DIY Heal Trauma & Oppression in Your Body Workshop

DIY Heal Trauma & Oppression in Your Body 

Trauma-healing principles & practices to support your personal healing process

Tuesday April 29: 7:00-9:30 pm
in Rockridge, North Oakland

Learn somatic & intuitive practices & theory that invite body & mind to collaborate.

Topics include: 

• How to chart a realistic, sustainable healing journey

• Identifying the support and resources you need in place to heal

• Trauma healing principles & tools to sustain your healing journey

• Sustaining hope and motivation when the going gets tough

Space is limited

Workshop Cost: $55

To register: contact or call (510) 594-6812

Upcoming Tarakali Education Workshops

See for workshop descriptions.

Wednesday, May 28: De-Shaming Social Justice Work

Monday, June 30: Be Your Own Body Whisperer

Thursday, July 31: How Oppression Shows Up in Our Bodies

Wednesday August 27: Take Care of You and Sustain Your Organization

Monday Sept 29: Embody Your Allyship for White Racial Justice Allies

Thursday, October 30: Your Healing Hands Energy Healing

Monday, November 24: De-Shaming Social Justice Work

Vanissar Tarakali, Ph.D. is a somatic educator & intuitive who coaches healers and changemakers to collaborate wisely with the body to heal trauma & sustain social change. Current DiversityWorks Program Director, Vanissar passionately practices Generative Somatics, Intuitive Reading, Energy Bodywork & Tibetan Buddhism.           Facebook: Tarakali Education


Love After Death (The Soul-building Work of Love)

You already know everything I am about to say (But reminders are always good):

Our loved ones gift us when they die.

My gentle, matter-of-fact bird-friend Snow Lion passed away in December. It was –for me–a traumatic parting. I knew she was ready to go—after 9 years of life, she was fed up with her creaky, painful body. I imagined her passing quietly in my presence. But—surprise!–she died while I was out of the house. I found her soft, warm body on the kitchen floor. She had been fleeing the roofers working next door. If only I had been home with her! If only I had kept her in the cage that day, she might not have died. Snow Lion vehemently preferred autonomy over safety. Still, I was paralyzed with guilt.

Cradling her precious body in my hands, I tried to feel her presence. I wanted to comfort her and help her on her journey, but I was too furious at myself for allowing her to die frightened and alone. I contracted with self-punishing guilt. My perceptions became narrow, two-dimensional. It was a long, terrible moment in a beautiful relationship. I called some friends, begging them to help me get out of my self-obsessed state so that I could be still and help Snow Lion on her way. It took many, many kind, wise words before I could loosen my violent grip on myself even slightly. It took many, many tears before I could look at her body and see the expression in her eyes and on her face: surprised joy.

And so grieving began.

Now it is April. I miss her terribly, but my amazing friend left me a message.

It was the first night of a weeklong meditation retreat in March. As I sank gratefully into the silence of sitting meditation, there was Snow Lion’s message, waiting for me. Like a voicemail, or a video. She showed me her death.

She was flying. Non-stop Snow Lion: afraid, purposeful, ferocious. Enormously curious. (She was like that in life, brave, always flying directly toward–and yelling at–whatever she was afraid of.)

As she flew, the components/elements that made up Snow Lion came apart with enormous force, softly, slowly exploding 360 degrees into everything, dissolving thoroughly into the ALL.

I felt Snow Lion liberating from her form, utterly amazed and joyful—her dissolution a freedom beyond all exploring, all flying. And she wanted me to see; she wanted me to know, she wanted me to share it with her. I felt her great love sweeping me with her, deliberately carrying me into her new adventure. Tears streamed down my face; I was so grateful for her emphatic message.

Quiet had finally enabled me to perceive what I could not the day she died.

And there was more.

As her form liberated, she liberated all the love I had focused on her, localized into her being:

Days, months and years of mundane, practical love (at least 2000 feedings, cage-cleanings, and bedtime songs; all our familiar games, the quiet companionship, the shared grief when our beloved Tigger died) were liberated with her. Her joyous exhalation took my heart with her in all directions, into the ALL.

Our love dissolved and expanded, becoming vast, unbounded.

My heart is forever changed.

When I tune into Snow Lion’s parting message, I can feel the space she flew into, the space she dissolved into, the Space she became.

