The mental load we all carry right now is next level.
But just because this load is invisible does not make it any less important.
Kids, pets, aging family members, school, work, the economy, democracy, access to safe and affordable health care, chronic health issues - the list goes on and on, and feels like it keeps piling on without relief or end in sight.
On top of this, we carry past pains and difficult life experiences too.
And most of us don’t realize how much pain we carry until we end up on the brink.
Many people face systemic barriers that make that load heavier, and don’t have access to time and resources to find relief. And we’re also bombarded with messages like, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” that make carrying a lot a badge of honor.
What if our places of work cultivated spaces that supported healing instead of perpetuating over-functioning and over-working?
If you want to cultivate spaces that have a greater capacity for discomfort, then you need to start with an audit of your own current capacity and all you are carrying.
Today, Natalie Gutierrez is back for part two of our conversation about her book, The Pain We Carry: Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color, and a deeper dive into the impact of carrying pain because of unaddressed trauma, toxic culture, and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.
Natalie Gutierrez (she/her) is a Puerto-Rican psychotherapist, author, and speaker who grew up in native Lenape land, now known as New York City. Much of her work is dedicated to providing trauma-informed psychotherapy to Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color/Mixed race. She works with adult individuals struggling with Complex PTSD. She is a proud mother of two, and a growing equestrian.
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Natalie Gutierrez: I think people are just afraid of falling. You know, they’ve been frozen, these things that they’ve been not allowing themselves to feel, right -- that they’ve been exiling -- have been frozen for so long that when you rest, you begin to thaw. When you begin to thaw, you begin to feel. You begin to feel the intensity of your frostbite, and that doesn't feel good. It’s temporary, but it doesn't feel good. I mean, avoidance is great until it’s not.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: I hit a wall recently. Like, a new kind of I’m done. My husband was at his book club with some of his dad friends from the neighborhood, and I was home with the kids working on, you know, usual stuff like decorating for Halloween and helping the kids stay on top of chores and homework. But, earlier in the day, one of my kids had about a good two-hour-plus meltdown. The relaxing morning I needed after an extra full week (and month) dissipated quickly so I adjusted my expectations.
This adjustment, because of a kid struggling, was not my first rodeo, and, I get it, things have been a lot since going back to school this fall, and after the last two years of COVID-altered schedules and connections, everyone is feeling it. We worked through things. I listened. I put on my therapist hat. I empathized. I navigated the impulses to roll my eyes and say, “Really?” in vintage Seth Myers Amy Poehler fashion from their hilarious on-repeat sketch on SNL’s Weekend Update circa 2006 and 2008. You know, it really gives me a lot of joy to respond differently to my kids’ struggles and how my struggles were received as a kid. It’s healing for me. So I slapped a figurative gold star on my chest and moved onto the rest of the day after things settled down.
Now, fast-forward to later in the same day when I was home alone with the kids and kid number two tag-teamed in on the struggle bus.
There was a lot of hurt, a lot of lamenting that needed to be tended to, but no matter what I did, nothing helped de-escalate things with kid number two. I felt my confidence and sense of pride from earlier in the day dissipate. I felt like my skills just disappeared. And then something shifted and it spooked me as I usually hunker down and figure things out without going into despair, but not this night. My body shut down, and that spooked me. And I started seeing flashes of all I was carrying from that week, the last month (shoot, the last couple of years) and the emotions flooded me. I felt humbled as my body reminded me of my capacity limits and how my own care for others came at the expense of caring well for myself.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
We carry so much these days. I know many of you who are also caring for others who also care a lot. The mental load we all carry right now is next level, but just because this load is invisible does not make it any less important. Kids, pets, aging family members, school, work, the economy, democracy, access to safe and affordable healthcare, chronic health issues, the list goes on and on and feels like it keeps piling on without relief or end in sight, and this is on top of past pains and difficult life experiences we carry, too. And as I was recently reminded, I do not think most of us realize how much pain we carry until we end up on the brink.
I realize how common living life weighed down by the emotional pain we carry is right now. I also realize, for folks like me with privilege, it makes what we carry slightly more manageable and how others without an engaged second parent or sufficient income or the benefit of whiteness or health insurance and much more can make what’s carried even heavier.
I see how messages like, “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,” and, “No pain, no gain,” made carrying a lot, well, cool or at least like a badge of honor or bragging rights. And when I look back, these messages were reinforced in school, in sports, and especially in places where I worked. And I worked with hard-working, brilliant, capable people over the years, but we all sucked up grief, loss, break-ups, trauma, financial stress, family strains, and more, sharing a little with our co-workers and rarely, if ever, taking the time off we truly needed to care for ourselves or our loved ones. Often, because time off wasn't a luxury many of us had to lean on.
Now, I suspect this may land as a lofty belief to some, but I do believe our places of work can cultivate spaces that support healing instead of perpetuating over-functioning and over-working while piling on our mental load. But this requires a different relationship with struggle where it’s not minimized, where emotions aren't shamed, and where hard work or over-working isn't romanticized. And if you choose to lead a business and life that does not add to the pain we all carry, a Band-Aid approach to struggle will not be enough.
When I look at the core tenants of a trauma-informed culture and workplace (safety, transparency, peer support, collaboration, empowerment, and understanding race, culture, and gender, and other areas of inclusion), I see an opportunity to move beyond performative promises and create some change that both challenges and heals.
When I make room for more nuance and complexity by upping our own capacity for discomfort. Hard still feels hard, but it’s less likely to become a burden and, instead, often moves me and those I work with into a deeper sense of clarity and connection. I see more and more the impact of how we view work and connection and bottom line can actually create space for others catch their breath and feel a little less alone carrying all they do.
