#084 – Bias is a Human Experience – with La Shanda Sugg

#084 – Bias is a Human Experience – with La Shanda Sugg

“Can we realize that even though we’re loving our children, we can be doing them so much harm when we don’t address those beliefs, those worldviews, and those expectations: the biases that we have?”

La Shanda Sugg, LPC is a trauma specializing therapist and training consultant. Her trauma expertise and ability to make complex concepts easy to understand make her work accessible. Her authenticity and transparency as a trauma survivor make people want to listen. La Shanda founded Labors of Love Counseling and Consulting, LLC to help organizations understand trauma and the traumatic stress of racism and other forms of oppression and help them move towards Cultural Humility and trauma responsiveness. As a Therapist, she helps families, couples, and individuals Move from Coping to Healing.

La Shanda Sugg joins me on the podcast to unpack the relationships between trauma, bias, and othering and how this plays into all of our interactions with strangers, and with our own kids – those with and without disabilities.

We tackle questions such as: What does it mean that your very existence is an experience of being othered?How can we move past shame to action? Can we erase bias? What does it mean to grieve the loss of an expectation, especially when we’re talking about our kids?

If that sounds a bit hefty, don’t worry, it’s the good, worth-it kind of heavy talk.

The brilliant thing about La Shanda is that she has some really great answers to these questions, and some very practical advice for how to move through these topics to be a better parent and a better person.

Listen now.

For more information about Labors of Love Counseling and Consulting, LLC visit www.thelaborsoflove.com.

You can listen to this podcast episode on iTunes or Spotify.

Transcript

Genia:
Welcome to the Good Things in Life podcast. I’m Genia Stephen. Today, I’m speaking with, La Shanda Sugg. La Shanda is a trauma specializing therapist and training consultant, her trauma expertise and ability to make complex concepts easy to understand makes her work accessible to the people that she supports her authenticity and transparency as a trauma survivor make people want to listen. And it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to speak to La Shanda. La Shanda founded labors of love, counseling and consulting to help organizations understand trauma and the traumatic stress of racism and other forms of oppression and help them to move towards cultural humility and trauma responsiveness. And as a therapist, she helps families, couples, and individuals move from just coping to healing from trauma. La Shanda, thank you so, so much for joining me today. I’m really looking forward to speaking with you.

La Shanda:
Genia. Thank you so much for having me.

Genia:
I wonder if you could introduce yourself a little bit, just talk a little bit more about the work that you do.

La Shanda:
Yeah, absolutely. So I am a therapist and a training consultant and clinically my work now is exclusively working with multigenerational families to help them address the generational trauma that has been passed down within their family systems and help them move towards healing. And then on the training consulting side, I work with anyone, everyone. I work with schools and government, community agencies law enforcement, helping them one understand the impact that trauma has on the brain and body and how people show up in the world and then equipping them with tools necessary to create the safety that people need in order to engage with the world and healthy, safe ways.

Genia:
And how does your own experience of trauma lead you to this work? Like what’s your backstory?

La Shanda:
Yeah. Thank you. So interestingly, I would say my healing from trauma led me to this work because up until I was 30, which is when a 12 year relationship and my marriage began to fall apart that I went to therapy for the first time, but it wasn’t until even before, well now I guess I was in therapy. I was working for a community mental health agency and I was sent to a training and the training was called children of trauma. It was a trauma training and this was, this was, Oh, this was many, many years ago. So trauma was this new kind of buzzword that was going around. People were interested and I was sent to this training to learn more. And it was at that training that I realized I had experienced trauma.

La Shanda:
Now I look at that and I laugh because now that I, I look at my story is like, Oh girl, it’s fine from kind of developmental trauma of just not getting my needs met. I had food, clothing, shelter, you know, education, but not getting those emotional relational needs met all the way to numerous accounts of sexual abuse and Clayton, including rape at the age of 14 and racial trauma. I mean, my life is, is pretty, I have had significant trauma in my life, but I never attach that word to it. So I was intrigued. And then I began the healing journey and on that journey, I think it just became clear to me that I was called to help people now specifically what that looked like. I didn’t know I was going to be a therapist even after I was in school to become a counselor.

