Changes: Dr. Nicole LePera
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:06] Hello, welcome to Changes. My name is Annie Macmanus. How are you? I'm sitting here in the office at the end of the garden looking out and the garden is in full bloom. The lilacs have finally come out, which is a sign that May is here. My oldest son was born on the 20th of May, and I just love this month for so many reasons, for the kind of full bloom and these lovely memories. And life at the moment is very full, but feeling really exciting and just vibrant, I suppose. It's busy. I'm sure there'll be slumps in the future, but right now I'm riding the wave and I hope you are doing okay and enjoying this onset of spring and enjoying the podcast as well. We've had some fascinating conversations over the last few weeks and this week is no different. So my guest today is someone who's at the forefront of helping people change their lives. She said the following, "truly comprehending your past, listening to it, witnessing it, learning from it is a process that enables deep change, change that lasts. It enables true transformation". Dr. Nicole LePera is a trained clinical psychologist who, after qualifying and running her own practice in Philadelphia where she was born, actively pursued a methodology beyond the status quo of psychologists. A methodology based on the integration of the mind, and the soul, and the body together. She calls that holistic psychology. Maybe you know her already. Maybe you follow her on Instagram where she has a current following of 6.6 million people! She's known on Instagram as the holistic psychologist. Maybe you know her first book, the number one international bestseller, How To Do the Work; Recognise Your Patterns, Heal From Your Past, and Create Yourself. She also has a new book out called How To Meet Yourself; The Workbook For Self-Discovery. On her Instagram page, she shares posts of text with bite sized advice on how to heal and why we might feel like we do or why we might respond in a particular way to events in life. She has also developed a self healer circle, with members all over the world encouraging people to do the work with access to practical tools and accountability. As part of her work, Dr. LePera has shared a lot of her own personal experiences, including why she had to cut her family out of her life. And she also recently announced that she is in a throuple with her wife Lolly and new partner Jenna, who she hosts a podcast with called Self Healer Soundboard. While Dr. LePera passed through London recently while she was on a book tour and I managed to get some time with her, we discussed all of her personal changes of course, as well as behavioural patterns, the definition of trauma and of course her ideas and practices around healing. Enter the podcast, Dr. Nicole LePera, a.k.a the holistic psychologist... Nicole, welcome to Changes.
Nicole [00:03:06] Thank you for having me, Annie. I'm truly honoured to be here.
Annie [00:03:08] It's really great to have you. I have so many questions of change. You are such an interesting person to speak to with regards to that word. Let's begin with your methodology. So fundamentally, and please correct me if I'm wrong, you believe that it's possible to change the very core of who you are, the entrenched beliefs, behavioural patterns, inherited generational trauma, emotional relationships, all of these things if you are willing to take it on yourself and do the work.
Nicole [00:03:34] Absolutely. I think what many of us even believe to be who we are, our identity, our personality, that's not actually who we truly are. They are more artefacts of our past as I like to call them, or really just the habits and patterns that in those earliest environments, within those earliest relationships in particular, were our adaptations or simply the way that we had to survive to fit in or to connect with those around us. Though, because they're wired into our subconscious outside of our awareness, as we age and continue to repeat those patterns, we do believe they are who we are as I once did myself. And I think for a lot of us it can be really disempowering, especially if those habits and patterns are creating suffering for our self or within our relationships. So for me, in my own journey even, you know, realising that I had a choice to create change was transformational.
Annie [00:04:27] How would you say your relationship is to the word change now?
Nicole [00:04:31] Now, my relationship to the word change is I embrace it. I think a lot of us are- I know that humans in general as a species, while we are able to create incredible change, we don't actually want to change. We prefer the habitual. The habitual is predictable, so it gives us a false sense of control, a sense of familiarity, because we get to know what comes next and have that security that even if it's outcomes that aren't necessarily creating the life that we want, they're the predictable outcomes that our subconscious can rely on. So even though a lot of us can read books on change, and this is what I saw week after week with my clients coming into therapy with the hope of creating change, yet I would get reports week after week that I'm stuck. I'm not actually able to actualise change again because change is are uncomfortable for a lot of us and wired into our subconscious are those habits keeping us stuck in those repeated cycles.
Annie [00:05:25] You say in your book we are not evolutionarily wired for change. When we do try to push ourselves out of our autopilot we face resistance from our mind and body. And you talk of autopilot a lot and we'll get to that, but one bit I was really interested in was you talking about this idea of neuroplasticity. So the actual science is that your brain is capable of changing not just in childhood, but all the way through your life.
Nicole [00:05:45] Yeah, which is incredible. I mean, there was a time even in my field where we thought the opposite. We believed that we were hardwired from birth and we believed even that our wiring was caused by our genetics. And now we know that not only is change possible, though our genetics of course play a role, though so our daily choices, our environment, our circumstances. So, you know, understanding that I think again opens that door for not only us making the new choices that allow us to create new habits, but actually rewiring and changing the structure of our physiology.
Annie [00:06:16] How hard is it to do that? *Nicole laughs*. I mean, it sounds exhausting Nicole, and you do say, you know, it's about doing the work. You must have seen it, and you've experienced it yourself. Yes.
Nicole [00:06:25] Yes. I mean, when you talk about even exhaustion from a pure caloric standpoint, I like to think about and talk about our actual physiology because it's factoring in, and in terms of our brain it expends the most calories of any other organ, so-
Annie [00:06:37] Wow, I've never thought to put calories next to brain but yeah it's-
Nicole [00:06:39] It needs you know, it needs the nutrition.
Annie [00:06:43] Yeah.