Now, I know, from my work with leaders and clients, that so many of you are in the same space questioning business as usual at the expense of your well-being, and if you want to cultivate spaces that have a greater capacity for discomfort, then you need to start with an audit of your own current capacity and all you’re carrying. Shoot, I think we all need to get clear on how much we truly are carrying right now. I see how skilled we’re at, at doing it all and getting by, that it takes our body or a really big life event to get us to pause and take inventory. My own recent face-down moment was a reminder that I fell back into some not-so-distant habits of hunkering down and just pushing though as my own mental load reached capacity, and with 20 years of helping people release the burdens of their pain, along with an obnoxious list of trainings and certifications, I still miss the cues when I carry too much and need to put some things down.
At the heart of hitting the wall again recently was my relationship to work, the pressures I put on myself, and the expectations that fuel me over-committing.
I am in my own deep rumble with rethinking how to do work and life, and I’m grateful for the many thought leaders, activists, and storytellers that I’ve been reading and listening to who have been saying for a while that the way we live and work is not sustainable. One of those thought leaders is my dear friend and colleague, Natalie Gutierrez, and I am so grateful she came back for a part two of our conversation about her book, The Pain We Carry, along with a deeper dive into the impact of carrying pain because of unaddressed trauma, toxic culture, and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.
Natalie Gutierrez identifies as she/her and is a Puerto Rican psychotherapist, author, and speaker who grew up in native Lenape land now known as New York City. Much of her work is dedicated to providing trauma-informed psychotherapy to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and mixed race. She is a proud mother of two and a growing equestrian. Listen for Natalie’s reflections on what happens when we allow ourselves to really feel our feelings. Pay attention to what Natalie shared about being the medicine and enough. And notice how Natalie came to cultivating a better relationship with herself and her body. Now, please welcome back Natalie Gutierrez to The Unburdened Leader.
Natalie, welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for coming back and continuing these important conversations.
Natalie Gutierrez: Thank you so much for having me back, Rebecca.
Rebecca Ching: All right, I want to jump in and talk about the polarity between urgency and rest, okay? [Laughs] It’s like so much feels, and maybe really truly is, often urgent right now.
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: And the need for rest is deep.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: We are exhausted! [Laughs]
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm!
Rebecca Ching: You write in your book, The Pain We Carry, how rest can feel threatening and feel like we’re opening up to harm. And you also identify the pressure to finish everything right away.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: You made it very clear that you’re not gonna collude with the grind of urgency in your book, and you encourage us to do the same, yet, the struggle is real - work deadlines, family demands, client and customer care.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yep.
Rebecca Ching: So, Natalie, what are the trade-offs that you weigh right now as you address the constant polarity between urgency and rest?
Natalie Gutierrez: You know, even I struggle with that, [Laughs] right, because there are certain things that are urgent. But if everything becomes urgent -- which is, I think, a lot of what our culture has conditioned us to believe, that everything is urgent. Everything really needs us! It has to be done at this time, otherwise you're not gonna be able to rest, right? Whatever task, whatever needs to be done, if you don't complete it, you will not rest. Kind of like leaving a dog alone with a bone. You’re just kind of like you want your rest? You need to complete all of these things. We’ve just been caught in this dynamic, in this belief system, this paradigm. I don't even want to say if we don't rest we won't complete these things. It’s if we don't rest, we will perish. Our soul will be tired. We will be unrecognizable within our self. And it’s even deeper than -- I mean, we’ll definitely be perpetuating capitalist culture and all of that, but, like, what does it do to our bodies if we are not resting, if everything is contingent on the things that we do or the things that we complete? We will never attain rest.
So, I mean, I’m just thinking -- and this is definitely a legacy burden in my family. My grandpa used to tell my mom -- he has this quote that my mom told me this one time, and I know this really has put a lot of pressure on her to complete things. There’s a quote in Spanish that says, “No dejes para mañana lo que se puede hacer hoy,” which means, “Don’t leave for tomorrow what can be completed today.” And there’s a part of me that fears that, right? And there’s also my system that says, “Well, let’s pause for a minute.” Let’s slow down for a minute. How much of this is truly urgent? How much of this really has to be completed today or in the next several days and in the next several weeks? Are there things that can really wait especially when it comes to our mental health, our physical health, our psychological health. Can there be things that wait? There’s been such a pressure of urgency on everything, and that stems from capitalist culture, and that also stems from white supremacy culture.
Rebecca Ching: In our last conversation, you know, you were talking about kind of an overall mindset, even, of feeling behind, feeling behind in a lot of the burdens of racism and implicit bias around that. But what’s interesting, Natalie, I am hard pressed to have a week where I don't have to remind someone I’m working with (and myself), “I am not behind. I am on time.” It’s like this current we’re in right now, and there’s a risk of being misunderstood. I mean, I’m from the Midwest where work ethic is a huge identity, and you get stuff done, you never quit, you don't flake, and then there also is this sense of I can get it done the quickest so I’m valuable. And this is what everyone’s expecting, and if I disappoint them, what does that mean about my relationship? What does that mean about my job?