Ordinary consciousness is dualistic. There is always a subject (me), and an object (you, the table, etc.). While I was receiving Snow Lion’s message, I stopped objectifying the love that “I” had for “her.” There was just Love. The love that Snow Lion and I created loosened that ordinary, subject-object consciousness in me, a little.

It takes enormous force to get a glimpse like that. Enormous love. Is such great love possible between a small parakeet and a human?

What is love?

I have no idea, but I know it is a greater mystery than I ever imagined.

What do we do when we love?

What did Snow Lion do, what did I do, what did we create by loving each other? What did Snow Lion do by loving me, and then dying?

Somehow she showed me that we are infinite, fractal love, opening out and out and out…..

What is love, liberated? Great love, liberated. Love expanding infinitely throughout space and time?

And what is grief?

I do not really know, but grief makes space and is Space.

It is difficult to surrender to the space of grief, the silence of grief. The silence and space that is the absence of your beloved. That terrible silence of no words, no songs filling the air.

But sometimes we can sink into this space and silence that the beloved has blessed us with. Sometimes we become quiet. Sometimes we can receive our beloved’s last gift to us, their final act of love.

There is a secret teaching hidden in the dissolution of a soft, bright, feathered body.

Or a furry body, with paws, cooling, melting into everything.

Or a human body. The body of your beloved, dissolving into space.

When someone we love dies, or after any significant loss, we feel powerful and complex emotions. They are precious. We need to feel all of them. A certain number of tears must be cried before we are ready for what is next. I don’t know how many, but sooner or later, every single one of these tears must come out.

Sometimes you must fall to your knees and wail. Sometimes you must rage at the beloved for leaving, rage at Life for taking them away. Feeling and expressing all this is the essential, wrenching, soul-building work of love.

Is there a death you still need to mourn? A divorce? Has your best friend moved away? Can you let yourself feel all the love and longing you poured into your beloved? Can you feel the gap they have left behind? It is okay to be afraid. It is disorienting to, out of habit, direct your love toward someone who is gone. Unsettling questions arise: “Who am I if you are gone?” “How can I exist without you?”

Are you mourning a lost part of yourself? An ill-fitting identity, an old, familiar way of life? Can you let yourself say goodbye, fully? Honor the old you, as fully as you can. Let it die. Let it take as long as it needs to take? And when you are ready, can you be with the space that remains? Let that space be space? It may be painful (or joyful). But it will not kill you.

We are more than our emotions and our habits. We are more than bodies, more than who we love. We are Mysteries. Once grief or guilt, anger or fear has been honored and expressed, there are messages and “aha”s waiting for us. There is love, infinite, inexpressible love. Whatever that is…

 Would you like to make a Somatic and Intuitive Coaching appointment with Dr. Vanissar Tarakali? You can email her at: or check out her website: 


Small Group Somatic & Intuitive Coaching Series

Next Series begins April 2014

(8 weekly sessions)

Where: Rockridge, North Oakland

When: Wednesdays, 7:00-8:30 PM

or Thursdays, 10:00-11:30 AM

Are you ready to befriend your body?

Receive individual coaching from Dr. Tarakali in a welcoming group setting. Learn somatic and intuitive tools to support your personal and vocational goals.

In this intimate group (limited to 4 or 5 people), a chemistry of mutual support emerges, allowing everyone to benefit from each person’s learning and insights.

Cost: $45 per session.

Open to 5 participants, max.

A commitment to all 8 sessions is required.



Here is what group members are saying about their small group experience:

“What I find most engaging is being personally coached by you, and to watch you gently coach others; I like being present for others’ journeys.” ~Catherine

“My depression has shifted, I feel happier than I have in years. I feel able to notice….stop and feel my body and what I need, and make conscious choices. It is freeing.” ~Dave

“I love the way you hold the group process…I never feel left out or not held even when your attention is on others.” ~Ryan

“I’m more engaged with myself because I have tools to move through the pain and trauma/triggers. I feel confident and stronger with myself.” ~Kotori

Are you ready to join us? Contact Dr. Vanissar Tarakali to register:

Why is “It’s Alright to Cry” So Healing?

Here is why I think this song is so wise.

The overall message of It’s Alright to Cry is that feelings are good things. The song encourages us to feel and express our feelings without fear or shame.