Nicole [00:06:43] It needs the stuff that we're eating to keep functioning and it needs it the most. So, that autopilot allows our brain itself to conserve calories. It also frees up our attention. We are living in a very complex environment now, and very complex relationships as humans with a lot of things to navigate. So if I don't have to think about the things that are stored in my autopilot, the common example is how I get to and from work, or all the things that we just habitually do, now I can pay attention to the noises of the city that I'm living in, the relationships that I'm interacting with. So I think a common experience is when we're suffering, which is usually what inspires someone to create change or make new choices, I think a lot of times we have the expectation that, oh, things are just going to begin to feel more easy, you know, get better. I think the first thing that we're met with is, that's actually not the case. Not only do I physically feel more tired because I'm using more calories actually firing a different part of my brain entirely. Though, for a lot of us now we're beginning to pay more attention to all that was below the surface. And for a lot of us, what's below the surface is all of the uncomfortable stuff that we've avoided looking at. So, saying that to say when we begin to heal, I think a lot of us think we're going in the wrong direction because we don't immediately feel that relief that we're seeking.
Annie [00:07:59] Mmm. And so much of your work is around this idea of consciousness, just being aware of yourself and this idea- you know, if you're listening now, you think about a normal day and you get in your car, you get on a tube, you get on your bike, you go to work, you speak to same people, you get your coffee from the same place, you know, there's so much of your life that is habitual and there's a comfort in that. But if you think about how much of your life that you're really self-aware and really making conscious choices about doing things, it's actually not that much in your day. Having read all your stuff and looking at this new workbook that you've got, part of me feels like, oh my God, just the idea of being that conscious all the time, self-aware in itself, journaling, thinking about what you're eating, thinking about what you're saying, thinking about what you put- is tiring, Nicole! Like it feels to me like- and I'm just being really honest with you when I read it I was like, Oh God, I don't know if I've got the... I don't know if I can do this.
Nicole [00:08:51] Yes, it's tiring, though I want to make a quick distinction here.
Annie [00:08:54] Please.
Nicole [00:08:55] Because I think sometimes what some of us assign the label of consciousness.
Annie [00:08:59] Sorry, yeah.
Nicole [00:09:01] Is overthinking. Is over analysis. A lot of us, I think, think, well, how much do I have to analyse my childhood? And that in and of itself is not only exhausting, it's actually taking us from that conscious state because consciousness is, we're noticing our thoughts, we're noticing the sensations in our body, we're noticing the choices that we make. We're not necessarily thinking or analysing them as a lot of us do. And yes, that in and of itself can be exhausting.
Annie [00:09:26] Noticing, as a word, sounds a lot and feels a lot less exhausting.
Nicole [00:09:29] Yes.
Annie [00:09:29] It does, because you're just aware, you're just observing as opposed to trying to find an explanation to everything. Is the goal that then there's patterns and you're able to witness-
Nicole [00:09:38] Yes, and interestingly I just wanted to add that a lot of times we engage in that over analysis or that thinking about even our thoughts, as a protection. Because that still keeps us at a distance from maybe the sensations that are, you know, happening in our body. So you know, what we can then begin to notice is maybe even A, the tendency to go into that hyper analysing mode, though we can use a choice, right? Remove our focus of attention and begin to notice what are those patterns? Am I someone who is always engaging in over analysis? What are the patterns and the choices that I'm making? What are the patterns in the thoughts that I'm thinking? When you begin to pay attention to your thoughts, we're not thinking unique thoughts about each instance, we tend to reiterate or retell ourselves the same story, interpret events or assign the same meaning. So to speak to your point, that's what I'm talking about when I mean patterns.
Annie [00:10:30] Can you give me more examples of patterns that you encounter a lot in your work?
Nicole [00:10:33] Yeah, I think, you know, patterns really all go back to our childhoods so they can be uniquely us. Patterns exist in terms of, you used even examples of, you know, going to coffee at the same shop. I mean, we have patterns in terms of how we care for our physical body, the things that we do first thing in the morning, the way that we take our meals, what it is that we eat for our meals, the way we build in rest, or we don't have moments of rest within our day. And more often than not, I should say, those patterns are really ingrained in our childhood habits. What we learn from other people, how our body was cared for by the caregivers around us, whether or not they were present or absent and or what we saw others doing. So we carry patterns and our physical self-care habits, for lack of a better word, we carry patterns in the way we make sense of the world. Again, those reiterative narratives. We carry patterns even in our emotions. While, you know, a human experience, you know, there are, I think somewhat six core emotions more or less. So many of us or so few of us, I should say it that way, experience all of those emotions. I know for me, for a very long time, I pretty much had two emotional states. Stressed and overwhelmed.
Annie [00:11:40] Wow.
Nicole [00:11:40] Anger was really nonexistent. Sadness for me was really nonexistent. It was just that it was so below the surface and I was so stuck in cycles of stress based reactivity driven by my nervous system that I think a lot of us have that same experience. For listeners, maybe it's not stress, maybe it's sadness. I'm always kind of in a cycle of sadness or I'm always in a cycle of anger. So we're not necessarily experiencing all of the other emotions like joy that also can exist.
Annie [00:12:07] Before we came down, we were talking about the tour that you're on in Europe. The first time you've been able to go face to face and kind of see the people in the flesh that you have helped and healed through your work and your books. There is hundreds of thousands, I mean 6.5 million people who follow you. You have this Self-Healers community as well. I just wondered about this idea of being in the middle of that and being the person who is the teacher, the leader, to some people the saviour. How do you cope with that responsibility?
Nicole [00:12:38] I think the first thing that I often, you know, reflect back to people- because I do hear that. 'You saved my life', 'you changed my life'. And you know, I appreciate their gratitude, though I often reflect back the reality that it is each and every individual who's created change in their life, that is responsible for that change. They are the person showing up each and every day, just to embed this in the conversation of habits, making those new choices, changing and rewiring the way that they're showing up in the world. So, I always like to kind of-
Annie [00:13:05] Like, you're the one doing the work.