I’ll be honest with you, Natalie, I’ve been working for years trying to help my system trust resting.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Like you wrote, “Resting is threatening.” When I read that I was like damn straight it is! I’m like it’s twelve o’clock, and I have a cancellation, and I’m going to sit and watch a show or I’m gonna workout or I’m gonna go in the garden or I’m gonna go for a walk with a friend, and it feels like I’m breaking this rule. This is a privilege to talk about resting.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah, you know, and to the person that would say it’s a privilege to rest, I’m just thinking about folks, too, that I’ve known that have had to work three jobs to be able to put food on the table because capitalist culture, right, and the grind culture that you're mentioning. That it makes sense to me why there are people that can really see if I rest -- or speaking about rest is a privilege and I can't do that because I have to put this food on the table, and that’s external constraints, right? There are external constraints there that they’re naming.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Natalie Gutierrez: And how can they incorporate, I want to say, taking care of themselves in the pockets that they do. But even then (we talk about coping and healing), that’s not an invitation. That would be them coping. That would be this person coping where they can figure out how to strategize to create rest. This is where I feel like we need to move our systems along so no one has to work three jobs to be able to put food on their table. That just makes sense so I’m just wanting to name the external constraints in that, too, right?
Rebecca Ching: Yep.
Natalie Gutierrez: And this is where systems become an issue. And I wanted to just also say that sometimes rest can be threatening because rest requires us naturally to slow down.
Rebecca Ching: And feel!
Natalie Gutierrez: Exactly! And feel!
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Sorry, I couldn't -- [Laughs]
Natalie Gutierrez: [Laughs] And leaves us vulnerable to our feelings, right? And so, who wants to do that! [Laughs] Like, who wants to really sit down and deal with the loss or the losses that they’ve experienced either recently or through life. Who wants to deal with the trauma that the person has been carrying internally and hasn’t really looked at, right? That requires a lot of feeling. It requires a lot of feeling. And what I mentioned in the book was, like, I mean, avoidance is great until it’s not. It’s great until it’s not. It’s great until you can no longer -- what I was mentioning the last time that we spoke around my coping strategies, my survival strategies were good until it just wasn't, and then I had to do something differently ‘cause there was only so much holding that I could do. There was only so much of wanting to separate and dissociate from the pain that I was carrying that I could do before I just needed to feel it, right? I think people are just afraid of thawing. I mean, it makes sense but people are afraid that they’ve been frozen, these things that they’ve been not allowing themselves to feel, that they’ve been exiling -- have been frozen for so long that when you rest, you begin to thaw. When you begin to thaw, you begin to feel. You begin to feel the extent (the intensity) of your frostbite, and that doesn't feel good. It’s temporary, but it doesn't feel good, and I think that is probably also what drives people to just stay busy.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Natalie Gutierrez: Stay busy because if they don't stay busy it’s gonna bring up a lot of things.
Rebecca Ching: And that’s where urgency can have a party, then, with that comforter of busy-ness or being a work-a-holic. For me, work has been one of my biggest comforters over the years ‘cause I love it so it’s a default, and there was this -- yeah, but, it really is, and there’s this value though where who’s valuing my work? Am I valuing my work? Those that I -- when I was working for the people, am I being valued? And so, I think there is this stepping out that it’s just really seeing, though, like you said, there are real constraints, and I hear people name that too saying, “Oh, great. So you're telling everyone this to rest, but in the end, they're gonna go rest. I still gotta get stuff done. I’ve got a business to run. I’ve got a house to run. I’ve got a class to lead,” or whatever it may be, “So, y’all can go rest, and I’ll still do it.” And there’s a part of me that’s like, well -- and this is nuanced depending on the conversation -- but sometimes what happens if you didn’t?
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: What would happen? Well, things would be late. Bills wouldn’t get paid. Deadlines wouldn't be made. People would be disappointed. We kinda workshop these different things. I know I’ve had to do it myself, and what we tease out is how much of it is just, “I need food on the table, sorry,” you know, versus, “Oh, I’m feeding an identity that’s no longer serving me.”
Natalie Gutierrez: Right.
Rebecca Ching: “I’m afraid of people criticizing me. I’m afraid of feeling and thawing and feeling what’s really beneath there.” And so, it’s kind of teasing out the nuance of this polarity, but urgency, I was raised like you're the first to get it done, you're the best.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: You know, that competitor in me then became who could do it quicker. It wasn't even better.
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: Even though that was still like if you can do it quick and the best, you know? And so, there are a lot of those narratives to kind of unpack through those constraints of just bottom line, food, shelter, bills. Not to say this flippantly, but you’re right about the thaw because even with those constraints, if circumstances change -- and I’ve seen that with folks where they can take space ‘cause they don't have to work as hard, they have a hard time downshifting because it’s terrifying.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: It’s terrifying to slow down.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah, it makes total sense, and especially if you are holding a legacy burden like I must achieve, I must achieve in order to not be behind or in order to just stay ahead. It’s such a driving, overwhelming force to do that, and it really colludes with larger cultural messages.
Rebecca Ching: And don't you find just even naming the polarity between urgency and rest can really help within ourselves when others start to kind of not just be reactive but say, “What am I gonna choose?” Even if the choices are maybe tiny differences, kind of reclaiming some agency.
Natalie Gutierrez: What about if we combine them and it’s like the urgency to rest? [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Ooh!
Natalie Gutierrez: The urgency to rest, what about that? [Laughs] Sometimes I also see rest as, like, maybe not even stillness but how do we put down what it is that we’re carrying?
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Natalie Gutierrez: Like luggage, how do we just lay them down for a moment? How do we just lay down, put down what it is that we’re carrying and just not hold it for a moment, and then we can pick it up again if that’s what we need to do, if that’s what we want to do. But how do we just put it down for a moment?
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, that’s powerful because I know, for me and many I know, I don't think we always know all that we’re carrying and that we have a choice sometimes. And sometimes it doesn't feel like a choice to put it down. It’s really tough, though, to detach from the current of urgency. It’s addictive!
Natalie Gutierrez: It is.