Each verse contains specific medicine for the fears and judgments that we may have internalized about our emotions:

Verse I.

It’s alright to cry/Crying gets the sad out of you

It’s all right to cry/It might make you feel better


Here in this verse is permission to feel, permission to express.

It says, you are not bad to feel, and your feelings are not bad.
It’s safe to feel. It is safe to express feelings.

And it can be helpful to express them! It can give us relief in the moment.
Expressing our feelings can make us feel better in the long run, too. As we *gradually* [the gradually part is important!] allow ourselves to feel and express more and more feeling, our feelings seem less scary.

Verse II.

Raindrops from your eyes/Washing all the mad out of you

Raindrops from your eyes/It’s gonna make you feel better


This verse reminds us that tears are as natural as the rain. As cleansing. Tears can restore flow, and move you out of feeling emotionally stuck or contracted.

Verse III.

It’s all right to feel things/Though the feelings may feel strange

Feelings are such real things/And they change and change and change


The message here is that feelings are okay—nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. 
Feeling your feelings is good, and it’s safe. It may not feel that way sometimes, but even that unease is okay. At times your emotions may feel weird, overwhelming or out of control. These are all normal ways to feel. You are not doing it “wrong.”

This verse also tells us that feelings are important;  they deserve our attention and appreciation. They are key to our aliveness.

At the same time, feelings come and go. Thank goodness! We don’t need to hold on to them or make an identity out of them. We can enjoy them the way we feel the wind against our skin, or watching the water in a river.

We don’t have to be afraid that our feelings will stay forever, or define us. If we relax, our feelings will keep moving, and moving on.

This verse is a good reminder for those of us who tend to habitually feel only one or two specific emotions. These emotional “go-tos” developed from emotion states being repeated over time until they became our automatic, familiar “grooves.”

These grooves can become identities: “I’m a sad person.” “I am an angry person.” This song reminds us that these emotional identities are not solid–we have the capacity to feel all of our emotions.

Verse IV.

Sad and grumpy/Down-in-the dumpy

Snuggly, huggly/Mean and ugly

Sloppy, splappy/Hoppy, happy!

Change and change and change


Here Rosey Grier lists many feelings, naming each one with affection, and expressing them with his shoulders, voice and eyes. He playfully shows us with his body how to feel our feelings fully, enjoying each one. And letting the next one come. His voice and body tell us: No feeling is bad. No feeling is the correct one. 

It is helpful to approach a feeling with–as Buddhists say– “neither attachment nor aversion.” There is no need to prefer, hold as superior, judge or reject any of our feelings. We can allow all feelings to arise and fall in their natural flow.

Verse V.

It’s all right to know/Feelings come and feelings go

It’s all right to cry/It might make you feel better


This verse tells us to let our feelings follow their nature of arising and dissolving. Like water flowing. Let yourself fully express and befriend this feeling and the next one. Be like water. Let water come out of your eyes and move you to resolution and contentment. For a time. Until the next feeling arises. 

Would you like to make an appointment with Dr. Tarakali? Click here:

It’s Alright to Feel Things

I want to share a healing practice with you. I call it The Emotions Sutra, because it sums up how to work skillfully with our emotions.

Like most potent practices, it is simple. In fact, it is a children’s song! How appropriate, since our emotional nature shares the same direct vitality that we witness in small children and animals.

It’s Alright to Cry

Verse I.

It’s alright to cry/Crying gets the sad out of you

It’s all right to cry/It might make you feel better

Verse II.

Raindrops from your eyes/Washing all the mad out of you

Raindrops from your eyes/It’s gonna make you feel better

Verse III.

It’s all right to feel things/Though the feelings may feel strange

Feelings are such real things/And they change and change and change

Verse IV.

Sad and grumpy/Down-in-the dumpy

Snuggly, huggly/Mean and ugly

Sloppy, splappy/Hoppy, happy!

Change and change and change

Verse V.

It’s all right to know/Feelings come and feelings go

It’s all right to cry/It might make you feel better


Here it is on YouTube, kindly sung by former NFL player Rosey Grier:

How did your body respond to this song?

Is this song a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’ for you?