La Shanda:
So again, I guess, you know, I’ve hit a ceiling, I need more education, but I didn’t really realize what that would look like for a while, but now I understand that I’m fully committed to helping people understand that while we have to understand how the things we’ve been through impact, how we show up in the present, it doesn’t have to dictate our future. And so if I can equip people, individual people with that knowledge and then systems that support people then, then that is helpful. And that includes looking at anti-racism anti-oppression and anti-oppressive lenses that are a lot of our social structures have been rooted in.

Genia:
I think it’s interesting what you’re saying about having had these life experiences, multiple life experiences, some acute, some sort of chronic, some systemic of trauma, but really only unpacking that quite a bit later in your life. One of the reasons why I am wanting to put together this series of podcast episodes on the topic of vulnerability, woundedness, you know, trauma and resilience and healing is because I think that there, I, well, I feel like it’s like a perfect storm in the world right now for people to be taking stock of their own experience of trauma, taking stock of the experiences of their children with disabilities experience of trauma and just pausing and really reflecting and unpacking that, you know, people with disabilities experience you know, acute and, and ongoing forms of rejection discrimination othering, you know which is deeply wounding for humans parents experience all kinds of vicarious direct and vicarious forms of wounding and trauma.

Genia:
Because of that I think just the experience of living through this pandemic is been very traumatizing for many people and we’re living through it. And so it’s kinda hard to unpack things and, and be resilient and or maybe not be resilient if you’re already resilient, then you can bring that to bear, but develops resiliency in the middle of an experience and heal as you go. And then, of course, the, the ex you know, the just racial trauma of what’s been going on and, and the public visibility of violence against black people, although like it’s a little bit curious, I think maybe there’s something about the fact that there’s a pandemic going on that is influencing why things came to, why things have been come to a tipping point because it’s not like black men haven’t been getting and black people but particularly black men have been getting shot in the street forever. Like this is not new. You know what I mean? It’s not like all of a sudden there were these cases,

La Shanda:
There were less things to distract people there, there were less destruct. And I think that’s a huge factor is that, you know, when you’re going about your life, it’s easy to say, I can’t worry about that. I have this, this, and this going on. And well, yeah, we, during the pandemic were still living and we still have things going on the regular distractions that really allowed the injustices that happened against black and brown bodies to just kind of be a wave and then disappear. I definitely think the pandemic has had an impact on that, but I also think that as it slowed so much down, it, it gave an opportunity for those of us who have leaned heavily into advocacy to not also be distracted by so much that’s going on and be able to kind of move forward and in a very intentional way that maybe we thought we were before, maybe I’ll just speak to them about myself, thought I was before, but really be able to hone in and, and be intentional about the use of my voice and platform towards these issues.

La Shanda:
And I think for me, specific towards this is my lens and contributions that I try to make to this conversation is not just highlighting that these are things, things are happening cause they have been happening just like you said, but to bring in the awareness of the brain and the body into it. So I’ve had more conversations about race and racism over the last four or five months than I have my entire life. And one of the components of the conversation that I keep trying to help people understand specifically white Americans is how the brain and bodywork. And so when you have a conversation with someone who tries to tell you, I don’t have bias my go-to responses, do you poop? No. Really answer the question. Do you poop? Yeah, you do. Now. It’s not something you probably want to talk about in public.

La Shanda:
You don’t invite people into that space with you if it’s not particularly pleasant, but you do it. And if you didn’t, you would die. And if you didn’t have bias, you would die as well. Our speech, our species has survived this long because of our brains’ ability to take in information lump it together and execute judgment and response very quickly. That is how we’ve survived. So the question isn’t about, do you have bias or how do you “fix your bias”? The education is where did I learn? What I learned? How have my biases been established? That’s when we can start having conversations about the history of America and the dominant narratives that have governed it and how othering is trauma. So when you talked about the pervasive and ongoing othering that people with disabilities experience, it is traumatic because we are hardwired as human beings to connect with others socially.

La Shanda:
And when we are being othered, even if someone is just thinking of us as an other, our mirror neurons pick up on that, our central nervous systems are attuned to that. And it puts us into survival mode. Even if we don’t understand it, you know, when someone walks into a place and before all eyes are on them, the hair is on the back of their neck or are standing. Or we have to be very, very intentional about how to go into a situation, knowing that we are going to be perceived a different way, discriminated against and parcel, possibly harmed. That believes us in a perpetual state of sympathetic rise. We’re constantly trying to survive these circumstances. It’s getting people to understand that that is a thing. And then for some people simply existing in the world is what causes it. And, and that has been an interesting conversation to have, but I think it’s been helpful because people who otherwise would like to rest on the dominant narrative of specifically in the case of a black man being shot by police as it has been more widely seen is, well, if they would just obey the law, if they would adjust and, and that argument continues to fail.

