An exploration of healing trauma through presence, connection, and self-awareness.

Joining me to take us on this journey of discovery is licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jacob Ham. Dr. Ham will offer listeners a deeper understanding of trauma’s impact on a person’s neurobiology and their interpretation of the world around them, while emphasizing the importance of our relationships as a means of healing. All parents will benefit from the wisdom he shares on reflective functioning and how we can use this to break cycles of intergenerational trauma and insecure attachment patterns with our own children.

By the end of this conversation, my hope is that you won’t just have new information, but will feel a renewed appreciation for the power of presence and feel enlightened, inspired, and perhaps a bit changed!

Dr. Jacob (00:00):

There’s no black or white, there’s no right way to live. It’s like are you adapted to the environment that you’re in? And that’s what really is another foundational perspective about trauma. Even trauma reactivity is not a problem. It’s actually a perfect way to grow up if you live in a dangerous environment. But if you ever are in a quiet, loving, safe environment and you’re the one who’s just raging and thinking that everyone’s out to get you, then you’re not going to succeed. And trauma blinds us to being able to see what the environment actually is because it presumes the worst.

Dr. Sarah (00:41):

Today promises to be a transformative experience as we dive into the depths of trauma, attachment and the human connection. Joining me to take us on this journey of discovery is Dr. Jacob Ham. Dr. Ham is a licensed clinical psychologist and the director for The Center of Trauma and Resilience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. Much of Dr. Ham’s work is dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults by helping them heal from complex trauma. He also happens to be one of my mentors and a close friend. By the end of this conversation, my hope is that you won’t just have new information. You’ll carry a sense of connection, a renewed appreciation for the power of presence, and a deeper understanding of the complicated dance between our instincts for survival and our instincts for connection. So get ready to feel enlightened, inspired, and perhaps a bit changed as Dr. Ham takes us on a journey that goes beyond words and straight to the core of our emotions.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hi, I’m so glad everyone’s here. Today is probably an episode I’ve been looking forward to recording for probably since I started this. Today I have on one of my mentors a friend, Dr. Jacob Ham, thank you so much for being here today.

Dr. Jacob (02:41):

I’ve been looking forward to this as well. It’s good to see you again, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah (02:44):

It’s really good to see you too. So Jacob and I know each other from working at the hospital, Mount Sinai, Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. And you were my trauma professor in the rotation for child trauma, child and family therapy. You supervised me for child and family therapy. You also supervised me in trauma therapy, but I remember, and then I was a postdoc after that and then on faculty for a couple years. But I remember when we were on internship, you came in and you were explaining this whole rotation on trauma with you. And I remember sitting in the room being like, oh my God, I’ve had so many teachers teach us stuff, but you aren’t teaching us. You are, aren’t regurgitating some information. You were in an experiential way, just kind of transmitting knowledge that I don’t know, I’ve respected you from the beginning. I sat in one of your rooms learning from you because you understand things in a way that I don’t think most people understand and you communicated in a way that is different than I’ve ever heard anybody communicate it.

Dr. Jacob (03:58):

I’m getting goosebumps on the back of my shoulders. I hope that that’s what we accomplish today. Some transmission of knowing and not through a regurgitation of facts or anything like that.

Dr. Sarah (04:12):

And I think it’s rare. I think it’s rare that that is what happens. And I know that obviously people listen to podcasts to get a bunch of information. It’s a great way to get a quick dose of info and sure, we’ll give people good info, but I don’t know. I don’t think that’s the point of what you do or what I try to do with families.

Dr. Jacob (04:34):

And I think that we as a culture are too much about getting the facts and the how toss and we have to sink into just a state of being with, and I don’t know how we’re going to communicate that or convey that. I hope that we end up there together and then they can feel it from outside of us and then it turns into something that they immediately run to their kids and just be with their kids as well.

Dr. Sarah (05:08):

Yes. And obviously we’re going to be talking about some heavy stuff today. I want to talk to you about trauma because that is the area of work that you just know inside and out. You’ve been a researcher of trauma, a professor, an educator, a trainer at many hospitals. You started an entire program. Can you talk about the grant program that you do?

Dr. Jacob (05:37):

We get funded through city, state, federal funding sources and some philanthropic sources to help create new trauma programs, develop or advance trauma treatment. So currently we have grants to make our own hospital system. We have programs to help people who are coming out of jail to receive trauma-informed services. We just finished a program to create a trauma-informed adolescent substance use and recovery service. So it’s a bunch of different things and I’ve done a bunch of trainings and programs for the DOE locally and across the us So there’s no lack of need for better trauma-informed understanding and to do it in a way that really is about the felt sense of it instead of just the facts and figures of it.

