Trauma and Coping Mechanisms with Matthias J. Barker
Matthias J. Barker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who, through his engaging content about mental health, has gained a significant following on TikTok and Instagram. As his reach has grown, Matthias has worked with other experts in the field of mental health to create workshops and meets with clients in his own practice.
During the episode, Matthias provides valuable insights into the potential connection between unwanted behaviors and our childhood experiences. He also shares practical tools that can help individuals overcome such behaviors, including identifying the root cause of avoidance, confiding in trusted individuals, and understanding that genuine healing is possible.
FROM THIS EPISODE
For today’s episode, we sat down for a second time with Matthias J Barker, a licensed mental health counselor who gained a lot of popularity on TikTok and Instagram. When he started posting videos about mental health as a counselor, he became increasingly curious about healing from trauma. In this episode, Matthias helps us understand the possible connections between our own pain and childhood experiences and the unwanted behaviors we’re engaging in. He also shares practical tools for engaging in and moving past those behaviors, including how to identify the root cause of what we’re avoiding, the benefits of opening up to someone trusted like a therapist, and the encouragement that real healing is possible. We hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming
Fight The New Drug (00:54):
Matthias. It’s so good to have you back. For our listeners who have probably seen you on TikTok or social media, Matthias is a licensed mental health counselor, and the last time you spoke with Fight the New Drug was actually your last day in a group practice, I believe. So can you tell us a little bit about what your practice and work has looked like since then?
Well, okay, so things kind of took off on TikTok and Instagram pretty rapidly right around the beginning of the pandemic. And so I think that was a time that everyone was really looking for maybe support in their mental health, and people were struggling in all sorts of different ways. So yeah, I just so happened to be posting tos in these little videos about all sorts of different topics in mental health. So part of that was right place, right time, and then what resulted was a lot of people maybe jumping on my wait list. I’m a therapist, and so I see people in a clinical practice. And so group practice, the owner of the group practice came to me and said, Hey, we need to take you off of our website. We can’t make outgoing calls. And that was pretty funny. They were like, every time we put the phone down, the phone then rings and we pick it up and it’s someone trying to get on your wait list.
It’s just pretty odd thing to hear because I was kind of the new guy at the practice at the time and had the small office under the stairs, and that was so, yeah, all at once. I kind of went from just pretty new in the field and still kind of cutting my teeth into having a larger voice in the world, and I’ve been trying to do well with that and honor that trust that people have entrusted. So part of that was getting into my own practice. So that’s funny that it was the last day. Now it’s been creating a lot of workshops, actually collaborating with a lot of different experts. That’s probably been the part that’s been most exciting for me is getting to talk to some heroes, make some really cool resources for people, but then in the meantime, get to get trained and mentored by some of these people I read in textbooks. So trying to make the most of a good opportunity and trying to make sure that people get the best possible help that they can.
Fight The New Drug (02:53):
Awesome. Well, congratulations. You do make amazing resources. We’re excited for our audience who maybe didn’t catch your last episode with us to learn about you and to be able to follow you and learn from your resources as well. But also, I’m excited to share in this conversation. You do a lot of work in trauma recovery, particularly childhood trauma, and so I want to talk a little bit about that today as it relates to our mission at Fight the New Drug. But can you tell us what first got you interested in that area of treatment?
When I was in my internship for my master’s program in counseling, I decided to work within a department that specialized in working with kids who had experienced sexual abuse and specifically maladaptive sexual behavior, which is when kids sexually aggress other kids. And so that was often my work was with foster kids and kids who had experienced both really terrible things, but also had aggressed others in ways that created a lot of pain. And so it was a really heavy way to enter the field perhaps is one way to describe it. But I learned a lot really rapidly just about trauma, about even just sexuality and how we relate to our own sexuality, how we relate to pleasure, how we relate to our own pain, and even the intersection between our own experience of erotic pleasure or connection and our past trauma and pain, all of those topics, all of those, I imagine a big Venn diagram now, all those things can overlap.
That was my sole focus for that first chunk of my career. And then to be totally honest with you, it was rather overwhelming to start in with that demographic. And I often found that when we’re kind of at that level of severity where kids are in foster care, they’re in group homes because they can’t get placed, I don’t know, in other locations because they have a history of being sexually violent, it’s really hard for them to find other placements. And so they’re kind of collected in these group homes with boys who also have those backgrounds. And so then it’s a really vulnerable place to be in. It’s a very dangerous place to be in. And so I, there’s this term called vicarious trauma, and that’s when, because of the work that you do and the things that you’re experiencing, even though you’re trying to help you experience trauma yourself, and that’s very common with paramedics, with firemen, with doctors where just because of the nature of their job, they’re just around a lot of suffering and a lot of things going wrong all the time.
And I felt really similarly, and I don’t know if I would’ve described it that way at the time, but looking back on it, I can name that now that I was really overwhelmed. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was starting to kind of get into some bad habits just to kind of cope with, I don’t know, feeling really emotionally overwhelmed by, so I had a mentor who was really insightful and could see that I was just trying to keep my head above water and said, Mathias would probably be good if you did this 20% of the time, not a hundred percent of the time, start out. And I was like, well, those kids, they need me. I can’t just stop. And he is like, yeah, they need you for 50 years though. It’s no good to anybody if you do this full time for two years and you burn out and you have a crisis and you’re actually going to end up helping more kids if you take your foot off the gas a little bit and make sure that you are healthy.