La Shanda:
So we think of Brianna Taylor who was sleeping in her bed, right? If we think about all of these different things, the dissonance is becoming more and more clear because the resting on, if you weren’t just criminals, if you were just law-abiding citizens, which is a dominant narrative, that many documentary I can recommend show you the perpetuation of that throughout our history. It’s no longer working for people because then their brain is just, they have to make up other stories. And that happens with, you know marginalized people across the board. So I’m trying to have these conversations because I believe that if we can start to understand that then some of the universality of racism gender inequality, homophobia, transphobia discrimination against people with disabilities all of those things can be made a little more clear because we’re talking about the biological cycle of bio-psycho-social makeup of humanity. And for me, that’s important.

Genia:
You, you talked about there, there’s a couple of things that I want to follow up on one statement. I just want to, one thing I just want to sort of restate, cause it just seems really powerful. And then another thing I wanted to ask you about, one of the things you just said is that that experience of othering for people can be just existing in the world. And I think that that’s, that is true. That is a fact, but just, but it bears like a moment of reflection, you know, what does that, what does that mean? If just your very existence is an experience of being othered? And, and of course, it has nothing to do with the person’s existence per se, but by the sense in the people in, in the world of them being other is so pervasive that there is no escape. Like that’s, that’s incredible. Yeah.

La Shanda:
It really is. So, you know, I try to be aware. And so part of my, my story as well as I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. And my father taught me two things implicitly. He taught me one that I could do anything and I could be anything. And he didn’t have to say those words. I just understood it. And he also taught me that success was connected to now, I wouldn’t learn to, I wouldn’t come to unpack that until within the last few years. So, you know, I don’t want to talk as if I “been woke my whole life”. I have not at best, I’ve had one eye open since maybe around 2016, 2015 but eyes wide open and moving towards racial equity as not just this thing that short I want began this year.

La Shanda:
So I want to be clear with that. And I think that’s important. Cause sometimes people think it’s too late or they sit in so much shame of what they should have been doing, that they lose the energy and momentum to just do now. But I bring that up because I was striving for the idea of whiteness, my whole life. It impacted how I saw myself in the world and impacted how I spoke and impacted, you know, the neighborhoods I chose to live in or refuse to live in and impacted my ideology of that could never happen to me because I’m a law-abiding citizen who the whole gamut. And so I did, I believe that for so long, and even if it was very implicitly and it never came out of my mouth, there was a hint of judgment that I had towards those in Brown and black bodies who would be unfairly targeted or have some form of racial injustice towards them.

La Shanda:
And so I can’t say that there, especially in the beginning of this eye-opening awakening, that there wasn’t some shame that I contended with, but I was determined not to let this shame of those things render me immobile. But I also had to understand that those things were there because that was the narrative I was given. There was a very I don’t the a moment though, when I had a very, I had a very distinct awareness viscerally, and I noticed my central nervous system when I realized that I don’t feel safe out in the world as a general experience. And that there were only a few places where I felt safe and that was like home in my home. I feel safe my office. But I just thought navigating the world can be scary. You know, as my office is in a Northern suburb of Cincinnati that is highly populated by non-African Americans and all this stuff.

La Shanda:
And then there was this moment when I thought about Brianna Taylor, who was in her home. And I went when I realized that even the one safe space that I had, which was my home was potentially no longer safe and this awareness that, and the only thing that makes it. So if it’s the body I exist in, is that there’s nothing I have to do or say that can trigger someone’s distrust or fear, but it’s just the body I live in and how much I had been socialized. And culturalize throughout my upbringing to mute those things about myself as not to incite fear or distrust. And so that’s what I mean that striving towards whiteness, it is getting that higher education. It’s living in a suburb. It’s, it’s speaking a certain way. It’s behaving a certain way. It’s not ascribing to the stereotypes that have been ascribed to people who look like me. What am I like is my favorite fruit legitimately. I love fried chicken. It is my favorite meat. The fact that I like for a long time, refuse to consume those things in public. Yeah. Legitimately because it’s like, Oh no. Oh no. And so, yeah, I think it is worth people just taking a moment, no matter what your, your, your intersecting identities are and just have a moment and think what if just breathing was enough to make someone treat me as an other as someone who’s below and not worthy of.