Nicole [00:13:06] Yeah, but, you know, because it isn't me showing up each and every day. Again I understand that I might have given a piece of information, given an insight, you know, created a shift in the way that that individual's thinking or even provided a resource, an actual action plan. Though, again, it's that person who's walked through their resistance, that pull, that discomfort and created that change. So, to speak to your point of, you know, how do I navigate even just, you know, living in this circumstance of, you know, in the tour where I'm busy and I have obligations? One of the major habits of my childhood that I dealt with, the emotional absence of of my mom, who given her own past circumstances, was unable to be, you know, emotionally attuned to all of her children. I have two older siblings. Was to squash down, you know, many of my perspectives, my emotions, and to perform. Because when I was succeeding- and for very well-intentioned reasons, my mom was, you know, hoping that my academic success, my athletic success was going to set me up to be successful later in life. And seeing that and receiving her attention and what felt like her love and validation in those moments set me on this path of endlessly achieving or doing. So as I have opportunities, you know that I'm very grateful for, of doing, of commitments and things that I do want to take part in. These are the moments where I really have to keep myself grounded, not only in my physical presence, but in my emotional presence. And for me, I've noticed patterns in how I'm going to show up, how clearly I'm going to be able to think, how much I'm in my flow is really contingent on whether or not I've cared for my body.
Annie [00:14:41] *Laughing* right, yeah.
Nicole [00:14:41] So it's a it's a constant reminder to myself. You know, to be grounded and present in myself really does begin with me being connected to myself before I can even show up in service of anyone else.
[00:14:51] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:15:01] So your mum suffered from nearly constant pain. Chronic pain in her knees and her back. Am I right?
Nicole [00:15:10] It kind of like- it began in the knees when I was younger. It morphed around to her back, to her body. There was a time where we toyed around with a fibromyalgia diagnosis, so it was pretty pervasive and widespread by the end of her life. Yeah, it was mainly pain based.
Annie [00:15:24] And how did that affect young Nicole?
Nicole [00:15:26] So for me, actually, interestingly enough, it wasn't necessarily anything that was directly talked about in my family for a very long time. We never really would have defined my mom, you know, suffering from chronic pain and or talked about the consequences of it, because there were some moments where she was at the softball field, where she was, you know, up and cooking dinner for the family. And she was in care of the home and and of raising the children. Though what I've come to realise is how it affected me is there was many more moments where she wasn't present, where she was needing to, you know, be rested, be in her bedroom, caring for herself. And outside of her physical absence, in those moments, she was very emotionally distant and emotionally shut down because in her own childhood she didn't have that emotional connection. She was very much raised in a generation with her father in particular, who was of the belief that children are to be seen and not heard. Quite literally would come home for work, put up the newspaper and ignore her and her two siblings sitting on the on the floor in front of him while watching television. So, you know, I think generationally even there has been a belief for some time that children don't have emotional needs or that emotional trauma can't happen. And in reality, because my mom didn't have that emotional connection in childhood, my mom's nervous system actually did what all of our nervous systems do, what mine eventually ended up doing myself, which is shut her down. So she then became emotionally unavailable and I think her pain and those moments of pain, when she was really consumed in her own internal world, overwhelmed by her own chronic pain and under-resourced in her own ability to even attend to her own emotions, really left her emotionally absent from all three of my siblings or myself and my two siblings.
Annie [00:17:10] Do you think her pain had anything to do with what happened to her emotionally?
Nicole [00:17:13] Absolutely. I think for mom, all of her illnesses and her inability to actually find the diagnosis and ultimately the end of her life, which just happened a little less than two years ago, I do believe was the result of stress and inflammation and the great impact that that can have on the physical body and the different symptoms that it can create.
Annie [00:17:34] Right. And when your mom was ill and not available for you emotionally as a young child, who was looking after you?
Nicole [00:17:41] So emotionally, no one. Because no one- I mean, my sister who was physically present, my sister was 15 years older than me when she was born. And very interestingly, there was a lot of pictures and stories because I really lacked the ability to recall much of my childhood, which is all connected to stressful experiences. The more overwhelming or consistent stress we experience, the more our body releases the stress hormone cortisol. And we now know by science that as cortisol goes up, especially when our brain is developing and it's developing up into our twenties we now know, it impacts a part of our brain called the hippocampus, which has to do with memory. So for as long as I can remember, I struggle to recall those childhood experiences. So I don't have many memories of it, though I do have stories and pictures knowing that my sister spent a lot of time with me and she would always be the one, her or my dad, physically present playing with me, you know. So again, there was a lack of emotional connection because she too, just like I, none of us were modelled from our two parents how to emotionally connect, how to ask what's really going on. And there was a climate of secrecy where there would be, you know, stresses in the family, but none of it was really talked about. It was just felt in the home and no one was actually present to hear about or to help support each other throughout their emotions.
Annie [00:19:03] Did you ever get a chance to emotionally connect with your sister about that in hindsight?
Nicole [00:19:07] So now, yes, my sister and I have very open and honest, you know, conversations in the past several years, actually, since I made the most difficult- one of the most difficult choices of my life several years ago and I wrote about it in the first book, to separate from my family for somewhere around 18 months, after noticing how co-dependent or enmeshed I was. How unable, to put it simply, I was to create space for myself in that home. I was so used to showing up in service of the latest medical crisis, being there for the next stressful thing that inevitably always occurred, and coming to realise how important it was for me to create that space I made the decision to step away without knowing when I would feel ready to reconnect and if they would even be open to that reconnection. And after about 18 months I sent an email and I was very, you know, surprised and relieved that they were very much open and we reconnected actually in a set of family therapy sessions, and I'd come to realise that they had been pursuing their own individual therapy-
Annie [00:20:09] Wow, even your parents?