And I found that really persuasive. So I took, and this was around the time I think that we talked last a few years ago, and I took kind of, I don’t know, a pivot in my career and I started working with domestic violence and working with couples who were trying to, I don’t know, work through intimacy and connection and relationship, but had a lot of, I don’t know, sometimes addiction, sometimes trauma histories. There’s all sorts of things that can precipitate that. But found that kind of diversifying the types of circumstances that I was trying to help, that I was trying to provide therapy in, just allowed me to get a breath just personally just as a human, just find myself to not be in such heavy spaces all the time. And then I found, well, just kind of through the mix of doing some individual counseling, some couples counseling, some continuing to work with kids, that there was a lot of common threads just around trauma in particular. And the activity of healing from trauma was something that I became increasingly curious about. And so I reached out to a scholar in the field of trauma. His name is Dr. Frank Anderson.
Well, he wrote the book on something called Internal Family Systems. He wasn’t the founder of the model, but he co-wrote the manual with the founder, Richard Schwartz, and reached out for some mentorship and just a little bit of coaching. And that turned into a really great friendship where he really took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, so to speak, on how to use that model to help heal trauma that was really meaningful. So that’s been the past several years has been apprenticing under one of the best. He’s a Harvard trained psychiatrist. He just has all the pedigrees that you could want, I guess. But my public work, we just said took off around the pandemic and I started making videos, short form videos, like 60 seconds or something on what it’s like to heal from trauma and what that means, and those really seem to be resonating with people.
And so then after several millions of followers and all that kind of stuff, I started speaking at different places and started traveling and started making workshops and have just been so fortunate and blessed to have that kind of a platform. But like I was saying earlier, really wanting to meet that with a lot of substance, and that means me being healthy, that means me having mentorship and coaching to make sure that I’m bringing high quality stuff to people and engaging in conversations like this where not always obvious that trauma perhaps might be contributing to the knot that we’re trying to untangle in something like dependence on pornography to whatever degree. I think what I found in my clinical practice when I’ve worked with people and then honestly, even just in my own life, was just so, it was so ambiguous, the connection of my own pain and my own childhood experiences and struggling with this substance, with this drug. And yeah, I want to let people know about that and give people recourse, something to do, something to respond with. It might be clear for some people listening, it’s like, okay, yeah, I had some stuff happen as a kid and maybe some inappropriate experiences that might be fueling some of the pornography stuff fine, but then it’s not obvious what you do with that information or for others,
It’s not obvious that something more disconnected could actually be connected to a porn dependence. And so that could be, I don’t know, emotional neglect from your mom or dad or a near death experience or bullying and loneliness and isolation, not feeling like you belong, struggling with your sexuality. I mean, all those things. The way that in internal family systems, they think through it. The way that I’ve come to think through it is when we have a habit that we can’t kick and we wish we could act differently, but for some reason we just keep doing the thing we don’t want to be doing over and over and over. That’s typically because of one or two things. It’s trying to soothe some sort of emotional pain, or we’re trying to manage some sort of complex emotion or series of thoughts that we’d rather not be thinking. In other words, the thing itself is a fix. The thing that we’re doing is trying to fix something that we genuinely don’t know how to solve.
Fight The New Drug (10:46):
I think you just touched on so many important things first. Obviously the breadth of your work is so relevant to the work that we do. Something really important, you said is a good reminder for our listeners as well, especially those who are in this space as activists, that it’s important to take care of yourself if you’re doing this kind of work so that you have something to give. So I appreciate you mentioning that as well. And then also just really digging in. You talked, you were just speaking about this a little bit, but you had mentioned there are a lot of coping mechanisms rooted in trauma, and you kind of just started to talk about this, but I would like to dig in a little bit more of into the coping mechanism of addiction and really understanding what is it that we’re trying to soothe with that addiction? Why do people with all of these different types of trauma that you did just mention find themselves in addiction?
Well, addiction is, well, it’s a couple things. There’s a bunch of maybe technical psychological words to describe all these things, but just to make it practical and normal language, we get into these modes where we depend on something to try to fix a problem. That could be an emotional problem, that could be boredom, that could be some sort of trauma that I’m repressing, that I’m not thinking about. It could be loneliness, feeling purposeless, not feeling like I have a lot of meaning in my life. I think a lot of people would be surprised they could stand back and be like, well, I have a job that I like and I have a family. I have a spouse that I care about. I shouldn’t be dependent on this. That’s actually more common than you’d think as well. But what we find is that there is something, and maybe if it’s something young, I don’t know.
It’s not obvious to me that just because we know something in our heads that our emotions actually follow through in the same way. I can know this is bad, but yeah, I don’t feel that it is. I can know this isn’t going to end in any sort of satisfaction or anything positive. I don’t feel that. And then we at the end of the day, often are more led by what we feel than just what we’ve chosen to believe or the way that we describe what we believe. So all that’s a big conundrum. All that’s a big knot that we’re not really sure what to do. And the thing about addiction that makes it complicated is addiction is behavior that self reinforces, but has what’s called an adaptive peak. And adaptive peak could be, it’s only good up until a point, and then it kind of plummets after that.
So for example, let’s take a totally different context outside of porn, social anxiety, let’s say I’m really socially anxious, and so I go into, let’s say I know a birthday party of a friend of mine, and I don’t really know anybody there, but I want to support my friends. So I feel like I kind of have to go, but I’m going to leave early. I don’t want to stay there forever. I’m just going to stay there as long as they see that I’m there. Okay, good, fine. I go into the room and I don’t really make eye contact with anybody. I kind of stand in the corner. I’m a little quiet. Why do I do that? Well, I don’t want to get rejected. I don’t want to say something wrong. I don’t want to embarrass myself or embarrass my friend. I don’t know anybody. I don’t really care to know anybody.
