mind, so is your body. Yeah. So if you are hyper reactive in your  mind, then you’re going to be hyperactive in your body and that if you feel betrayed by your body  and you feel betrayed by your parenting and you feel betrayed by your culture and the world,  then that’s going to be the life that you self perpetuate. So it’s really important to strengthen  this, to heal it, to come out with your I call it the spiritual gymnasium, you know, as you were just  saying, like you can’t expect to develop a bicep just going like this. You have to put something in  that hand. And it’s this is the stuff that creates your strengthening. So, yeah, it’s really important.  I’m so happy to hear you saying this. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the vacuum.

Ari Whitten, MS  Well, to be honest, I mean, we now have a culture where people are afraid, including myself, to  voice this, at least among some people. And to be honest, I didn’t know how you were going to  react to me voicing it, particularly because I know that you live in an area where this it’s one of  the the places where this kind of ideology is the most present. So, you know, there was an  element like, should I even voice this? Maybe she’s not going to like what I have to say and  maybe she’s going to maybe this is going to turn into an argument. Who knows? So I’m happy  to see that you share my perceptions on this sort of toxic cultural narratives, especially in the  generations now.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  I’m really there’s a really good book called The Narcissistic Narcissism Epidemic. And it’s a couple  of scholars from two different universities who have done a study on this, where there are four  root causes for the rise in narcissism in our culture. And this is a form of narcissism. It’s called  maladaptive covert narcissism. When you’re over occupied with your story, you’re over occupied  with your health, you’re over occupied with setting boundaries with other people. You absolutely.  If you’re in a damaging, toxic relationship, get out. Absolutely. That’s not what we’re saying here.  But, you know, the problem is, is if you take that and you make it the ground you stand on, then  you’re going to have like in the drama triangle, right?

If you’re a victim, there’s a persecutor, there’s a rescuer, there’s always going to be drama. And so  going into the durable triangle, you need to move into being a resource, being vulnerable and  persevering, strengthening all of this. So in this book, it was before a lot of the narrative that’s  happening right now, which I think is healthy, it’s great. We need to be having these discussions.  Just try to find yourself on that triangle. Where do you land? Can you move into a post-traumatic  growth place? Can you say this adversity is actually fantastic for strengthening, you know, and  find your luminosity instead of obscure yourself into a tiny little creature. That’s the problem that  really only bugs this instead of blossoming into butterflies. Probably a terrible mixed metaphor,  but whatever you get the idea that, okay.

Ari Whitten, MS I wasn’t going to go here but you what you just said it brought this up for me. I know we want to  talk about mitochondrial health and I want to get there.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  We are, by the way, this is mitochondrial health right here, guys.

Ari Whitten, MS  For sure. All of this ties it to mitochondrial health and there’s a field called mitochondrial  psychobiology and led by a researcher named Martine Picard, who I’ve had on the podcast. And  we now know there is a strong, basically instantaneous connection between what’s going on in  the mind and our mitochondria. So it is true what you just said is absolutely 100% true. Whatever  is going on in your mind is also reflected in what’s going on in your mitochondria. So that’s true.  We’ll get there. I want to come back to that. What you just said about maladaptive covert  narcissism is very interesting to me. And there’s a phenomenon that I’ve observed over the years.  I bet you’ve observed it, too. And I wonder if maybe you can put better words to this than I can,  because it’s something that I have observed for a long time and many people that I know, but I never have really heard somebody talk about this. There’s almost like, you know, part of healing is  like doing the work. It’s like, you know, self I forget how you described it. Self Confronting  something, something like that.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C Passionate curiosity. Self Yes. Willing to engage in that. Yeah. Right.

