Saturday, July 31, 2021

Narcissistic Leaders and their Enabling Followers: An Interview with Radhia Gleis

Radhia Gleis
What draws and attracts people to a cult? Why do people remain there despite realizing that it is a cult that does harm and damage to them and to others? What type of people become cult leaders and what are their general characteristics? And most importantly, how can we recognize elements and signposts of cults and their leaders so that we can protect ourselves better and not become entrapped, brainwashed, or manipulated by them?

In fact, it is easy to presuppose and claim that one has immunity against falling for cults, but this commonly held belief is a fallacy; many who would swear to never fall for a cult or who had assumed that they would easily see through one would be the same people who would one day find themselves immersed in a cult or a cult-like entity.

If you consider yourself safe and sound, then just look around: There are cults and cult-like organizations, movements, and religions all over the place and in various communities near you. You may not know and realize it, and it may have never crossed your mind (at least until now), but you may already be swearing allegiance and waving and brandishing a flag and a banner to a cult-like entity as we speak.

To learn more about cults and how they operate and how and why people fall prey to them, one can read books, watch movies and documentaries, and learn about different studies on the topic. There are a series of experiments that have delved into and shed light upon underlying reasons and motives for becoming vulnerable to and being caught and trapped by cults. Some of the most noteworthy experiments in psychology are Asch’s Conformity Studies, Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiment as well as Zimbardo’s (now notorious and infamous) Prison Experiment.

To summarize them briefly, Asch wanted to test how we conform to others, and to his surprise, people would either mistrust or doubt their own instincts and senses or they would willingly go with the majority so as not to elicit any attention and/or disapproval from the group. Put differently, imagine that you know the correct answer and that you know that everybody else in your group is wrong, but you still cave in to peer pressure and consciously and willingly provide the false answer, as you do not wish to stand out from the crowd.

In Milgram’s Experiment, ordinary citizens provided what they deemed lethal and fatal electric shocks to another person simply because a perceived person of authority, the experimenter in a white lab coat, told them to do so for the purposes of a study. We could be even driven to kill others when we blindly and solemnly bow and obey to seeming figures of authority. Milgram’s study was shocking (pun intended) as it showed that we cannot simply blame others and make them responsible and accountable for our own dubious and nefarious actions.

Finally, Zimbardo showed us that when you simulate a certain context and situation and when you are not in contact with people outside of this bubble – one of the prerequisites of all cults is to separate and isolate you both physically as well as mentally from people with other kinds of views - you can fall prey to and even embrace and propagate bizarre and outlandish ideas. It happened to Philip Zimbardo himself, an intelligent person with outstanding critical thinking skills, and yet, there were moments where reality blurred even for him; at times, he genuinely believed that he was running an actual prison instead of a psychological experiment of a simulated prison environment.

Fortunately, the study was abandoned early due to the worrisome and growing cruelty and insanity of the subjects involved within that toxic environment. The randomly selected “prison guards” horribly and cruelly abused the “prisoners” and most of the latter accepted that treatment, while everyone seemed to have forgotten that it was merely an experiment. The German film Das Experiment (2001) shows what would have most likely happened if the study had been allowed and permitted to continue its doomed course.

When I watched documentaries on cults, specifically Wild Wild Country as well as Holy Hell, I was shocked but also baffled at how and why all these atrocities could occur. But documentaries can only work as blurry momentary snapshots as they are attempting to paint a picture of events that occurred over many years and under complex circumstances.

Moreover, in the case of Holy Hell (2016), which depicted the cult of the Buddhafield, its director Will Allen had about 45 hours of footage ranging from recent interviews to archival footage, and he condensed it all into a 100-minute film (a kind of challenge I am somewhat personally familiar with after each of my interviews, as I need to resume an abundance of important, relevant, and interesting tidbits of information into a blog post of a reasonable enough length).

Apart from documentaries occasionally misleading people, intentionally or not, the experience we get as a viewer is going to be very limited and scarce, no matter how well made, detailed, and crafted the show may be. It is one thing to have the theoretical knowledge and quite another to experience being part of a cult. Hence, when I had the chance and opportunity to talk to Radhia Gleis, a former member of Buddhafield, who appeared in Holy Hell, I was thrilled to gain an inside perspective into the inner workings of a cult.

