“The Pure Potentiality for All Possible (Wo)Manifestations”

On the morning of election day, since I cannot vote, I did some intensive “feeding the demons” practice, to feed any and all demons associated with this election, so that they would be satiated, at peace, and release their hold on folks.

Sometimes when I do this practice for people who are ill or facing surgery or obstacles, I receive intuitions or visions about them.

During this practice focused on the election, I saw many mischievous dakinis dancing around….mischievously.


[From Wikipedia: In Tibetan Buddhism. The khandroma (dakini), generally of volatile or wrathful temperament, acts somewhat as spiritual muse for spiritual practice. Dakinis are energetic beings in female form, evocative of the movement of energy in space. In this context, the sky or space indicates śūnyatā, the insubstantiality of all phenomena, which is, at the same time, the pure potentiality for all possible manifestations.]


These dakinis were delightedly trashing everything. Raising hell.

They let me know, rather casually, that they were ushering in the feminine principle, bringing about the ascendance of feminine energy to guide the world. Their mood was playful, powerful and comforting. But also, rowdy. Messy.

I confess: I quickly jumped to, “Okay, Hillary Clinton is going to win.” Wrong.

But I trust dakinis.

It certainly has been a mischievous time so far.

I sense many twists and turns up ahead, We cannot know all the possibilities, we cannot see what will unfold. We might be surprised. We might be the surprise!

We have a precious opportunity to co-shape the “music of what happens” moment by moment. The universe is an unpredictable dance partner, and so are we, Who knows what we will do?!

Your Triggers Are Your Spiritual Practice

“The most beautiful music is the music of what happens.” Fionn MacCumhaill
Have you ever heard spiritual teachers say, “Take what is in front of you as the path” or, “Whatever shows up in your life is exactly what you need”?

I’ve always found this advice rather vague, especially during difficult times. As a trauma survivor who gets triggered, I need more specific guidance.

When things happen that trigger my deepest wounds, what am I supposed to do with that? I used to focus on finding relief as soon as possible: “I cannot bear this–I want to feel better!”

When things are intolerable, that is still my go-to response.
In fact, learning how to consistently change our triggered states and “feel better” is the foundation of trauma healing work.

But more often these days I realize that my triggers are here to help me wake up. I am less concerned with “feeling better” or “getting what I want.”

Instead, I want to deepen my trust in Life and practice co-shaping each moment. It’s a bigger container from which to work, and a permission-granting approach to life.

This is well and good, but still not specific enough! Not when I am dealing with an in-your-face, painful trigger.

I had time to reflect on what is specific enough while on retreat. As any good retreat will do, it presented me with situations that triggered me profoundly. <Sigh>

One of them was an invasion of bugs in my room at night. To me they looked a lot like the cockroaches I had lived with decades before.

Cockroaches are not the worst thing. But I have a history with persistent, invasive bug infestations.

These experiences were amplified by landlords and neighbors whose negligence caused the infestations, and who refused to take responsibility for them.

I was left to suffer and struggle on my own for weeks or months.

In one case, I lived with 30-90 fiery-itchy new bites each day and little sleep each night, for six weeks.

In the other case, I endured 7 months of bites, sleeplessness, expensive and exhausting treatment protocols, and the loss of beloved and useful possessions.

In both cases, I had to research, gather samples and repeatedly consult with my county’s vector scientists to identify the source of the problem.

Finally I was able to compel my landlords to act like grown-ups and protect me, their tenant. All this while I was itchy, paranoid and sleep-deprived.

So, cockroaches in my retreat room? Compared to bedbugs or rat mites, not a big deal! Smaller scale and less worrisome in every way.

Yet I slept badly that night. In the morning, I felt undone, defenseless.
Bugs were invading my space again–the kind of bugs I could take home with me!

While my heart pounded, I worried and strategized: would the caretaker believe me? Would she act like a responsible grown-up and protect me from bringing them home? An all-too-raw, familiar dilemma.

Indeed, she did not believe me at first, and refused to let me use the washer/dryer or give me garbage bags to protect my stuff. She compared the one (squashed) sample I was able to show her with internet photos and confidently told me “that is not a cockroach.”

I was not convinced.

But it was my birthday, during a much-anticipated silent retreat. I decided to let it go and accept her verdict for now.

I devoted the day to doing what I love: spiritual practice, cooking, hiking, journaling, hanging out with trees, critters and the music of what happens. I gently made room for my highly triggered state.

My body felt over-the-top scared, isolated and trapped. I walked the trails on the land, sobbing my heart out. The bottom fell out, and I was taken back again, but deeper this time–

-Back to the time my caregivers would not pick me up at night for three months straight, dismissing my cries of distress until my ear infection was diagnosed (that ear has been fragile ever since).

Back to when I was a toddler being physically and sexually misused, and never rescued.

Back to those early lessons of how futile it was to ask for help from all-powerful, oblivious adults.

I listened to my younger self and held her as she/I wept. I witnessed the despair my body carries.

There on those sunny, dusty pathways, I made a resolution. I refused, absolutely refused to make myself worried, scared or miserable about the current situation or my response to it. No more blame or shame. It stops here.

Instead, I moved swiftly to soothe the dread and contraction in my body. “Things are scary, and I don’t know what’s next, but you are going to be okay, and you are doing fine.”

Now I was the responsible grown-up. When that young one cried and asked for comfort, I simply gave it.  I wandered the straw-gold trails and sat in the sun-dappled forest, singing to my little one. I immersed us in green beauty until we were saturated.

The day became a sweet journey, a rebirth-day brimming with love. As night fell, I rested in ease and stillness.

(And I caught some bugs in a jar which I gave to the caretaker the next morning. She called an exterminator and allowed me to take the necessary precautions.)

Out of this experience I found language that helps me accept my triggered states as the perfect path, as exactly what I need.
This work in progress is how I am expressing it so far:
  • When I get triggered, it’s time to matter-of-factly accept the triggered state as my work to do, the work at hand, the path in front of me. It is here, and it is mine. I will treat it as a sacred text to study, as my personal spiritual practice.
  • I will not waste this opportunity. I won’t scold myself or tell myself I am overreacting. I will not try to distract myself from the pain.
  • Actually, I probably will do all that. If I do, I will try to be kind to myself. And then, as soon as I can, I will do my work. Start unwinding the knot.
  • I will try to remember that once I stop being incredulous that I am so triggered, and accept this opportunity to heal, all kinds of inner and outer support will show up. (Perhaps the perfect song will play on the radio to give me comfort or help me`express my dilemma.)

The outer support that showed up on my birthday came from the land and the animals. Everyone gave my miserable little one friendly greetings. Mobs of quails appeared everywhere I went, warbling quizzically. Lizards sunned themselves close to me. A chipmunk popped out of a bush to eat her lunch with me. Sunlit trees swayed above; the oldest ones let me lean against them.

  • There are many practices that I can use to work with my triggers:
    • Solo practices, like Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Internal Family Systems (IFS) work, authentic movement and journaling.
    • Guided/supported practices, like somatic psychotherapy, EMDR, Hakomi, craniosacral bodywork, Somatic Experiencing, and Internal Family Systems (IFS) work with a therapist.
  • I work with triggers to restore my creative power, and to deepen my trust in Life.
  • Here are two ways to describe what trigger work is all about:
    • 1. From a generative somatics perspective, I can view my triggers as moments when life grabs me and yanks me off balance.
    • The idea is to welcome the grab, to welcome my off-balance reactions, and to feel all of it, as vividly as I can, as pure sensation in my body. I can thank my body for her swift, protective reaction.
    • In other words, I do not need to resist my body’s involuntary fight, flight or freeze reactions. I can simply welcome them.
    • The next step–which becomes easier when I can experience thesensations of my reactivity—is to reclaim my body from the grab. I “take my body back.”
    • 2. Another way to describe trigger work is: 
    • “I imagine gathering up my scared or sad or angry little one. I embrace the places in my body (throat/chest/ legs, etc.) that hold my wounds.
    • I welcome the sensations of terror or grief wherever and however they show up.
    • I imagine I have vast, broad arms which scoop up all these wild emotions/sensations and cradle them. As I practice this, I can see my body, heart and mind unfolding and opening up.”
  • With practice, as trigger work becomes an embodied habit, I make some amazing discoveries:
    • I see how precisely the triggering incident mirrors the early life experiences that were my foundation.The present-day details are so perfect that I cannot help but re-experience that old familiar wound. How amazing!
    • I see that triggers are rare opportunities to unearth and reclaim a forgotten younger or previous me, and to finally give them the love and attention that they are hungry for.
    • I *sometimes* feel gratitude towards the incident/person that brought this buried trauma into my awareness so that it can be seen, known and purified. [Thanks, cockroaches!]