If your body likes it, then you can turn this song into your own somatic practice:

Listening to it or sing it and FEEL the sensations in your body. The more you practice this, the more you will embody the kindness, the relaxation, the fluidity of the message.

If you practice this often, you will find yourself responding to your feelings with less fear and judgment, more appreciation and friendliness.

You can sing this song to yourself when you are feeling emotionally “stuck.”

If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Tarakali, click here:

Falling in Love with Presence

Lately my attention is on presence, sometimes known as being present. Presence–or lack of presence–has a huge impact on what is possible. But what is presence?

Presence as Practice

Presence can be a practice. You can attend to what your senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin) are telling you about yourself and the moment. The idea is to be vividly, neutrally aware.

For example, as I write this, I see the ink marks forming on the paper, I feel the contact where my hand pushes into the pen; I feel the pen press down across the paper.

You can sit in a sunlit patch of green somewhere and feel the sun’s warmth on your eyelids, hear a dog barking or children shouting nearby.

And we stop here. We do not need to comment on the sunlight; we do not need to “do anything” about the dog’s bark. We can simply practice a neutral “witness” state.

Presence as Substance

Presence is also a substance. A “something” that—strangely enough–has no purpose. Presence attends to what is unfolding, without motive. It does not try to color or influence anything.

Yet presence is extraordinarily powerful.

Lately presence and I have been courting one another. I, in fact, am falling in love with presence. But who is my mysterious suitor?

She’s hard to pin down. I cannot smell or see her. I cannot clasp her hands. Her personality is…..difficult to describe. But she is not boring. She makes each moment an adventure.

Mysterious Presence

Is presence a being? Maybe. Is presence a practice? A choice we make, again and again? Or is presence a something that descends to enfold us?

I’m not sure. But when you invite presence into your day, he accepts graciously. He whispers secrets into your ear.

Sitting quietly with presence, you notice things. You see intothings. It does not matter if what is in front of you is a human, a bumblebee, or your familiar habits.

Whatever is in front of you opens like a flower with infinite petals, revealing depth within depth, nuance upon nuance.

Presence unfolds with the moment. It does not turn what it perceives into a recipe or formula.

As for me, I could easily turn this essay into a “How To.” I could exit the flow and write about “How to Look More Deeply” or “Cultivating Presence for Self-Healing” (since it is my nature to do that sort of thing, I probably will do that—next time).

Meanwhile, presence flows on, rushes onward to meet the next moment, the next insight, living it fully, tasting it completely.

Practical Presence

I’ve noticed that whether I am writing like I am now, or sitting with a coaching client, I do my best work when I let the flow of presence carry me along. This rich place of listening (to myself, to my client, to the moment) allows the right words and solutions to find me.

When my client has a particular dilemma they wish to shift, I trust the richness of presence to hold us. I wait to receive something useful. It is as if I am resting on a riverbank, dangling my feet in the water. The current brings something to me. It might be a sensation, a helpful phrase, or an image. It is my job to turn this gift for my client into something they can use. A suggestion. A somatic practice. Now is the time to offer a recipe or formula.

Presence That Creates

When I am alone and writing, the river of presence brings a torrent of insights and ideas. Now is the time to choose specific words, and say something definite. To birth an opinion, a story, a poem or a teaching.

To me, this is what creativity is—transforming moments of living presence into matter. It’s like taking a photograph. Sculpting formlessness into form.

When I write, I say to myself, and to life, “I will write this; I will not write that.” “I choose to use this word, not that word.” “I want to develop this idea, not that one.”

Why do I do this? Because it’s fun. Because it’s what Creators do. It’s what creators do. We make choices. We co-create with the living moment.

When I am with a client, I say to myself, and to life: “This person I am serving has this goal; they want this outcome. What will help them get there?” “What words, which practices will support their desire?”

With that intention, I dip my hand into the river of presence, and draw out something useful. I offer it to the person I am with, as a suggestion, or as “homework.” I invite them to “try it on” and see if it fits.

“Homework” is presence solidified. A recipe. But here’s the paradox: the right recipe at the right time can restore someone’s relationship to the flow of presence.

Presence That Prays

In my best moments as writer or healer; as bird-mom or friend; I am able to stay connected to the flow of presence. I harvest its gifts for myself and others; I make choices and adjustments; always with my feet in the river. Before, during and after each action.