La Shanda:
And that’s what people of color, that’s what people with disabilities, that is what people who people might make assumptions about their sexuality. Yeah. That’s what we experience every day. Just waking up and walking out into the world, it’s that we are othered. And the final example I’d like to give of this. And I think for me, I think resonates is if you open a word document, there is a default setting, the margins, the font size, the font itself. It is, it is a default setting. Now you can alter those things, but it takes intentionality and you have to change it. There is a default setting for America, and I realize you’re in Canada. So I hadn’t even thought about the nuances of how that may or may not be different, but there’s a default setting. It is white male heterosexual, cisgender Christian, you know, upper-middle class, you know, slendered bodied in it. There are these default settings and anything outside of that is other. And, and when people begin to understand that othering is traumatic to the central nervous system of a person and that those characteristics I just named are the only ones that fit as the mold. Then we realized just how much wounding and trauma people are experiencing on a regular basis until we Change that default setting.

Genia:
Right. So one of the things that I want to, wanted to, you’ve just, I wanted to come back to it, but you’ve just spoken to it again. But I want to kind of come at it from a, from a, an additional angle. You talked about the fact that bias is a human experience. We all have it. We can’t get away from it. If we didn’t have bias, we would die because we wouldn’t be able to keep ourselves safe. And you just talked about default settings, which is, you know, speaking to that same issue. One of the things that I think is really important for parents of kids with disabilities or anybody concerned about the reality of people with disabilities is recognizing that you know, when your child with a disability is born or when they get diagnosed or whatever, that, that inaugural experiences, you already have bias against people with disabilities, you’ve already been, you’ve already absorbed that other othering and just loving somebody who has a disability, or just loving somebody who is you know, has black or brown skin doesn’t exempt you from holding that bias.

Genia:
Right. And, and I, and, and one of the things that you said that I, I really appreciate is that you can choose to change those default settings, but not if you don’t acknowledge your own default settings. Right. And so I think a lot of the stuff that happens a lot of the, a lot of, well, all parents of kids with disabilities are impacted whether they like it or not, by their internalized devaluation of people with disabilities. I think that one of the deterrents or barriers to changing your default settings is the shame that you talked about. You know, when you start to of, if you kind of get a little hint, maybe bubbles up a little bit subtly here, or there, like you were talking about in your own experience of choices that you made in your own in your life that were kind of in pursuit of whiteness or in pursuit of the default settings, you know, you might get those that sense every once in a while.

Genia:
You may, but you may not want to admit it to other people or to yourself, because that comes with some, with some shame, right. That that you have that bias, that it’s real, that it impacts you, and it impacts the way that you are in relationship with other people. So I just, I just really, I just really love the way you’re highlighting, just that, the fact that that exists, you know, and because it gets it because it manifests, like it doesn’t matter whether or not you want it to, or not want it to. And in fact, it’s more I think, and I’m interested in your thoughts on this. I think that if we don’t unpack it, admit it and unpack it, it is more likely to manifest in the way we live our lives and the way we treat people than if we say, yes, I have internalized devaluation of people with disabilities. Yes, I have internalized devaluation of black and brown people. Yes, I’m a racist because it is the air. We breathe in our society. And so I need to work on that. It doesn’t make you not racist or not, not devaluing of people with disabilities, but at the very least if you table it you’re not shoving it into the unconscious where all the tendrils of your unconscious just then get to like recap, wreak havoc, you know, and in your behaviors.

La Shanda:
Well, I don’t know if you could tell, but I was withholding a lot of amen sisters throughout your whole thing. Yes, yes, yes. And more, yes. So much there in your soul. Right. so I, I, I’m going to tell a story that I will get us back here. So a few things, one the trauma that I experienced was very much generational but it was never discussed. And so I didn’t realize it was there. I don’t know of realizing it was there would have changed outcome or not, but by the time I had been sexually abused as a child and been raped as a teenager and went into a terrible relationship that this was generational. And I was the last girl in my family. And so the people, not a huge family, but we just kept having boys. And at some point I truly believe that that was God saying, this family doesn’t need any more girls.