Dr. Sarah (06:43):

And can you speak a little bit about that felt sense and how most approaches, especially when you’re trying to deliver them on scale like that it so hard end up getting watered down or reduced to a bunch of steps, and how do you help train huge programs that are doing trauma on trauma work on scale to be able to shift out of that in a way?

Dr. Jacob (07:17):

Okay. So I think that when anyone is learning trauma stuff, they eventually get to the idea of survival brain versus learning brain kind of ideas. These two states that our brains can be in where you could use also more amygdala, more limbic if you want to use neurobiological terms or more prefrontal, I guess more about fight or flight or I don’t know what to call the other thing that’s the opposite of fight or flight except presence, I think. And the more I was thinking about these things, I realized that that’s everything. All I do nowadays as a therapist is track whether or not someone is in their fight or flight survival brain states or whether they’re in this state of presence.


And then there’s a ton of ways to help people get out of that. What I find is that concepts, knowledge and how-tos actually activate survival brain, an angst or an angst nest or a fear or a constriction that is lurking behind these questions. And I mean, we are both parents and if you read any parenting books, you’re going to end up feeling so stressed and overwhelmed and terrified of making a mistake. And so it’s all wrong. It activates the wrong thing. That’s part of the reason why it’s been so hard to get me on this podcast. I was so afraid of parenting culture, the parenting industry.

Dr. Sarah (09:08):


Dr. Jacob (09:12):

And then if the question is how do you get people to be in presence with each other, then the only institutions that I know of that are really good at that are the arts and religion maybe. I think that we can learn a lot about disseminating not from science, but from religion, what churches and what religions spread like wildfire across the world and why do they spread like wildfire? It’s because I think that they provide some kind of emotional experience that feels transformative for the person.


So I think that every training, every time you’re proselytizing, if we’re going to start borrowing religious terms, you’re preaching your religion of trauma using this very metaphorically, not in any way. And the experience of proselytizing and preaching has to be uplifting, cathartic. It has to be an emotional experience. It has to be something where you get it deep down in your bones and then you want more. And once you activate that internal fire, then you can add knowledge and practice. But first you need to activate this, oh, this feels so good and this feels lighter. I feel safer, I feel calmer, or whatever it is. And then how do I keep doing this on a regular basis? How do I spread this to my family, to my kids?

Dr. Sarah (10:45):

What is it about, what do you think helps people who have been maybe protecting against feeling that level of presence? Because if you think about a baby who’s born with complete presence, and over time we just learn ways to not stay in that state. And some of it is self-protective because we’re in an environment that’s too overwhelming for us. We have to not be present. And that’s not trauma. That’s just being a human and becoming more sensitive to your environment, having more control over modulating that intensity. But then there are some things that happen to us that are so overwhelming, so scary, or so just make us feel so unsafe that we create ways to look almost not permanently, but potentially permanently not feel that feeling. And so there’s little things and big things that happen to us throughout our life by the time we become parents. I imagine there’s a lot of stuff that we can’t connect to with presence. What I’m hearing you say is the experience of reconnecting to something in a present manner, perhaps through supportive therapy or maybe just on your own or however you’re going to get there, if it feels safe and good, that’s healing. And then you have that feeling of like, oh, that’s what I want to feel. That could be something I continue to look to find more of. Am I understanding kind of what you’re saying a little bit?

Dr. Jacob (12:19):

Yeah, absolutely. As you were talking, there were so many different points. I was responding in my head to all the different points.

Dr. Sarah (12:29):

It doesn’t work on a podcast.

Dr. Jacob (12:31):

Exactly. So I have to say them out loud. And if I can try to track my thought process. One was I was visualizing the still face research.

Dr. Sarah (12:43):


Dr. Jacob (12:44):

So we can talk a little bit about that. Yes. Because you’re talking about a baby and their growing sense of needing to be less open. And you had talked about how sometimes they need to do that to self-regulate, but sometimes it’s also because it’s a healthy part of development. We become more of a closed system over time because we have our own agency. But what I imagine is that in the beginning, you’re just so dependent on your parent and you’re an open system. An open system literally just means that you’re an organization of energy from the science term and that you constantly need external input to maintain organization. And if you don’t have external input, then you decay.

Dr. Sarah (13:36):

Would you call that co-regulation?

Dr. Jacob (13:39):

That’s just feeding burping nursing. It can be part of co-regulation. It can be just attunement. Co-regulation is needed if there’s an emotional dysregulation or a gastric dysregulation. And so you know what your baby needs and you give it to them. And it is completely true. That rhythm is an important stabilizing factor as we know, and rocking your baby and patting their bums. And I don’t know what else. I think that’s really powerful. But so then as kids get older, they realize that we’re not always perfect, that we miss attune, that we’re in our own heads. We are overly gushy. We want to kiss them too much, and they push you away. And they’re like, no, I don’t want to be kissed right now, or whatever it is. And so they start to realize that I don’t want to be, you’re bothering me. And so that’s when the system becomes open and closed more. The dance of open and closed starts to happen. And I think that’s the point is that life is a dance polarities in every way. And what trauma does is that it makes us completely polarized in one direction or the other, or makes us flip in extreme ways. And the art is to constantly be negotiating this dance of open and closed contracting and expanding or whatever it is, inhalation and exhalation. That becomes another rhythm of life.