Rebecca Ching: And it’s protective and everyone’s doing it.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: It’s weird. So if you're stepping out, you become the outlier, you know?
Natalie Gutierrez: [Laughs] Yeah, and it’s hard ‘cause we get rewarded. We get rewarded for doing things urgently, right? So, yeah, you're saying you step out and now people are looking at you like what’s happening?
Rebecca Ching: So, I suspect you and I are hard pressed to find anyone who does not navigate parts of themselves that are highly critical of themselves and this is often talked about in terms that you address in your book and we hear a lot - imposter syndrome, inner critic, scarcity mindset. I’d love for you to walk me through the roots of these protective parts from your perspective and how you befriend them instead of exiling them when they get loud.
Natalie Gutierrez: So, for me (I’ll speak for myself), I mean, I definitely have all of the above. I have an inner critic headquarters. I think they're several bosses. They’re like [Laughs] --
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Natalie Gutierrez: They have, like, their own building, and then there are others. You know, I’ve learned, Rebecca, in being curious about how these really protective parts of me have come to be. When I think about imposter syndrome, a lot of imposter syndrome (well, part of it), going back to (rewind) second grade, already kind of learning there that I didn't belong, that there was something wrong with what I was doing, right?
That there was also no space for my vulnerability, there was no space for the teacher checking in with me to see maybe what I was holding, none of that, none of that. I learned from a very early age that just my strife, my struggle was not welcomed and that I wasn't welcomed because, now, you're internalizing that as a kid, right? You're not saying, “Oh, it’s part of me.” It’s me. I am not welcomed, and so, learning from a young age that.
Learning also from a young age when you're growing up in the projects, you learn there are certain things that other people have that you don't have. There are other things that other people can afford that you cannot afford, and so, it’s more of the, “I’m not enough. I don't have enough, therefore, I’m not enough.” These kinds of things really created a lot of the burden that this part of me that is carrying imposter syndrome has plus, again, when we think about what happens systemically, there are also pieces of systemic racism, there are also pieces of systemic oppression. Even in high school I remember hearing from my white dean to not expect to get into my first-choice college, that my grades weren’t good enough, that they weren't gonna look at me, and really discouraged me from applying to my first-choice college. Fortunately, I didn't listen ‘cause I’m rebellious. You know, “F you, lady.” I actually did get into my first-choice college. [Laughs] You know, I learned from these kinds of experiences, “Oh, you're not good enough. What you are producing is not good enough, and so, you don't belong in these spaces. These spaces are not for you.”
So hearing it energetically and hearing these kinds of things verbally has created the imposter syndrome that my system holds, and I find that to be true with a lot of people. A lot of people living in different marginalized bodies than I have that have experienced even more, right? Just the common denominator message being, “You are sub-human.” “I don't approve of you,” or, “You don't belong. You don't belong,” and just hearing that and hearing that, that becomes the internalized message. And then my inner critic headquarters comes in and they also hear that message and they're like, “Well, now we have to remind you of all the ways that -- because you don't belong, now we have to shame you. Now we have to criticize everything that you do to make sure that you try to belong, that you try to thrive, so that you try to survive.” And so, you know, these parts that feel so hurtful make sense to me because they’re only hurtful because they’ve become so extreme because of these extreme messages that they’ve heard about just not belonging and not being good enough.
Rebecca Ching: So when they show up, though, how do you befriend them instead of exiling them because so much out there is teaching us to exile. We’re gonna kill the doubt, right?
Natalie Gutierrez: Ooh.
Rebecca Ching: You know, punch the fear in the face.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Crush the questioning. All these little phrases out here. It’s so violent, for one, but, again, from an Internal Family Systems lens it’s like befriend. People look at you like, “Befriend the thing that’s beating you up inside?”
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and so, I just would love to hear how you identify them, what were the roots of them. So thank you. So what’s your practice when you catch them? Sometimes I know we can catch them right away. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, shoot. I’m in the deep end of this--,”
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: -- and they're blended and bleeding, and so, yeah, how do you befriend them when they get loud?
Natalie Gutierrez: So, I’ve done the former of, essentially, cancel-culturing them inside. Now, I feel so open-hearted toward these parts and these two, in particular, ‘cause they’ve been the strongest. They really, really have tried to get me to survive. They’ve really tried to get me and help me belong. And when I notice the charge of them, I will often put my hand over my heart and I’m just saying, like, “What’s happening right now and whose message is this that you're speaking? Whose message is this? Depending on what the message is, is this yours? Whose is this?” And it has gotten a lot easier ‘cause some of this has come from what I’ve been taught about myself from white supremacy culture. Okay, “This doesn't belong to us right now. Is there anything that feels scary about releasing this? What is it about this that I’m holding onto?” And usually it’s just the fear. Usually it’s the fear that I’m gonna be wrong about me, fear that I’m gonna be wrong about me and I’m gonna fail but maybe even that I’m gonna succeed, right? Because if I’m gonna succeed, then I’m gonna be seen.
Rebecca Ching: Hello.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah, exactly. Then I'm gonna be seen, and then if I’m seen, what are people gonna say about me? People are gonna speak from parts. People are gonna speak from systems that have internalized racism and have implicit bias. When I’m seen, I’m called a variety of names both because of my gender and because of my ethnicity and my race and how I look and how I speak.