Ari Whitten, MS  Yeah. So there’s an interesting paradox I’ve observed where like there’s certain people who are  not willing to go there at all into this introspection type of place where they’re willing to engage  with their stuff, work on their stuff, work on healing, at work on growing, changing, evolving. Like  even being willing to consider the possibility that your ways of being in ways of thinking and  behaving and ways of relating to others are causing some of the problems that you’re  experiencing. Like some people just never go there and are even willing to consider that their  ways of being are a problem. On the other hand, I’ve also noticed a segment of the population  that seems to be endlessly stuck in a loop of trying to fix themselves, where almost their whole  life revolves around this constant pursuit of trying to heal their trauma get over this change,  grow, become more spiritually evolved, and the blindspot of this kind of the shadow side of this,  that that I’ve observed is that it is a it is a very deep form of self-centeredness, of like  self-obsession, where your whole world and all your waking hours are poured into yourself and  trying to fix yourself and heal yourself of whatever various thing. And it’s a never ending stream  of things that need to be fixed and healed. And you can’t like the conversation that you  constantly have, I’ve just had this amazing breakthrough. I’m healing this. It’s, it’s so profound,  but it’s like it never quite gets there. There’s always something else that needs to be healed.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Lack of operation.

Ari Whitten, MS  And, and it’s like it never arrives to a place where, okay, now I’m good and now I can work on  relating to the world, giving whatever it is that I’m here to do, whatever my gift is, giving it to the  world instead, it’s this constant inward thing. I need to fix myself. I need to fix myself. Can you.  Can you talk about what that is?

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Yeah, that is what I was talking about. Where it’s a form of maladaptive conversion narcissism. So  it’s a constant absorption of self. And this is again, I’m going to come back to sort of ancient  philosophical places where masters who have spent centuries studying the mind, written it all  down, practiced it and are passing it down through lineages, have got this. And one of the things  that they talk about is Westerners are so wounded because of this, it’s either the ego will make  you feel superior or inferior. Either way, when one of those voices is happening, you know that it’s  a false self that’s chiming in right now. Does it make it bad to be aware of it? It’s like, well, hi.  Right. Good to hear from you. Can you just sit in the corner for a minute? I’ve got this right. And  ability to be able to recognize who’s coming to the table out of your personality instead of at the  root of my personality, at the root of everything, I’m flawed, I’m broken. There’s inside of the  paradigm that in stone Tibetan Buddhism is that you are this vast, luminous awareness. You are  consciousness unbounded. You don’t have abundance, you don’t have love, you don’t have  compassion, you are those things. And so at the beginning of every single practice that you sit  down in and participate in, engage in on a daily basis to strengthen that nervous system, engage  those channels is the willingness to dedicate this practice to the relief of suffering of all beings,  that this isn’t something that you are doing for you.

You are all beings, and you’re sharing the planet with whole bunch of others. And there’s I mean,  we can talk about interdimensional, too, right? And so if you really sit down with that, they call it  the mind and heart of Boteach at that. It’s this open heart mind that goes way beyond what you  are. Tiny little problems are what your tiny little breakthroughs are. And so then you’re not so  focused on this. I call it going from mouse to eagle. A mouse, you know, a child. There’s a lot of  danger out there. You go to school and you don’t know which lunchroom table to sit out  because you’re the new kid in class. That’s dangerous, right? It feels awful. And so there’s just a  lot of mouse scurrying around and trying to figure out how to get needs, how to be a mouse,  how to survive. When you get into adulthood and you go to these different developmental levels  and states, you can have more of an eagle perspective. You can see the whole thing. Then it’s not  so narrowly focused. So if you’re practicing from a place that I’m getting this for me, then it’s very  narrow in focus. It’s very tiny. It’s still mouse practicing rather than eagle

The Mind-Mitochondria connection

Ari Whitten, MS That was excellent. I really like that. Okay, let’s shift to mitochondria now. So can you explain how  all of this stuff around trauma and cycle suffering relates to mitochondrial health

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  I’m going to pull out of where that comes from. Okay. I’m going to finish up a little bit of what I  was just saying. This is a Segway. Yeah. And so there’s a thing called the near enemy of truth. So a lot of new age psychology, spirituality, you know, new thought has a lot of near enemy to truth,  like everything’s true except this one little element, you know. And so the law of manifestation,  there’s a lot of there’s a lot of language about like scarcity versus abundance, making, duality,  polarity, paradoxical things. So in that near and immediate truth and we start talking about  mitochondria. So everything is microcosm of the macrocosm of the universe. So when you think  about cells on a cellular level, if you go back to that mouse little analogy that I was just using  where your consciousness is in this scree, I don’t know if I have enough. I don’t know if I’m going  to survive. I don’t know if this is going to be okay. Then that is translating directly into the cellular  biology that is making energy, you know, like your energy, right?