Not only was Radhia part of that cult for twenty-five years, but she also wrote a book about her experiences and insights of how and why people fall for cults and what one can do about it: The Followers: Holy Hell and the Disciples of Narcissistic Leaders: How my Years in a Notorious Cult Parallel Today’s Cultural Mania. Moreover, she sees links and connections between cults and the current political climate in the United States as well as political and social movements across the globe. Her insights are astounding, thoughtful, and most practical, and they can help us navigate through these uncertain and volatile times.   

First off, we need to be aware that most, if not all, cult leaders are narcissistic in nature. In fact, narcissistic personalities are not limited to cults as various politicians and presidents of different countries as well as bosses, managers, CEOs of various companies and organizations also tend to be narcissists. In fact, as Radhia says, 1 in 5 people tend to be sociopaths, and they tend to be predominantly male (though there are many equivalent female examples as well) and chances are that you will have either a family member, a boss, or a neighbor that is a narcissist, or worse, a narcissistic sociopath.

I have previously written on how to spot a narcissist, and, as a rule, they tend to lack the following three characteristics: They lack imagination, empathy, and a sense of humor. Radhia confirmed this with me. This was her experience with Jaime, the leader of Buddhafield, and she added that narcissists do not have their own personality, but they tend to steal, copy and imitate the work, ideas, and personalities of others. In fact, Jaime not only donned different names and personalities, but he also stole the meditation techniques from others, and especially at the beginning, he was particularly attuned to give his followers what they wanted and what they needed from him.

One thing that makes narcissists get away with so much is that they have the gift of the gab and are clever talkers. Narcissists can spin everything and shake and rattle you and even gaslight you by making you doubt your firmest convictions as they skillfully play and manipulate you and others along the way. They are quite perceptive and can figure you out and pay heed and close attention to your flaws and weaknesses; once they find out what you want to hear, they will become what you want them to become so that you will give them what they want from you.

They are also notorious and pathological liars and will unscrupulously feed you with lies that serve their own utterly selfish goals and ambitions. Their instant ability to change and switch their persona like a chameleon is helped by the sheer fact that they have neither feelings nor a personality to speak of. They live, exist, and feed on the attention and admiration they receive, this the nectar of their life, their narcissistic supply and they love to be front and center on a stage or a platform, be it in show business, politics (which is currently practically indistinguishable from the former), major business organizations as well as cults, which is in essence a hybrid combination of all the previously mentioned.

Nonetheless, the situation is not clear-cut when we look at the members and followers of cults. Joining a cult is not a conscious decision; it is much more complex than that. As Radhia told me, nobody wakes up one day and says I will join a club today. In fact, cults were a commonplace phenomenon in the 60s and the 70s, and you could find one at and around every corner.

In Los Angeles, there was a cult around every block, be it Scientology or Hare Krishnas, and this reflected the major cultural movements that were happening at the time. Yet at the same time, there was also a lot of disappointment, anger, and grievance with one’s surroundings, sentiments that have been revived in different forms and formats in today’s political and social climate as well.

For instance, hippies started to turn into yuppies and created a schism in society. There were those who began to mistrust government and embraced ideologies tinged with feelings of anti-establishment. All this helped the Buddhafield cult to become attractive, to draw crowds, and to grow, which is how and why a young, well-educated, and affluent individual like Radhia saw it as a way out of her despair with and from the world she knew. All she and her fellow cult members wanted at the time was to live a spiritual life, and Jaime’s cult provided that, at last in its initial stages.

In fact, Buddhafield started off not as a cult but as a community of people who shared their desire for happiness, spirituality and meaningful lives and activities. They were all, in one way or another, dissatisfied with their own cultures and lifestyles, and they were all looking and on the lookout for more meaning and purpose in their personal lives. There was a void that they had in common as well as a shared joy in the experience of finding like-minded individuals, and the cult leader took advantage of all those desires.

The void was a lack of secure attachment, joy, and spirituality. Organized religion felt bland and paled in comparison to the richness and color that these vibrant communities gave and provided to them. It filled a void, a void that was not only because of society but because many of these individuals did not feel an emotional connection with their own family; as a result, fellow cult members became their substitute family. Although Jaime remained in the background initially, he would consider himself a “midwife” to spiritual knowledge and God (an idea directly plagiarized from the unwritten pages of Socrates), but, in fact, what he wanted to become was their spiritual father figure whom they ought to worship and to whom they would obey in body and soul.