I’m not trying to make friends out here. I’m just trying to show up for a friend. So there might be all those kinds of things. The problem with some of those behaviors is that they seem to work on the front end. And what I mean by that is I stand in the corner, I don’t say anything, and then I leave the party. And then I think, ah, that worked. I didn’t get rejected. I didn’t get humiliated. I didn’t embarrass myself. I wasn’t awkward because I didn’t talk to anybody. But what that doesn’t reveal, what that doesn’t allow you to learn is that you probably could have talked to some folks and you probably would’ve been fine. And I went up to somebody at the snack bar and you just said, Hey, how are you doing? How do you know so-and-so? I’m like, oh, okay, cool.
What do you do for work? You probably could have had some sort of small talk conversation, and even if you pressed through the awkwardness, you probably wouldn’t have ended in some sort of catastrophe. You might surprise yourself that you have more social skills than you think, and it would’ve been generally positive, but you don’t learn that. You don’t find that out because you stood in the corner and then you left. And the adaptive peak means that that strategy is standing in the corner, not talking to anybody works. And all it does though is it works of avoiding the thing that you don’t want to happen. But the problem with those avoidance strategies is avoidance doesn’t get you closer to things that matter to you. It just gets you away from things that you don’t want to happen. And that’s a really important thing to realize is your whole life is centered around avoiding things that are uncomfortable, that are painful, that are terrifying, that are shameful. You can’t, it charts no path forward towards anything of substance or meaning in your life. I mean, one more analogy, I promise I won’t do tons and tons of analogies, but
Fight The New Drug (15:35):
No, keep ’em coming.
Yeah. Well, let’s say that you’re trying to survive out in the wilderness, and all you’re concerned about is making sure you stay away from bears. It’s like, okay, good job. You’re not getting eaten. But there’s a lot more to surviving in the wilderness than just avoiding bears. If you’re running away from a bear, you’re not thinking about like, oh, I should probably run towards a place with clean water. I should probably find a place that has shelter like, oh, okay, there might be something I could forge here. You’re just thinking, okay, got to get away from the bear. Are there bears here? It’s such a limited, narrow way to view a circumstance is how do I avoid the thing I want to avoid? And there is so much more relevant information that you’re completely ignoring because of your fear, because of your avoidance. And I think that when it comes to something like addiction, pornography, it’s an avoidance strategy.
And I’m not talking about avoiding looking at porn. I’m talking about you looking at porn to avoid something in your own heart. You looking at porn to soothe something in your own heart, and I don’t know what that is. Maybe for you it’s loneliness. Maybe it’s as some sort of trauma. Maybe you wouldn’t put the title trauma on it. Maybe it’s just like you’ve had hard life experiences like anyone else, but for you, this thing really seems to kind of boost your valence in a positive place. Valence is your emotional state, right? It takes me from feeling negative into feeling positive. Okay, easy, fast, fine, that’s great. But if you’re just trying to avoid the negative, that doesn’t actually bring you to anything positive. And so when I talk to people who are trapped in addiction, whether that’s alcohol, whether that’s pornography, video games, whatever in their life feels like they can’t get a handle of, we talk about what is the adaptive peak and what are you not experiencing because of your centered focus on avoiding that emotional pain?
And that’s a conversation. Very few people I’ve talked to have had no one even realizes that’s underneath. I’m like, oh, well, shoot. I don’t know. Well, okay. And then we also then talk about the reciprocal nature of addiction because something else that makes maybe pornography or alcohol different than social anxiety is that the more that you use the substance, the more the substance starts to shift how your brain works. And then it actually starts to inhibit your agency to make cogents aware, fully autonomous decisions. Someone that’s, let’s say, let’s kind of take a more extreme example. Someone who’s addicted to fentanyl, meth, or heroin after a certain amount of usage, it’s not obvious that the withdrawal symptoms or something that you can resist with much success. Let’s say that there is a degree. I’m not saying that it completely takes over you, that you’re possessed by the substance in every case.
I don’t think it’s deterministic like that, but let’s say that maybe it impedes you 20, 30, 40% on your willpower that you normally would’ve had if it were any other negative habit, because there’s a chemical dependence, because there’s well-defined neural pathways. In other words, it reprograms your instincts, your intuitions, your reflexes, and so you’re working to inhibit a behavior that your biology has kind of been programmed to run after. And that’s the really just the knot of addiction, that people have a hard time untangling that I think the mental health field has a hard time untangling that’s not just individuals. I think we as a society don’t really know what to do with addiction in most cases. And so you really are kind of in a pickle. It’s like the more I use this, the less choice of I have access to the less agency I have access to. And it’s actually your agency and your choice that is necessary to start to untangle what’s begun to happen. And it’s both. It’s realizing this thing that I’m using to suit the pain, not working, there’s a whole range of existence that actually blocks my vision towards. And the more I use this, it’s not just the harder it gets, it’s like the less of me is there. And that becomes increasingly a larger problem. The more you use a substance
Fight The New Drug (20:07):
For someone who is so deep in specifically a pornography struggle, it’s something they’ve used compulsively from the time they were a teenager for years and years of their life. They may not even realize how much it’s changed their brain or taken away that freedom of choice. So for someone who’s in that position, maybe with it, they’re maybe not even aware how much control it has over them. How do they go about figuring out what they’re avoiding if they’re maybe not even aware that they’re using it as a coping mechanism to avoid something? How does someone begin that process?