I get it now.

Whatever shows up in my life, *especially* things that trigger my early traumas are truly, exactly what I need. Each trigger is a precious opportunity.

When I can turn my body toward the discomfort and stay awake, old wounds begin transforming, slowly but surely, into beauty and potency.

Much gratitude to Phyllis Pay & Denise Benson
You can contact Dr. Vanissar Tarakali or schedule somatic/intuitive coaching appointments through www.vanissar.com


In this time of instant local and global video communication, the longstanding racial divide in North America is visible for all to see.

This is an opportunity for myself and other white people to ask ourselves how we passively or actively permit hate-mongering rhetoric, violence and brutality directed at Black people, Muslim people, Latinx people, First Nations people, Asian and Pacific Islander people, immigrants of color, and trans people of color.

If we believe that Black children should be able to play in public parks without being shot down; if we believe that Black women and men should be able to commit minor traffic/vehicle violations without being murdered;

If we believe Black and Brown and Muslim and immigrant and trans folks of color have the right to practice their religion, drive cars, use public restrooms, go to their jobs, raise their children, embody their authentic gender, breathe, and simply exist, then it’s time to do something.

What each of us does will depend on our resources, health, access and skills, but it is time to:

Do some self-education/self-reflection:




Take action.

We can work with other white folks:




We can support movements led by people of color:






As a white person, I believe it’s my job to support other white people to co-create a racially just world with people of color.

One way I do this is by coaching white anti-racist educators and activists, and supporting them to work through the traumas that undermine their effectiveness and joy in life.

I also do this by offering Healing Oppression workshops.

Finally, I support white people to co-create racial justice by sharing my research and writing.

Resources for Challenging and Dismantling Oppression

If you are exploring what it means to be an over-privileged person (ie. a white person or man or able-bodied person or citizen in this racist, sexist, ableist, anti-immigrant culture) then these resources are for you.

If you straddle both privileged and oppressed identities, these resources are also for you.

If you want insight into what stops you from integrating social justice activities into your daily life, if you want to practice new behaviors that support the liberation of oppressed people, then these writings are for you.

Finally, if you want somatic and psychological insight into how folks with privilege “tick,” these writings are for you.

Intro to the Two Lists of Articles

Oppression operates at institutional, cultural and individual levels. Healing oppression involves collective efforts to shift social and institutional structures. It cannot be a solo or merely psychological endeavor.

However, since my area of expertise is helping folks heal their bodies, spirits and psyches, my writings emphasize the somatic, psychological and trauma-informed aspects of healing oppression.

I prepare individuals and groups to access self-love, self-awareness, accountability, and resilience as they engage in collective, cross-difference collaborations to create structural changes (policies, laws, funding, reparations, etc.).

I believe that this approach complements other approaches to dismantling oppression, because we interact with institutions, culture and each other with our bodies and psyches. And it is our collective bodies and psyches that create social change.

Feel free to share this article and these lists with your communities. If you share excerpts of my writing, please credit me as the source. Thank you.

List # 1: Resources for White People Who Want to Challenge Racism 

These articles have specifically been written from my perspective as a white person speaking with other white people about our white privilege and racism.

  1. Towards A Psychology of Unlearning Racism: A Case Study of a Buddhist Unlearning Racism Course for White People


This is my dissertation from 2006. It describes and makes theory from observations and pre and post participant interviews of a Buddhist Unlearning Racism course for white people that I created and co-facilitated in 2000.

Full of mistakes and lessons learned, with some useful tips for folks who want to educate and motivate white people to take anti-racist action. If you are looking for a specific topic, there is a detailed Table of Contents.

  1. Interview with Urusa Fahim, Ph.D.


Urusa Fahim, a clinical psychologist and Transformative Learning professor, was the Diversity and Outreach Coordinator at Spirit Rock Meditation Center at the time of this interview.

She asked me about what I learned from my dissertation research about the psychology of how white people unlearn racism, and the role that Buddhist practices can play in facilitating that awakening.

  1. Signs and Symptoms of White Racial Shame (Otherwise Known as Shame Survival Strategies)


A cheat sheet taken from my dissertation research conclusions, about the predictable biology-based behaviors that white people employ to avoid feeling shame about our/our ancestors’ participation in racism and white supremacy. Useful for identifying what white racial shame looks like and how it reinforces racism.

  1. From White Racial Shame to Empathy for People of Color Part 1


The relationship between shame and lack of empathy in all humans, and how shame reinforces oppression. I describe some methods for awakening cross-racial empathy in white people.

This article includes suggestions for communicating effectively with liberal white people about racism, and motivating them to take anti-racist action.

  1. From White Racial Shame to Empathy for People of Color Part 2


Theory and practical information on how white people can cultivate a virtuous cycle to increase both our self-compassion and our empathy for people of color.

  1. Awareness of Unfairness: Thawing Out From Internalized Dominance


How children are conditioned and numbed into accepting oppression and the oppressor role. The “thawing out” from numbness-to-injustice journey.  Practices to support that journey.

  1. Obstacles to Being an Ally


A personal essay about how my own history of personal and social trauma kept me from being an effective ally/accomplice to people of color.

  1. Unraveling the Armor of Privilege


How being conditioned into the privileged/oppressor role traumatizes us, and causes us to build up somatic armor to survive that trauma. A somatic explanation of why it is difficult to “give up” privilege.

How to unravel these layers of defensive armor in order to reclaim our humanity and sense of connection with all people.

List # 2: Resources for People Who Want to Transform Oppression 

This second list includes articles about oppression that are relevant for folks who inhabit privileged and/or targeted positions in society.

These articles apply somatic, spiritual and trauma-informed wisdom to support collective efforts to heal and transform oppression, and look at the individual, interpersonal and inter-group dynamics of folks who are healing from internalized dominance and/or internalized oppression.

Two of the articles from the first list are repeated here, since they straddle both categories.

  1. Surviving Oppression; Healing Oppression


A look at how ancestral, community-wide oppression survival strategies both take care of and limit those of us who have inherited them. How to honor and move beyond old survival strategies to create a just world.

  1. From Victim Body to Creative Body


A somatic perspective on how oppression robs our bodily sense of agency, and how to reclaim that agency.

  1. For Occupy Oakland: Why Meet in Separate Groups?


A brief essay on why it is important for white people and people of color to do their initial unlearning racism/recovering from racism work in separate spaces.

  1. Awareness of Unfairness: Thawing Out From Internalized Dominance


(described above)

  1. Unraveling the Armor of Privilege


(described above)

  1. 10 Ways That Shame and Blame Hurts Social Justice Efforts


The dangers of and antidotes to the shame and blame that shows up in social justice communities.

The last three articles bridge spiritual practice and social justice work. 

  1. Sacred Disruptions


An exploration of the role that shake-ups and disruptions play in spiritual awakening and social transformation.

  1. Bring Forth What Is Within You Part 1.


The importance of continually unearthing our blindspots and implicit biases, for the sake of spiritual growth and social justice.

  1. Working with Contraction: Practices to Sustain Social Change (with Buddhist Peace Fellowship)


Individual and group body-based, trauma-savvy practices for sustaining resilience in Engaged Buddhist and social justice activist communities.