And so the child needs the good enough parent to start navigating this dance. And then what you said about trauma as an extreme event does somehow disrupt the dance, the fluidity and the dynamism of the dance. But I would argue as well that people talk about trauma too much about the big things that they can remember. And it’s not about the microscopic things that happen every day. If as a child you smiled at your parent or you try to play peekaboo and they never peekaboo back, that would be a traumatic experience for an infant unfit because they need to know that you are attending to them well enough that you can make sure that they’re going to be burped when they need to be burped fed when they need to be fed. And so it’s terrifying it’s life or death if a child doesn’t feel that there’s this attunement. That’s the only way that that’s their lifeline to basic nutrition. So that’s the first kind of possibly traumatic thing that babies have to navigate. Although actually that’s not the first, but the first one, while they’re out of the uterus that they have to navigate because there are prenatal epigenetic stressors that can also be a challenge for babies.


And let’s see. Yes, so when patients come to us and when parents come to us and they have insecure attachments of all sorts that I’m sure you’ve covered in your podcast, and they might not remember specific events that caused them to be insecure in whatever way. And I don’t know if you’ve talked about the adult attachment interview in your podcast.

Dr. Sarah (17:11):

Yeah, we actually had Miriam Steele come on and explain a lot of it.

Dr. Jacob (17:15):

Perfect. And she talked about how it’s not about what events you’ve experienced in life, but how you recall them and how you discuss them that clues you in to whether or not you have trauma or attachment issues. So that was another important clue for me that what happened, it doesn’t matter so much as how it’s impacted you, how it’s left you today in the room with me this moment. So all that matters is what I see now. And there’s echoes of it that reverberate into your past traumatic events. But I never talk, I try not to talk about the past. I only talk about the past. If I need a memory that’s so powerfully evocative that it becomes like the backdrop to who this person is. And it’s a quick mnemonic way for me to capture this person’s theme in a powerful and unique way.

Dr. Sarah (18:20):

And so do you have people come to you who believe they have attachment trauma? And we could define that as lots of different things, but do they come to you already saying, I know I have this, I need you to help me with it. And how do you help them understand it? Because I think what you’re trying to say is it might not be what you’ve read. It might not be the things you think it’s, and I’m going to help you re-experience what it could be in a different way.

Dr. Jacob (18:53):

Yeah. My practice has changed radically. And it’s unlike any of the training that we received because in our trainings, we gather history, we get medical history of social history, whatever, all the facts first. And I think it’s all for the service of us and not for the service of the patient. And how many times have we heard that they don’t want to go through the intake again? They’ve told this story to everyone else already and it doesn’t do anything for them.


So I don’t gather history in the first session. I gather, why are you here? What do you think I can help you with? And can I show you a little bit about how I work so that we can decide whether or not you like it and want more of it? And what happens is that people come in and something will happen where I can sense that where there’s a running away from presence. And I try to get them to look at it and try to understand what happened and see if they can do it and be curious about why they’re doing it. And then they can start to see how it is tied into their histories. And we try to do work around it as soon as possible. This is when I ask, can we try to do some work now so I can show you how I would deal with this? And so even the people who come in with this question, the way that you ask the question is already angsty. It’s already from the intellectualized protector, the intellectualized constrained survival brain. And so I try not to answer that question for that part. I try to get them as quickly as possible to come into a surprised awareness of what’s happening in the moment. We did, we learned in the relational approach.

Dr. Sarah (20:47):

Can you explain to people who aren’t familiar with relational psychotherapy what that means?

Dr. Jacob (20:57):

I don’t want to represent myself as an expert on it. I can talk about the way that we practiced it at that it’s real, which is that we assume that the most important thing to do in therapy is to figure out what’s happening right now. And in particular, the lab that we are in would look at moments of ruptures, which is the scientific jargony way to say it, but it’s what I just said about moments when the person leaves presence. And there’s so many variations of that. We became expert at looking at all the nuanced ways that it shows up some of the ways like intellectualization, not when your body and your feelings and your words don’t match, affect split or something like that. I forgot what the jargony way of coding that was. And then this thing where they make you feel so good as a therapist. That’s another rupture. Remember that one? That was a really seductive one. So there’s all these subtle things that we’re looking out for. And then in our lab we said, it’s so important for you to start naming that. And we call that meta communicating and to repair ruptures, which I say means to come back into presence with the other person and presence is in this circumstance, this state of being fully reconnected with your body, heart, gut, soul, plus this awareness that is willing to self-reflect and reflect on the other person.

