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Ep#17 Reclaiming Identity and Navigating Trauma with Linda Thai

Reclaiming Identity and Navigating Trauma with Linda Thai

Welcome back to You Did That!. In today’s episode, we are joined by the insightful and inspiring Linda as our special guest. Linda shares her experiences and perspectives on cultural differences, historical trauma, and the impact of colonialism. Join us as we engage in a thought-provoking and meaningful dialogue on addressing trauma from a holistic and cultural perspective. This episode is sure to provide valuable insights and reflections on the impact of trauma and resilience.

Linda Thai LMSW (she, her) is a trauma therapist who specializes in cutting edge brain- and body-based modalities for the healing of complex developmental trauma.   As an educator and consultant, she is gifted with the capacity to contextualize, synthesize and communicate complex and nuanced issues pertaining to trauma, attachment and the nervous system, including the impact of oppressive systems upon identity, mental health and wellbeing.   Linda is passionate about breaking the cycle of historical and intergenerational trauma at the individual and community levels, and deeply believes in the healing power of coming together in community to grieve.  Born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, and now living in Alaska, Linda is a former child refugee who is not only redefining what it means to be Vietnamese, to be Australian, and to be a United States-ian….she is redefining what it means to be wounded and whole and a healer.

Main Topics:

  • Navigating Cultural Boundaries and Racism
  • Transforming Depression into Inspiration
  • Fear, Safety, and Seeking Refuge
  • Ongoing Trauma for Marginalized Communities
  • Balancing Teaching and Personal Growth

How do you know when you’re going too far in one direction or not?

Linda: The parallel to the persistent fear underlying survivalism is the desire to conquer and control. I found myself oscillating between asserting, “I’ll conquer this, I’ll nail it,” and confronting that persistent fear. Befriending both the fear and the strategies I used to avoid certain emotions was profound and a significant part of my growth. Running parallel to activities like hunting and fishing, working with vegetables, and building a cabin with my partner, I also embraced meditation and yoga. Developing self-awareness and meta-cognition, understanding that how you do one thing reflects how you do everything, began to shift my approach to life once I starkly realized I was living in fear. This awareness was both terrible and terrifying, yet humbling and liberating.

At some point, I entered addiction recovery, codependency recovery, and explored being an adult child of people raised in dysfunctional families. This process allowed me to contextualize my life as a former child refugee, a facet I hadn’t considered in relation to my challenges. It became the last stone I overturned, delving into it around the same time I got “The Body Keeps the Score,” which profoundly resonated with me through vignettes, case studies, and MRI scans. It helped reconcile the fact that, despite no specific remembered trauma, I exhibited signs of someone operating from an unsafe nervous system.

Do you remember a specific moment or experience when you recognized that you were living from a place of fear, or did this realization gradually dawn on you over time?

Linda: In my personal situation, I strongly resisted fear, hiding behind a facade of false bravado to conceal my inner terror. Exploring the nervous system and its responses—fight, flight, freeze, and flop—allowed me to honestly confront these emotions, creating a transformative shift within me. Additionally, during yoga teacher training with Philip Erso, I learned about the forced satisfactions of the ego, such as being right, being light, being in control, and being special.

In a room with 45 people, I grappled with the revelation of my life displayed on a whiteboard, navigating the reactionary nature of my mind. Recognizing my responses to rejection, abandonment, shame, and judgment, I sought solace in the ego’s satisfactions. Framing behaviors as a means of making sense of them, I understood that we act until we know better or have a new framework. Prior to this understanding, I believed that’s just how I am.

Learning how my map for safety and unsafety distorted, how I confused fear and excitement, and how risk-taking behaviors served as a coping mechanism for competence and confidence became eye-opening. Understanding how trauma and neurodivergence intensify feelings, making them either extremely painful or pleasurable, explained my tendency to not feel in the gray zones. Acknowledging how addiction distorts sensory capacity and affects accurate perception in the present moment, combined with sensory processing challenges, further deepened my insights into my journey.

When did you decide to kind of get into the mental health field professionally?

Linda: I was teaching meditation and yoga in an intensive outpatient program for addiction recovery. Along the way, as I delved into materials on addiction and trauma, my supervisor suggested the idea of becoming a mental health counselor. About six weeks prior, my astrologer mentioned an opening in my chart for three years if I considered going back to school. Combining my astrologer’s insight and the conversation with my supervisor, I thought, “Why not?” When I enrolled in graduate school, my focus was on learning about life rather than getting a job, aligning with my unconventional lifestyle in Alaska.

Before and during graduate school, I pursued training in brain spotting, internal family systems, sensorimotor psychotherapy, Havening Touch, and the Flash technique. Simultaneously, I immersed myself in voracious reading on addiction and trauma. While in training, I connected with therapists in private practice and recognized an unspoken issue within the training institutes—elitism. Questions about applying modalities to diverse contexts went unanswered. Despite acknowledging the need for training institutes to make money, I envisioned offering something different one day.

Studying with Bessel Van Der Kolk and Leisha Sky before graduate school, I volunteered to assist them in private small group workshops around psychodrama structures in 2019. Experiencing the somaticized ideal mother profoundly changed my life.

What is one of your favorite things you’ve learned about yourself?

Linda: That I’m lovable. That I have a voice. That it’s okay for me to take up space in this world as I am, and exposure doesn’t equal death. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak at Oxford University at the Sheldonian Theatre for an international trauma conference, where I delivered both a keynote and a workshop. Amidst the imposter syndrome and the realization of being part of the 10% BIPOC representation, questions of why I was at this table arose.

People were reminding me that I had a seat at the table because I had a seat at the table. Despite these uncertainties, I took the stage, inviting the audience to join me in singing a song of resilience, hope, and courage. Speaking Vietnamese, even with my imperfect grasp of the language, became a profound act of reclaiming a space fraught with historical exploitation and pillaging. While acknowledging the dark history of colonialism, there was a moment of affirmation when people in the audience began cheering. It was then that I realized I truly had a seat at the table.

Approaching the heart of the dragon’s lair, where colonialism’s impact is most pronounced, comes with risks. However, I found the courage to name the reality before us, thanks to my personal therapy, relationships with event organizers, and connections with trauma experts. This journey has empowered me to break free from the small fish, big pond mindset and embrace the authenticity of my voice, even when faced with the temptation to say something merely intelligent and pleasing rather than genuine and truthful.

What would your younger self think if they saw you now?

Linda: No way. My younger self was deeply depressed, suicidal, and pessimistic, lacking not just a few role models but entirely devoid of them.

It’s truly touching and humbling whenever I receive emails or messages from people expressing their gratitude for my presence and the fact that an Asian person is leading a training.

At Oxford, a few people of color approached me afterward, tears in their eyes, expressing profound gratitude. It’s truly humbling.

Learn more about trauma expert Linda Thai:

Website: www.linda-thai.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lindylou99/

I hope you enjoy this episode!

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