That’s a good question. To be totally honest with you, I think it’s different for different people. Here’s one method I use to get to the root of that where let’s say perhaps I’m working with someone and they’re really set. I’m wanting to stop you in pornography, and it really becomes a tense and emotionally distressing thing, especially maybe after a few days, let’s say. And they’re not really sure that they have the willpower to kind of press in. And this is really rooted to some sort of trauma or something. We’re just trying to maybe resist the endorphins, the hormones are being reprogrammed, however you want to think about it.
Well, what emotions come up in the distress? Well, I feel frustrated and fatigued and agitated. Okay, good. What’s underneath? What are the emotions that really start to come to the surface in the tension, in the fatigue? And that will be different for everyone. I mean, broadly, it’ll be something like sadness, shame or fear. Fear that I’m never really going to be happy without this, that my life really does have just this dull gray quality to it that if I really were to give this up, I don’t know if I’ll ever really experience that ecstatic, not just eroticism again, but just feeling okay, feeling whole again. I’m like, ah, okay. When in your life did you stop feeling whole?
Let’s go back as early as you can. Remember this feeling in your chest, this racing energy through your hands and arms and feet and body, the thing that is driving you to soothe. When did you first need to soothe? He like, well, when did I start watching porn? No, no, no. Maybe it was earlier. When’s the last time you felt this racing through your legs? And I don’t know, I was in softball or baseball when my dad was the coach and he was yelling at me. If I didn’t perform well in sports, I knew that he’d be disappointed, but that’s not connected to porn. Why would I look at porn? Because my dad yelled at me in baseball, and it’s not always this super clear connection point. It’s not like the porn has to do with your dad in some maybe erotic sense. It’s that, no, the pain of I’m not good enough. The pain of if I don’t perform, I am of lower value. I’m worthless. The pain of, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t.
That might be the thing that pornography actually starts to attend to. Because you can find a fictional world where you see the body language and see the facial expressions move your back to you, that you are competent, that you are worthwhile, that you’re doing a good job. And maybe it doesn’t really have to do with the sex. It actually has more to do with that feeling. What are the feelings that arise in the tension? And then float that back a little bit into the recent or not so recent past. Have you found that there’s moments when you felt similarly, perhaps that has something to do with it. Not saying maybe it’s a hundred percent, maybe that’s not a hundred percent of the problem, maybe it’s 20%, but what if your struggle is 20% lighter? So may as well just go to therapy and process some of the stuff with your dad In baseball, you might find that it doesn’t solve the whole problem, but hey, even if it shaves 10, 20% off of the stress, it might be worth it.
Fight The New Drug (24:24):
I mean, for so many people, I think knowing where to start is the difficult piece of this for them. So I think being able to kind of hear that broken down is helpful. And also understanding for people who maybe are afraid to go to therapy or utilize therapy as a resource, kind of getting a sense of what therapy can help you figure out, and then what you can do once you have that information. So for someone maybe who has identified, I think this is the root cause of what I’m avoiding, what are some things that they would maybe be able to work on with a therapist or on their own if they don’t have access to therapy or can’t afford it, that could help them replace this negative coping mechanism with something, or I should say unhealthy coping mechanism with something that could be healthier,
Getting to the root. I mean, people have different solutions here and recommend different things. The thing I recommend is get to the root of the thing and then let’s heal it. We don’t necessarily have to replace with something better to cope with. I dunno. If you heal the wound, then there’s nothing that has to be coped with let’s get to the root and then heal it. And then if we can heal it, then you’re not having to manage this thing in a positive way instead of in a negative way. You can just feel relieved. And that feels kind of like pie in the sky kind too good to be true, but that is possible. At least that’s what I hold. That’s what I believe. And I know that not everyone maybe listening would agree with that, but I think we certainly have clinical evidence to show that there’s lots of different psychological modalities that do produce a profound amount of healing. And the common experience with people who’ve experienced things like that is that it’s not just then, okay, I need to replace this bad habit with a better way to soothe the same pain. Oh, I just don’t feel like I need to overeat anymore. Like, oh, I just feel like I can go to the gym and I can wake up and I don’t know, start hanging out on the treadmill and it’s not charged with the same amount of resistance as it used to be. I don’t want to smoke anymore.
Isn’t that the dream? That just emotionally things just there’s a relief. And I think that relief comes not from being convinced it’s bad enough, not from shaming ourself enough. I think that relief is when the emotional wound is released, and two modalities that I’ve had personal experience knowing that that does happen, not just for myself, but for others, are internal family systems and E M D R two different modalities that approach trauma healing in two different ways. So those styles might work better or worse for different people. And there’s certainly no guarantees around any of that. Everyone’s in a different stage in their process. Well, I guess I could go into a few different paths there. I could explain some of those, or I could detail something else, but what questions do you have in that?
Fight The New Drug (27:15):
Yeah, well, I think actually for someone listening, again, I think because of shame being an element of this for so many people, I do think there is a barrier of wanting to get that help. So I think if you don’t mind explaining internal family systems and EMDR therapy, what those, what those could do to benefit people, I think our audience would benefit from hearing that.