Attention and admiration as well as unwavering control and loyalty is what every narcissistic sociopath craves and dreams of, and slowly, the creepy, disturbed, and disturbing personality of his began breaking through. What the narcissist wants most is narcissistic supply, love, and admiration of others and what he abhors the most is any type of criticism, no matter how fruitful, beneficial, and productive it may be and whatever its intention or motivation.

Narcissists crave undulated and unwavering love and commitment, and this gives them space and room to do and be exactly as they wish. In the case of the Buddhafield, Jaime sexually abused various male members of the cult. Throughout, there is no remorse, conscience nor feeling as he has neither nor any of them. Narcissists will never thank nor appreciate what you give them nor what you do for them; they will only ask for more and will ridicule you or put you down when you do not live up to their unreasonable and impossible standards and expectations. And yet, many follow them willingly and accept the abuse they receive.

At the same time, a cult cannot exist without its members, the same way a leader, whether political, religious or otherwise, cannot exist without his or her followers. According to Radhia, and she outlines this in her book in much more detail, cults are usually made up of three different types of followers: the hummingbirds, the soldiers on a mission, and the kamikaze.

The hummingbirds are those who do not exactly know what they want in life, nor are they clear about what they expect from a cult, an organization, or a political party. They often flitter about, hang out here and there but are often confused and unsatisfied. They generally cannot find anything that pleases them because they have little idea of what it is they are actually looking for.

On the other side of the spectrum, we find soldiers on a mission. They have a clear focus and a specified mission. Their mission might be enlightenment and the quest for divine union. They are much more committed and disciplined than the hummingbirds and are hence willing to make certain sacrifices for what they see and conceive of as their higher purpose or their calling in life.

The last and most radical and most dangerous group consists of the kamikaze. While the soldiers may have scruples here and there, and they certainly have, know, and recognize certain limits, the kamikaze, as their name implies, are on a suicide mission. They have no line in the sand and will even kill and commit suicide. They are the dedicated and devoted right-hand people who would do absolutely anything to gain favor and approval from their leader and their cause.

They are, of course, very dangerous people, and they do all the dirty work for their perceived leader. They would ostracize, banish, and even execute any persons, including fellow cult members that are deemed and branded unworthy of and by their leader. In Milgram’s experiment, most subjects continued giving (what they perceived as dangerous) “electroshocks”, but they did so under severe distress and duress; the kamikaze does it most willingly; in fact, it is a source and banner of pride and pleasure to them.

As Radhia pointed out, it is important to note that we are not talking about brainwashing here. No one was forced to join the cult in the first place. None of the members were tortured to be and remain there. Just like Milgram’s subjects, they were free to leave, and they were aware and conscious of their actions and the potential consequences. As to the belief system and ideology of the cult, all its members already fully embraced them. They were not sequestered and kidnapped, nor was there a radical change and shift in their thinking. People who follow, be it a cult or a political leader, are not victims.

Not only do fanatic followers willingly and wholeheartedly give their chosen leaders unconditional and blind support and encouragement, but they are indeed their enablers. As mentioned earlier, these narcissistic (mis)leaders are given a voice, platform, and reason to exist by these same enablers, their many, often deluded but also actively deluding, followers who prefer groupthink over common sense and who choose to forgo cognitive dissonance alongside reason, doubts, knowledge, and even science to put their respective sociopath on an undeserved pedestal.

There is more to cults, and there are more cults than meet the eye, but in their midst, you would often find a heartless, manipulating, and conniving narcissistic sociopath who does not care nor give a damn about anything - but themselves.


There is so much more ground as well as thoughts and insights that you could check out for yourself in this magnificent and mind-blowing interview with the pleasant, witty, and astute Radhia Gleis! You can access the full-length interview either on YouTube or on my podcast

Thursday, July 22, 2021

How the Brain makes Coffee and dislikes Multitasking: A Book Review of On Task by David Badre

On Task by David Badre
For various days, which then gradually and imperceptibly but persistently morphed into months, David Badre’s book was gathering dust at the edge of my writing desk right next to my computer. It is a book that was awaiting a review and I take my self-claimed voluntary assignments very seriously, and yet, for one reason or another, I was too occupied or too busy on the job front; the various demands of the teaching profession were upon me as I wished to ensure a relatively decent living for myself and my family. As a result, I was forced to postpone this joyful and rewarding task for much longer than anticipated or expected.