Before the word is chosen, before the suggestion is given, I am at ease in the river.

While writing, while suggesting, I rest in the shallows. While scratching the baby bird’s head, while I greet my friend, I rest.

After my feathered friend swoons into sleep, after my friend hangs up the phone, I sink back down–right up to my neck–into presence. 

When your feet are tired and sore, remember: the river of presence is waiting for you. 

Reflections on a Vocational Journey

Hi Friends,

I am often asked how I came to do what I do by people who want to do something similar. Here I share my journey of translating 30 years of life experience into going into business as a Somatic and Intuitive Educator. I will focus particularly on how I came to produce public workshops about social justice and healing oppression issues, organizational self-care and wellness, trauma healing, and spiritual growth.

Many experiences have led me to arrive where I am now:

Pre-California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) Workshop Experiences

I have always been inclined to create learning experiences for people. Before I came to the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) from Canada, I occasionally taught energy healing workshops, and meditation workshops. I also attended many seminars, workshops and Buddhist retreats over the years, in Canada and here in the Bay Area.

CIIS –East West Psychology Experiences

While at CIIS, as part of my dissertation preparation, I took a variety of unlearning racism workshops, and actively participated in several learning communities, including the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) program, the UnTraining, and TODOs’ Healing the Soul of Justice diversity facilitator training. I continued to attend many Buddhist retreats. Thus I was exposed to a variety of approaches to teaching workshops before I designed my own.

My PhD program helped me to develop critical thinking and research skills, and also to organize my thoughts and presentations. These skills have helped me design effective workshops. My dissertation research was a case study of a 54 hour unlearning racism course called “Compassionate Transformation: A Buddhist Unlearning Racism Course for White People,” which I created and offered three times. This research taught me that compassion and awareness practices significantly enhanced social justice education on a psychological level—creating more receptivity, reducing shame and guilt, and preventing burnout.

Non-profit Work Experiences

During my dissertation writing phase, I supported myself by working for Community United Against Violence (CUAV), a Domestic Violence and Hate Violence agency for the Bay Area LGBTQ community. This was a perfect laboratory for testing my ideas about how to bring compassion and mindfulness into social justice work.

My Canadian and US non-profit work had always included direct service with survivors of trauma (sexual, domestic violence or hate violence trauma). In both countries I created and delivered trainings for direct service staff and volunteers. I eventually became the Education Programs Director at CUAV. During this time I continued to take workshops and classes, including Community At Work’s excellent facilitation course.

I was fortunate to have many opportunities to rub up against real-world problems. Working with other social justice folks at a social justice-oriented non-profit allowed me to further confirm my research finding that there is an urgent need for social justice and non-profit folks to integrate self care into their work, and to reduce their stress and reactivity levels.

Finding My Way Experiments and Experiences

I became a Generative Somatics (GS) client in 2002, and subsequently a student and practitioner. After the success of my Buddhist unlearning racism courses I wanted to create a secular version that was accessible to more people, including non-Buddhists. I noticed that GS was very congruent with Tibetan Buddhist psychological practices and principles. So it was not a big stretch for me to create “Embody Your Allyship for White Racial Justice Allies” in 2009, a secularized, somatic follow-up to the earlier Buddhist unlearning racism approach.

During these years I also entered into long-term commitments with teachers and learning communities that inspire and nourish me, such as the Intuitive Energy Center, Generative Somatics, and the Dharmata Foundation. Ongoing study with pioneering mentors and teachers has been crucial to my development as a facilitator and teacher.

In 2009, I did not feel “ready” to become a pioneer myself, or “ready” to launch my own business. I needed the Universe to nudge me. The recession suddenly pushed sixty percent of my co-workers and I out of our non-profit. I was forced to start my own business to secure my greencard. I got Tarakali Education up and running as swiftly as possible. A business coach and the Women’s Initiative program were essential support during this transition. While I was scared, this crisis turned out to be a blessed opportunity.

I was more ready than I knew. Osmosis is powerful, and living models of how to be a pioneer had been right at my side for years. My powerful, unique teachers showed me how to trust my wisdom and develop my own philosophy and ethics of teaching and mentoring. My mentors expect a lot from me; they challenge me to keep evolving, and encourage me to become more of myself instead of a cookie cutter version of them. These mentors have helped me to find my way.