This is your energy grid. So if the captain of your energy grid doesn’t have all the tools that it  needs, if it can’t get what it needs, as there’s this creating a barrier in your cell membrane, then  you wind up having the exact same thing happen on a physical layer that you have here. All your  Vedic medicine calls this the punch of cookies. So if your, you know, your physical layer is only  one of five, five layers, you have your energy body. That’s next. You have your mental emotional  body, whatever is in your mental emotional body as far as what your perceptions are. I’m not  good enough. I’m not safe. I’m not whatever it is which you can go ahead and link back to a  trauma response from a long time ago. But that’s not where you stop. Now, I’m going to I’m  doing a 28 guided, 28 day guided detox journey with a group of people right now. And they’re  like, what? We’re not talking about smoothies. You are not talking about like, yeah, we are for acouple of days of the 28 but the foundation is this your mitochondria don’t get what they need.  They can’t activate in the way that they need to. If you are engaged in what are called like the ten  negative karmas, right. And that’s inward and outward where it’s harsh speech, you know, your  thinking thoughts on a rumination loop that are based on I don’t have enough in this world. And  so if that happens, then your body will believe you. You don’t have enough.

Ari Whitten, MS So this is trauma, unresolved trauma. And I would imagine particularly big trauma gets  essentially encoded into the nervous system and is maybe even encoded at the mitochondrial  level. As you know, we now know from the cell danger response, and I teach a lot through that  paradigm, that danger signals whether they be toxins or an infection or poor nutrition or sleep  deprivation or psychological stress or trauma or rumination on negative thoughts. And I to say  that’s 50% of it right there. Yeah. Yeah. And so a lot of people, maybe more than that, it may be  most of what’s going on for them. 

You know, in some cases is essentially creating a constant stream of danger signals that your  mitochondria are processing and saying, hey, you know, we’re not safe. It’s not safe to be  producing abundant energy. It’s like the analogy is if you’re in the kitchen chopping vegetables  and then you’re preparing dinner and then, you know, a burglar walks in and puts a gun to your  head and says, give me all your money. You’re not just going to keep chopping vegetables and  prepping dinner. You have to deal with that threat. And if you’ve got a constant stream of threats  originating from your own mind, 24 seven that’s a pretty big problem to deal with to get your  mitochondria turned back on.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C Your six minds. By the way, five of them are sensory. And so and then there’s the large mind that  synthesizes all of it. So this is interesting because studies show that what you look for, you will  see. So if you look, I go hiking every morning and my daughter and I will say, oh, there’s a dog  lover because my three dogs are off leash. And as I spot somebody, it’s very rare that we see  anyone at 5:00 in the morning. But sometimes we do. And I’m always looking at their face  because there are people that have been traumatized dogs in their past. And what they will see  in my fluffy, amazing dogs, you know, is danger. And so it’s like what comes in gets collapsed  without a flip of emotion. Now it’s a reality for you whether or not it is for another person.