Dr. Sarah (22:29):

Reflective functioning, which we talk a lot. You were talking about the a ai, the adult attachment interview. And going back to what we are saying of, okay, so one of the ways that we measure how secure an attachment system is in a person is by looking at how coherent their narrative is and their ability to reflect on the internal experience of themselves and reflect on the internal experience of another. And so when we do the ai, we’ll have someone recall stories of their mother, and we look for how coherent is that? And also what does

Dr. Jacob (23:06):

Coherent mean? That’s too jargony for people out there.

Dr. Sarah (23:09):

Okay, fair enough. How much can we tell a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end that makes sense, that isn’t contradictory, that doesn’t sort of swivel and pivot. And now I’m talking about something else that the coherency of a narrative, meaning its ability to flow. You could watch it like a movie.

Dr. Jacob (23:34):

And the other things that I would add to what coherence means is that they’re answering the question because they’re still thinking of you as they’re answering the question. They know what question you asked, and they’re trying to give you just enough information to answer the question and satisfy your needs. So it’s a mindfulness, it’s an awareness of your need as the listener and their stories are often really engaging. You’re fully engrossed

Dr. Sarah (24:05):

Someone who has a secure attachment system.

Dr. Jacob (24:08):

Yes. And the best example isn’t speech. It’s actually singing. When we’re watching one of those singing competitions and someone sings with their freaking hearts and everyone is in tears, that’s the epitome of a secure way to express yourself where the rhythm, the tone, the words all match in such a way that it can’t help but make our human selves resonate in kind.

Dr. Sarah (24:37):

That’s really interesting. I also think about the fact that a lot of people who are incredible artists and musicians have so much pain, and you don’t have to be trauma free to be coherent in what we’re describing or present in what we’re describing. It’s not a state of never having been disorganized. It’s just we move in and out. That’s another thing I think people don’t understand about attachment and secure attachment is that it’s not a fixed static thing that we are or are not. It’s like a state of, it’s in flux all the time. Just we look at patterns, we say, what is it generally and how often is it across different relationships, but…

Dr. Jacob (25:20):

I think the way that I would look at it is, and the way that AI and the adult attachment stuff looks at it is what’s your state of mind when you’re talking about your parents? When you’re talking about loss or fear? That’s when you can really determine adult attachment, not about the sports or news or something like that, or it has to be emotionally activating. And then you’ll start to pick up attachment stuff. And the reason why is because when intense emotions start to come up, we’re all wired to want to share it with our caregiver or someone who loves us, especially the negative ones. We’re wired to want to run to our parent to protect us or to commiserate with us in it. And so that activates the attachment system, which is the desire to run towards your caregiver for safety and protection. And then what you do about it is the classification. What you do about that desire is your classification. Are you okay with running to them that’s secure? Do you just shun it completely and renounce it? That’s avoidant? Do you want it? But then you’re kind of afraid of it and you move back and forth and that’s the ambivalent, the preoccupied or whatever.

Dr. Sarah (26:38):

Yeah. One thing I was curious and I wanted your take on was, so I talk a lot about attachment and attachment security and parents who listen to this podcast are often, I want to help my kid have a secure attachment, but I didn’t have an experience growing up where I was well attuned to where I got my needs met. I don’t have a secure attachment style if we’re going to use the terms that people tend to use, how do I help my kid have one if I didn’t have it? Which always makes me think about on a more broader ideas, how do we explain intergenerational, how do we pass these, our attachment systems are passed down to us from generations upon generations of the people who cared for us and the people who cared for them. Can you talk a little bit about how you think about that in your work or how you help people understand that?

Dr. Jacob (27:36):

Sure. From the research, the answer is reflective function. And what that means is what I’m just calling pure awareness. This willingness to self-reflect and to be aware of what’s happening between us, within me, within you. And that capacity alone is incredibly hard to get to. And the reason why is because we’re often filled with so much shame and self embarrassment and bad narratives about who we are. And so a lot of the work has to be to just cultivate a capacity to reflect. And you can do that in various ways like mindfulness meditation or just having a process group, having an intentional group of friends who break down what happened between the two of you, or having a family that’s willing to do Monday morning quarterbacking about what happened in the last fight. It doesn’t matter. It’s any way that you are trying to figure out what happened between us, what happened inside of me with someone who’s willing to do it with you as well.

Dr. Sarah (28:46):

That partnership feels really critical. You can’t just do it by yourself. You have to figure out someone who can help you and reflect your experience back to you.