I have also studied with teachers who showed me the kind of a teacher I did not want to be! By trial and error, I learned that narcissistic teachers, teachers who become jealous when their students become confident, teachers who get defensive when questioned about their decisions or mistakes, and teachers who do not value me are not the right models for me.

I see in retrospect that years of studying a few disciplines that I loved with people that I respected was like throwing several ingredients (such as Generative Somatics, Restorative Yoga, Intuitive Reading, Energy Healing, my own trauma healing process, etc.) into a pot of water and letting them simmer together. Eventually I synthesized my own unique “soup.” The Tarakali Education approach grew in me simply because I was studying things I was excited about, with people I trusted.

All of these experiences have fed my ability to create cross-disciplinary, practical workshops.

My Current Workshop Creation Process

I design most of my workshops in response to recurrent problems I have witnessed in social justice movements and non-profit circles, or in response to requests by my workshop students and somatic coaching clients. Once during a private coaching session a client said to me, “My partner and I trigger each other when we fight—how can we keep communicating when this happens?” And so the Emotional First Aid workshop was born. I create workshops out of my own learning and healing, and because I need practical solutions to real problems.

Lessons Learned

Here is a distillation of what I have learned in this process of becoming a teacher of public workshops. This is what I would say to my younger self if I could go back in time to encourage her:

Trust What You Love:

  • Trust what you care about.
  • Trust what you long to express, and keep expressing it until you get it “just right.” You need to say it, and some people out there really need to hear it.
  • Study what you love, all of it. Dare to combine passions, modalities, practices, and communities in unorthodox ways.

Do What You Love:

  • Do what you love–all of it–over and over, until you become competent and confident.
  • Make soup. Do what you love until it melds together into something that is yours.
  • Keep studying what you love; be an eternal student.

Trust Who You Love:

  • Study with people who you love, and who love you in return.
  • Work with teachers who see you and are willing to invest in you.
  • Don’t give your energy to people who cannot be bothered with you. No matter how shiny or charismatic they are, they are not your teachers.
  • Persist until you find communities and teachers of mutual love and respect.
  • When you find your people, commit. Stick with them through the challenges.

Good luck!

If you would like to receive Somatic and Intuitive Vocational Coaching from me, you are welcome to contact me at

Learn more about Somatic and Intuitive Coaching at:


Becoming Intuitive

I went to my first psychic when I was nineteen years old. Vince was a blunt, boisterous Dutchman whose readings were alarmingly accurate. I was blown away. I asked him if maybe someday I could do what he did.

I remember his sudden solemnity: “For everything,” he said, “There is a price. If you want to work that way with people, you need to know what joy is. You need to know what pain is. You have to be familiar with love and loss. All of it. Everything humans go through, you will need to go through. Otherwise, you have no right to speak to people about their lives.”

He suggested I not worry about becoming psychic, and focus on living an ordinary life.

That conversation set the bar pretty high. Although I was already doing tarot readings for myself and others, I never presumed to call myself “psychic.”

Fast forward thirty years–after experiencing a respectable number of Vince’s prerequisites, after thirteen years of training with Phyllis Pay–I am finally comfortable calling myself an “intuitive.” (Phyllis recently called me a “somatic intuitive,” which tickled me.)

The funny thing is, I did not intend to become an intuitive. When I met Phyllis I immediately knew I “had to study with that woman, whatever she was teaching!” She was teaching intuitive reading, so here I am.

I see all of my work as sacred work, because I work with people’s precious bodies, minds, hearts and spirits. Intuitive readings are especially sacred to me, probably because readings are mostly about surrender.

I do use the techniques I have been taught: First, I set an intention that the reading will be in harmony with my readee, and that the reading will benefit all beings. Next, I ground myself and set up clear energy boundaries so as not to confuse my personal story with my client’s. Then I invite my readee to ask their question(s).

As I pay attention to my client’s energy field, I am shown metaphoric images that address my readee’s situation. It takes skill and effort to interpret these images for my readee.

That said, I am not in control of what information comes to me, or how. When I get out of the way, magic happens; healing unfolds. Sometimes it feels like dancing with the universe. I feel blessed when I read people.

Are you interested in receiving an intuitive reading?

Or in honing your own intuitive abilities?