I hope you find something useful here.

Be well,


Feel free to share this article and these lists with your communities. If you share excerpts of my writing, please credit me as the source. Thank you.

Click here to book a Somatic & Intuitive coaching session with Dr. Vanissar Tarakali. 

Trauma Survivors in Love (TSIL) Learning Opportunities

Hi Friends,

Many of you have told me that my recent TSIL blogs and workshops are meeting an urgent need. I am thrilled and inspired to hear this!

I am currently creating a Trauma Survivors in Love online course to make this information more widely accessible. Would you like to know when it is up and running?

In the meantime, here are my current & upcoming TSIL offerings:

1) TSIL “Date Nights” (Q & A Sessions) on Periscope

2) TSIL Livestream Coaching Hours

3) TSIL Workshop in Oakland, CA

4) TSIL Blog, Parts 1-4: http://www.vanissar.com/blog/?s=trauma+survivors




Visit Periscope.TV to watch on these 20 minute live broadcasts.

Dr. Tarakali will offer tips and answer questions for trauma survivors in love and their partners.

July’s TSIL “Date Nights” & “Brunch Dates” on Periscope TV:

TSIL Date Night Wednesday, July 13, 9 pm Pacific Time

TSIL Date Night Friday, July 22, 9 pm Pacific Time

TSIL Brunch Date Sunday July 31 11:30 am Pacific Time

Follow @VanissarTara on twitter for Periscope announcements




Nourishing Practices for Skittish Partners


Wednesday, July 27, 11 am PST

Thursday, August 18, 11 am PST

Friday, September 23, 11 am PST

Intimate relationships are our birthright. But the neurobiology of relational trauma (neglect, attachment trauma, abuse & oppression) can hijack our hearts & derail mutual trust. 

Dr. Tarakali will offer the group somatic & intuitive tools to soothe hypervigilance and coach 1 or 2 participants on their TSIL issues.

 Cost: $25-$45 sliding scale

Register: vanissar@cs.com or (510) 594-6812

Feedback from recent TSIL workshop participants:

“What a relief to know I’m not the only one. I feel less alone.”

“When I hear other folks are going through this too, I realize nothing is wrong with me.”

Coming in September:

Trauma Survivors in Love Workshop

Thursday September 29, 7-9 pm
in North Oakland

Vanissar’s mission is to teach as many people as possible how to befriend their bodies, for the sake of all beings.  If you support my mission, please tell your friends about Tarakali Education. Thank you! 

Somatic Education for Healing & Social Change


On Facebook: Tarakali Education

You Are a Force of Nature



Today I am writing to myself. It is what I most need to hear.

(You are welcome to eavesdrop.)

You are a force of nature.You. Are. A force of nature. Like a pea sprout, a flame, a windspiral. Like a geyser, a water spout.

You are a garter snake, a grizzly bear. A spider. A whale. Among other things.

Rise up, out of the earth. Don’t be a cowed critter, frozen to the spot.

Even prey animals relax and play, irrepressible forces of nature that they are.

That predator politician you fear? They are also a force of nature.

Life spores out of the soil, creates you, creates them, too. Life creates mischief!

Life is a shitstorm, a wildfire, a cataclysm. Among other things.

Do not fear that politician. That woman. That man. Do not suck in their narrowness and greed.

Remember? You are a force of nature. Nature is unruly, unpredictable. Dangerous. So are you.

Does every-one around you tell you to be afraid?
It’s time to listen to every-thing around you.

Did the scary words, the harsh voices, reach inside your lizard brain and set off the smoke alarm?

Now, every day is perma-panic.
Perma-panic means no peripheral vision.

It means you think you have some small something to lose, defend, concave around.

No, my friend. Pull off the racehorse blinkers.
You are a force of nature, remember?

Life shot you out of the earth, like a spore, exploding with hilarity. Awe.

You are a force of nature. A water lolling otter. A robo-feathered Bird of Paradise. Among other things.

The goodnews and badnews are the same:

The earth is groaning. Losing her cool, shedding pieces of herself. Losing her balance.

You feel her in your shocked adrenals, your grief-struck immune system.

She feels like droopy glaciers, methane plumes, burnt-tar sands, wilting forests, drowning islands.

It’s collapse time.
Transformation time.

Earth is finding and re-finding her feet.

You can feel her in your lake-swimming-arms, your ready-to-relax-back.

She feels like tick eating possums, resilient butterflies, resurrected parrots,
terrorized girls who refuse to terrorize, superhero fungi, community immune systems.

It’s transformation time. Roar-together time.

Time for us small forces of nature to demand kindness and care.

Online stories tell you, the news tells you, “Be afraid.” Some of us forces of nature carry grudges and guns. Have gone fearful.

Some of us forces of nature stoke that fear, fear of change,

Inexorable change;
change the destroyer;
life-giving change.

Animal brains seized by terror, animal bodies bleating, bodies squeak-speaking directly toyour animal brain!

Must you react? Freeze like a deer?

Must you plead and placate, attack and berate, stampede and hurry, disavow and worry, worry, worry?

Take a breath. Remember, each fearful one is a force of nature just like you.

Every one of us, Life’s little farts popping out of the earth.

(Life is a five-year-old. Among other things.)

Life is unruly, unpredictable. Dangerous. Tender and generous. Just like you.

Even you, oh force of nature, constantly air-kiss death’s cheek. You blanche like coral, frost like butterflies.

While Life, your not-so-subtle dance partner, shimmies her razor sequins, million arms vogueing, each flourish not-quite-killing-you.

And you, little force of nature, are Her chosen partner. Will you dance?

Will your eyes glow in audacious-intimate answer, like the purple one?

Do not worry about austerity, rigged elections, drones, oil-fires, bail-ins.

Do not worry. Stay awake, like a meadow mouse.
But do not worry.

Raise some hell. Adorn yourself. Yodel. Show up and be a proud spore. A spore on a mission.

Be the merry mouse, grazing the meadow. Tasting each bite as she watches the skies.

Be nectar-wired, humming bird boisterous.

Afraid of dying? You will.
Somehow, somewhen.
So what?

Be like the sparrow, nibbling grass seed.
Be the force of nature that you are.

Forces of nature do all kinds of stuff. They make up silly songs. Feel rage and grief. Among other things.

Forces of nature can put their bodies in front of what they love. You can, too.

Some forces fight like a girl-bird who never backs down. You can, too.

Fight and rest and play and pray as if you are as dead serious, as sacred, as substantial as

that undead coral reef;
those shivering monarchs;
the bees that lost their way.

It’s time, force of nature! Shake off your fur, fluff out your feathers. Yowl your Declaration.

Prince showed us how. Berta Caceres showed us.The ocean, the land shows us.

How to be forces of nature.


Fear is okay. But don’t stop there.

Ask the small birds and fuzzy critters. Fear comes and says, “Run, hide, wait, hold your breath, flash your beak, show your claws.”

Good idea, fear!
Fear is just Life choosing to live.

When prey animals see the shadow in the sky, hear the rustling grass, they do the fear things. To live.

After danger passes, or passes through and consumes someone, it’s back to sip and munch, mate and nest, squabble and cuddle.

Back to savor sun and wind in fur on feathers. Joy awake. Being a force of nature.

You, too. You are a force of nature. Those human forces of nature cannot scare you to early death.

They cannot stop your movement.
Your Movements.

Be afraid.
Be everything else as well.

How? Listen to the creator-destroyer.

She is louder, more terrible, sweeter, more sublime, more deadly-insistent than any human force of nature could ever be.

Here is your practice:

Turn off those scary voices for an hour.  A day.

Sit, stand or lie where you are.
Plug into your spot.

Back to the spot you shot out of, when Life popped up as you.

Plug in and breathe the fire, the water, the nectar, the soil, the space.

Do not say, “Yeah, but…” to me! I know everyone of those 50 million hungry ghost “yeah, but”s.

“Yeah, but” can wait. It is time to shut up and listen.