This hesitance or resistance has very rarely anything to do with the quality or the subject matter of the books in question. All PR solicitations that I accept and take on are not only taken very seriously but are also of great personal and educational interest to me. I am mentioning all of this here not only to excuse my delay but mainly because of the palpable irony and apparent contradiction: the book I am reviewing is about how our brain gets things done, while, uncharacteristically, I was not getting anything done for an unusual amount of time. It is like procrastinating while at the same time finding out why one is doing so and still procrastinating, nonetheless.

First off, there is the dichotomy of work and leisure at play here. The previously mentioned example of job demands alongside work tasks was given priority over my so-called leisure activities, which significantly hindered and paused the contributions to my blog in different forms and formats, hence slowing down book reviews and interviews. The second reason is that this particular book On Task: How Our Brain gets Things done written by cogntive neuroscientist David Badre was also relatively complicated for a non-scientist like myself as I delve into the field of neuroscience not headfirst with a full-stream dive but with dipped toes and protective floaties around my arms.

And yet, David Badre’s book starts off so easy, and the hook is immediate and irreversible. He does not start with life-changing decisions or ethical dilemmas or psychological and philosophical issues and problems, no, he starts with the process of making coffee. He is also humble about his motivations (although he slightly compromises and jeopardizes that goal towards the end of the book) that the whole book is about how we do and go about doing the ordinary things in life. Keep in mind that the ordinary includes and entails some complex processes, so supposedly simple daily acts like brewing coffee or brushing your teeth are not only uniquely human; they also involve highly sophisticated brain patterns going hand in hand with specific actions and behaviors.

In fact, we tend to do the simple things in automatic fashion and without much thinking. Unless this is your first time brewing coffee or you just acquired a smart coffeemaker, the process should feel automatic to you. You have already accumulated a storehouse and library of learned response pathways ranging from the simple to the complex, and you are accustomed to it by now and can easily translate your goal and turn your desire into a concrete reality and hold a freshly brewed cup of coffee in your hand every single morning to prove it.

And yet, the devil lies in the details. We generally go about our regular business and may not think twice about or even notice that we are doing routine tasks, such as making coffee unless something goes wrong, or an unexpected event gives us pause and reflection. That unforeseen something would require problem-solving on our part because it throws a wrench into what should have been an easy and smooth process.

The proverbial wrench, just like the real one, can come in different shapes and sizes. There are some hindrances related to the completion of the task itself. God forbid but maybe we have run out of filters and forgot to replenish them last time we were at the grocery store. Suddenly, we experience conflict, and, in certain cases, the value associated with and assigned to the action may jump to the foreground, and you may question yourself.

How badly do I want that cup of coffee this morning? Are the stores open so I can get the filters that I need for coffee-making? Can we, just for today, switch to non-filter and less complicated alternatives, such as tea? Yet that is a no-go for ardent coffee drinkers like myself, and we would even drag our unwashed selves out in our PJs to stand in a queue at the closest coffee shop only to get that much-needed fix of the day.

But the brain’s analysis of cost and benefits can find other ways of circumventing the filter problem. It can suggest using the long-neglected but gloriously filter-less French press idly and patiently standing on your kitchen shelf and pleasing for occasional use. You would have to quickly run through the process itself and make sure that you have all it takes to make the switch for the day.

Other issues may be less dramatic in scope. You have not forgotten to purchase your filter, but you have placed it in a different spot and must try hard to retrace your steps from your latest shopping excursion to retrieve the much-needed object for your coffee-making needs. Our phones have trackers, would it not be great if everything in life came with a GPS?

But for the sake of argument let us assume that everything goes according to plan and the coffee-making process is flawless. It follows a clear pattern that is both chronological and hierarchical in nature. They may vary and be interchangeable, but the essential bits and pieces are the same. No matter how you prepare the coffee grounds - I, for instance, have been lately investing more time into hand-grinding my coffee beans - it is imperative that you first put the grounds and then add and run the water, and not the other way around. Then, voilĂ , a new batch of coffee shall be made, you will pour it steaming hot into your mug, you will even health challenge yourself by holding back on sugar and cream for the day and maybe even the rest of the month, or you may even forgo both altogether for the sake of potential health benefits projected onto the future.

Yet this idyllic, calm, effortless, and uncomplicated process is not what we generally experience during our hectic and stress-filled days. In reality, you would have to multitask. If you have family members, they will happily intrude and interrupt your coffee-making routine. You would have to leave things on pause or half-done and attend to their needs first and then be able to pick where you left behind. Or you may receive calls or emails from work, the ever-present looming ring and notification tones that alert you that something is in the offing, most of it harmless, but your brain would often perceive it as otherwise and consider everything as potentially dangerous and threatening.