Nicole [00:20:10] They had been to family therapy, the whole family, my mom included. You know, as a result of my disconnection. And since then we've been able to have open and honest conversations with my sister in particular, and I'm very proud of all of them and my sister to, you know, allow into her own consciousness the reality. Because we all, I think, protect ourselves from the painful experiences, especially when they're with those closest to us, our parents, who I think on a level, we do feel indebted to them. And I'm not to say that my mom, in a lot of ways loved me the best she could. It's of no ill intent that she wasn't able to show up for me emotionally, though, again, ill equipped like we all were, none of us were able to show up for anyone emotionally. And I saw that same pattern in my relationships. Yet it took me until my thirties to stop pointing the finger at the relationships I was in, just seeking the right partner who could connect with me emotionally to realise that I was playing the role in that lack of emotional connection, that I wasn't even connected to myself emotionally because I was doing exactly what I did in childhood, suppressing what I really thought, suppressing what I really felt, cause it was all too overwhelming. Performing for other people, saying what my partners wanted to avoid conflicts. I never knew how to deal with that. So I wasn't really even connected to who I was or sharing who I was. Yet I was expecting my partners to mind read and develop this close connection with almost the mask or the role that I was actually showing up in.
Annie [00:21:38] It feels like after that entire childhood of, you know, being emotionally disconnected from the world and yourself, you've had this kind of metamorphosis moment of the butterfly, like coming out of the pube and being like, all of you. Like so authentically you and so honest and like, your whole career is based on you laying yourself bare for people to learn from your experiences and then be able to put them on themselves. One of the things that you've done recently in, I think it was 2020, you came out, you called it coming out all over again about your domestic situation of being in a throuple. So you and your long term partner then started living with another woman. Can you tell me about that in terms of what it was like to come out and the reactions you got and just how you live successfully?
Nicole [00:22:24] *Laughing* yes, absolutely. And I just want to say, just to say that thank you for kind of you know, my intention is always to be authentically me because I've lived decades of watering myself down. And actually that caused a lot of exhaustion and a lot of shut down in my body. Though, saying that to say it, it hasn't been, you know, easy. From the moment I even created the account, which was really an exercise in authenticity, I didn't necessarily sign online to, you know, imagine that I was going have 6 million followers and be talking to you in a different country, you know, some odd years later at all. For me, it was the result of seeing all of the ways I wasn't myself. And I did want to and saw social media as an opportunity to create a little bit of a space for me to just begin to share more authentically my story and to work through that discomfort because there is a lot of fear of judgement, fear of disappointing people. Once you hear the truth of me, that's a large reason, in addition to my training, who taught me not to be an individual in those clinical rooms right there that was keeping me bound in that lack of authenticity. So saying that to say, because I think a lot of times when you do see maybe someone living as out and authentic as I am, I think a lot of times it's like assumed to be an easy choice, though again, those patterns are still wired into me. That fear of judgement is still there even to this day. So actually authenticity really is what brought me to even speaking openly about that relationship. And we met at the first ever public event. I held a free guided meditation, flew to LA and I thought, oh, I'm just going to, you know, tell people where I am at a beach and long story short, a ton of people showed up, Jenna being one of them. And she was someone who was in the community for a very long time, I got to know her handle so when she approached me, I'm like, oh, I know you. And several months later I opened up the Self Healer Circle and it was just Lolly and I at the time, and we had a it's a tech issue and we're, you know, communicating to the community about it and were, you know, exhausted and long story short, she ended up joining the team and working very closely and building what the Self Healer Circle is now. So when we then ended up relocating Lolly and I to California, L.A. was where Jenna was living at the time, now we lived in close proximity. So we started spending a lot of time working together, spending a lot of time personal together. And, you know, everything was great. We had a lot of synergy, you know, professionally. And we were kind of marching along, you know, as a human we were super aligned, the three of us spending a lot of time together. And then somewhere months down the line, things started to get really difficult, really conflictual between us and like a lot of just nitpicking and snapping at each other. And one morning actually, when we were trying to now have a business conversation like this is becoming a problem, like we can't have, you know, this lack of communication like what is going on. And Jenna actually sat me, both of us, down at different times and, you know, disclosed to us that she was having, you know, feelings, romantic feelings for both of us and never had been in anything outside of a monogamous type relationship, none of us had. So she was like, I don't know what to make of this. I have no idea what you are going to think of this. You know, both of you, I'm not trying to break up your marriage like I truly like, am in love with both of you. I have romantic feelings. Like, I don't know if you're interested in like- I don't know what happens next. I'm just kind of putting my truth-
Annie [00:25:37] That must have been so terrifying for her!
Nicole [00:25:38] Ahh oh my gosh, I mean she was shaking, she was quivering. I thought she was going to tell me she was quitting the business. I was like, what is, like what is happening here? And honestly was terrifying for me too. Hearing this really touched on the truth of what was happening for all three of us.
Annie [00:25:52] Can I ask how long you were with your partner Lolly at this point?
Nicole [00:25:56] Ermmm probably about seven years. So we had been married, you know, in a committed marriage-relationship for probably about five of those years. And never once in the past had we even thought about or talked about- never once I even really heard much about, you know, a more plural or multiple type relationship. So, I'm sitting here thinking relieved again that she'd kind of spoken what was going on beneath the surface, though really unsure and a bit excited, you know, like wondering and curious. So long story short, the three of us then spoke. We shifted our relationship. So that had been going on for several months and we were navigating, you know, what life could look like for the three of us, how is this going to work. And at the same time, Jen and I were running a podcast together. So we're filming podcast week after week, and the hope for the podcast is very much a conversational feel where her and I are sharing our individual journeys and healing and engaging with the community. So it started to feel a little less authentic. There was moments now in the podcast, you know-
Annie [00:26:54] You're holding back?