You cannot talk yourself out of this mess. We cannot talk us out of this mess.

We cannot talk ourselves out of this messy, messy mess.

Drop into your spot—your sweet spore spot.

The spot where the earth waits for you. Rest down. Breathe down. Listen in, Listen out. Rest.

It’s urgent. Urgently slow down. Breathe.

Soon, very soon, you will not need this reminder.  Not you, a force of nature.

But for now, let the earth hold you.
Breathe you.

Dream you,
‘Til you remember what you are here for.
What are you here for?

You know what you are here for:

To burrow into your spot and pop out, right-on-time.

To sob-hiccup-croon these words out of your critter body; share them with the other forces of nature.

You are here to do all the daily things.

Make breakfast with a parrot hanging from your sleeve;

Mend that broken bike basket;

Dance your feelings;

Cuddle your over-wrought adrenals.

Do all the things, you force of nature.

You force of nature.


You can contact Dr. Vanissar Tarakali or make a coaching appointment via www.vanissar.com or at Tarakali Education on Facebook

Vanissar’s June Workshops


Nourishing Practices for Skittish Partners

*ONLINE* WORKSHOP Wednesday, June 15
11 am-1 pm Pacific Standard Time

Intimate relationships are our birthright. But the neurobiology of relational trauma (neglect, attachment trauma, abuse & oppression) can hijack our hearts & derail mutual trust.

Learn about trauma neurobiology & practice somatic & intuitive tools to soothe hypervigilance. Practice supporting one another to stay open & connected over the long haul.

Singles, couples, triads, all welcome to attend.

Cost per person: $50–$100 sliding scale.

Space is Limited.

Feedback from recent TSIL workshop participants:

“What a relief to know I’m not the only one. I feel less alone.”

“When I hear other folks are going through this too, I realize nothing is wrong with me.”

“It is helpful to learn about implicit memory.

Good to find out, “Oh, it is just my past showing up.”


Read the blog here:  http://www.vanissar.com/blog/trauma-survivors-in-love-part-1-of-3/

7:00—9:00 pm

In Rockridge, North Oakland 

Many of us can feel stuck and helpless, even when we have access to resources and options. This “victim body” saps our motivation and confidence, and undermines the mutual trust we need to sustain our intimate and workplace relationships.

In this workshop we will learn to identify the thought patterns and body cues of the “victim” state. We will practice somatic and intuitive strategies to lovingly recycle “victim body” habits into creative “collaborative body” habits.

Limited to 8 participants.

Cost: $50–$100 SLIDING SCALE

Register through http://www.vanissar.com

Read Vanissar’s blog about victim body:


Vanissar’s mission is to teach as many people as possible how to befriend their bodies, for the sake of all beings. 
If you support my mission, please tell your friends about Tarakali Education. Thank you! 
Somatic Education for Healing & Social Change
On Facebook: Tarakali Education


This series arose from the notion that people who have been traumatized by formative
relationships will find intimate relationships especially challenging.

I believe that relational trauma survivors who embark on romantic relationships are as
audacious as ice climbers! Like other extreme athletes, TSIL need to engage thoughtfully
in their extreme sport.


In this spirit, I offer the following Trauma Survivors in Love (TSIL) preparation guidelines:

1. Understand what you are embarking on;
2. Practice resilience & strength-building routines;
3. Build trust. Be each other’s allies;
4. Gather safety equipment, safety protocols & First Aid Kit;
5. Gather support teams.

This final part of the series covers the fifth guideline.


Your support team is everything. They are your base camp. They help you prepare for a tough climb. They take care of you when you fall.

It is important for every TSIL to gather a support team that suits them.

This can look a lot of different ways.

Over the years I have gathered solid and trustworthy healing/teaching/support teams that at times have included clinical herbalists, somatic therapists, chiropractors, physical therapists, yoga teachers, psychotherapists, spiritual teachers, body workers, intuitives, Chinese medicine practitioners, plant and animal allies, business coaches, and various learning, healing, social justice and practice communities.

Your healing team may include doctors, naturopaths, psychiatrists, chiropractors, pastors, priestesses, rabbis, lamas, physical therapists, herbalists, personal trainers, energy workers, spiritual guides, massage therapists, doulas, psychics, etc. Whoever meets your particular needs.

I find it enormously helpful to work with practitioners from different disciplines and perspectives. I embody the same trauma dynamics and healing potentials wherever I go, so these practitioners may be seeing and telling me similar things.

But the combination of overlap, repetition and unique languaging helps me absorb the healing that I need. The varied interventions support holographic learning within my body, mind, emotions, and spirit.


You get to interview, hire and fire your practitioners as you see fit and as your needs change. This article offers a thoughtful, detailed breakdown of how to choose a therapist; you can apply the same approach when choosing other kinds of practitioners.

Sometimes it is crucial to work with practitioners who share your life experience, ethnicity, class background, or values.

If you need a practitioner who “gets” specific aspects of your or your community’s oppression, then look for them, and persist. If your body cannot relax in the presence of folks who have more privilege than you, then respect that.

At the same time, listen to your intuition and allow yourself to be surprised. The universe is mysterious, and sometimes we “click” and find deep healing with someone who we initially wouldn’t think we could trust.

As much as possible,* avoid overlapping with your partners’ practitioners and healing/learning communities. One reason is to make that space I talked about in part 3; giving each other space reduces reactivity.

Another reason is that you want your team to be your safe haven over the long haul. Break-ups happen. Can you handle running into your ex at every healing community gathering, or at your therapist’s office?

Let the prospective practitioner know what your life challenges and goals are, and ask them how they can support you to be your best self in your romantic relationship(s).

Make sure they are either trauma savvy, or that they see and deeply respect you, and are competent in their field.

Don’t try to see too many practitioners at once, or study with too many learning communities. I cannot give you a number.

How much is enough versus too much is up to you.  Avoid running from appointment to appointment, or receiving too much input to put into practice.

Less is more.

Consider diving deeply into a handful of approaches and practices for a few years, so that your body feels at home and you can learn through repetition. Repetition is the key to embodied, sustained change.

Repetition + the right team = results.

You know you are working with the right team when get results. What do results look like?

Specific, goal-oriented results can take months or years to clearly manifest, but you might be able to notice the small steps you are taking towards your goals.

One result that should become obvious early on is a steady, gradual increase in your compassion and love for yourself.


Sustainable healing is an ever changing balance of challenge and nurture. A trustworthy healing practitioner will consistently treat you with compassion, while encouraging your body-mind to move beyond comfort zones and stagnant modes.

Not everyone on your team needs to fully embody both gentleness and challenge. Some practitioners will love you roughly; some will exude lovingkindness. You need to receive both, in the proportions that work for you.

These proportions may look different across the physical, emotional and spiritual levels.

To give a personal example, I am someone who thrives on emotional and spiritual challenges, such as intuitive reader trainings and rigorous meditation retreats.

The opposite is true for my mind and body: Engaging in very “heady” activities creates too much mental struggle. My body shuts down with harsh treatments such as allopathic drugs, painful bodywork or aerobics.

So my mind and body need more gentleness than my spirit or emotions do, although at all levels I respond best to compassionate presence.

Since I learned these things about myself, I have been able to choose my practitioners accordingly.

I allow myself to engage in fairly demanding spiritual and emotional disciplines, choose mental practices that soothe my chattering mind, and physical practices that are subtle and spacious, such as craniosacral bodywork, flower essences or acupuncture.

I encourage you to find out which combinations of effort and ease are most nourishing for your particular body/mind/emotions/spirit.

Overall, your team should challenge and nurture you, and give you plenty of examples of what challenging and nurturing yourself looks like.

Working with your team over time (and providing them with feedback and course corrections) will teach you when and how to shift between self-nurturing and self-challenging modes.


I introduced the Sandbox Approach to relationships in Part 2; establishing self-care routines and self-stewarding your trauma healing are essential preparation for applying this approach to relationships.