La Shanda:
We don’t, we don’t take care of our girls. And so, and I, I understood that I considered it to be a blessing like good. Then I got pregnant first time. It was a boy. All right, here we go. We’re on the path. Got out of that relationship, married to an awesome, awesome, awesome husband and I get pregnant. And then I found out it’s twins and talk about shocking. That was a legitimate weekend of literal shock. And then about a month of like, this can’t be, and it’s like, okay, fine. That’s cool. We wanted two more anyway, you know, I’m getting optimistic. Then we no more surprises for me though. So please tell me the sex.

La Shanda:
And I thought, Uh two boys, you know, that’s fine. Maybe one, one, boy, I don’t know. I just know it’s not going to be two girls and believe it or not. What do you do? Two girls. And I was terrified, Oh my God, what are we going to do? I don’t know how to do this. So I finally got over the fact that it was two girls. Okay, fine. Two girls. And I just very specifically remember the prayer, just please, God do not give me one Brown skin, kinky-haired girl, and one lighter skin, looser curled girl. Like it was very distinct. Now part of this, I didn’t make it up. My sister also has twins, which is interesting. She’s 14 years older, so our kids didn’t grow up together. But when people say to twins, running your family, what? No. Oh, but my sister has twins. Right.

La Shanda:
And that’s what she had. She had the darker skin twin and the lighter skin twin. And even though we are far apart in age and the twins were born when I was 11, I recall overhearing our conversation that my sister was having about how people treated them differently, the shades of their skin and this stuck with me, you know? And so here I am, this is not what I want, please. I don’t care which one it is. Just let them be the same. And what did I get? I got my beautiful life, skim loosely curl daughter and my beautiful, darker skin, kinky curl daughter. And it’s like, are you kidding me? Like the very thing, people are going to treat them differently. And I was so hung up on that, but I had gotten to a place in my own healing journey where self-reflection and self-awareness were very, very important to me.

La Shanda:
And what I came to realize was my fear wasn’t as much that people would treat them differently is that I would feel differently because I had internalized so much racism that I was really terrified that those things that lived in me would manifest and how I looked at and loved my daughters. It was an admitting that, that I am now ahead of those, those things that come up, that I, that have been woven into the fabric of what I think of as beauty and success. And I am calling out to, within myself, that bias that I have that has impacted my ability to show unconditional acceptance to both of my children. So I start with that story to say, we all have something. And just like you said, when we don’t identify it, we think it’s not there. We think because we haven’t said something that it’s not there, but it’s not true because the majority of our communication is nonverbal and people spend so much time not saying the wrong things, not realizing that your body will betray you long before words come out of your mouth and includes that includes the words you hear in your own mind.

La Shanda:
Absolutely, absolutely. That entire cognitive functioning whether it comes out of our mouth or it’s just in our self-talk. And so it is my, it is imperative that we be honest enough with ourselves to be honest. And another component that I believe comes with this is grieving. I wholeheartedly believe that it is okay for people to grieve when their reality doesn’t match their expectation because it’s hurtful. Whether it is a unrealistic expectation of a life without pain and struggle and a fairytale ending that it’s not, I still think it deserves to be grieved because it’s there and it impacts. And so I work with families and I just I was working with a parent who had multiple children on the autism spectrum. And this parent kept telling me, but I love my children. I wouldn’t change my life for anything. And I love it.

La Shanda:
And I said, you can both love your children and grief. That day is a really, really hard, and that doesn’t have to be those things aren’t mutually exclusive. Like you can do that. And so when people have a child with a disability, especially, maybe not, especially, but sometimes if you don’t realize you talk about that inaugural moment, whether it’s a diagnosis or realizing that your child has a developmental or some kind of disability after they’re born, there is this moment that you look at that child when it’s gone before it’s born and you already have expectations of it. And so whenever you get information that contradicts whatever that expectation was, that’s going to be challenging. And you can still very much love your child and treat them as if something is wrong with them. Cause they’re not meeting your expectation, even if you don’t think you are.