If it is not a meltdown that interrupts your coffee-making process, you could overload yourself, either because you want to get a head start in the day or you are just bored with daily routine tasks and want something more challenging to start your day with and are looking for something to do during the idle gaps when water is filtering through your machine. So you browse your phone, read emails or snippets of news items or do some online shopping as you are waiting for your cup of coffee.

These are self-inflicted minor distractions that can potentially hold you up or even divert you from your predominant task of coffee-making. These distractions may include an urgent matter, a call to be made, a fire, literal or metaphorical, waiting to be put out in the office, a family emergency, or an unexpected, good piece of news. If it is anything major, the coffee will have to wait for a bit and in certain unusual but demanding cases be scrapped altogether, at least for the moment.

The brain was built to alternate and fluctuate between two general states of existence, stability and flexibility. We generally seek stability, but at the same time, it is important to have balance and harmony between the two states. Stability is basically your ability to focus on a given task. All other things would be background noise and distractions that you would need to filter out so that they do not interfere with your task at hand. Certainly, simple and automated tasks like making coffee will not need as many resources, nor need much concentration and focus as compared to writing emails or reports, for instance, but it is still essential to see the task through and get it done. Nobody fully enjoys a half-made coffee.

These interruptions, such as email notifications, will be then deemed in terms of their value and importance. Does it warrant halting the given task and attend to it, a clear case of flexibility, or should we continue doing what we were doing and attend to it later. In that case, we would shelve and conveniently lodge this information in our working memory, a place of limited storage that can be retrieved at will or it can pop up triggered by given contexts and situations or it could just hit us over the head like a flash of lightning or bolt of inspiration.

Yet our brain chooses, uses, and evaluates this cognitive control via a cost and benefit analysis. If the house is burning down, you must be flexible and reasonable enough to abandon your task. Forget the coffee: priority should be given to saving lives. It reminds me of an anecdote I read about a king who was supposedly so engrossed in a chess match that soldiers ended up invading and taking over the palace and killed him before he was able to checkmate his opponent. Although stability is good and even desired, we still need to be flexible and evaluate the given situation while often adjusting on the fly.

The context is very important since the same actions may not be permissible, advisable, safe, or even legal in other types of situations. Let us look at the case of texting and driving. Responding to texts is seen as normal in most aspects of our lives. In fact, it is a habit. Like Pavlov’s conditioned dog, we, metaphorically speaking, salivate, and our heartbeat increases for incoming texts and mail as we feel the urgent need to check and read them on the spur of the moment.

Yet we must be able to forgo that temptation when we are on the road. The context has changed, and we must act differently in this type of situation, if not for our own safety and the safety of our loved ones, then because the law requires it. To make that happen, we must gain and activate cognitive control by first gating the new context into the working memory. That is, we store the information in our memory and tell and remind our brain of the following: anytime I hear a ding on the phone, remind me not to respond to it immediately. Ideally, this condition shall apply until and as long as I am inside the car, but certain safe arrangements and compromises may be made in the process.

Put differently, to avoid texting or responding to text messages and phone calls while we are driving, our cognitive control system must override the learned impulse to check the phone. Hence, our specific context and situation of being on the road and driving would have to differ from the environments we are habitually used to. This is akin to control flow of computer programs where the relevant gating policy will allow the right task demands to come to the forefront, with specific conditional algorithms attached to it, such as if phone buzzes, then respond, unless driving on the road, in that case, ignore and do nothing.

Nonetheless, sometimes the habit is so ingrained and strong that we completely forget the context that we are in a car actively driving. At other times, the temptation is so strong that we cannot help ourselves. We know it is the wrong thing to do but we really want to know who is contacting us and what it is they want from us, and we give it prevalence and priority over the case and danger of distracted driving. In that case, we cannot plead ignorance and it is not just a memory lapse or failure; it is our will accentuated by the force of habit that pushes us in the unwanted or ill-advised direction. This push and pull between staying focused and being side-tracked, intentionally or unintentionally, is the story of our lives alongside the often-seen dissonance between thought and action.