Dr. Jacob (28:58):

I know in the book that I’m drafting, one of the sentences is that trauma is a relational event and the end of healing from trauma has to be a relational event where you’re with another person again. And a lot of people don’t want that. Some people come in and just say, I don’t want people in my life, but I also don’t want the flashbacks and all the other stuff.

Dr. Sarah (29:25):

And that’s not possible to get to that place.

Dr. Jacob (29:28):

Well, you’re halfway there and maybe some people will choose that life and sometimes they’re right. I know people who became forest rangers and I’m jealous of their life in the forest, but if they ever have to go into town and talk to people or they get lonely, then their issues becomes relevant. There’s no black or white, there’s no right way to live. It’s like are you adapted to the environment that you’re in? And that’s what really is another foundational perspective about trauma. Even trauma reactivity is not a problem. It’s actually a perfect way to grow up if you live in a dangerous environment. But if you ever are in a quiet, loving, safe environment and you’re the one who’s just raging and thinking that everyone’s out to get you, then you’re not going to succeed again. It’s that dance of openness and closed again.

Dr. Sarah (30:25):

And it has to be able to be in sync and in harmony with the environment you’re actually in.

Dr. Jacob (30:31):

Exactly. And trauma blinds us to being able to see what the environment actually is because it presumes the worst.

Dr. Sarah (30:40):

And I would imagine a parent who has experienced trauma, and again, we are sort of talking about trauma in all its forms. Sometimes people say like capital T trauma or lowercase T trauma, like this chronic pervasive collections of microtraumas that we just kind of hold in our system or this one very scary thing happened to me, or many very event singular events over time happened to me. I could put my finger on it, I can remember it. But all those things, we’ll put them all in this sort of basket of potentially traumatizing experiences that then we carry with us, whether we’re aware of it or not into parenthood.


And then so often, especially because I work with a lot of postpartum women and postpartum PTSD or being postpartum and having had a trauma history and how that impacts and makes us vulnerable to postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, all the PMASs, right? And there’s something about going through this very vulnerable transformation of becoming a parent that can really destabilize us and activate all of our threat systems, which is so counterintuitive when you’re thinking like, okay, just brought this baby into the world. I’m holding this baby. I’m supposed to feel all these feelings and I do, and also all this other shit is going on. How can we understand some of that?

Dr. Jacob (32:21):

Well, when you’re talking about that, I can’t help but bring in what’s happening to the mother’s body and the hormones and the sleep deprivation. So there’s got to be a way in which we respect that the body’s just overwhelmed already. And if it’s either not used to being so destabilized or it has a habit of overreacting in instability, then it’s, it’s not fair to somehow say, you can get through this. I feel like almost saying this is overwhelming and it’s going to rattle you and mess you up, and you just have to survive. There’s a way in which I don’t want to leave a woman feeling blamed or responsible for how dysregulated they feel. And then, oh, I’m saying this because the other thing that happens with trauma is that we often have ways that we handled trauma that are, I need to get this right, I need to be good, or whatever it is. And so all of these coping strategies for trauma become even more activated. And so again, I’m trying to just quiet down all the chaos in the mind and try to get to a state of being whatever the true pain is, and the true overwhelm is without all the chatter of our internal dialogue.

Dr. Sarah (34:01):

And so is it helpful to know your chatter? Is it helpful to be able to say, okay, I know…

Dr. Jacob (34:10):

Know is the wrong word. Is it healthy to know? And that’s why I think that you’re asking this representing the anxious mother. You’re feeling your audience wanting to know what No, and the knowing is not the right approach to this. Is it healthy to know the chatter? The answer is yes. It’s healthy to be aware of what your chatter is, to have some distance from it, some compassion, some tenderness towards it, and also to know that you’re going to get swept up in it, and then you’re just looking for moments when you can come up for air from it.

Dr. Sarah (34:56):


Dr. Jacob (34:57):

So not knowing.

Dr. Sarah (35:00):

Yeah, when I say no, and you’re right, I am, not only am I thinking about the anxious mothers listening and trying to put myself in their shoes, but even myself who is the anxious mother sometimes. But what I actually think too, that was coming to my mind because you actually introduced me to IFS, internal family systems. And what I was thinking was more in terms of knowing the part, knowing who is talking, what is this chatter? Can I stop it from being chatter? Can I actually tune into the channel to use that metaphor and say, who’s talking here? And how do I have a conversation with that part to let them know we’re actually safe here?

Dr. Jacob (35:46):

Exactly. And even with parts work, it’s not to figure out which part is this? What do they want from the head? It’s again, this change in energy to be present with your part while to not be blended with them if you’re using IFS terms, but to just be with it, to aware of it, to have a dialogue and build a relationship with it. And if you do that right, then it always leads to this supportive witnessing and compassion towards the part. And it’s really hard to do amidst the chaos of having a newborn.