La Shanda:
So everything you were saying jr is so it’s so accurate. Can we realize that even though we’re loving our children, we can be doing them so much harm when we don’t address those beliefs, those worldviews, and those expectations, the biases that we have, sometimes the dissonance goes to be so much that people will convince themselves that well, their child’s the exception, but everyone else whose life, their child is something else? If you find yourself doing that, just allow that to be the thing that goes, Oh, wait, there it is. Okay, let me be real with it. But we live in a culture where authenticity is not always rewarded. So it’s scary to come out with those things because then people are gonna think I’m a horrible parent.

La Shanda:
They’re gonna think I’m this. They’re gonna think that. And what I like to tell people too is you’re probably right, but they’re already thinking crap about you. Reality. They got trying to crap around you, that you are, and you’re working actively about the thoughts that they’re gonna maybe have, or maybe not, but how we are loving our children and our loved ones is directly impacted by whether or not we’re willing to do the hard work of looking at our templates, which are again, the beliefs and the worldviews and the behaviors that we developed growing up in those social structures and family systems that we did. And without doing that work were unintentionally harming people. And we don’t even know,

Genia:
Let me, I want to ask you about what you were just saying about grief for changes in between your expectations and your reality. So within the, you know, within the research literature, within you know, Facebook groups for parents, with kids, with disabilities, within, you know, conversations I’ve had over the decades, there’s this narrative of sort of chronic grief and the loss of the child that you’ve expected. And frankly, I find it so insulting. And, and I think that it’s just a manifestation of devaluation. And yet I hear that. So during the pandemic, like since the pandemic started. People have been, some people have been taught, like people have podcasts I’ve listened to, and you know, people I’ve spoken to and just, I’ve heard this, these people talking about this idea that change is grief. Like changes, not changes grief. Change just factually means that there’s a loss.

La Shanda:
All change is loss, yes.

Genia:
All change is loss, and losses are grieved. And that can be, that is separate from whether the change is positive or negative. Like it’s just a fact that changes loss. So that has been an interesting kind of new way of thinking about this idea of grief for parents when their kid, when they, you know, figure out that their kid has a disability. And yet I’m still like, I still believe, especially when we get into this like chronic grief bullshit. I still believe that it’s, that grief is about devaluation. You know, like I don’t think that if you like really had your head, your heart set on having a boy and you a girl that typically you know, unless, you know, you’re, you’re just like, there are internalization of misogyny and sexism is a little bit more complex and nuanced, like it’s less black and white kind of thing, but like people don’t, people might be disappointed or they might experience some sort of, you know, whatever, but it’s not, it doesn’t keep persisting. And it’s not like life-defining in the way that people talk about you know, the loss of the expected child when your child has a disability. So I’m, I’m, I’m curious about your, your thoughts on that. Like all changes, loss losses are grieved. Okay. I can buy into that, but don’t you think that some of this is, is really about the pursuit, like is really about ableism and like holding.

La Shanda:
Yeah. I can definitely see that. And, and thank you for saying that because what I also want to clarify too, is part of that grief we liked, we liked to externalize the grief, but if we’re honest, so from this perspective, absolutely. The persistent placing of the grieving of the child, I do believe is rooted in ableism. And it is a manifestation of that devaluation, devaluation. I believe the thing that I’m encouraging to be grieved is when we realize we suck if that makes sense. So there is this moment, right? Where the whole.

Genia:
We’re going to be really good friends. I love that. Yes, we do suck. We can own it. We totally suck.

La Shanda:
That’s what I’m talking about grieving. I wanted to thank you for pointing that out because you’re right. When whatever, whenever we’re grieving that a person does not meet our expectation, but they are simply who they are, who really gives a damn about our expectation in the grand scheme of who they are. So I want to talk about that. It’s okay to grieve that you realize you suck, that you have biases, right? And, and for those who are like, I don’t suck you do I do we do. I want to normalize that, right? Because we grow up in a silky culture, a sucky culture, and, and we are in indoctrinated and socialized and culture lives around these things that are rooted in sucky, things like white supremacy and patriarchy and all of these things that inform how we show up in the world. And as a parent, I have said, I’ve done hard things in life.

La Shanda:
I’ve overcome a lot of, I’ve done hard things and still to date. One of the things that I’ve ever done is parenting because I am aware that my role as a parent is to be as safe, nurturing, and loving and supportive on my children’s individualized journey as I can be. And men, that’s hard. I say the asterisk is, I always say raising my daughters specifically and not breaking their spirits is one of the hardest things. Because my culturalization of seeing that heard, don’t ask why do all these things, it still lives in my body. Right? And I can metabolize my trauma and work through it, but it doesn’t mean that it goes away. I become more aware of it. My immediate reactions to it are not as quick and as Swift and I can be aware of my central nervous system, but I still want to do those things.