So there is that fear of being successful because of what that means, and that whole realization of I’m not -- the fear of success and the fear of failure really just, I want to say, live within me. They're very alive within me, and I’m just really speaking to my parts when they're telling me that I shouldn't sit in that table or when they're telling me I’m not welcome there, that I’m reminding them whose message is this because this is not my message to me because I know I am my medicine and I am enough, right? And I’ve always been enough. There is nothing that I have to prove to be enough. There’s nothing I need to do to be enough. This book is soul work but I didn't need this book to be enough, right? The work that I do, I’m enough because I’m enough because I am. So I continue to speak with these parts around that to remind them that this is not theirs and that we’re gonna navigate this together and that I can protect us, and that really, Rebecca, softens my system.
And they usually return at some point to kinda check in, but I think they trust me a lot more than what they did back then. Back then, they were like, “Hell no.” [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Natalie Gutierrez: “The world is dangerous. We can’t,” right? “This is a matter of life and death,” and now they're kind of seeing more, that I really got this, and because I’m building relationship with them, because I’m not shunning them the way that I did before. Now, I’m leaning towards them. I’m not running away. I’m leaning towards them. I’m showing care to them. That’s made such a difference.
Rebecca Ching: The fear often is -- befriending means I’m gonna be hijacked even more but most of these parts hate hurting us too.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: They don't like being bullies. [Laughs]
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Most bullies don't enjoy their job. [Laughs] The ones inside us and the ones in the world. There are a few that probably do. Very few. We’ll leave that there. [Laughs]
Natalie Gutierrez: Right.
Rebecca Ching: But, for the most part -- but, yeah, that’s beautiful, Natalie. Thank you for sharing your process. I feel that in my body. In our field, we talk about this phrase “attachment wounds,” right? It gets tossed around a lot but, really, it’s wounding on how we relate (usually connected to our primary caregivers), and so, we have wounds from those connections. And you’ve touched on that a little bit today but in our first interview from your family of origin and from experiences in your school, I’m curious for you if you could take me back to when you realized how these burdens of your attachment wounds impacted how you set and maintain boundaries?
Natalie Gutierrez: I didn't have boundaries. [Laughs] That wasn't even a word. That didn't even exist in my thought process, in my vocabulary.
That just was not a thing. That was not a thing. In fact, I learned the complete opposite, that you are expected to be overly giving, you are expected to just show up for people, right? Your body is not yours, right? So I’ve learned many things counter to what we know when we think about boundaries. I’ve learned many things counter to that and why boundaries are not a thing.
You know, I want to say that that struggle, where I really began to see that there was an issue was going back to college again where I was in a relationship that was pretty toxic and I was toxic too and so was this person. I take that back. [Laughs] I was hurting. I was hurting and this person was hurting too, and we were hurting each other, but I didn't know that I could walk away because that felt like love. That felt like if I walked away from this person I am not gonna receive love. And so, it’s like whether it’s good love or bad love, it’s some kind of love. It’s better than no love at all, so you kind of stay because that’s what you’ve been taught, right? That’s what I saw growing up. I saw that it doesn't matter if love hurts sometimes. You stick with it.
So that is what I learned about boundaries or lack thereof. During college is where I began to see, wow, I really struggle with even acknowledging or saying what my needs are or saying no, and that was a big thing.
I really, really didn't feel like I deserved to say no, that I deserved to have a voice. And so, fast-forward, when you start learning how to set boundaries, the people in my life, I’ll say, that didn't know how to set them began to experience my setting of boundaries as disrespectful, right?
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Natalie Gutierrez: As disrespectful or as a betrayal, right?
Rebecca Ching: You’re breaking the rules. You're breaking the rules.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah, you are completely breaking the rules. You are not allowed to stand up for yourself. You are not allowed to say what doesn't work for you. That is just taboo. That’s not something that you do. You’re supposed to be self-sacrificial, right?
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Natalie Gutierrez: And so, that was a learning curve for folk because when I began to learn how to set boundaries, people were not used to me doing that, right? Some folks in my family were not used to me doing that, and so, it lands on them as threatening because they don't know how to set those boundaries themselves, and they’ve benefited from me not having those boundaries. So boundaries can feel like a form of attack or a form (like I mentioned before) of disrespect or whatever but it really is self preservation and relationship preservation at the same time. I want to like you later, and so, I need to say no so that I can like you later. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] That’s a great reframe, Natalie. [Laughs]
Natalie Gutierrez: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, it’s amazing when we’re taught that our bodies are not ours to have a say over or our space or our time or all of the above, right?
And we learn that based on how we’re treated or how we watch other people navigate, and then we see that perpetuated outside of our family of origin. We see this in the world too. Again, expectations, whether it’s in school -- I think, too, I just remember even some of my earlier jobs I was working nonstop, and it’s like by saying yes to a certain job I was saying yes to people telling me who, what, where, when, why, and how, like, it’s not like I didn't have a say.
Yeah, and so, that piece of setting boundaries, it is such a loving gesture, not just to ourselves, but to the person we’re in relationship with even if it doesn't feel loving.
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: And navigating the backlash is often the most difficult thing for people when they have imagined setting, and even trying to maintain, a boundary, and it’s the most difficult ‘cause it really does. The message is “you’re betraying us” by you saying, “No. Not now. Never. Not okay,” or, “This way,” and that sets us up for boundary struggles in our lives. And you touch on, just again, especially the part around our body, and you write in you book, “Reclaiming your relationship to your body is one of the most important gifts to give yourself, especially in a world that has taught you to hate your body as a result of internalized racism, sizeism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, and all other relational wounding.” I loved this, “Being fluent in your body’s language is the antidote to trauma.” I’m gonna read that again. “Being fluent in your body’s language is the antidote to trauma.”