Nicole [00:26:54] Where I'm like not sharing that that argument that I want to talk about, you know, that illustrates this point beautifully is actually with Jenna!
Annie [00:27:01] Who is now my lover and yeah, part of my romantic relationship!
Nicole [00:27:06] Exactly! And then I'm starting to think, okay, I'm starting to get recognised too when I'm out. So now I'm playing this scenario of, oh my gosh.
Annie [00:27:12] Do you have to hide the hand hold?
Nicole [00:27:13] Do I have to hide? And I don't ever want to go back in any, you know, closet, not even in terms of sexuality. I don't want to go back into the inauthenticity closet, if you will.
Annie [00:27:22] You should just say for those listening, you came out when you were 19. So you had been, you know, you were out as gay for a long time by now. Yeah.
Nicole [00:27:28] Yes, yes. Which interestingly enough, there is a whole story wrapped up in there too, where my mom actually was not very welcoming of it. And when my mom is upset, she tends to give the silent treatment. So somewhere around three months when I finally had to disclose, I didn't welcome telling them, I almost got caught in the relationship that I was in with a woman at that time and she did not speak to me. So, you know, a lot of wounding, you know, for me around- and now here I am thinking, oh my gosh, how am I going to tell the world that I'm in this like, very unusual type of relationship. Though, again, really worried about not wanting to, I should say, go back down that path of suppressing. So the three of us sat down and really thought about how it would be to come out more publicly and to speak on this and not only did we all kind of agree that it would be relieving for us, you know, to be more authentic to ourselves, you know, that we were of the hope that maybe we weren't the only ones or we could be a model for people imagining that other people were, you know, navigating different types of relationships or who were in different types of relationships and were feeling very shameful. So making the choice then to come out of course, all three of us were like, oh how is this going to affect the business? What will people say? How will it be to live much more publicly in, you know, what is a more unique type of relationship? And we were met very thankfully with more overwhelming support than not.
Annie [00:28:52] Really, but I'm sure there was people being like, unfollow?
Nicole [00:28:57] Honestly, interestingly, that was our most unfollowed day ever on Instagram.
Annie [00:29:01] Yeah, yeah.
Nicole [00:29:02] For all of the different reasons. And again, I'm always of the belief of allowing people to believe and have the reaction, not to, you know, to the best of my ability not to personalise anyone else's reaction. Though, yeah, that was our most unfollowed I think to this day.
Annie [00:29:15] So interesting isn't it because, I mean, you're not emitting anything malevolent or anything. You're just kind of sharing something that's really deeply intimate and personal to you. And it's kind of emblematic of the human's kind of resistance to systemic change. You know, like all they know is couples, you know, so it's kind of suddenly like this whole world you're introducing as a norm that they *mind blowing noise*.
Nicole [00:29:38] And, you know, it's funny you say that Annie, I think two and I noticed now, the world is really built for two. There are so many moments where there's only two seats or two opportunities.
Annie [00:29:47] Twin beds.
Nicole [00:29:49] Two beds. Like even navigating this trip, you know, the three of us are here. You know, what kind of bed? What will the hotel be like? Will there be enough room or. You know, it's interesting, like when you say that not only are societal beliefs very kind of, you know, hanging around the dyad or two person relationship, society in a lot of ways is structured for two.
Annie [00:30:07] Never thought about.
Nicole [00:30:08] And neither did I *laughs*.
Annie [00:30:10] And one of you has got to sit in the back when you're in the car!
Nicole [00:30:11] And when we sit on, you know, two person aeroplane seats, it's like, who's going to get to sit next to each person? I mean, it's a thing.
Annie [00:30:16] *Laughing* wow!
Nicole [00:30:17] It's wild. I know, I never- and again, filters. You know, you don't think of that. I never would have thought of that. Interestingly enough, there was so many people that not only were supportive, were grateful. Again, similarly in those types of relationships, or wanting to explore, open up conversations with their partners and were, you know, grateful that we were beginning the conversation or, you know, kind of being a model of what it could look like.
Annie [00:30:40] We've spoken, we've had an episode on this podcast before about ethical non-monogamy and the woman who- she's the CEO of an app called Feeld, I don't know if you've heard of it, it's a very successful app, dating app. And she was saying ethical non-monogamy in her experience is like 99% talking and 1% action *both laughing*.
Nicole [00:30:58] Yes.
Annie [00:31:00] Because you have to be so good at communicating in order to make sure everyone's comfortable and thriving, right?
Nicole [00:31:06] Yes.
Annie [00:31:07] And you guys, I mean, there's three of you and you work together.
Nicole [00:31:10] Yes.
Annie [00:31:10] How do you do that?
Nicole [00:31:11] We live, we work together, absolutely yeah. So it's you know, in terms of communication, it's also creating the space for each of us, not only as individuals, because, you know, it can get crowded. It can you know, there's people around. Also creating the space for us to experience each relationship individually, because each of my partners are different humans. It's why I love them. You know, they each bring out a different side of me. They each challenge me in a different way. Then the three of us together have a unique synergy. So it's creating space for not only the physical opportunity to spend time with them one on one, to spend time with each of us together, but the emotional space to allow those differences. Not to do what I think a tendency is in relationships, is to define what we think partner is, right, and just fit them into that box. And I actually think, again, I'm not ever going to try to convince anyone to enter a multiple relationship, though I think there's value in terms of allowing each of us to be with a unique individual, even if it's just monogamously with one, the reality of it is people don't just fit into a box called partner. We're each unique individuals learning to relate. So, you know, you might be connecting with your romantic partner in specific individual ways, and then you might have a best friend that you connect with in different ways. Then you might have another friend, that again, friends don't fit into the same, you know, a box as well or homogenous box. And then you might have a different friend that you connect with in different ways still. So I think there's just such beauty. And my work and hope, and this really touches on the concept of authenticity very beautifully, is as we become more authentically us and learn how to safely open ourselves up for those true authentic connections, I think that naturally will happen, is we'll learn and we we'll stop the tendency to just fit people into partner box, or sister box, or friend box as we once did.