La Shanda:
But when I look and say, don’t extinguish that fire, and then you have my son who is in so many ways, the opposite of me, he is self-proclaimed shy. He’s an introvert. He’s soft-spoken. He’s all the things I’m not in when I want to tune them up. Right. I want to, I want to tune them up to be my own internalized virgin of what a “man” should be. I have to stop myself and say, who is, he love him, nurture him, validate him, support him as he is. Right. And that is so hard for people because they say our job is to mold and change. And I say, okay, let’s explore that. Once we start to explore that we get back to their own development and relational trauma. I get why you think that? So, yeah, the grieving part is certainly when I do something and I look at an outcome and I go, that, that, that was me, how I responded to that had more to do with me and almost nothing to do with my child.

La Shanda:
I grieved that. Not that my child is not what I thought he would be. And so I love that distinction. Because with that, we can, I mean, honestly, when you think about it, if, if we were honest with ourselves, we would hear just how selfish that is. If we sit in it exactly. This idea of this child will never, and we are really good at words. So we may say I’m grieving the fact that they may never meet their full potential based on what you’ve already undercut their full potential. Yeah. You’ve already stomped on it already. And so it is, but the grieving part is when we can recognize, Ooh, I do that. Oh, I’ve done that. Oh, that’s how I raised my kids. And my son is 10 and a half. My girls are four and I say this all the time, the girls caught me at a really good time. I was moving into self-discovery and awareness. My son, I had a lot longer in a very unhealthy space. And so I go, okay, how do I, how do I do what I know to do now? Now it’s not too late.

Genia:
So, so you’re talking about changing the defaults. Okay. So how do we, how do you change the defaults?

La Shanda:
I think the first step is to know that there is a default. And to know that when we look out into the world, we’re looking out at it through a certain lens, right? The wrong, the good, the bad the preferred, the nonpreferred are all preset. And so the first step is awareness. It’s noticing, I’m noticing that this, when I see someone or when I look at my child, I go into a comparative state and that comparative state automatically for me dictates right wrong, but we can begin with small things. And I believe language is very important with a lot of things. If we can stop using the words good and bad and just start saying it is different. Can we have different without negative, positive? I think in whatever words that we personally associate with that is a good first step.

La Shanda:
It is, this sounds maybe oxymoronic, but isn’t an externalized mindfulness, right? So mindfulness in a way is observing your thoughts or your feelings with non-judgment and just acknowledging that they’re there. And if we can begin a practice of mindfulness, I had this thought, I’m just going to acknowledge it because it is in fact, just the thought I have this feeling, I’m going to acknowledge it because it’s a feeling. And in fact that that’s, it’s just data. How do we view life as data points instead of points of judgment? That’s how we can begin to change the default settings when we are able to celebrate that’s way down the line, I get it, but just acknowledge differences without the automatic judgment of good, bad, why this is challenging. And the first step I offer because it takes a lot of work is because it is intentional. It has to be intentional. Our brains are wired, it’s safe, non-safe a safe, unsafe. And so I think that’s key. Can we begin to look at differences as just differences and not, it’s better. It’s worse. It is a really fundamental step, but it’s like a muscle. Once we begin to

La Shanda:
Build that muscle, we can begin to appreciate difference after noticing it. And then maybe we can even take a step forward and celebrate differences. And by goodness, maybe after that, we can even like pursue differences. Yeah. Cause it’s no longer good or bad. It’s no longer a thing we’re trying to get away from. I think that is, that is a way to begin to change that default setting. And I think it’s so universal that you can start with groceries. You can start with autumn, you can start with these things that feel very tangible, right. And then we move into recognizing how often we do this with other people. And so there is a noticing there is an acknowledgment, and then there’s an acceptance that I’m doing this.