So if therapy isn’t the right fit, we can certainly start this in a journal exercise. You can start this in conversations with a mentor, someone in, I dunno, your life that you trust someone in your faith community, someone who’s in your life that you feel like you can confide in. Some of those steps I kind of talked about would be getting underneath the tension and the fatigue to actually start to find out is there any sadness, shame, or fear under here? And can I take that back to earlier in my life and make some connections with that? And here’s what maybe EMDR and IFS’s have in common. And by the way, there’s lots of other modalities that are positive. I’m just talking about the two that I know that I’ve had training in because I feel like I can speak about them more.
There’s things that I have colleagues that practice that seem really great on the outside, like AEDP is one of ’em. Sensory motor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, there’s lots, lots of different styles of therapy, but the ones I can speak to, IFS and EMDR, what they do is they essentially go into witnessing the emotional burden that was taken on during whatever happened in your past. And it’s important to point out, sometimes these burdens really impact us, even though it’s not something we would particularly maybe title a trauma. It’s not like you had to have a near death experience or you had to be molested or something in order for this to be relevant to you. I think that all of us, in one way or another, experience, things that are overwhelming, that’s the point. When you’re overwhelmed, you manage the circumstance as best as you know how.
Fight The New Drug (29:15):
When you’re overwhelmed, you end up getting hurt, you end up making things worse, and then you start concluding, this was my fault. And you start, I don’t know, when you’re a kid, it’s like you don’t know. You don’t know how complex stuff is and how the world’s put together. And so you’re just doing your best. And sometimes even your best doesn’t adequately maneuver the circumstance well, or sometimes by no fault of your own other people’s actions impact you. And well, okay, there’s a lot there, but I’ll say that what you do is you realize, not realize, I’m sorry, you attend to the emotional burden. And I say emotional there because it’s not obvious that there’s anything therapeutic about just retelling a story. It’s not obvious to me that if you read, I don’t know, a police report in a courtroom, there’s anything healing about that this happened and this happened and this happened.
It’s like, no. What were the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you experienced in the hard thing? So let’s say it was that mom was just rather cold. She wasn’t very physically affectionate. She had pretty high standards for you. You knew that she loved you, but she was pretty punitive and kind of withdrawn. And if you’re being honest with yourself, that was kind of hard and you took it pretty hard. And so you really wanted to impress her and you really didn’t feel like you were doing good enough and you felt at the same time, a bit resentful and just kind of far off from her. And it’s this weird combo of wanting more from her and kind of wanting her to get away from you. And you don’t really know how to, I don’t know, put your finger on all that, but you don’t feel like you have a good reason to feel that way.
She didn’t beat you or something, but hey, maybe you feel that way. So what was it like, not just like, oh, well, tell me the story of her being an awful mom. What was it like not being able to go to her with things that you were confused by, you didn’t know how to navigate, and you didn’t feel comfortable being able to bring that to her? I dunno, having a crush at someone at school or having a project that you got a bad grade on, instead of feeling like, oh, I can go to her for comfort or insight or support. It’s like she’s probably going to make a comment. She’s probably going to, I don’t know, make it worse in some way. And that is overwhelming for a middle schooler or for a freshman or whatever, because you’re a kid. You need people to hold pain with you.
That’s the whole point. It’s like when you’re a kid, you’re not just out on the world on your own. Totally self-sufficient. You need adults in your life who are more mature, that have a greater emotional capacity than you do to help hold the hard stuff with you and help you realize that you didn’t fail because you’re just something you uniquely terrible and pathetic and that something’s wrong with you. You failed because you used the wrong strategy. Let’s find a different strategy. Maybe you did need to update your strategy. It needed to be a bit more complex. You used something that was too simple. You stayed up all night playing video games. You went and took the test, and even though you studied, you got about great because you didn’t get enough sleep. Okay, let’s update the strategy. You need more sleep next time. So that helps, helps like, oh, okay, I’m not bad at math.
I just used the wrong strategy to prep for that test. That’s not obvious to a kid. And so if you didn’t have that, that is going to cascade into not just one or two hard things, but likely dozens or hundreds of thousands of moments that you should have been able to approach your mom or your dad, but you didn’t feel comfortable. And so that meant that you had to hold all those weird ambiguities on your own. You just had to learn it all by trial and error. In some ways that made you resilient in some ways. You had to rise to the occasion and that gave you a bit of grit, good on you. But in some ways you felt alone. If you’re being honest with yourself, there’s times that you felt pretty insufficient and pretty low. Okay. What was it like to have to go through that? What did you feel? What did you think about yourself?
What did you feel in your body? Not just feel an emotional sense, but what was it like? I couldn’t sleep a lot. I just felt antsy. I felt, I don’t know, maybe it escalated into something like symptoms of a d D and a d D has a strong genetic component, but it can also be brought on by trauma. We’ve been able to see that. We’ve seen that environmental factors can impact something like that. And so when you really do attend to the experience of the emotional wound, and I would say you want to share that, not just go through the storyline, but share the experience of the overwhelming thing with someone that you trust, with someone who loves you, with someone who caress about you. And that could be someone like a therapist who’s really holding a safe space for you. Like I said, that could be a mentor, that can be yourself in a journal.