To recap, the Sandbox Approach is about taking full responsibility for yourself in your romantic relationships.

This means 100% of the time, no matter what is happening between you and your lover(s), you commit to play the role of parent or steward for those tender and resilient aspects of yourself that we sometimes call our “inner kid,”  our animal body, or our psycho-biology.

Your healing team can help you master the Sandbox Approach. A competent therapist or somatic coach will model how to treat your inner kid by how they treat you.

The best practitioners will offer you opportunities to practice taking loving responsibility for your inner kid/animal body/psycho-biology.


Many of us trauma survivors long for the loving, attentive parenting that we never received as kids.

As grown-ups, when we “fall in love” and experience fierce intimacy with our lover, we may secretly expect them to step into that parent role and magically “redo” our childhood for us.

We may long to hand our wounded young self over to our lover and say, “You take care of them!”

There is nothing wrong with such longings. All of us deserved safe, loving stable parenting. It is natural and self-loving to still want that.

But! The re-parenting we need cannot come from our adult partners.

We are not children anymore; no one is going to parent us now. Let yourself grieve that fact as long as you need to.

Meanwhile, begin to re-parent yourself. This time, you are the responsible grown up. Re-parenting yourself is your job.

(Do you want to tantrum after reading the above? Go ahead. Stop reading and have a loud, arm-flailing, hoof-stomping, full-body tantrum. You have every right! It’s not fair. When you are done, come back and read some more.)

Re-parenting yourself means treating yourself differently than you were treated as a kid.
It means no longer (unconsciously) replicating the neglectful, abusive or fickle care that
your parents or caregivers offered.


Instead, you commit to doing it differently. Which, by the way, will take alot of practice!

At first, you will abandon, forget and reject your miserable-scared-lonely-enraged kid over and over again. Just like your caregivers did.

But each time you doggedly return and show up for your inner kid, you get better at it. You learn to hold them steady. It gets easier as you discover how loveable they are.

Your team can help you with this self re-parenting journey. Competent practitioners will give you brief, contained tastes of being parented well.

Most facilitated healing happens simply because your healing practitioner is a steady, non-judgmental presence in your life.

A person with skills, certainly. But above all, a person who sees you and takes you seriously. A person who encourages you.

Now, TSIL, it’s time to start building your healing teams! If money or a lack of
practitioners who reflect your experience are issues, look for appropriate healing
communities or create your own.


Or follow remote practitioners that speak to you. Read their teachings or listen to their podcasts. Try out their suggestions, by yourself or with friends.

You can also pray or holler to the universe, “Hey, I need help! Send me affordable help or send money!” Setting a clear intention opens up possibilities.

Once you have set that intention, take some time to rest and wait, breathe and trust.

I thank you all for reading and listening. I hope this series is useful to you. Feel free to send me your questions and comments.

Many thanks to my team for showing me how it’s done and being willing to learn from me, too.

*In small communities, including immigrant, trans, queer, sexual or ethnic minority ordisability communities, small towns, etc. this may be impossible. When I worked at the only LGBTQ domestic violence agency in town, we had strategies to safely support clients while maintaining confidentiality and trust. Ask your practitioners how they can help you navigate these situations.



Nourishing Practices for Skittish Partners

*ONLINE* WORKSHOP Wednesday, May 18
11 am-1 pm Pacific Standard Time

Intimate relationships are our birthright. But the neurobiology of relational trauma (neglect, attachment trauma, abuse & oppression) can hijack our hearts & derail mutual trust.

Learn about trauma neurobiology & practice somatic & intuitive tools to soothe hypervigilance. Practice supporting one another to stay open & connected over the long haul.

Singles, couples, triads, all welcome to attend.

Cost: $50

Limited to 8 participants
Register: vanissar@cs.com or (510) 594-6812


In Parts 1 & 2, I compared the romantic relationships of relational trauma survivors to extreme sports such as ice climbing.


Playing off this metaphor, I offered the following Trauma Surviors in Love (TSIL) preparation guidelines:

1. Understand what you are embarking on (risks and rewards);
2. Practice resilience and strength-building routines;
3. Build trust. Be each other’s allies;
4. Gather safety equipment, safety protocols and First Aid Kit;
5. Gather support team(s); don’t try to be each other’s only support!

Now I will cover the fourth guideline.


Extreme sports are risky. Just as spelunkers and ice climbers bring emergency equipment and procedures to their adventures, the savvy Trauma Survivor in Love (TSIL) has emergency tools and routines at the ready.

It’s like having a supply of bandaids, gauze and antiseptic, and knowing CPR—because sometimes people get hurt while doing risky things.

You can use the individual and ally work you have already done (see TSIL Parts One and Two) to create your First Aid Kit and Safety Protocols. The more experience you have in these areas, the easier your safety preparation will be.


Collect Your Tools

If you have been working with the tools described in Guideline 1, gather your favorites for your personal FAK. You might want to print a list or detailed descriptions of your FAK practices.  Make sure you have it handy for when you need it.

To create a joint FAK for you and your partner(s), keep your lists and descriptions next to one another in a virtual folder or on a physical corkboard.

[Or create an App! If you do, let me know and I will share it in a future newsletter.]

When your partner is overwhelmed, you can be their ally by reading your partner’s list aloud to them.

Here you can find several tools to choose from:

Emotional First Aid

De-escalating Reactivity Practices

Emergency Response Kits

What else will you need in your kit? Fuzzy blankets? Your favorite music? Think about having your meds, flower essences or  bird essences handy.

You might want to create a compact version of your FAK for vacations or family visits; these are often triggering situations.


Share Your Trigger Go-Tos

In Part Two, I invited you to become experts on your own and your partner’s “Trigger Go-Tos,” which will be some combination of fight, flight, freeze, appease, freeze and dissociate.

You can share this information with your partner: “When I “freeze,” I hold my breath, get very quiet and try to make myself invisible.” “When I go into my “fight” mode I clench my jaw and harden my eyes; I may start talking sarcastically.”

When we use this information to observe our partner, it’s easier to notice when they have entered their triggered body state.

You can also brainstorm antidotes to triggered states. One way to find this out is to take turns roleplaying a situation that *mildly* triggers you. Both you and your partner can compassionately observe the body cues of your automatic “fight or flight” state.

Then you can experiment with different sequences of soothing and grounding practices. Find out which combination of practices reliably helps your body recover from that mild trigger.

Then switch roles and repeat the process with the other partner. After you have identified reliable antidotes for each of you, add them to your joint FAK.

You can use your personal antidotes to interrupt vicious cycles of mutual triggering before they get out of control. It doesn’t matter which of you calls up your personal antidote first; interrupting any point of a joint vicious cycle benefits everyone involved.

Body states are contagious: when your animal body calms down, your partner’s animal body senses this, and relaxes a little, which relaxes your animal body, and so on.



In Part Two, I invited you to be a good steward of your individual well-being by discovering and practicing the self-care tools that reliably soothe your body and brain.

Safety Protocols are about team wellbeing; they are familiar routines that you and your partner(s) agree to follow when one of you is triggered.

Gather Raw Materials

I encourage partners to generate safety protocols that suit you and your relationship(s). Set aside some relaxed time (perhaps a lazy breakfast date?), and bring all your raw materials.

You probably have some effective tools at your disposal already.

For example, maybe you have learned Nonviolent Communication (NVC) or Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) skills.

Perhaps you deeply embody Access Intimacy wisdom.

Perhaps you practice consensual BDSM, and can share BDSM staples like safe words and aftercare skills.

Or maybe the boundaries practices from TSIL Part Two are now automatic for you.

What resources or transferable skills can you bring to your Safety Protocol project?

Generate Protocols that Work for You

You and your partner(s) will need to come up with protocols that are compatible with your specific trauma histories and temperaments.

Throughout your protocol generation process, ask yourself the following questions:

* What helped me in the past when I was triggered by my partner(s)?

* What are my typical trigger scenarios?

Here are some examples of trigger scenarios you might want to develop protocols for:

* What to do if I have a panic attack.

