MaryCatherine McDonald

MaryCatherine McDonald, PhD, is a research professor and life coach who specializes in the psychology and philosophy of trauma. She has been researching, lecturing, and publishing on the neuroscience, psychology, and lived experience of trauma since completing her PhD in 2016. She’s published two academic books and many research papers, and is the creator of a trauma-based curriculum that serves previously incarcerated folks and veterans. She lives in Los Angeles. For more, alchemycoaching.life.

Author photo © Stephanie Mohan

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The Trauma Response is Never Wrong

We have been tricked to believe that the trauma response is a sign of weakness and disorder. What science shows us is that the trauma response is in fact a sign of strength and proof of an inherent human drive to survive. We need society to catch up with science, and fast. We are no longer living in an era where we can assume that trauma impacts a minority of the population. Trauma impacts us all. This has always been true, but we can no longer pretend otherwise.

Unbroken is a book about the miracle of the trauma response, the importance of acceptance and self-compassion, and the transformative healing potential that lies within us all. Drawing on my experience as a trauma researcher, coach, as well as my own personal journey of healing, this book offers a new perspective on trauma that emphasizes the wisdom of the body and the resilience of the human spirit.

If you’re struggling with the after-effects of trauma, Unbroken can help you understand your experience in a new light. You’ll learn how trauma impacts the brain, the body, and the spirit, and how you can use this knowledge to start your journey of healing. You’ll discover practical tools and strategies for managing trauma triggers, regulating your emotions, and cultivating self-compassion. Most importantly, you’ll learn that the trauma response is never wrong – it’s a natural and adaptive response to a difficult situation.

One of the most important lessons of Unbroken is that the trauma response is never wrong. This means that even if you’re struggling with symptoms like anxiety, depression, or dissociation, your body is doing exactly what it needs to do to protect you. By embracing this truth, you can start to shift from a place of shame and self-blame to a place of self-compassion and empowerment. The book is chock full of tools that will help you understand and appreciate your trauma response and how to intervene when that response is tripped off unnecessarily. I can’t wait for you to dig in and I can’t wait to hear how this book changes you. It certainly changed me.

MaryCatherine McDonald, PhD, is a research professor and life coach who specializes in the psychology and philosophy of trauma. She has been researching, lecturing, and publishing on the neuroscience, psychology, and lived experience of trauma since the beginning of her PhD in 2009. She’s published two academic books and many research papers, and she is the creator of a trauma-based curriculum designed to serve previously incarcerated folks and veterans

MaryCatherine McDonald: The Trauma Response Is Never W...

For centuries, we’ve been taught that being traumatized means we are somehow broken—and that trauma only happens to people who are too fragile or flawed to deal with hardship. Instead, says Dr. MaryCatherine McDonald, the trauma response proves our spirit cannot be broken. In this podcast, Tami Simon and “MC” (as her students call her) discuss her new book, Unbroken: The Trauma Response Is Never Wrong—And Other Things You Need to Know to Take Back Your Life, and how we might as a society begin to update our understanding of trauma and its healing. 

Tune in for this inspiring conversation about the impact of trauma on the narratives that make up our identity; recalibrating the nervous system after trauma; memory and the hippocampus; relearning a sense of embodied safety; dealing with loss in our grief-phobic culture; trauma defined as “an unbearable emotional experience that lacks a relational home”; the unconscious nature of triggers, and how to raise awareness around them; the miracle of your adaptive brain and body; trust and community in the healing of trauma; reconciling life’s ultimate vulnerability; finding resilience and strength in these uncertain times; attunement, holding space, honesty, and other elements that provide a relational home; realizing an anchor in the “tiny little joys”; the healing power of… Tetris?; healthy regulation; and more.

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How to Mental Stack Your Way to a New Chapter in Life

Most people feel trapped in a thousand ways. But more often than not, this sense of entrapment us into putting our heads down and getting the things we are expected to get done, done. We can’t often see the entrapment, especially if it looks like the result of our own choices in life. But were they truly our own choices? What if some of the choices we made in life have never really been ours to begin with? 

I want to take us back a little. Back to when we were younger. When we had to rely on the wisdom of our elders, and those who have been in this life much longer than us. In my upcoming book Invisible Loss, I write about that time in our lives when we were at our most rebellious:

Disobedience—as a child, as a teen, as an adult in the world of work and home—is an act that creates invisible suffering. We learn to survive that repeated pattern of being commanded by our elders to be “good.” In order to be good and obey, we may create a life closer to that command but further away from our Original Self. We may work hard trying to be good, trying to please and fit into the mold created for us, but that only helps to build our Waiting Room life.