Not everyone believes that that’s something I hold, is that you can actually share this with yourself via a journal. That’s an IFS idea. And I think that for some people that’s going to be possible is to write that down, to share that maybe that’s sharing it with God if you have a faith background, and then when it’s genuinely shared and attended to when you feel listened to, that’s really important. The person didn’t just jump in and start telling you all this advice. They didn’t jump in and shut you down. They didn’t start taking the conversation off into their own past and start talking about their own stuff. They really are with you. They’re attuned to you. Oh, there is a shift. Many people call it a corrective experience. And that is when the truth naturally emerges in the context of that relational love that you’re experiencing with someone else or that safe connection.
If love is too dramatic of a word with someone else, and when I say naturally emerge, there’s this idea, and this is an e MDR R, they call it dual awareness, which is there’s the young part of you that really experienced and remembers the event in that kind of young type of way that still kind of believes that they’re just pathetic or they’re worthless. It was their fault. But then there’s the grownup version of you that intellectually gets it, that intellectually gets that, okay, that wasn’t me and that wasn’t my fault. And I was a kid. Like that wasn’t fair that I was even put in that position in the first place, and I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed. So there’s these two forms of awareness. There’s the kid awareness and the adult awareness. And when you feel genuinely heard, that experience of the hard things genuinely attended to, there’s this corrective experience where the adult and the child kind of collide. And I F ss language, it’s the self, they call that adult awareness, the self. The self and the exile kind of collide.
If we were to use other adjectives for that, it’s like the head and the heart come into the same place, and then there’s this aha moment and not just an aha moment of something purely intellectual. It’s like the emotions actually reprogram. You’re like, oh, that makes sense. So for example, this all might feel a bit abstract and esoteric, but let’s say that I went to my brother, let’s say I lost my temper. I have two little kids. I have a two year old daughter. I have a one year old son. Let’s say I lost my temper at my daughter, and I kind of raised my voice at her, and I felt really terrible about that. And I’m just like, man, I’m a really crappy dad. A good dad wouldn’t have raised his voice at his kid, and I’m probably just doing the same thing my dad did.
And let’s say I’m really kind of spiraling into a lot of shame and embarrassment about that. Let’s say I go to my brother and let’s say my brother has a bit of wisdom. Let’s say he says, Matthias, if it were me coming to you and I told you that I yelled at my kid, would you be saying all those things to me right now? Would you be calling me a terrible parent? And what kind of parent would yell at their kid? You’re just repeating dad’s mistakes. Would you give me that lecture? I would be like, well, no, I wouldn’t say that to you. You’d be like, well, why are you saying it to yourself? And then something would dawn on me, oh, that’s not reasonable. And that’s an example of that collision of, oh, wait, that doesn’t make sense. And that’s maybe the version of the adult self or the self kind of waking up and being like, hold on, this isn’t a sufficient way to hold this experience or to think about this.
And then the child’s self perhaps that part that feels shameful or overwhelmed or is really down on themselves. That’s perhaps representative of a younger way to look at it. It’s like all those things come into the same space, and they came into the same space because I was genuinely heard and listened to. And then my brother’s wise question facilitated me to bring both those things into the same sphere. And then what happens? And I’m like, oh, hey, I should probably just relax a bit and go easier on myself. And then I’m probably able to give myself the advice that I need. I should probably check and see if I was just a bit stressed out, maybe it is not that I am rageful towards my kids. Maybe they caught me at a bad moment. Okay, what was going on in that moment? Well, I was working too much and I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.
Okay, I should probably focus on my sleep more. I should probably really. So what we find most of the time is that people kind of know how to fix their own problems, is that the part of them that knows how to fix the problem and the emotions don’t know how to get to each other? That happens through that warm attendance, that genuine connection to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the part of you that holds the emotional burden. And that can feel a bit abstract. And that’s why going maybe to a therapist who knows how to use something like if IFS or EMDR is going to be of really great option, if you feel like facilitating on your own still kind of feels a bit, I don’t know, you’re wandering around not really knowing where you’re going or you don’t really know what to do with that.
I mean, we can lean into other people. That’s part of the experience of being human in EMDR, they do a very similar version of that where they ask you simply just to reflect on some of those really deep, dark experiences. Again, paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations. But they do something called bilateral stimulation, which if you’ve ever seen it, it’s just the therapist wiggle in their fingers back and forth and someone following their fingers with their eyeball. Its kind moving their eyes back and forth. Imagine kind like hypnotism. It’s not hypnotism, but it’s sort of like that. And what that does is it, it taxes the part of your brain called your working memory that might be, I don’t know, prone to getting triggered, prone to getting distracted. And it stimulates the brain in such a way. And this isn’t very well understood, but we’ve seen it in studies is it stimulates the brain in such a way that allows you to consolidate memory.
And that means is it allows you to put a memory that maybe is out of place that we really don’t know what to do with, and we’re able to kind of put it back in its place. We’re able to take a memory that’s really distressing. It’s kind of overwhelming. And instead of looking at it not really knowing what to do, there’s an insight that emerges that’s like, oh, okay. I know where to file this away. I know what this means. I know what to make of this. Okay, I can put it to rest and I don’t have to keep replaying it in my head or in my nightmares or in my emotions over and over and over again. And so again, that naturally emerges within the context of that safe relationship with the therapist and that deep attendance to the emotional content of the root issue.
Fight The New Drug (40:51):
I think sometimes when fight the new drug, we’re solely focused on raising awareness on the harmful effects of pornography using science facts and personal accounts. And I think sometimes our lens can get so narrow, and maybe even for someone who’s struggling with a compulsive pornography behavior, the lens can become so narrow. And I think being able to dive into all of this and broaden the lens to say, what’s really going on here is actually a really helpful and needed part of this conversation. So I appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us and providing that insight.