[00:33:02] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:33:12] You're so at the forefront of change, just by existing in that place, you know, whether it's you kind of carefully curating your own version of psychology and making it work for you and therefore hundreds of thousands of other people, millions of other people, and also carefully creating your own romantic life, you know, making it work for you and being unafraid to do that. Let's talk about the point where you had to change. You say, "I suddenly felt how hollowed out my life had become. I was energetically drained in the clutches of existential despair, deeply constricted by free floating sluggishness and dissatisfaction that made me question the point of everything". Where were you in your life then?
Nicole [00:33:52] I was nearing my thirties and had been for a long time convincing myself, because I heard somewhat similar, you know, reports from other other friends that that's maybe what life was about. There was so much of me that just entertained this idea that there wasn't much else to life until, you know, I kind of got to the bottom. And really, actually, what inspired my even exploration of answers was when I started to faint. So one of the by-products of, you know, a shut down nervous system was quite literally from not sleeping well for the entirety of my life, eating inflammatory foods, not even being aware of what inflammatory foods are and how important the gut is in terms of our mental wellness, consistently being overwhelmed by stress and kind of stuck in that shut down state, I started to lose consciousness. And it happened on two occasions and actually that's what sent me online was fear. Was like, what's wrong with me?
Annie [00:34:49] Why is my body shutting down?
Nicole [00:34:50] And I was scared. So now I kind of even connected this to my lack of recall memory and I was becoming increasingly convinced that something must be wrong in my brain. Right, and of course, coming from a family with a lot of medical and health trauma, of course my first thought was not, you know, oh okay, this is just a sign of, you know, something deeper. My first thought was, oh my gosh, this is a sign of something disease, you know, kind of driven and possibly in my brain. And the gift of that was, you know, I went online, you know, fearful of what I would find out and started to do some digging around. And as I began to research the body and you know what could cause this, I was met with a ton of information about the body, about the gut, about the nervous system. And for me, that really kind of opened up why I was feeling exactly the way that I described, you know, so disconnected, so listless, so just, you know, overwhelmed and literally energetically exhausted was because of overwhelming stress, not anything necessarily inherently wrong with me emotionally or my body at all. It was actually a by-product of the function- you know, I was very adaptive and it was a by-product of my environment, which for me kind of opened the door of possibility that I could create change and actually shift. Now I had the possibility to entertain that it wasn't just who I was, it was actually a by-product of all of the choices that I had been taught to make for so long. It took a lot of daily consistent choices to create new habits, to actually then shift the way that my body and my nervous system in particular was functioning so that I could become more connected to my physical self, more in care of my physical needs, more attentive to my emotional needs, and eventually being able to more authentically express myself to the world around me.
Annie [00:36:33] Were you training as a psychologist then? Did you have your clinic then?
Nicole [00:36:36] I had my private practice. So I got into- so psychologically, it's not surprising now I understand kind of what happened. I got to the end of those achievements, right? I checked the final box. I had my shingle hung. I had a successful practice, even, right. Everyone told me it was so hard to set up a private, successful practice and I was having consistent clients coming and seeing me. I was in that committed relationship with Lolly, who I saw a long term future with. I was living in Philadelphia with access to this family that was so important because I'd been taught, family is everything, right. I did all the things that I was taught and thought would allow me to feel valid, worthy and good. And so psychologically, I think that's exactly why that kind of, that dark night is kind of what I refer to it now, kind of came at that time with all of those physical symptoms is because I had no other way to get validation. So I was quite literally left feeling empty.
Annie [00:37:31] Wow. And can I ask, what did the psychology that you'd learned up to that point teach you? Like, what did you believe about yourself? Like, did you think you'd suffered trauma or anything like that?
Nicole [00:37:41] So what I'd learned from most of my schooling up until that point was there were certain things that were genetically determined. You know, things like anxiety, again I had that experience.
Annie [00:37:52] So you felt like that had been passed down?
Nicole [00:37:54] Assumed. And saw similarly, my mom was a very anxious individual, you know, so I understood, okay, this is just genetically, you know, how we are. I had learned the power of the mind. I went to a school that was, you know, CBT based, cognitive behavioural therapy, which talked a lot about changing your thoughts to ultimately change the way you feel, change what you do. I also pursued a lot of what's called psychodynamic or learning about our childhood experience. So I had somewhat of an idea that that had impact and I was going on the latest scientific research which at that time or up in the nineties began to define trauma as an event of a certain threshold. So for a long time we thought that any event that had the risk or impacted our body or caused bodily harm and or, you know, the possibility of death was traumatic. So, you know, in that category would be things like sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, you know, things that could actually cause my body to be harmed or not to be here anymore. And I thought- because I'm like, okay, I'm showing these same symptoms, I'm showing these same habits, I don't have memories. And that, you know, I'd learned was a big marker of trauma. So I tried to think I'm like, none of that happened to me. So why am I? what is wrong with me? It must just be how I am. And I've now come to realise, you know, and a lot of theorists are now speaking about the definition of trauma, that it's less about what happened and it's more about how we experience the events in our life. And again, if we are not emotionally supported through just even natural development, if we don't have that safe, secure connection, that human who can, through their own calm, grounded nervous system, can help our nervous system regulate because we need that. In childhood, we can be traumatised nonetheless. So for me it was understanding that I did carry that imprint of trauma and that you can't think your way or affirm your way or change your thoughts to shift how you experience the trauma in your body. Then I really understood the importance of working holistically or of including the body that housed the trauma, the nervous system dysregulation, even the habits that lived in our bodies and the beliefs wired into our bodies to begin the journey of change. So, you know, schooling taught me part of the story, though it didn't teach necessarily the whole picture. And that's why I then became so impassioned about speaking about the rest of the story, because I knew I wasn't alone. I knew that there was all of the clients that I was seeing that were feeling stuck and increasingly hopeless and disempowered and much like me, imagining that this is just who they were and how they were going to be forever. And so, you know, for me it was really empowering, you know, all of us that while we might be living the habits, we might come to identify as who we think we are, we actually do have the possibility to change and to actually reconnect with who we truly are.