Dr. Sarah (36:26):

And if you were to try to paint a picture of what that could look like, what could you give an example of how one might identify and sit with apart?

Dr. Jacob (36:41):

I was dropping off my son to school, and his school is on a very narrow side street on the upper west side, and it’s very stressful. And it was like the first year of being there. We are grateful to be part of the school. I wanted to make a good impression as a parent. He was like three or four years old, and I was dropping him off myself in a car. And it was during Covid, so all the kids were outside waiting to be let in groups. And so his threes class was in front and there was a car double parked in front of me, another parent dropping off their kid. And there was a huge carp truck behind me, and there was a row of 10 other cars that were also pile whatever piling up behind us.


And so I was standing there and I started to get scared that I was going to get honked at that I was causing traffic. I wasn’t being a good citizen in New York. And so one of my son’s friend’s mother showed up and it was his first girlfriend, and so they were really close. And I asked her, can you watch my son? I have to move my car. And I just left. And as I was leaving, I saw him holding the fence and I immediately thought, oh my God, I’m leaving him alone. And he didn’t look sad, but I imputed that onto him and I felt like a horrible parent. And then I thought the school’s going to wonder where I am and they’re going to call social work a CS on me for being negligent for leaving him out there. And then I started to panic and I was racing off, and the garbage truck just moved up 10 feet and was stuck behind that double parked car in front of me.


So me running actually didn’t help clear the traffic at all. I just no longer was responsible for that situation. And I was leaving and I was starting to write an email to the school explaining what I did just in case they were going to call child welfare on me. And at the same time, I had gotten a ticket, like a six point ticket for using my phone while I was driving maybe a year before. And so then another critical voice said, WTF are you doing? You’re like, you’re going to lose your license right now. And then I yelled out loud, what am I doing? WTF am I doing? And then in a second, I heard this tiny little voice inside me say, I don’t want to be in trouble. I’m scared of being in trouble. And then as soon as I heard that, I said, oh, is that what that is?


It’s that again. And then everything just melted off. And I had sent the email, I immediately got an email back. They were like, that’s fine, whatever. But I felt both silly, but also, awe, it’s you again. You’re scared of being in trouble. And in a flash I can do this parts work where the recognition and the relationship I have with this part is good enough so that whenever I see it again, I can immediately melt into it. And it also helps to have children. If you learn to love your children and see how innocent and beautiful they are, and they never deserve the punishment that we think that we deserved as kids, then it gives us permission to forgive ourselves for all the ways we were bad as children. And I guess that’s it. And I just drove off.

Dr. Sarah (40:21):

But that’s such a beautiful example of the chatter, right? It’s like 15 different thoughts all coming from completely different places. It feels super chaotic, which elevates our sort of stress response and keeps it not present. But there’s this, and obviously I am assuming you have done work on this to be able to hear that quiet voice, the little voice, because usually those aren’t the voices that we hear first.

Dr. Jacob (40:49):

It’s both doing the work, but also going into my shadow. If we’re using union terms, it’s to allow myself to go into the thing I’m most ashamed of and just sit in it, what is it? And then just I’m going to wait here until something gets illuminated. And then that’s when I first met that little voice. I was sitting in deep, deep. And instead of running away from it through whatever firefighter protectors, if we’re using I fest terminology, I would’ve done, I just said, screw it. I’m just going to sit in it. And I was curled up in fetal position in a dark room, and then I heard this little voice say, I just want to be good. And then I was shocked. I’d never heard such a real distinct voice from deep inside somewhere that I wasn’t familiar with. And it shocked me out of this spiral of self-loathing. And I said, oh, is that what? That is weird. And that was when I was 20 years old.

Dr. Sarah (41:50):

Oh, wow. So before you found IFS.

Dr. Jacob (41:52):

Right. And it had just been sitting in there waiting for more exploration.

Dr. Sarah (41:58):

But did when you were able to stay in the pain, and in this case it was like self-loathing and self-hatred. You were not fighting out to get out of it, clawing your way out of that feeling, but just willing to be in that feeling, be present with that feeling. When you heard the part of you that said, I just don’t want to be in trouble. I’m scared of being in trouble. Does that transform for you, the experience of the original painful feeling? Did you still feel self-loathing or did it shift into self-compassion?

Dr. Jacob (42:31):

Yes. Everything melted off, but then it just keeps creeping back up. The world is a scary place, and there’s many things that trigger us. And so the practice isn’t a linear, I’m traumatized and then I’m healed. It’s more like I’m traumatized and I have this moment of awareness, and then it gets covered over again by life. And then you try to figure out a way to reclaim that experience over and over again and make that window of awareness longer and longer. And parenting is the perfect practice for that ’cause they are terrors.