I’m so grateful. Yeah, I feel that way too. My hope is that people maybe just even this kind of 10,000 foot up sketch of what that process like just gives people enough, I dunno, to spark some curiosity and to know that it might, I just want to say this as an asterisk. It might take a couple tries. Not every therapist knows that pathway. It might sound a little strange, but it’s like you might have to try two or three therapists in order to find someone that knows how to go there. And it’s not obvious that just because you get a master’s in counseling somewhere that you know how to go there and you know how to facilitate people through that process. And so I would look for people who have training, and not just that they attended a workshop somewhere, but they’ve had someone supervising their use of those skills and those tools, meaning that somewhere there’s some expert that’s watched a video of them doing those techniques and then put their stamp of approvals like, yeah, you’re doing it right. That’s what you’d hope for your electrician. That’s what you’d hope for your plumber. You’ll want that for your therapist too. So that’s always what I tell people. I’m like, look for someone who’s had training, look for someone who isn’t just have a master’s degree, but it’s done specialized supervised training in some of these things. And there’s a hope there, even if it means you have to try a couple different people, that they have the insight and they know the path to take you down so that this can actually end in real healing for you.
There’s this story, the Myth of Pandora’s box where the myth goes that all the gods collected gifts and gave it to Pandora, the first woman, this is the Greek myth, and presented Pandora with this box. And Pandora opened the box to see the gifts that Gods had given her, and all the maladies and tragedies of mankind became flooding out of this box. And then the myth does something interesting. It says she panicked when she opened the box and everything came flooding out. And so she closed the box, but all the maladies had already escaped. She had trapped one thing in the box that couldn’t get out in time, and that was hope.
And it’s such a complex story, but what I take that to mean perhaps symbolically or psychologically, is there’s going to be moments when we open up the box and all the maladies and terrors of mankind come out. There’s going to be times when you go into therapy and you’re going to start exploring your childhood and all the deep dark stuff is going to come out. And if you cut the process short, you might run into a same, well, the same problem is that all the maladies get out, but you don’t get access to your hope. And so there’s a courage in opening the box and letting it stay open so that everything hard can come out and hope can come out maybe in that all of the hard things can be addressed in the way they need to be addressed.
There’s hope after all. I hope that people would take this idea and maybe, okay, maybe I’ll try trauma counseling. Maybe I need a different counselor because what Matthias is talking about isn’t anything I’ve been experiencing in my counseling. Good and fine, try it and stick with it. And then when all the maladies of all the gods come pouring out, stay, keep the box open. Have some courage there. And you might find that the woundedness that’s animating your attachment to this substance, this new drug, starts to loosen its grip. And you find that you have far more agency, far more capability to make decisions in lines with your values than you thought was possible.
Fight The New Drug (45:07):
I think that’s such a perfect way to remind people that real healing is actually possible, that there is a lot of hope in this space. I think sometimes, again, the lens is too narrow and we just forget. But we hear from people all the time. You work with people all the time who do heal these wounds, who no longer need to cope in these ways that are harming them in other ways. So I appreciate you sharing that, and I hope anyone who is listening can have that hope and can find that hope. And I do want to go back to something you talked about a little bit ago, which was opening up to a safe person. We know that trauma and coping mechanisms like addiction can impact and affect how we connect with others. Can you talk a little bit about why that is, how it can be affected in those ways and how to maybe overcome if you’re feeling you don’t feel like you have a safe person you can approach or you don’t have access therapy, how to make a shift there so that you can open up to someone so that you can connect with someone when you’ve been isolated or had a loss of connection?
I think there’s two things that occur to me. One is that it’s reasonable to be cautious. It’s not obvious that you just need to open up. You really do need to open up to a safe person, or I should say it’s not obvious that it would help to open up to just someone random. You want to open up to someone who genuinely cares and has some wisdom. And so I would say that you do have a deep intuition around those things. What’s funny when you look at the psychological data and what makes therapy most successful, they’ve tracked it of like, okay, what’s more successful cognitive-based therapies where you talk a lot and try to get more rational? Is it like emotion-based therapies? Is it behavior-based? Is it this style, EMDR, IFS? What’s the best style of therapy? And what they found is the thing that predicts a positive experience in therapy more than anything else is you have a warm and genuine connection with the therapist that you just trust.
It’s called Therapeutic Alliance is the official title for it. You just feel like, okay, I feel okay with you. And especially when you have sexual trauma, that barometer that compass can be skewed. And so going into circumstances that are more structured than less is going to be something wise. And what I mean by that is, I mean, there’s people listening to this perhaps all over the world, but I know that within the states there’s often access to something like free counseling or low income counseling or counseling in the ballpark of 20, 30 bucks a session in most cities. And there’s also organizations that provide scholarships for people who can’t avoid therapy, that if you’re a part of their program, they’ll pay for your therapy. And so it might be wise to do some research there and try to find, even if it’s Zoom, perhaps you live in a city that’s really not close to a large kind of center full of therapists.
And so jumping on Zoom might be something you might think about considering. And I would look for a place where there’s supervision, meaning an agency or a practice where there’s lots of people instead of just a private practice circumstance, if you’re in the state of like, oh, I really don’t know if I can trust them, I don’t know. I’ve been in codependent situations before. I’m worried that I’m going to get taken advantage of. I’m worried that I don’t have a good barometer or good compass on if they’re trustworthy or not. That’s totally reasonable. Trust that gut intuition. Maybe try meeting with a counselor who’s being supervised and someone’s looking over their shoulder and looking at their notes so that if you really do have some sort of, I dunno, malicious psychopath, someone will notice a weird practical piece of advice. But the malicious psychopaths don’t like to hang out in the really structured agency settings.