Annie [00:40:47] So how did you change what you did? I mean, you were learning. You're obviously working on yourself. I can imagine this took years in terms of- you talk about it in your book, that kind of a journaling, everything, just figuring out this healing process and the fact that if you did the work, learning the work, doing the work, and then seeing the results of that work. How did you then change your work? Did you keep your practice? Did you give it up? What happened?
Nicole [00:41:09] So as I, you know, began to literally transform, feel more grounded in my body, shift-
Annie [00:41:15] And you're getting to know who you are, was that not crazy?
Nicole [00:41:17] Yeah, I mean- and I'm still getting to know. There's still very much I want to communicate a process to it. I didn't just, you know, do these things for a period of time like, oh I know who I am. It's really a process of exploration, though I was coming into more contact with who I am, how I felt, what I wanted even, and what I was coming to be aware is that I did want to share this knowledge. I didn't want to keep that outside of the treatment room. So I began to have very direct and honest conversations with the clients that I was seeing at that time, sharing with them not only my decision to go online, because now in the back of my mind I'm like, well they're going to see me, you know, I'm public. You know, they likely have Instagram, too. The last thing I want is me to be having like what could feel to them to be a double life or, you know, talking about this other modality and way of healing and even myself in this new way and not sharing it with them. So I began to have very transparent and honest conversations and many clients were interested in hearing more. So after, you know, a bit of time that I really did want to commit more fully to think about what kind of working holistically, you know, with people could look like, I referred out and found colleagues for the clients that I was still seeing that wanted that more traditional model. And I began to work virtually seeing individual clients and offering this kind of more holistic treatment plan approach.
Annie [00:42:35] Did you have, at the time from your peers, any hostility towards what you were doing? Because I can imagine some people might have thought you were undermining what they did.
Nicole [00:42:43] So I was very scared of what my peers would think when I first went online, you know, knowing more or less how, or imagining, you know, how many of them were trained and, you know, worrying that from what they would think of me, even just talking about my humanity *laughs*, you know, my own struggles to the way that I was talking about healing. And I was met with more than overwhelming support of a lot of humans who, you know, in terms of clinicians who were feeling the same, you know, in terms of disempowered, and or were beginning to shift their practice or even kind of work outside of their practice in this different way. So that was really affirming to me in a time where it was really helpful. Though of course, I'm not going to pretend that there are, you know, still aren't, you know, people who are challenged and we can even connect this back to the conversation we were having about change and newness and how we don't like that. You know, so I think a lot of the challenge when you hear new ideas, is coming from that preference for the habitual and then, of course, the natural concern of well, what will this mean for me in my practice? And I'm not going to act like that isn't present still. I mean, there are still people who are challenged by the way that I, you know, share and share resources so freely and, you know, even talk about the different, you know, body aspects because again, it's not something that they learned in their own clinical programs.
Annie [00:43:58] Is there resistance to your teachings of the fact that you're empowering people to do the work themselves? Are some people like, no, we can't do everything ourselves?
Nicole [00:44:07] I think that the resistance there often comes from a misinterpretation that I have ever even suggested not to. I've just become acutely aware, especially because so much of my community is global, that not everyone has access to this information or these supportive helping professionals, and or has the resources. I mean, therapy is increasingly expensive. You know, and not all of us have that resource. So one of the big reasons even I began to then shift from that, you know, seeing clients individually was not only that my wait list was piling up and I wasn't able to meet the need of the increasing individuals who wanted to do work in this way, and shifting in the community model was actually inspired by the need for relationships. Like we need other humans who are learning how to show up more authentically. Not everyone is going to relate exactly to my individual journey, though, as each of us are inspired to share more of our authentic selves and our authentic stories, then we can truly come together in that safe space and heal. So, a lot of times I think it's misinterpreted that I've ever even suggested that people don't get support in any way. Though again, my membership itself is community based, so it's really hanging on that idea of the necessity of community based or relationship based healing.
Annie [00:45:19] What is the biggest criticism of your work, the most common?
Nicole [00:45:22] Yeah, I think it's some version of the concern of what people will do with the information that I give them. You know, concern that, you know, there's a danger in information. And again, I understand, I think a lot of us do come from a deferential habit itself in a sense of we do look to others. We do take what your best friend says and apply it to yourself or, you know, read the next article online and just directly apply it because someone else told you to do it. Or, you know, we were always I think, seeking answers outside of our self and we're overriding- it's not to say that we can't hear what our best friend has been helped by or what the latest book says, though ultimately again wrapped up in my concept of self healing is empowering the self and that internal intuition, that inner knowing of what actually is applicable for each person. So putting disclaimers on things or, you know, you can tell people not to and if they don't have that sense of safety and security to use discretion themselves, I think, you know, that's what social media presents in and of itself, a lot of information that a lot of times people can defer to others. So I intend at least, and my hope is to make equally as strong and as loud my message of that individual empowerment of really dropping into yourself and taking what resonates and leaving what it is that doesn't.