* How to help me when I am terrified by unfamiliar physical symptoms or pain.

(A sample protocol for this situation: “When I am convinced I cannot breathe: Please point out to me, repeatedly if necessary, that since I am able to talk, I must be getting enough air.”)

* What to do if I emotionally withdraw in a social situation.

(A sample protocol for this situation: “If I suddenly shut down, ask me if I want some attention. If I say yes, let me know when/for how long you can give me your full attention (anywhere from five to thirty minutes), and then follow through. If I say no, give me space and ask me again once we are alone.”)

* What to do if I start blaming you in the middle of sex because of a flashback.

(For survivors of sexual abuse or assault, watching the Healing Sex movie with your partner(s) can inspire your own “triggered during sex” protocols.)

Finally, you can add the group/team versions of these practices to your protocols.


Accept Your Limits

For each scenario, find direct and indirect ways to offer support. For example, if your partner is having a flashback, and you aren’t feeling up to helping them through it, have an alternate protocol ready.

Do they have a quiet, cozy space to retreat to? Is there a trusted friend they can call?

We cannot always be the support person. Learn about and accept your own–and your partner’s–limits. Since trauma healing takes years. being “on call” 24-7 for your partner is a recipe for burnout and breakup.

Remember the sandbox approach, and be honest about what you can and cannot do. Do not agree to any protocol that you cannot realistically or safely follow.

Conflict Protocols

a) You can add communication prompts from models like PNDC or NVC to your protocols.

b) If you and your partner(s) already enjoy externalizing your evil twin through expressive art, try roleplaying a *non-verbal* evil twin argument (no words or physical contact allowed!)

Instead of words, use growls, grimaces, whimpers, whines, eyerolls, arm-waving, etc. This way you get to release pent up energy without anybody getting hurt. If you end up laughing, so much the better.

Well, That Just Happened

Planning ahead is one way to develop your protocols. There’s also the “well, that just happened” method.

Extreme athletes likely developed their safety protocols after experiencing mistakes, accidents and disasters. In the same way, some of your protocols will emerge out of necessity, through trial and error.

If you have never had a panic attack before, you and your partner will probably find a way to muddle through your first one.

Assume that you will run into some unexpected triggers. It’s helpful to cultivate an “accepting-what-is” attitude: “Ok, that just happened. What resources do we have to cope with this?”

Don’t waste time arguing with reality because it is “unfair” or bizarre. Just take care of it—and each other. Not resisting “what is” will save you time and energy.

One more thing: If both/all partners are triggered at the same time, you may be too far gone for protocols. The downside of contagious body states is when everyone gets caught in a vicious cycle.

When this happens, the Sandbox  Approach (see TSIL Part 2) is best. Now is the time to put on your own oxygen mask.



There are 3 distinct phases of trauma recovery: 1. Safety and Stabilization; 2. Remembrance and Mourning; 3. Reconnection and Integration.

1. Safety and Stabilization (approximately 70% of the healing process)

We discussed this phase in detail in Part Two. Safety issues are going to come up when you are in the presence of your partner, and these are excellent opportunities to practice your safety and grounding tools.

This may mean going off by yourself to take care of you, or asking your partner to stick around while you do your self-care thing.

If both of you are in Phase One, where the feeling-safe-in-your-body learning curve is steep, you may often find that “together time is triggered time.”

You will need some drama-free breathing spaces in your daily life. Partners can build in accessible opportunities for separate space and privacy.

For example, you might have a standing agreement that it’s fine for one of you to go for a walk, or to another room, as needed.

If you live in close quarters, or if it is not safe/accessible for you to go for a walk, maybe you can commandeer the bathroom for a bath, sit on the porch, or put on headphones and get lost in binge TV or a book.

Such pre-arranged “outs” are essential protocols. When we feel confined or trapped, our reptile brains have a harder time calming down, so make a habit of mutually creating space.

2. Remembrance and Mourning (approximately 20% of the healing process)

This phase is about processing your specific trauma experiences. This means gently entering the tender feelings and sensations, and slowly defusing the landmines.

Although much of this delicate work should be done with your “team,” (see the fifth guideline) trauma material will inevitably arise when you are with your partner(s). Have some agreements or protocols set up in advance.

What are you both willing to do if one of you gets triggered during sex, or in the middle of making a time-sensitive or high-stakes decision?

3. Reconnection and Integration (approximately 10% of the healing process)

This phase of trauma healing is about re-learning how to be in relationship. This includes learning relational and communication skills, and practicing self-care while in the presence of others.

In this phase we experiment with negotiating boundaries, asking for what we want, and making space for our partner’s needs.

Being in Different Phases

To put your FAK/Safety Protocol creation process into context, I recommend that you and your partner(s) learn about the three phases of trauma healing.

Then self-identify which phase each of you is working on, and have a conversation where you share this information and talk about what it means to you.

What if you discover that you and your partner(s) are at different stages of trauma healing? Don’t worry, it’s not a dealbreaker, any more than partners having differing sexual desires or ages or social classes are automatic dealbreakers. It is simply useful information.

A beginning caver may face different levels of risk than a seasoned adventurer. An experienced ice climber may have more calm and confidence in themselves, and more patience (or more impatience!) with their less experienced climbing buddy.

I invite you to have a relaxed conversation about this with your partner(s), and see where it leads.


FAK/Safety Protocols are about independence and interdependence. They build on the essential foundations of individual self-care, individual trauma healing work, and practicing co-allyship with our partners.

It may sound like alot of effort, and it is. It also can be fun and satisfying. You may end up proud of your badass selves.

Relationships are audacious and complex undertakings for trauma survivors. For us, love is as perilous and beautiful as scaling a frozen waterfall.

Get out your crampons and love bravely, TSIL. I am cheering you on.

Much gratitude to Phyllis Pay, Denise Benson, and my extremely patient exes.

Next Month: Trauma Survivors In Love Part IV

1919564_1243693582359_2911008_n TRAUMA SURVIVORS IN LOVE ONLINE WORKSHOP!

Nourishing Practices for Skittish Partners

*ONLINE* WORKSHOP Wednesday, May 18 
11 am-1 pm Pacific Standard Time

Intimate relationships are our birthright. But the neurobiology of relational trauma (neglect, attachment trauma, abuse & oppression) can hijack our hearts & derail mutual trust. 

Learn about trauma neurobiology & practice somatic & intuitive tools to soothe hypervigilance. Practice supporting one another to stay open & connected over the long haul.

Singles, couples, triads, all welcome to attend.

Cost: $50

Limited to 8 participants

Register: vanissar@cs.com or (510) 594-6812

Livestream Somatic Group Starts April 7/16



Choose from 3 Groups:

1) Online group for out-of-state & access needs participants,
Thursdays, 3-4:30 pm PST

2) In-person Tuesday Morning Group, 10-11:30 am

3) In-person Thursday Evening Group, 7-8:30 pm 

both in Rockridge, North Oakland 

Build compassionate community & receive personalized coaching from Dr. Tarakali in the presence of the group.

Together we will practice using a wide array of somatic & intuitive tools to support our personal healing & social change goals.

Pre-registration & full series commitment are required.

Limited to 5 participants.

Cost: $360 for 8 sessions

Find out more at vanissar@cs.com or (510) 594-6812.

 You can find Testimonials here:

TRAUMA SURVIVORS IN LOVE (PART 2 of 4): In the Sandbox

In Part 1, I observed that for trauma survivors, romantic relationships are like extreme sports such as rock or ice climbing. With this metaphor in mind, I offered the following relationship preparation guidelines:

1. Understand what you are embarking on (risks and rewards);

2. Practice resilience and strength-building routines;

3. Build trust. Be each other’s allies;
4. Gather safety equipment, safety protocols and a First Aid Kit;
5. Gather support team(s); don’t try to be each other’s only support!


In Part 2, I will finish up the first guideline, and cover the next two.