Ari Whitten, MS  Yeah.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C And so that affects immediately your mitochondria immediately. So, you know, that’s it’s three of  those six minds you taste that made you throw up when you were a child. And it’s like that right  in your body is going to think danger. I had that happen after staying up all night in seventh  grade for a skating party, and my mom fed me French onion soup the next day and I vomited it.  And I can’t stand the smell or the taste of French onion soup. Now, today, at age 58, my  mitochondria will respond at the outset. Oh, sorry. So, you know, it’s like, oh, wow, can we not  unhook from that, please? Right. That’s that’s that’s the thing that will happen is an instant.  Right. And so if you were to say French onion soup is bad because of that experience, rather than  having that eagle awareness that says, oh, I see where that came from. Okay, it’s all right, but we  can try this. You know, it doesn’t it’s not poison. It’s okay. And so you get to calm your own  nervous system. You get to create a different perception if you’re willing to do so. That is  happening through six different minds, which is pretty fascinating.

Ari Whitten, MS  I was . I went for a walk with my wife on the beach this morning, and we were talking about  some good friends of ours who are constantly kind of in a struggle. And there’s built up tensions  and resentments and, you know, little things kind of trigger it and bring it out. And then they’re  fighting again with each other. And I’ve been in that place in relationships before, so I know what  it’s like and, you know, I was chatting with my wife and we’re in a really beautiful space together  and we’ve been for a while now, and it’s almost like a different plane of existence and way of  relating to each other. That’s like free of all the tensions and the dramas and the built up  resentments. And it’s like it’s just, it’s a different modes of operation that you can be in. And  when you’re in one, you can’t get to the other.

And, you know, if you’re stuck up here in the good one, it’s really hard to go back down and relate  in the other one. And if you’re in that other one kind of in the in the muck, in the in the difficulty  of it, it’s really hard to transcend that and for both people to kind of get to a different way of  relating this, this process of overcoming our own stuff, like overcoming our own traumas of the  past. And there’s so much cultural narratives now really encouraging people to, to, to dig up the  stuff from the past. And I would even say to, in some cases, to like create narratives of their own  life that emphasize their own traumas. And there’s an aspect of this that’s necessary to do the  work. You first have to confront it, but you don’t want to just stay stuck there. You don’t want to  just stay stuck forever analyzing your traumas and your stuff and trying to fixated on that as, as  we’ve alluded to earlier, with certain types of people that do stay stuck there, what is it that we  need to do? What’s let me phrase it this way. What’s the difference between resolved versus  unresolved trauma?

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C So it’s not a straight line, it’s not one and done. There’ll be layers and layers of things that will  arise throughout your life. As I said, Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. You’re going to get  another challenge, right? And that might bring up another layer of here’s the next one to work  with. It’s always a cycle. It’s always everything goes in cycles, right? We have waveforms of sound,  of light, of nature, seasons, our life span. Everything is going to be a world that’s always churning.  And so sometimes we’re in the mud and sometimes you’re not and you’re never going to be able  to stay out of the mud. You will go back in there again. Yeah, and relationships are that way, too.  There is a season in a fall, winter or spring and summer. If you’re able to stick with it and  recognize the larger picture eagle view again, then you know, Oh yeah, we’re in the muck. It’s  time we’re doing another grow up process and we will come out and be in the spring and  summer again if we’re willing to do it together.

And so story for me, story of trauma is important and I do it in the retreats I hold. You tell your  stories. Stories important. I don’t ever say don’t ever tell your story. You tell your story for one  purpose, and that is to track what you made up about it, where it lies in your body, and what the  adaptive behavior response was that you created and certain ages and stages so that you can  now self confront and go through the processing so you never want to have an undigested. So  resolved trauma is digested. Trauma is where you go. Oh yeah, thank goodness that happened.  You tell that story without tears, without an angst that comes up. It’s like, you know, that  happened and my goodness, this is what transpired as a result and I wouldn’t wish this on  anyone, but that is probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my life as a result of  trauma.

How to get out of the trauma “trap”

Ari Whitten, MS  Okay, what? So what is it that we need to do to move through it? What is it that we need to do to  get there? What in your experience, like what? What is the biggest needle mover for people, for  them to get there, especially for people maybe who have been stuck, who are adults now, who  are dealing with traumas from the past, from ten, 20, 40, 50 years ago. You know, I know.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C People, too.