I invite you to set up an appointment with me for yourself or a loved one. I am also happy to refer you to other competent, down-to-earth intuitives.

Learn more at:

10 Ways Shame & Blame Hurts Social Justice Efforts

We have all experienced it. We have inflicted it on ourselves or others. Subtle and not-so-subtle shaming, blaming and self-righteous ostracizing undermine social justice work.

Here are 10 reasons to shift the shame-and-blame-game:

1)    Shame and blame is experienced by our reptilian brain–our “flight or fight” brain–as a threat. When you shame yourself or allow others to shame you, your body is plunged into survival mode, accompanied by a blast of cortisol. The brain on shame responds automatically with defensive behaviors such as arguing, lashing out, passivity/paralysis, appeasing (being a “doormat”), avoiding responsibility or “spacing out.”

2)    Shame undermines the qualities that inspire us to engage in social justice action, including the empathy and sense of interconnectedness that enable us to take responsibility, and the courage and confidence to take action.

3)    Shame creates tunnel vision and absolutist thought patterns that stunt our ability to process nuance and complexity. With complex social problems to face, can our communities afford these creativity-droughts?

4)    When blame is a habit, there is no end to it—because we will always find something–or someone–new to blame.

5)    We become what we practice. The more we blame others, the more blame becomes our “go-to.” Do we want our group to take on a bitter, resentful persona?

6)    If we allow blaming communication norms to thrive in our communities, sooner or later each one of us will be targeted by blame. These endless pointing fingers fragment and breakdown our alliances.

7)    In a blame-shame climate, we can become so fearful of being “called out” or ostracized that we cannot acknowledge our ability to misuse power or make mistakes. We can become so defended that no one can teach or correct us.

8)    Blame is a victim’s mood; blaming dis-empowers the blamer. Blaming thoughts are a clear indication that our energy is focused outside ourselves. Our attention is on what others are doing or not doing: “Look at what they are doing to us!” “If only they would change, then we could do what we need to do.” When our group places most of our attention on others, we abandon our collective power, and take on a victim identity.

9)    Oppression produces shame, and this shame acts like a virus. Once we have internalized oppression and become “infected” with shame, it’s all too common to spread that shame to others through self-righteous attacks. When we attack others, we become vectors of oppression-driven shame.

10)    My psychology of unlearning racism dissertation research revealed shame as the core obstacle that prevents white people from engaging in racial justice work. Shame likely obstructs other privileged groups in a similar way.

Antidotes to Shame & Blame

Let’s say our community or social justice group decides to take these habitual shame and blame pitfalls seriously. Changing old habits is possible when we are focused and persistent. With that in mind, what can we do?

1)    We can take back that energy we habitually focus on the “other,” and use it for our own healing. We can practice stepping into our power and taking responsibility. We can imagine gathering up all our focus into the here and now, and then ask ourselves, what do we want to create? Then we can focus and re-focus on that!

2)    We can do something else with our (rightful) anger about oppression. We can channel that energy into fierce love for ourselves, each other and the world we want to create. Instead of triggering each other’s “fight and flight” brains, we can wake up each other’s creative brains and courageous hearts.

3)    We can start creating a compassionate and just world right now. We can practice treating all beings with compassion and respect, now.

4)    We can set clear intentions before we offer our analysis of the blind spots of cis people, white people, able-bodied people, men, or straight people, etc.. What is our message? Who is our audience? Are we trying to motivate cis people, white people, etc. to engage in social justice work? We can habitually check our communications for any subtle shaming and blaming that could sabotage our intentions.

5)    We can set a clear intention for our community healing work. Do we want to empower our beloved community by breaking silence about oppression, expressing feelings, and naming shared experiences? We can make sure we do not default to a climate of blame/victimhood by giving away our attention to privileged groups. We can make a collective commitment to focus on generating our healing and speaking our truth.

6)    Refuse to be a vector for oppression! We can decide to break the vicious cycle of oppression-driven shame. When we are tempted to blame others, we can practice turning that attention inward. What needs to be loved and healed in us? Which of our strengths need to be nurtured? When we lovingly attend to building our own power, we are practicing liberation.

Thanks to Connie Burke, Valerie Batts, J. Elena Featherston, Victor Lewis, Visions Inc., Steven Wineman, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky for education and inspiration.