Dr. Sarah (43:09):

And it’s a parallel process, I feel like, because all this work, some people will call it inner child work or IFS or whatever you want to call it. There’s a million ways to describe what we do, but at its essence is being present with these internal elements of who we are. These, I don’t have a better word than a part like this young part. It’s so interesting. Whenever I talk with someone in therapy and they’re having some memory of, or they’re telling me some sort of critical voice, something that they were, I was like, they’ll be talking about something that was really, really tough that had just happened that made them really mad or really sad. And they’ll be talking about it and I’ll say, well, what part of you is saying this right now? And without having ever explained why I’m asking that question most, I’m always amazed that most people will be able to kind of identify it.


And then this is the question that I’m always surprised I get an answer for. But I will often say, how old do you think that part of you is? And without fail, everybody just names the age. They just know what I’m talking about. They’re like, oh, I think it’s like five or six years old, or maybe it’s 12 and it’s this magical moment for me when I’m working with someone, when I ask them that question of how old do you think that part is? And they say an age, and just saying that number out loud helps them to immediately shift.


Because a lot of times I think we think about critical voices in our mind as an internalized parent that we’re still maybe mad at that. So we fight with them in our head we were like, stop it. Don’t talk to me that way. Or we fight back with the voices in our head. But when we think about it as a little kid, actually that’s just trying to not feel something that’s scary to feel. We like melt. We feel compassion for that part of us. And that I think is the most profound shift in our relationship to ourselves to be able to love and feel compassionate towards and want to protect and take care of those very scared parts of us that make us act in really icky ways. But you could do the same thing with your own child in real time. And I think that is the beautiful thing about parenting, because a lot of times when our kids are doing these really icky things that make us really mad and we want to fight with them, if we remember that, oh wait, they might be scared, or they might be trying not to feel shame, or they might be trying to just get away from an uncomfortable feeling and this is the only way they know how to do it, we can melt a little bit and we can start to reconnect to that.

Dr. Jacob (46:07):

And what I would say, see, even the way that you’re talking about it is leading with the mind saying, I need a different way to look at this to allow me to melt. Whereas I’ve been practicing, I notice I’m hard and I need to go soft just energetically it’s better all the kid needs anyway. And for example, I will lose my temper at my kid and he will be startled by that, and then he might feel bad, a little scared, and I feel like horrible because I’m recreating scary moments. But lucky for him, he comes to me and he wants to crawl on my lap, and as I’m feeling crappy, I know he’s saying, please melt for me, and I have to energetically melt, and it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, it’s just that we’re just practicing this dance thing, opening, closing dance again, and then from that state of meltedness, I can come up with language like, I’m sorry, or I need you to do better. Or It doesn’t matter. The language, what we say doesn’t matter. It’s the energy again that we’re in together that matters. It’s this practice of constantly losing ourselves and coming back, like the rupture repair or the hardening and softening, whatever we call it, that’s what matters most, and to try to turn off the mind as much as possible. The mind is used to running around frantically to solve things, and I find that it gets in the way of the melting sometimes.

Dr. Sarah (47:50):

Yes, though I do think people who don’t have a framework for this sometimes need to hear it in their mind first so that they can even imagine doing it without their mind in the moment.

Dr. Jacob (48:01):

This is the debate I have with myself all the time.

Dr. Sarah (48:06):

How so?

Dr. Jacob (48:11):

It is true that different people need to learn these things in different ways, and the way that I work is just this way, and then whenever I try it and it doesn’t work with someone, then I have to be flexible and dynamic enough to alter my paradigm and not say, stop and just melt. I have to then give them, they’re saying, I need the framework. Please give me the framework, and then I have to meet that need. So then it becomes my practice of not becoming hard with my ideology and melting into this attunement again.

Dr. Sarah (48:48):

Yeah. I also think when I’m in a room with a patient, I don’t tend to go into the explanation and the framework. It’s like we’re just doing it. Right.

Dr. Jacob (49:02):

I think you’re representing the anxious listener again.

Dr. Sarah (49:07):

Who is listening right now to us.

Dr. Jacob (49:09):


Dr. Sarah (49:10):

So we have to help them. They’re like, but how does, what is the, I just melt what I think we have to explain. I love that. How to do it, even though when you’re doing it, you’re not going to be thinking about how to do it. That’s kind of the paradox.

Dr. Jacob (49:28):

The first step is just to feel the tightness, don’t try to melt. And even feeling the tightness is the little bit of breath between you and the tightness that starts the melting process.

Dr. Sarah (49:46):

And we do this in practice with ourself and also separately, we do this in practice with our kid as the parent. So we do this with ourself.

Dr. Jacob (49:57):


Dr. Sarah (49:59):

And with our kid and with anybody, frankly, with our partners, with our coworkers.