Now, when people work with you and I, we’re always like, “Okay, tell me, what are you noticing in your body,” right? “Where are you feeling that?” People are like, “Okay, Rebecca, I know you're gonna ask me what I’m feeling. Can we have a different question?”
But it’s the mind-body connection. It’s everything, and so, I’d love for you to walk me through what reclaiming this relationship with your body has looked like.
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm, you know, I remember a mentor of mine, Dr. Eric Gentry, has shared one time, you know, the most important thing for a survivor of sexual trauma is to be able to give themselves the gift of having good sex in the future. There is a reclaiming that happens where it says, “You (perpetrator) are not gonna be in the bedroom with me. You are out. I am keeping you out of the room,” right? So I have his words with me because I think it’s just been a journey in all the ways - the ways in which I see my body, the way the larger culture tells me my body should look, how my ethnicity culturally, familially, when you look at when folks see your body, sometimes they comment on it, right? Sometimes it’s, “Oh, you're gaining weight,” or sometimes it’s, “Oh, you are not eating enough.” [Laughs] So it’s like even never good enough there. There’s always something.
You know, when we talk about walking through internalized fatphobia, when we go through -- internalizing just what I’ve learned about my body, again, when you mentioned before the boundaries, I’ve learned that my body is, like, fair game. I’ve learned that my body is fair game from a young age, for people to hit or violate in some sort of way. My journey with my body has been long and has (I want to say) improved significantly because I’m just telling it and I’m giving it love.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Natalie Gutierrez: And I have to say that the smallest way (which is also the biggest way) is that I’ve allowed myself to look at it. I’ve allowed myself to look at my body, like, look at it in the mirror. [Laughs] You know, I have always been the person to not look at myself in the mirror. You just kind of get ready and you go. I don't have many mirrors in my house. I want to get more mirrors in my house so that I can feel more comfortable just looking at myself and it being okay, right?
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Natalie Gutierrez: So that, for me, has been one of the ways that I am developing a better relationship with myself is allowing myself to see it and be kinder to it. If I’m being real, where I think I need to do better is I’m wanting to be more conscious about what I’m putting in it. I really want to lean more towards putting in things that my ancestors used to eat, just ways in which I can even channel them though my body. I want to use my body to be in nature more. I want to use my body to travel. I want to use my body in this kind of way, and I want to also have good sex. I want that to be part of my reclaiming, and I want that for other people, too, if that’s what they want too.
Rebecca Ching: Pleasure is something that trauma annihilates - physically, emotionally, anything. Any of our senses, it annihilates that, and that reclaiming the relationship to your body -- like you said, being fluent in your body’s language is the antidote to trauma. Also, through boundaries, too, but there’s something about the mirrors.
You wrote about our colleague, Dr. Frank Anderson, who’s also a precious Unburdened Leader guest. He talks about trauma-colored glasses.
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: I’m just thinking about you adding more mirrors -- yeah, just elaborate on that. How is having even more mirrors in your house gonna help you adjust the trauma-colored glasses?
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm. I appreciate that question. I think the bulk of it is that I’m gonna be able to see myself, see the vessel that I live in, see me. ‘Cause, for me, I think a large part of not seeing me is that I don't want to see myself internally but I also don't want to see myself externally either. That’s what has been the story and the path. So adding more mirrors allows me to just look at me. So really just look at me and be kind. Be kind to myself. Having more mirrors, for me, also feels like more opportunity to see me and to see me in my home, to see me in a place I feel safe and to just say, “I deserve to be seen. I deserve to be seen but I also deserve to see me.”
So the mirrors are such a big thing especially because I know how much I avoided them in the past. So, like, having more of them, for me, I think I really need that.
Rebecca Ching: It’s almost like I want to add to, like -- you wrote, “Being fluent in your body’s language is the antidote to trauma,” but also reclaiming your relationship with your body’s image is also part of that antidote, too.
Natalie Gutierrez: Yeah. Right.
Rebecca Ching: And I know many listening are probably like, “Oh, hell no am I getting more mirrors in my -- no! I’m not there.”
Natalie Gutierrez: Right?
Rebecca Ching: That's a big H-E-double-hockey-stick no!
Natalie Gutierrez: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Because we’ve just been at war. Not only, if we’ve been taught that at a young age and had our power taken away, but our culture continually wants us to be at war to sell us things --
Natalie Gutierrez: Right.
Rebecca Ching: -- and to keep us disconnected. But it furthers the trauma-colored glasses that Frank talks about.
You also write about how you wrote about being numb and the numb state, that is so important to mention because, I don’t know about you, but I know for me when I ask people to check in with what they’re noticing. They're like, “I don't notice anything.”
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm!
Rebecca Ching: You know? For me, I’ve got a protector. It’s my shower curtain. I discovered it when I first took Frank’s Level Two back in the day when Dick was still teaching it, and I was doing -- we were in little break-out triads and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a shower curtain!” My shower curtain comes in and then my arms get tingly and they kind of float up, and then that’s when my body’s like, “Nope! You are not having access to it right now.” So I just see the shower curtain closing, and I feel like my arms want to float up, you know? And so, those are the tells, right? Which is great when I see those parts. I’m like, “Oh, hey! Whoa, what’s happening?”
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: But so many people are like, “Rebecca, stop asking that question. I feel nothing.” So we have to really work on, hey, we’re just checking in to see is there a shift, to see if that part that’s keeping you from feeling (that you’re numb part). So I just start to normalize it versus a failing, right? ‘Cause I’m like, okay, that part’s here for a reason. And you talked about how this numb state is often perceived as empty and disconnected, and I loved what you said. You said, “It’s, in fact, a data point of overwhelmed.” I was like boom! Yes! And you said, “And overwhelmed is tied with burnout. ‘Cause that’s literally probably the most common phrase I’m hearing from both my leadership and clinical clients right now.