Part One was about naming the risks for trauma survivors in love. I described how it is common for us trauma survivors to “flip out” over small things such as our partner being inconsiderate, or looking at us a particular way.

Our implicit trauma memories sound these alarms when a dangerous situation from our past becomes superimposed onto our present.

In sum, dating a trauma survivor is a challenge, because we are easily triggered. Two (or more) trauma survivors dating one another can become a trigger-fest.

Rewards/perks for Trauma Survivors in Love

Yet there are advantages to being two (or more) survivors in love. You can understand and empathize with each other’s struggles more than a non-survivor could.

You “get” how brave your partner is, because you know how much courage it takes for you to be in intimate relationship when your amydala keeps screaming, “danger!’

Another advantage is the opportunity to be each other’s allies in healing.  For instance, you can build healing routines into your shared activities (more about this in Guideline 3).

Or, you can incorporate trauma healing into your “mission statement.” Just as some romantic partners dedicate their relationship to serving the planet or facilitating spiritual growth, you can decide to co-create a trauma healing relationship.

Finally, during those times when only one of you is triggered (it happens!), you can take turns offering support and reminding each other why your extreme sport adventure is worth it.


Just as a new ice climber prepares their body for high altitude climbing, in the same way, trauma survivors need to prepare ourselves to meet the challenges of relationship.

The two sides of this preparation are Developing Self-care Routines, and Ongoing Trauma Healing Work.

Developing Self-care Routines

Children who face trauma are too busy surviving to acquire solid self-care habits, and sometimes their caregivers model neglect.

As a result, adult survivors of trauma may lack basic self-care skills, such as getting enough sleep, taking care of our teeth, eating healthy meals, or managing our money. It may be difficult for us to exercise, relax, or groom ourselves.

Now is a fine time to acquire these skills. To avoid overwhelm, start small. Choose a modest goal to work on for a month or two. To develop better sleep habits, you might try going to bed ten minutes earlier than usual for at least four nights a week.

Then see how it goes. Small successes build your confidence and momentum. Repeating something over and over gradually turns it into an automatic behavior, and each repetition reinforces the message that you are caring for you.

Don’t be afraid to be unorthodox—experiment until you find out what gets you to do the new thing you want to do, and then repeat that strategy!

Let me give you an example. I hate washing dishes (but love to cook). I have discovered a game that improves my dishwashing. I wash ten—and only ten—dishes.

Then I do something else for ten minutes. I go back and wash ten more dishes (cutlery counts!) and do something else. When I repeat this over a few hours, the dishes get done, with a minimum of suffering.

Why are self-care routines important for trauma survivors in love?  When we cultivate a baseline of physical and emotional wellness our resilience is bolstered and it is easier for us to re-center ourselves within the ups and downs of relationship.

Ongoing Trauma Healing Work

Healing complex trauma (vs a single incident trauma) is a multi-year process. Part of this healing work requires the presence of others, such as therapists, somatic coaches, bodyworkers, spiritual guides, and support groups or healing communities.

Since complex traumas are relational wounds, the cure is relational; thus, much of our trauma healing unfolds within trusted relationships.

At the same time, we each must take responsibility for our own healing. This means lots of solo practice time with our chosen healing practices (see Phase 1), and applying what we have learned in our relationships and communities.

Embodying our healing requires consistent, kind self-observation and self-care practice repeated over months or years.

Phases of Trauma Healing

There are three distinct phases of trauma recovery: 1. Safety and Stabilization; 2. Remembrance and Mourning; 3. Reconnection and Integration.

It can be helpful to assess which phase of the trauma healing process you are in, and what your tasks are for that phase.

In Phase 1, the longest phase of healing (perhaps 70% of the process), we learn how to habitually restore our serenity after being triggered. First, we discover which tools reliably restore our sense of safety and self-connection. Second, we practice these tools until they are embodied.

During Phase 2 we use the stable foundation we built in Phase 1 to process the actual trauma. With this foundation we gently unpack the implicit trauma-based memories, decisions and identities held in the body. Phase 2 takes up about 20% of the healing process.

Phase 3 is when we take the healing and insight of Phases 1 and 2 into our relationships.

As we test out our new behaviors and identities with others, we discover that close relationships can be sources of trust and mutual support instead of the sources of shame, abandonment and betrayal that they used to be.

After Phase 3 we may repeat mini 3-phase cycles from time to time as our life experiences stimulate even deeper body memories to rise to the surface.

More About Phase 1

During Phase 1 we learn to safely experience and tolerate a variety of feelings and sensations, including shame, anger, terror, grief, overwhelm, etc. There are a variety of somatic tools that can help us navigate these strong sensations and restore our sense of safety and self-connection.

Your Trigger Go-Tos

An important part of Phase 1 is becoming familiar with what your body does when you are triggered.

Triggers start when our reptilian brain and limbic brains perceive a threat coming our way and swiftly respond to restore us to safety. This reaction is known as the “fight or flight” response.

“Fight or flight” is actually a repertoire of at least five automatic survival responses: fight, flight, freeze, appease, and dissociate.

The fight response can show up as clenching our jaw and/or fists/arms. In conversation, it can look like defensiveness, or argument.

The flight response can show up as physically leaving the room, or our muscles subtly pulling away from the perceived threat. In conversation it can look like avoiding certain subjects.

The freeze response can show up as silence, holding the breath, or feeling stuck or paralyzed. To others, we may seem poker-faced or extremely calm.

The appease response can show up as smiling, submissive body language, or yielding our personal space to others. It can look like caretaking, “making nice,” or trying to smooth things over by asking sympathetic questions or cracking jokes.

The dissociate response can show up as “checking out” from our experience and not noticing our sensations and feelings. To others it can look like a faraway expression, or seem like we are “not all there.” Dissociation can also show up as emotional detachment, forgetfulness, obsessive thinking, or a drive to “figure out” everything.

To get to know your personal trigger “go-tos,” try to notice the specific sensations present in your body when you are triggered; this somatic awareness will help you “come down” from the triggered state.

Why is ongoing trauma healing work important for trauma survivors in love? Effective trauma healing work gradually sucks the reactivity out of your body, making it easier and less frightening for you to trust and communicate with your loved ones.

Resilience, Strength-Building and the Sandbox Approach to Relationships


Once you have a repertoire of well-practiced self-care routines and some solid trauma healing under your belt, you are ready to practice what I call the Sandbox Approach to Relationships.

The Sandbox Approach to Relationships

The Sandbox Approach is about taking full responsibility for yourself in romantic relationships.

The Sandbox metaphor goes like this: you have a kid, and you decide to bring them to the playground. Your lover also has a kid. You both bring your kids to the sandbox in the playground, where they can play and learn with each other.

In this metaphor, your “kid” and your lover’s kid are your “inner” children (or your psycho-biologies, or your animal bodies, etc.), and you are the parents or stewards of these aspects of yourselves.

When you are on a date or making love, your inner children get to connect and play. It’s playtime. Sandbox time. Sandbox time is a wonderful thing; we are meant to enjoy it.

We are also meant to take care of our inner kids at all times. When you bring your kid to the sandbox, you stick around. You don’t walk away. You supervise them, because you are their parent.

If you don’t like the notion of an “inner child,” use a different metaphor, such as bringing your dog to the dog park, or your animal body to the meadow, or your psycho-biology into the presence of someone else’s psycho-biology. Or bringing your loveable, traumatized, trigger-able self to a party.

In any case, you are the responsible grown-up, the dog owner, the guardian of your sensitive psycho-biology.

You don’t hand over your dog to the other dog owners at the dog park, right? You don’t stick your toddler in a sandbox and walk away, hoping that the other kids and grownups will parent them. No, you stay present while your dog or kid plays and interacts.

You make sure they are safe; make sure they don’t act out and hurt other kids or dogs. That’s the Sandbox Approach—you and your partner(s) are each 100% responsible for your own needs and well being. Your partner is not there to rescue you, parent your inner child, or take care of your inner dog.