Dr. Jacob (50:05):

Instead of saying, you did it again, you horrible little kid. You say, I’m angry. I notice I’m angry. I notice I’m getting tight again. And then they don’t feel like they’re the problem. They realize that you’re a human being too. That needs co-regulation sometimes, or it just softens everything. The awareness starts to kick in again.

Dr. Sarah (50:30):

Yeah, and it’s funny because you keep talking about getting in and out of our heads, but I also think to understand how to do this, yes. I think we have to kind of go into our heads a little bit to explain it, but then you want to just be out of your head and feel it. But I also think as parents, one of the barriers to softening to being present is not because I’m getting tripped up on how to be soft, but there’s so many things running through my head that say, do not be soft. I am supposed to stay in my head. I’m supposed to teach this child not to do these things. I’m supposed to be the good parent I’m supposed to be. Everyone’s watching as my kid is melting down in the grocery store because they’ve now kicked over something, and the right thing to do is to discipline, and you’re not wrong. And also it doesn’t do any good in the moment. We have to. That’s a lot of noise too, that we have to be able to be willing to say, I can’t have that and melt. I can’t melt. While I’m thinking about what everyone’s thinking about my parenting.

Dr. Jacob (51:41):

The way that I look at it is that if I discipline from that tight, fearful energy, then the lesson is actually you’re teaching two things at once. You’re teaching to be afraid. You have to do the right thing, and those two things become paired. So it’s an anxious way to be good. Whereas if you teach, I’m a firm believer in limit setting and teaching our children not to have tantrums in the grocery stores, but you teach it to it to their soft present brain and not to their fearful state. So you have to always try to get there first. You can’t do any teaching to fear. Yeah. People have to be aware of the undercurrent of the interaction more than just the events of the interaction or the words of the interaction. And we don’t practice that enough.

Dr. Sarah (52:45):

No. How can we practice it more? What’s something someone could do to just think about, I hear myself saying it can’t get in her head, but what is a practice of noticing the undercurrent tuning into that other frequency of an event?

Dr. Jacob (53:11):

Let’s give them one. I think the most important thing and doable thing if you have a child, is to be willing to have hard conversations where you’re learning to break down what happened or what’s happening now together, and be open-minded about it, not dogmatic or entrenched in your position, just like, what do you think is going on between us right now? And do that with other family members and then start to learn from there. But that becomes the context of the learning classroom instead of the how to. You’re creating the right classroom to learn.

Dr. Sarah (53:59):

Which is asking questions about, that I think speak to reflective functioning, like practicing…

Dr. Jacob (54:07):

Which is creating a sense of safety and containment and love and openness to the other. So you’re already done by creating the classroom. You’ve already done the, you’re already present, and then the how to comes next.

Dr. Sarah (54:25):

Yeah. That’s beautiful. Thank you, Jacob. I’m really glad that you came on, and I’m glad that this went completely in a different direction than I thought it was going to go.

Dr. Jacob (54:40):

I do want to hear if anyone got it, if it resonated for them. I hope there’s a comment section and people can chime in and say it’s what they needed to hear and it helped them in some way.

Dr. Sarah (54:52):

Yes. If people want to let Dr. Ham know just how much they got this, or if they’re like, what? I need you to explain it better. I need you to show me how to do this. You can, where’s the best place to put them?

Dr. Jacob (55:11):

Well, no, they reach out to you and you gather the questions, and then we do it again.

Dr. Sarah (55:15):

Okay. Email me. Email me at sarah@drsarahbren.com, and then we’ll give Jacob all of our questions.

Dr. Jacob (55:27):

Sounds good.

Dr. Sarah (55:28):

Okay. Thank you so much. If people want to know more about your work, if they want to, I know you have a newsletter. I know that you, I always love your newsletters. How can they connect with you?

Dr. Jacob (55:44):

Just that website, I guess that drjacobham.com. That’s where I’ll post any thoughts or events or podcast appearances or whatever.

Dr. Sarah (55:55):

Okay, good. Thank you so much.

Dr. Jacob (55:57):

You’re welcome. I’ll see you later.

Dr. Sarah (56:05):

Thanks so much for listening. If you are interested in learning more about attachment science, check out my free guide, The Four Pillars of Fostering Secure Attachment. In this guide, I teach you how to use the principles of attachment science to help you parent with attunement and trust by focusing on four simple things. You can work towards helping your child form a secure attachment bond, which is a predictor of so many positive aspects of mental health, including self-esteem independence, healthier relationships with others throughout their lifespan, better academic and workplace achievement, and lower reported instances of anxiety and depression, not a small list. So to download this free guide and learn the four pillars of fostering secure attachment, go to drsarahbren.com/secure. That’s drsarahbren.com/secure. And until next time, don’t be a stranger.

186. Using presence as the antidote to trauma: How we begin to break cycles with Dr. Jacob Ham