So I’d just love for you to talk a little bit more about that because yeah, yeah. How is your relationship with the parts of you that protect in the numb state?
Natalie Gutierrez: A lot of people tend to say, “I don't feel anything. I’m numb. I don’t feel anything.” And I’ve reframed it because I’ve told them, “Is it that you don't feel anything or is the feeling too much? Are you feeling too much that something is coming in and shutting it down?”
Rebecca Ching: Hello. Ooh.
Natalie Gutierrez: What I was mentioning in my book is, like, folks in New York City know when everyone has their AC on all at the same time, sometimes there are blackouts in the city. [Laughs] And that has to do with just our system going into survival, coming in and just saying, “Nope. There is way too much you’re feeling right now, and I have to shut this down.” So it’s not necessarily that you're not feeling anything. It’s that you might be curious of are you feeling too much? Are you feeling too much that, then, it’s bringing up other parts of you that are wanting to shut it down so, naturally, you can survive, right? Because our systems want it to survive, want us to make it though.
Now, I feel like when we think about the pendulum, I’ve kind of moved to the other side where, now, I’m actually feeling. Now, my parts have sort of softened to allow me to feel a little more. They’re still there, and they still come in if I’m really just flooded with something that I just can’t -- in the moment, I’m trying to get my bearings, there will be this numbing piece that, for me, shows up as, like, a boulder and that’s how I feel that. But it’s always when I‘m feeling a lot at the same time and a lot when parts are doing popcorn and I’m trying to really see.
And it’s just feeling a lot especially when there’s (I want to say) grief or when there’s rage that’s there and some shame, that’s when more of the numb boulder comes in until I can kind of navigate that and give the other stuff some love. But, Rebecca, it’s been a real journey. It's been a real journey, and I liked how you used the word permission before because that’s exactly what that feels like. Do I have consent to actually feel? Do I have permission for this numb-er within me to not have to come in ‘cause I’m feeling too much not because I’m not feeling at all.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and sometimes feeling all the feelings all the time is not healthy either. Sometimes I’ll grab my chair or the sides of the couch, and I’ll be like [Sharp Breath In] and my family will be like, “What’s wrong?” I’m like, “I’m just letting some stuff feel through me right now, wash through me. I’m good.” ‘Cause I’ve learned if I just brace it and disconnect, it’s still here so I try and let it wash through and then I’m like, “I’ll check in with you later.”
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: But it has to be permission and consent, yeah. Saying, “I’m good. You can give me a little space. Let’s let this wash through and we’ll tend to it later,” but when they come in and say, “Nope, sorry. We’ve assessed. We’re shutting down,” I’m like, okay. There must be something going on I’m not connected to that these parts are that I need to check in, but we often sometimes judge it if we’re -- sometimes it’s too much or we’re totally numb, but, really, I love how you said it’s a data point of being overwhelmed, and if we start to go, “Okay, what’s going on? What’s my system doing? How’s it helping me right now?” Instead of polarizing with the numb, again, befriending it. So thank you for that. That’s really beautiful.
I want to shift to a question I ask some version of to my clients, but I’m curious how you view success and how you define success now and how that’s different than what you were taught.
Natalie Gutierrez: Hmm, I love this question! You know, now, though, I feel like -- well, hmm. I want to give an honest answer ‘cause I definitely have little voices in the background that say, “Success is when you get an A!” [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] True.
Natalie Gutierrez: Or, like, “Success is when, you know, you’ve made this amount of money!” [Laughs] And I have these parts there. They're not far away but they're not necessarily my full truth anymore. They were but they're here. There they are.
What feels most true for me today is that success is when I wake up in the morning and say that I want to lead from my authenticity today, that I want to be my most authentic me today, and how can I be one step further in this healing journey with seeing or trying or being mindful about, not perpetuating or perpetuating intergenerational trauma. How am I really seeing? Can I check myself if I’m doing something that has been learned where I’m perpetuating legacy burdens? Can I see what’s alive here in this moment and then can I make that YOU-turn, right? What you were saying before, make that Return and do some repair if I do, if I fooled someone today?
Essentially, all of this boils down to how can I be intentional about the choices that I’m making today? As intentional as I can be. How can I live most authentically today? That, for me, if I can lead from a place that feels most authentic for me today, I feel successful. I feel successful.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, and just my experience with you is when you’re in a place and leading from a place of authenticity, you're speaking truth. You’re a truth-teller, and it is such a gift to witness your authenticity and your truth-telling. Yeah, and I know it takes a lot of courage for you to do that, and so, I appreciate it and it is a treasure.
I’m curious, too. Is this what you thought you’d be doing today, the work that you're doing today? Is this what you thought you’d be doing?
Natalie Gutierrez: I want to say yes, in a different way, I think. But I visit a lot of Shaman and sometimes we talk about past-life work and what I have been told multiple times is that, in some way and some capacity, I’ve always been a medicine woman, and in my most recent past life, I was told that I was someone who made medicine with herb and then, you know, was burned when they found out that I could do that, and in some way, that’s always been my journey. I’ve always, since high school, known that I’ve wanted to be a therapist. That was my thing. I wanted to be a therapist. I wanted to be a therapist, and I was always so good at just being, well, one, a great listener but also I just had a lot of both empathy and compassion for people’s struggles. But I’ve always been very intuitive, too. I’ve always been, what some folks call, an intuitive empath. But I’ve always felt like I was gonna do something like this along these lines of wanting to help people and wanting to see people. I really want to see people because a lot of people don't see people, and that is where so much of our wounding comes from.