What about multi-tasking? Personally, I have always suspected it to be a myth, and now, all thanks to David, I have cerebral evidence to support that claim. In fact, we are really bad at multitasking and, ironically or not, those who claim to be good at it tend to be the worst. This is mainly because our working memory has limited storage. We can only input a certain number of items, ranging from three to four memories that can be active at a time; after that, we either start forgetting or confusing them. Moreover, when we hold multiple items in mind, we would have to switch back and forth. Each time, we switch, let us say from chatting on the phone and back to the work on our computer, we would need to adjust to the circumstances and update the information in each of the contexts.

This dual-task alongside task-switching takes a toll on our brain, especially if they are bottlenecks. The same way we can fixate on only one location with our eyes at any given moment in time, there are perceptual processing limits at play here. In fact, studies show that not only is more time spent (i.e. wasted) on tasks but at the same time efficiency is reduced leading to an overall decrease in workplace productivity.

To spell it out even more clearly to all those multitask braggers and achievers out there, people take longer and make more mistakes when they attempt to do two or more tasks at the same time. The only time you can have your cake and eat it too is when the tasks are not interfering with each other and do not create a bottleneck or impasse between similar neural pathways. In other words, two activities may be able to continue without much hindrance or impediments, such as listening to classical music while writing a blog post. But others would interfere. Overall, I would not do a good job writing my article while cooking a meal at the same time. While I am trying to focus on my writing, I would have to gate the fact that food may be burning on the stove, and if push comes to shove, I may be burning down the kitchen and the whole building with it.

That being said, preparing a large meal on its very own would involve quite a bit of multitasking as one may be chopping ingredients while other food items are boiling in the pot and others roasting in the oven. One of the greatest feats of cooking is not only making sure that nothing gets burnt but that all the meals are ready and, in many cases, hot at or around the same time.

Although multitasking is inevitable in many circumstances, it is best to keep it at bay and at a minimum if you can help it. In the end, you would be doing a half-decent job instead of a good one, and the trade will simply not be worth it, neither for you nor for your employer nor for the end product and the task in question.

In fact, David gives a simple but convincing example in his book. Most of us can cite the alphabet and count to thirty easily. But if you were to combine them by saying A1 B2 C3 … you would take a considerably longer time to get the task done. My advice: better to cite the alphabet, and then, do the counting if you can help it.

It all comes down to cognitive control. It is about being aware of your habits and finding ways to manage, adjust, change, or modify them. It starts with the idea of having a healthier life and then implemented the steps to attain that goal. It is about being aware of the significant gap, dissociation, and disconnect between knowledge, thought, and action and of trying to find ways of bridging, mending, and uniting them. 

Of course, it is easier said than done, and yet, it is worthwhile and liberating to engage on a path on which we are not blindly driven by habits and automatic behaviors but on which we make the best possible choices for ourselves, our loved ones, our society, our country, and our environment. It is also about not being constantly distracted or permanently lost within labyrinthine confines of our multitask smartphone or computer but also finding the time to smell the roses and to drink the freshly brewed coffee we managed to make on that particular fine day of our lives.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Being Mindful of Trauma: An Interview with Gabby Ortega

Trauma goes a long way. It can come in different shapes and sizes and it is more common than you may think. For some, trauma may have come as a sudden adverse event or experience, while others may have experienced it incrementally spread over time. And trauma is not necessarily delegated to the past nor does it merely pertain to the individual; during this unprecedented pandemic, we have now all experienced individual and collective trauma as well as pain, loss, and suffering. Regardless of whether we are talking about acute or chronic traumatic events, it can take a long time to deal with and recover from trauma and chronic stress.

To discuss how to deal with trauma and other vital mental health matters, I had the pleasure to talk with Gabby Ortega. Not only has she personally experienced trauma and managed to deal with it, but she is also a psychologist, healer, business and leadership coach.

But first and foremost, she considers herself a trauma survivor from complex childhood trauma. Gabby is candid about her own mental health struggles, including anxiety and depression, and that at one point in her life, she was suicidal. Yet it was at such low points of her life that she showed strength and resilience and decided to heal herself. As a result, she went to college because she wanted to gain insight into how trauma, particularly childhood trauma, affects the psyche and, moreover and more importantly, what to do about it.

The first step to take in these matters is to acknowledge trauma or at the very least to realize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. In some cases, it may be easier to pinpoint the exact cause, moment, or event that triggered one’s unease and troubles. At other times, the information may not be readily available, and it would require some digging into the lower hidden layers of the psyche. But the bottom line is that there is almost always an underlying reason for feeling and acting the way we do.