Ari Whitten, MS  In my family and who are in their seventies now who were like, for example, someone very close  to me and my wife was sexually abused when she was a child. And she’s in her seventies now  and she’s never dealt with this, you know. And so there’s certain things that probably have led to  our. 

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Way of being.

Ari Whitten, MS  Her whole life.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Over is willingness. That’s it, right? You can’t make somebody want to go to the mat. You have to  let them come and you can do the invitation. Yeah. You know, I remember one time in a plant  medicine journey, I was told you sing your song. People that will hear the frequency and wake up  that are ready to wake up. And it’s not your responsibility to wake everybody up. And that was so  freeing to me. I was oh my gosh, I had no idea is carrying that on my shoulders, my mother  being one of them. Like I was feeling responsible for waking my mother up to be able to do this  work. She’s not interested and she’s told me that a zillion times. I am not interested.

Ari Whitten, MS  I can imagine you’ve tried.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Oh, yes, and I don’t anymore. I just love her and I accept her and I’m devoted to her just as she is.  Right. And so there’s not a need for everybody to resolve their drama. 

Ari Whitten, MS  Mm hmm.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C People have to be willing. That’s the biggest needle mover.

Ari Whitten, MS So let’s say someone is willing let’s say someone is hearing this right now. They are willing they  feel intrigued by what you’ve said in this conversation. And they’re saying, okay, maybe it’s time  for me to do this work that I’ve been resistant to it up to this point.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  A little exercise. I have to go in one minute here, but I have a little exercise that I give to people to  start everyone off. But everyone’s different because some people will have a high level of  neuroticism, some will have the five personality right there. There will be different traits in them,  different genetics. So everyone’s different and what will work for them. But what works across  the board for the very first step is just for 24 hours. However many of those you are awake that  you start to track your own thoughts and then move that to a week and keep a little journal and  start noticing the tone you speak yourself and what the content is like, what repeats itself again  and again, how you feel in your body as a result of that conversation that’s being had. Start  having, you know, you’re developing a wake awareness, stay awake to it and you can gather a  little, little bag of dirt pebbles and a little bag of light pebbles. And then at the end of each day,  sit down and for every life affirming thought that you had put a little light pebble there and on  the table or on the floor in front of you.

 And for every part that was ruminating, you know life destructive thought really put that there.  And in the beginning what you’ll notice is you have a lot of different proposals because you  haven’t been aware of your patterns. And then the next day you’ll say, Ooh, I don’t want to put a  bloody dark pebble in there, so make sure I change that thought right, and you’ll start to master  your own thoughts. A lot of people think that they’re sitting down on the couch looking at the  big screen TV, and that their thoughts are like a video going past and that they’re just passive  observers. And every thought that they have must be stellar. It must be a pearl of wisdom, and  that is completely, fundamentally untrue. So just because you have a thought doesn’t make it a  great one or something you should share with everybody. And so what you get to do is you get  to change the channel. You learn that you have control over your own thoughts, and it’s  absolutely the only thing have control over. And so you start to learn to master that. And then  from there, once you have those that schematic kind of, you know, like the background behind  there, you start to see you have a little pattern of your own. Then I work with people from that  pattern because everyone’s different and they have needs for being able to break free of this.

Ari Whitten, MS  Dr. Ewers. You are a very wise woman. I enjoyed this conversation tremendously and let people  know where they can get in touch with you and follow your work.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Dr. Keesha. drkeesha.com and thanks for having me.

Ari Whitten, MS  Thank you so much my friend. Absolutely. I look forward to the next time.

Keesha Ewers, PhD, ARNP-FNP-C, AAP, IFM-C  Bye bye.                   

Show Notes

00:00 – intro
00:40 – Guest Intro . Dr. Keesha Ewers
09:30 – What is trauma?
12:55 – Post-traumatic growth
17:30 – We need adversity
27.30 – Maladaptive covert narcissism
42:42 – The Mind-Mitochondria connection
53:56 – How to get out of the trauma “trap”


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