And going back to being the medicine for each other, I want to do that, and that just feels like I can’t imagine doing anything differently. I really can't. I wouldn't imagine -- I didn't think I would do any of this thing with IFS. I mean, that wasn't a thing in mind, right? But I feel like I’ve always been called to do this in some capacity.
Rebecca Ching: Thank you for sharing that. I’d love to wrap up by asking you some quick-fire questions, is that cool?
Natalie Gutierrez: All right. Sounds good!
Rebecca Ching: All right, so, Natalie, what are you reading right now?
Natalie Gutierrez: So I am reading this book by Hector Salva, and it’s called Espiritismo: Puerto Rican Mediumship & Magic, and it’s just walking though just kind of what I was sharing moments ago. But, really, in the spirit of reclaiming ancestral medicine, I’m wanting to reclaim the medicine of the Taíno people which were the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico before it was colonized. So I wanted to reclaim this magic, and I want to learn it. So I’ve been reading this book that’s so powerful. Love it.
Rebecca Ching: Wow. What song are you playing on repeat?
Natalie Gutierrez: Ah, the whole Bad Bunny album. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] He was just in town! He was just in town. Awesome. All right, best TV show or movie you’ve seen recently?
Natalie Gutierrez: Ah, it’s so hard!
Rebecca Ching: I know.
Natalie Gutierrez: Oh, my god, that’s so hard. That’s so hard. That’s so hard. I’ll tell you, I’m watching this documentary of the Yoruba tribe on Netflix. I can't remember what it’s called right now. But, yeah, I’ve been watching that so far, and I’m really loving it.
Rebecca Ching: What is your favorite ‘80s movie or piece of ‘80s pop culture?
Natalie Gutierrez: Oh, definitely TGIF when they used to have Family Matters, Full House, oh, my god, A Different World, I think it was called. Oh, my gosh, just all the lineup for Friday the TGIF. That whole lineup is what I used to watch all the time.
Rebecca Ching: What is your mantra right now?
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm, I think my mantra right now is preparing for just the continued exposure of my book is something that I think Maya Angelou had shared with Brené Brown which was -- or was it Oprah that had shared with Brené Brown -- “Don’t think you can be brave with your life and not upset people.” So I’m kinda just reminding myself of that to just remind me to be courageous in this journey.
Rebecca Ching: What’s an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Natalie Gutierrez: Hmm, probably that Puerto Rico should be independent and not a state. [Laughs] That. I think that is contentious.
Rebecca Ching: Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Natalie Gutierrez: Mm, everyone. My children (for sure, my children), our children, the youth, really, and just everyone. I really love people, and I just want to see them heal.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, that’s powerful. And, Natalie, I’d love for you to wrap us up today with a quote from your book that I feel like speaks, not only to our conversations, but to so much of what The Unburdened Leader is all about. So, please close us out.
Natalie Gutierrez: All right. “Know that the burdens you carry may be heavy, but they're not you. You are not the burdens you carry. I hope you can find the courage to slowly and steadily release them. Unburden the parts of you carrying the baggage of supremacy culture. The best revenge you can ever give toxic environments and people who wounded you is your healing.”
Rebecca Ching: Natalie, thank you so much. Where can people find you and connect with you and where can they get your book?
Natalie Gutierrez: So, I am on Instagram. So people that have Instagram can find me on Instagram, and my Instagram handle is @nataliegutierrezlmft and they can also find me on my website which is www.trauma counseling nyc.com. My book is available in all the places [Laughs] and hopefully in your local bookstore. If not, please let me know because I’d love to make it available especially to support small business, but it’s available on the New Harbinger Publications website and Barnes and Noble and Target, etcetera.
Rebecca Ching: Wonderful! Yes, please make sure you get this book and add it to your bookshelf and to your soul. Natalie, thank you, again, for coming back. Thank you for showing up in all the ways that you do. It’s been a real honor just to continue this conversation, to get to know you better, and I’m so grateful so many other people are gonna have even a deeper window into who you are and to the impact that you already have on so many. So thank you so much.
Natalie Gutierrez: Thank you so much, Rebecca. And I just want to say, also, I’m just appreciative of your unwavering support, and I just am grateful for your friendship. I love you, and I’m just thankful to be here. So thank you for being on this journey with me.
Rebecca Ching: Honored. Love you, too, my friend. Thank you.
I have a PhD in pushing through, and I know you do, too, and I see it in those I work with and those in my community. Now, I get there are times we have to push through what we carry, all we do, because, well, life. But when we do so because that’s what’s expected or that’s become the norm, it comes at a great cost, not just to ourselves, but to our communities and to our meaningful work. Traumas of all kinds continue to break down community and our wellbeing, and Natalie reminded us we’re carrying a lot right now, and she adds that we’re also carrying generations of pain.
So, I'm wondering what do you need to put down right now and stop carrying? What does support look like so you can create a work environment that honors all that we’re carrying? And how can you support someone at work or in your life who's carrying a lot right now? Now, as Natalie reminded us, we have a choice to be the medicine to ourselves and others instead of adding to the pain we’re all carrying, and this is the work of an Unburdened Leader.
Leading is hard. Leading is also, often, controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action.
Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small. Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights, it is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up.
Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is both actionable and aligned.
When the stakes are high and you don't want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo.
To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. Is this episode impacted you, I’d be honored for you to rate it, leave a review, and share it with someone who you think would benefit from it. You can find this episode, show notes, sign up for the free Unburdened Weekly, along with finding resources and ways to work with me, at www.rebeccaching.com.