[00:46:43] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:46:53] Can I ask about your view of the medical industry? You spell out very clearly in the book, but this idea of our bodies being compartmentalised into the medical industry in one way. You go to the hospital, you go to the doctor, you get your physical ailment fixed, and that having at the moment, no official connection to what's going on in our mind, where there is an entirely different industry, obviously, which you trained in, which is of psychology. Do you think that will change?
Nicole [00:47:18] I think it is changing. I see a lot of people, at least in the West, in a lot of functional medicine, doctors that have, you know, really deep knowledge of psychological issues. I see a lot of integrated practices that do kind of- initially before I went online, one of my considerations was translating this work into a holistic kind of brick and mortar type practice in Philadelphia, though I did come to realise that I didn't necessarily want to live my entire day of my life- I was really feeling the pull to live in much less of a city and much more sunshine than the Northeast offered in the States. So, I didn't really want to be bound to one place for practice. Though I'm seeing a lot of that pop up where they do have different kind of professionals who work in different areas who actually conversate and talk. So I'm seeing the change happen and I imagine it will continue, especially as these messages continue to spread. And as, you know, the impact of this holistic healing really does continue to increase and, you know, create change in people's lives, I can't imagine it's going to stay exactly the same, at least for very much longer.
Annie [00:48:23] Nicole, what's the plan? Have you got more books on the way? What's, I mean, the Instagram world is just growing so much. I'm happy for you that you have your two women by your side to help you with your business and kind of support you in that. But what's going on? What's in your mind for future?
Nicole [00:48:39] So my intention always, and this kind of connects to the entire conversation, is to really stay committed to me. I'm very inspired around books. I have a third book project in the works about relationships that will be to come. It's called How To Be the Love You Seek, coming out next year. So, you know, really staying committed to writing the books when I feel that kind of seed of inspiration internally. And I have a lot of kind of ideas and projects that I want to create in terms of the virtual landscape of learning. So in addition to the Self Healer Circle membership that I have for individuals who want to, you know, engage in that global community and have these conversations and get some tools and resources and connect with other people on the journey, I want to replicate that for other practitioners or clinicians-
Annie [00:49:24] Hmm, interesting.
Nicole [00:49:24] Who are, you know, similarly wanting and having these same ideas and thoughts about shifting their practice more holistically. And I know, having been a clinician myself, one of the common, you know, difficulties of being a clinician for a lot of them at least is the loneliness, the fact that they're in private practice and so many of them are looking for other, you know, clinicians to have these conversations with or to be in relationship with or gain support with. So I'm hoping in the next actually couple months that I will be able to, we will be opening that membership for any kind of practitioner. Not even just in the clinical field like I once was; any coach, any kind of body work or anyone who's helping another individual on their journey, my hope is that this would apply to them with a similar type of, you know, global group membership learning type experience.
Annie [00:50:14] Last question before I let you go. Have you ever thought about having children?
Nicole [00:50:19] Yes. And we are- none of us actually are being called to have children. I think Jenna is probably the most maternal of us. We have several cats.
Annie [00:50:28] I was going to say, cats, perfect.
Nicole [00:50:29] To fulfill that need, though I'm someone- and interestingly I read a book, it just is coming out now, I think it's called Women Without Kids and I wrote an endorsement for it, its Ruby Warrington wrote it. And I just want to shout that out too because, just as occurring to me in this conversation, because I don't think many people talk about, you know- for me having the awareness of not wanting to have kids for as long as I can remember, so much that it was a running joke in my family.
Annie [00:50:50] Really?
Nicole [00:50:50] 'Nicole's never going to have kids!'. And I have a nephew and he and I have a very, you know, close, connected relationship. And I was, you know, very much in his life as he was growing up, though, I was always really attuned to the fact and, you know, very interestingly, as that book goes into and as I imagine, you know, many of you might even be thinking a lot of probably is connected to, you know, how I was raised and my lack of even maternal connection, though I'm very secure and certain that, you know, kids aren't in my future. And Lolly feels very similarly the same. So no kids, just cats *Annie laughs*. And we have many, so we have our house filled with lots of love and little things around *laughs*.
Annie [00:51:28] Well, listen, it's such a pleasure to speak to you. You really are just showing everyone a different way to live, a different way to work, a different way to be. And you're a breath of fresh air. It's lovely to spend time with you, thank you.
Nicole [00:51:38] Oh it was lovely to be here, Annie. Thank you so much for this great conversation and thank you all for listening. Again, I go back to that idea of newness and I'm imagining that maybe one or two things you might have even heard from me might be new, might be challenging, so I just like to celebrate and acknowledge everyone who is open to these conversations. That's how change happens.
Annie [00:51:55] Sure is... Thank you so much for listening to Changes. Let us know your thoughts, please, on Dr. Nicole LePera. You can buy her books now, How To Do The Work and the new workbook, How To Meet Yourself; The Workbook For Self-Discovery. If you enjoyed this, you may also be interested in Gabor Maté who was on this podcast recently and had a huge reaction. He speaks extensively about trauma, and I mentioned an episode with Anna Kirova from the progressive dating app Feeld, covering ethical non-monogamy. We'll link to that in the notes as well. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It's always such a pleasure to have you with us and such a help if you share this podcast and this episode out to friends, it's truly appreciated. We are releasing episodes every Monday and next week, can't believe I'm saying this, but the tables are turning. I'm going to do my own Changes. Uh oh. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. See you then!