When To Step Out of the Sandbox

Now let’s say you are spending some intimate time with your love, which means your inner kids are in the sandbox together. What do you do if your partner’s inner kid starts (metaphorically) throwing sand in your inner kid’s eyes?

You act like a responsible parent, and ask your partner to take care of their kid, and stop the harmful behavior. If they cannot or will not (perhaps they are in “fight or flight” mode), the compassionate and self-responsible thing to do is to step out of the sandbox.

You can have compassion for your partner’s triggered state while removing your kid from harm.

By the same token, you don’t allow your inner kid to throw sand back. When your partner does something you find hurtful and you get triggered; if you find are on the verge of speaking or acting harmfully, it’s time to step out of that interaction. Take a breather.

Now is the time to take your kid out of the sandbox and soothe them. It’s time to take care of your inner dog. Your job is to restore your perspective. Hopefully your partner will do the same. You certainly cannot do it for them!

If both your inner kids are freaking out, if both your psycho-biologies are threatened, it will take at least twenty minutes for the amygdala response to calm down. So this is not the time to “work out” the conflict.

Do not try to offer amends or make requests. Later on you can do these things, and perhaps share with each other what you have learned about your inner children/dogs/psycho-biologies.

I invite you to reflect on the Sandbox Approach. I hope it motivates you to be diligent with your self-care and ongoing trauma healing work, so you can navigate the sandbox with ever-increasing love and wisdom.

If you are hungry for more, Evil Twin work is a proactive way to cultivate self-responsibility.



This third guideline is analogous to when an ice-climbing crew engages in team building.

Allies in Healing by Laura Davis can help us imagine what sustainable allyship looks like in our romantic relationships.

Trauma survivor partners who want practice mutual support/allyship can: make self-care dates; try some boundary repair practices; and share your trigger go-tos.

Make a Self-care Date!

Make a date to do one or two self-care practices together, or in parallel.
Pick a practice you both like, and do it together. Here are some practices to try out.

Or, practice different self-care practices while in the same space. One of you could do a restorative yoga pose for twenty minutes while the other one journals or colors.

You can stay home and practice together, or you can go out for your self-care date. Try visiting a bathhouse or sauna, or going on a silent hike in a park.

Boundary Repair Practices

Trauma destroys our innate boundaries, so it is necessary to rebuild them. First, try these practices with a friend, therapist, somatic practitioner or supportive group.

Once they are familiar, you can practice them with a partner. Boundaries are challenging for trauma survivors, but it doesn’t need to be a grim affair. It can be fun!

Here are some playful, gentle ways to practice healthy boundary skills together.

Yes/No/Maybe Practice

Take turns giving and receiving “Yes” “No” and “Maybe” boundaries with your partner. Start by standing, facing each other with several feet between you.

When it is your turn to set the boundaries, speak each of these three words aloud, one at a time, while making the following gestures:

“Yes” with arms open at your sides, your palms open and receptive, facing out;

“Maybe” with arms in the “yes” position, with palms open but turned back;

“No” with your arms fully extended at shoulder level, palms forward, fingers up.

Cycle through Y/N/M several times, then switch roles. Whether you are giving or receiving Y/N/M, pay attention to how each one affects your mood and body sensations. Remember to keep your focus on learning about yourself and your partner.

Go! Stop! Practices

Although boundaries are serious business for trauma survivors, playful practices can transform our sense of agency.

These practices can give our bodies an experience of having our choices respected without reservation.

As before, partners take turns giving and receiving boundaries, this time around being looked at or touched.

  • Look at Me/Stop Looking at Me!

Both partners sit or stand comfortably. The first person who will be setting the “look at me/stop looking at me” boundary instructs their partner on how to stop looking at them:

“When I say, ‘Stop looking at me,’ I want you to cover your eyes (or look down, or look away, etc).”

The person who will be respecting the boundaries needs to swiftly obey the “stop looking at me” command, so if the requested posture is physically painful for you, suggest another way you can “stop looking” at your partner, until you arrive at a posture that works for both of you.

Once you are set up, the boundary-setter begins, saying “Look at me!” “Stop looking at me!” over and over, at their own pace. Important: the partner who is looking/looking away needs to obey IMMEDIATELY. So pay attention.

You can set a timer for this, or you can just stop when it feels like “enough.” Then switch roles, set it up carefully again, and repeat the practice.

  • Touch me!/Stop Touching Me!

In this practice you take turns giving and receiving boundaried touch. To prepare, each of you chooses a neutral or mildly pleasant place on your body where you are completely comfortable being touched.

The partner who is to receive touch first instructs their partner where and how they are to touch them: “Hold my feet, with your palms on top of my feet, using this much pressure.” Make sure your partner understands and can comfortably do what you want.

Once that is set up, the person who will receive touch commands their partner: “Hold my feet! Stop holding my feet!” (or, “touch my elbow! Stop touching my elbow!” etc.). Important: the partner who is offering touch must obey IMMEDIATELY. So stay present.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be done in a serious manner to “work.” Try using a relaxed, or silly or over-dramatic tone of voice when giving commands. Feel free to experiment with how fast or slow you give the commands. It can be powerful to keep these practices playful.

You may find yourself laughing or giggling (or crying) as your body re-learns that it is allowed to have boundaries. You may find yourself enjoying giving your partner exactly what they want, when they want it.

At the same time—and this is VERY important—the partner being given a boundary needs to obey the Start!/Stop! instructions IMMEDIATELY.  If you do, somatic magic can happen. If you do, trust between you and your partner will grow.

However, if you are uncomfortable with these rules; if you find you are not willing to obey your partner’s instructions, then this is not the time for you to engage these practices. For both your sakes, give yourself permission to “opt out.” It’s fine if you are not ready for this exercise. This is just another boundary that deserves respect.

In the same way, if either of you gets tired in the middle of the practice, if it stops being fun for either of you, stop (it’s okay if it’s a little scary or uncomfortable, as long as it’s fun)! Continue another time.

After doing any of these Boundary Repair Practices, take some time afterward to debrief any “ahas.” Share with each other which boundaries were easy or difficult to give or receive.

Our sexual boundaries are often in need of repair, so *after you have experimented with them in nonsexual situations* you might want to bring these practices into your sexual repertoire. There is much to learn here, and much fun to be had.

Also, I invite you to make up your own boundary repairing practices based on these ones, such as, “Come Closer! Step Back!” or “Listen to me! Stop listening to me!”

Share Your Trigger Go-Tos

Tell each other your trigger “go-tos.” Give your partner(s) permission to track your “triggered” body cues. With practice, you can notice early on when your partner has entered their typical fight or flight reaction.

Once you have this information, you have some options:

1. You can make requests of each other. “When I go into freeze mode, I hold my breath, get very quiet and I try not to be noticed. If you see me in this state, can you please do ___ to help me feel safe and ‘come back?’”

Or, “When you see me go into flight mode please give me lots of space. Don’t ask me any questions. That will help me bring myself back to center.”

2. With their consent, reflect back what you observe in your partner’s body, using a neutral tone of voice: “I notice your jaw is clenched and your eyes look hard.” You might add, “I wonder how you are feeling?”

3. Or take number 2. a little further by adding a tentative interpretation: “I wonder if your body feels it needs to fight right now?”

4. You may decide to give your partner (and yourself) some space and time to “come down” before continuing a difficult conversation.

You could say, “I notice your body is doing ____. I am glad your body is taking care of you. I’d like us to wait until we are both more centered before we continue this discussion.”

Why are trust-building and ally practices important for trauma survivors in love? A solid foundation of trust and interdependence helps us access more options when it is time to negotiate, communicate and de-escalate together.

Feeling like a team can get us through the hard times, and sweeten the easy times.

Thanks for reading. Please be gentle with you and your loved ones.

Much gratitude to Phyllis Pay, Denise Benson, and my incredible clients.

Next Month: Trauma Survivors In Love Part III
Find out more about Dr. Vanissar Tarakali or make a somatic coaching appointment at www.vanissar.com