But time in the Waiting Room doesn’t need to last forever. And you don’t have to die inside it. There are parts within you that can bring forth a life worthy of your human existence. Places within yourself that have no shame.

As long as we have been alive, creating a life that aligns closest to the wishes of our caregivers and protectors blinds us to the life that we could choose for ourselves. That life is completely hidden even if we think we know our wishes. Often, only when we go through tragic or invisible losses, do we start to question those choices. Dare I say, these moments are opportunities to exit the loop of being “good.”

It is time to interrupt our regular transmission. It is time to be clear when it comes to what it is we are trying to communicate to the people in our lives. It starts from no longer trying so hard to fit into the mold that was created for us.  No matter how old we are, we can always break outside this mold and align our choices with our true values and desires.

This is not an easy task. I understand that. At the core of my book, Invisible Loss, I’ve created tjos easy practice to help set you on the right path to your Original Self. I call it Mental Stacking:

What Is Mental Stacking?

Mental Stacking is the ability to intentionally layer your thoughts to replace unconscious, Survivor-based

thinking with Wisdom-based thinking. In doing so, these Wisdom-based thoughts can more easily be converted into real-life action. This Stacking practice allows you to access your true and authentic self (your Original Self) and entrust it with the controls of your life. Here is what a basic Stack looks like:

  • The Cleanse: Transcribing the automatic, routine-based, unconscious thoughts. Write them down. Don’t stop writing until you feel you are done. 
  • The Pattern: Subtracting from that first layer the thoughts of fear and doubt. Once you write everything you are feeling and thinking down, read it back to yourself and find a sentence or two that comes from a place of fear or doubt. For example, somewhere in your long cleanse you may find yourself saying: “I feel trapped in my marriage and I don’t dare tell anyone about it because he is the nicest guy. All of my friends always tell me how lucky I am to be married to someone who takes such good care of me.”
  • The Reframe: Writing the consciously reframed thought layer in the Stack. Take that sentence and reframe it. For example: “I feel trapped in my marriage and feel ashamed for feeling this way because my partner is such a good guy,” to, “even though I may feel shame about how I feel, I need to share these feelings with my partner even though it may not be expected or understood. This is my life, after all.” 
  • The Plug-In: Translating the reframed thought into action. Once you have that reframed thought, think of a low-risk action you can take that can stem from that newly scripted thought. For example, you can suggest to your partner to go for dinner at a brand new place where you can bring up what is on your mind in a new environment. You can act on your right to express yourself regardless of what the response might be or how others view your situation. 

Your Mental Stack leads you to a specific next step that may not always be easy to see without the power of each previous layer in the Stack. 

Here’s to a great new chapter ahead,

Christina Ramussen

Invisible Loss


Invisible Loss
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Sounds True

Christina Rasmussen is an acclaimed grief educator and the author of Second Firsts and Where Did You Go? She is the founder of the Life Reentry Institute and has helped countless people break out of what she coined the “waiting room” of grief to rebuild their lives through her Life Reentry® Model, a new paradigm of grief, based on the science of neuroplasticity. She lives in Austin, Texas. For more, visit christinarasmussen.com.

Author photo © Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Ep 9: Live the Questions Now

When it comes to building the Great Turning, it’s natural to have questions: What is my individual role in it all? How do we win? Who do we fight? While Jess wrestles with her desire for a “prescription” of what to do, Joanna invites us to “live the questions” instead. In this episode, we learn about the three dimensions of the Great Turning and the way forward: community, relationship, and solidarity. 

In this episode:

  • There are no perfect road maps, but if we come together in courage and community, the way will emerge
  • The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue but a spiritual crisis of disconnection
  • Bonus Exercise: The Bodhisattva Check-In

We recommend starting a podcast club with friends or family to do these practices together. Links and assets to help prompt reflection and build community can be found with every episode on WeAreTheGreatTurning.com.

Ep 8: Eros and Thanatos

This episode explores the powerful role of Eros (sensual love) and Thanatos (death) in fueling our connection to the world as we contribute to the Great Turning. Joanna and Jess discuss how we might learn to see our world as our lover (and as our self), the gifts of cultivating a sensual connection with the world, and how facing mortality can make the gift of being alive feel even more precious. They also reflect on the closeness of Joanna’s own death, which Joanna sees as “going home” to rejoin the cycle of life.

In this episode:

  • Using our love and awareness of impermanence as fuel for activism
  • Discovering ways to truly feel interconnected with all life through sensual presence
  • Reflections on mortality and our place in the cycle of life

We recommend starting a podcast club with friends or family to do these practices together. Links and assets to help prompt reflection and build community can be found with every episode on WeAreTheGreatTurning.com.

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