Well, I mean, I can’t say that officially. Maybe there are, but they usually try to hang out where no one can be looking over their shoulder and seeing what they’re up to. And so if you genuinely are nervous of like, oh, I don’t know how to find someone, there’s safety in numbers. So that’s a little piece there. If therapy just generally isn’t an option for you, I would say maybe the same thing regarding mentorship. Go to an organized community, something like a group meeting. I know that depending on your background or depending on what you’re struggling is something like a 12 step program, something like a sexual, an essay, sexual, anonymous. Those are free. If you can go to places where there’s numbers, where there’s people, there’s a system around people, you’re going to have a higher likelihood just statistically of finding someone that might be able to create a positive experience with you. And yeah. Does that attend to that question?
Fight The New Drug (49:56):
Yeah, I think so. And I think a good reminder for anyone listening who’s maybe said, well, I tried therapy and it didn’t work, maybe just try again. Sometimes I think it can be intimidating. It does take a lot of courage to be willing to open up to a stranger about these things and to know it’s okay to do it again with someone else if you don’t feel like there’s a good safe fit.
Yeah, that’s a really great point. I want to comment on that. Just it’s okay to not open up the whole life story to someone. On the first couple of meetings, people are like, oh, I don’t want to go to a bunch of therapists and try a bunch of people. I don’t want to have to go into my whole life story like five times. And I’m like, well, who does? That sounds awful. Go. And just essentially what I would do is go and do some small talk with a therapist right up front. You want to share stuff progressively. You don’t want to go into your whole life story just because they’re a therapist. You need to kind of feel ’em out a bit and see if they’re trustworthy, see if they’re insightful, bring up something kind of small first. If that feels more comfortable, I don’t know.
I’m frustrated because the guy who fixed my car didn’t do a good job and he won’t refund me and I don’t know what to do. Pick something low, low intensity, see if they’re good at that first, and then kind of move into deeper stuff. And you might find that’s generally less fatiguing. So if you’re going to try three different therapists, you’re just talking about how you’re angry at the guy who messed up the oil on your car. You’re not talking about your mom three times. That’s actually, that’s not self-evident, but that, that’s a good piece of advice. And then same thing with these groups. You don’t have to share your whole life story the first time you go to a group, sit, listen, watch when someone else is vulnerable. What do the other people do? Do they bark advice at ’em? Do they seem generally compassionate and kind?
Do they leave ’em hanging and then no one sticks around and talks after? They just all just kind of wander off and to their cars and everyone seems kind of isolated. You kind of got to stick up for yourself and investigate for your own health. And that’s okay. If you’ve been to one therapist, you didn’t experience therapy, generally, you experienced therapy with that one guy or that one woman. And so it would be strange if you never hired a plumber because one plumber messed up your kitchen. And in the same sense, you don’t want to abandon therapy because one therapist didn’t have insight or said something bogus.
Fight The New Drug (52:12):
Well, it’s been such an honor to speak with you again. Thank you for joining us again on the podcast. Matthias, or any of our listeners who want to learn more about you or your resources, can you tell us where they can go?
Yeah. Matthias Jay Barker, that’s on Instagram, TikTok just about everywhere. And then if you go to matthiasjbarker.com, I have all sorts of different workshops that go through some of these topics. So if you want to learn more about what it looks like to heal from trauma, he wants some maybe workbooks and places to start. I have trauma workshops. One of ’em is called A Free Mind. That’s probably the place I would tell you to start. So if, I don’t know, you want a free mind? If you want to move towards freedom, that’s a trauma-focused route to get there. So I would push people there.
Fight The New Drug (52:53):
Amazing. Thank you so much for your time. We can’t wait for our listeners to hear what you had to say.
Thank you so much for having me. It was a joy.
Hey, listeners, join us during our annual No Porn November campaign as we give visibility to the science and research that demonstrates porn’s harms and inspire our world to porn free. During the month of November, we’re challenging our fighters to start a conversation with others about the harms of porn. Take the month to educate yourself about the harmful effects of pornography and sexual exploitation, and change the conversation by having healthy, productive conversations. To learn more about our No Poor November campaign and to get involved, visit ftd.org/mpn. That’s ftd.org/mpn. Because of desensitization, many porn consumers find themselves consuming more porn consuming more often, or consuming more extreme forms of pornography. In fact, according to a 2016 study, researchers found that 46.9% of respondents reported that over time, they began watching pornography that had previously disinterested or even disgusted them. Get more fast facts about the impacts of pornography and exploitation at ftnd.org/fastfacts. That’s ftnd.org/fastfacts.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of Consider Before Consuming. Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug. Fight The New Drug is a non-religious and a non legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects, using only science, facts and personal accounts. If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest and the conversation we had, you can check out the links included with this episode. If you find this podcast helpful, consider subscribing and leaving a review. Consider Before Consuming is made possible by listeners like you. If you’d like to support Consider Before Consuming, you can make a one-time or recurring donation of any amount at ftnd.org/support. That’s F-T-N-D.O-R-G/support. Thanks again for listening. We invite you to increase your self-awareness, look both ways, check your blind spots, and consider before consuming.
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