Even for the untrained eye, it can be easy to perceive that something is wrong or amiss with a certain person or group of people. For instance, a constantly cranky, angry, or cynical person is evidently unhappy. They may try hard to hide their trauma alongside their true feelings, such as vulnerability, weakness, fear, and shame, but it is not difficult to see past their guise and mask and to spot the real emotional and mental state behind it all.

In fact, Gabby used to feel a similar way about herself as well as the direction that her life was taking. She felt lost, angry, and frustrated but she used those feelings as a catalyst and wake-up call to embark on a spiritual journey that included Buddhist meditation and would even touch upon quantum physics. Not only did she encounter higher levels of consciousness, but she realized that there was trauma stuck inside her body.

At the same, she noticed that the current mental health system is broken; not only is it often driven by monetary incentives and marked by financial drives and motivations, but it is also often ineffective. There may be two reasons for this: on one hand, the tools used would not fully address the issue at hand and would only offer superficial help and relief; on the other hand, mental health professionals can only offer guidance but essentially each and everyone needs to work out their own path of healing.

The thing with trauma is that it comes in two forms, individual but also collective trauma, and the two are often intricately linked and interconnected. We are seeing this in our current situation where the pandemic has brought collective suffering that brings into focus and highlights individual suffering, and vice versa. In many cases, the spike in mental health problems is not new and the issues and problems were already there, but the pandemic served as a catalyst for it. Moreover, trauma is cumulative, and it can build up just like the steam in a pressure cooker.

This trauma needs to be released for healing to occur. Gabby uses what is generally known as the holistic method but many people either do not know what that means and entails or their understanding of it is either flawed, limited, or plainly erroneous. Simply put, this method acknowledges and gives space to the mind/body/spirit connection within each of us and tries to find different creative and appropriate ways to align them. While traditional psychology is mainly set and focused on the mind, the holistic method looks at and takes into account the person as a whole. It is also aware of the fact that trauma is not just in the head, but it is equally manifested in the body.

This is evident when we talk about our reactions to fear and stress. It is often not the perception that we are stressed that leads to feelings of unease, but it is the other way around. The body senses unease and the mind reacts to that information that is transmitted to the brain. Once there, the information triggers the amygdala, a place of emotion, fear, and threat, and since one feels being under threat, one automatically adopts ingrained instinctive behavior patterns like fight, flight, or freeze. This is regardless of the fact that our fears may be unreasonable and unfounded, and when, in reality, there is not the anticipated tiger behind the door but merely a cute harmless kitten.

Furthermore, we cannot blindly trust and have full faith in our thoughts as they may be distorted and inaccurate. Evidently, fear and healthy levels of stress are not inherently bad, and, in fact, they work as protective measures passed on by evolution. Mistaking a tiger for a cat can be a fatal mistake. We are programmed to do our best to survive, and the fear we sense in the body merely occurs because we are trying to make sense of a given situation.

Yet there is also the ideological and intellectual concept of fear, which may have been triggered with memories of past events, i.e., trauma, and it becomes a seemingly endless record that has been playing for a very long time; more often than not, it is not in alignment nor in agreement with the realities of who and where you are at the present moment in your life.

Hence, it is important to deconstruct a lot of the stuff that has now become automatic thoughts that keep popping in your head. It means that it is high time to have an honest, intimate, and possibly overdue conversation with yourself. To stop the cycle of negativity and to wake up to your true self and your own innate potential and possibilities, you first need to get to know yourself and find out what you really like and enjoy, what you are interested in, and what you value most in your life. In other words, it is important to focus on what really matters to you personally at this stage of your life.

In this way and manner, you can realign yourself. Along the way, you would need to listen to your heart and intuition and not just be guided by the voice or inner critic in your head. You would need to track down and trace negative thinking and, at all times, be genuine and kind to yourself. Those would be the first baby steps towards healing and personal fulfillment.

And as Gabby states in our interview, a lot of healing is needed in the world. This was one of the main reasons she decided to start Om Therapy Coaching. She was using herself, her own experiences, and successes as a potential guideline and benchmark for others to follow as well.

As mentioned previously, her approach is holistic and mindful in design and nature. It is about realigning your body, mind, and spirit and about being nonjudgmentally aware of your thoughts and feelings. It is about forgoing excuses and stop pinning your hopes on a vague distant future, the illusory and vapid promise of “one day”. It is about living in the present now. It is about shedding light onto the hidden recesses of trauma to illuminate your whole being and to brighten your individual shiny path forward.

To access the full-length interview with more details and information, click here