Genia:
So I have a lot of thoughts. And as you’re talking, I’m, you know, thinking about my own experience of being in the world and in relationship with kids. And I may, I think this is going to be oddly meandering, but I’m trying to kind of pull some something together for myself. So I remember before I had kids wanting kids and I don’t, I didn’t consciously think about who those people would be. But I had this sort of really interesting experience as my, as I, my first pregnancy progressed. And somebody asked me something about who do you think, who do you think your baby is, or is going to be? Or it was just like a, you know, one of those imagining and expectations kinds of questions. And I remember just having been really somewhat an oddly startled people are probably gonna think I’m so odd for saying this, but it really ugly startled that my biggest sense of who my son was was that he was not me. And that, that surprised me a little bit.

Genia:
Like, I don’t know, I, I guess I kind of maybe had this unknown or unconscious expectation that my kids would be extensions of me. And my sense was just very profoundly that he was not me. And, and that, I don’t know, somehow relates to what you’re talking about around our expectations and kind of how we see others through the lens. We don’t even realize there are lenses there. But you know, you are, your, your son is a very different kind of character than you are. And you’re like trying to pull him into, you know, all I can so relate to that. And, and again, I’m talking about my oldest son here, not my second son who has disabilities, but with my oldest son, I still really struggle in my parenting role. Because my, while I have a, quite a significant capacity for empathy, I recognize now that he’s in his later teens in particular, that it is very hard for me to figure out what his experience of life is because he is so different than I am.

Genia:
And so it makes it very hard for me to relate and to figure out how to be the best loving, supportive, nourishing parent, like you were saying, like, I actually just don’t know, you know? And then, so, so that piece of like the, just the challenge of recognizing that somebody is actually not you, they don’t experience the world the way you do. They don’t like, they’re just not you, they are in fact other. Yeah. Right. And then, then you’re talking about this process of, of kind of unpacking our default settings and being, and just observing, observing our thoughts, moving towards this moving towards the celebrating and even seeking difference. But then there’s a gap for me in my thinking about this or my understanding and this in so far as we don’t connect around our otherness, we connect around our interpersonal identification with each other, right.

Genia:
Like the ways in which we see while we, we may respect that every other human is other, like, and we shouldn’t see them through only through our own perspective, but try and see them through their own. But also like we connect around the things that we have in common, you know, like the, so, so where do we unpack and start to change our default settings? Or where does that connection come while we’re recognizing the differences and our thoughts and judgments around the differences? Cause part of, okay, maybe this is my question after minutes and minutes of battering, I’m sorry. But so part of the process you’ve said is recognizing our thoughts and our feelings and trying to consider them data points as opposed to judgments. But the positive side of bias and judgment is that moment when we say, Oh, look, we have this in common. We are us, not, not me. And you know, not I send them, but we like, we are us. And then that is the part of that human, how humans connect with each other is identifying with each other. So how do you turn the data point from a judgment to a data point without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as far as that positive aspect of bias and judgment is where we find ways of connecting, even though we are other from each other?

La Shanda:
Yeah, no, that’s really, really good. So a couple of thoughts that came up are one, I think if we can slow down, so the point wouldn’t be maybe necessarily to throw it out, but slow the process down. So even if you get to a point where you’re able to take it as a data point, and maybe that data point is this feels unsafe or maybe the data point is this feels really, I feel really connected noticing that, and, and more of a slow down process before that immediate reaction could be enough to start to build that muscle of slowing it down.

La Shanda:
And so it doesn’t necessarily mean don’t connect based on that, but if we can begin to understand this process. So one example is the more I learn about polyvagal theory and how my vagus nerve is specifically there to help me look for cues. Look, it’s not a good word. It’s a seeking and looking for, but don’t think with your regular eyes, am I safe or am I not safe? Right. I began to learn that I began to slow down the process that had been automatic for me growing up was I don’t like her. I can walk into a room. I can see a person. We don’t have to say anything to each other. It’s a look on your face. And I don’t like her. I’ve learned to slow that process down and go, Ooh, I feel that I’m wondering, what’s causing me to feel unsafe right now because what I’m realizing is it has nothing to do with her as a person.

La Shanda:
I don’t know her as a person, but there is something that is coming through my five senses right now that may or may not be related specifically to her that is causing me to feel unsafe. The narrative my brain has thrown around it is I don’t like her, but if I can slow it down long enough, then I can attend to myself and say, what do I need right now to feel safe? That may mean we become best friends later. It may mean we never speak to each other long as I can slow it down long enough to realize that my brain wants to assign a story to her when it’s not about her, it is about a lack of safety that I am perceiving. That’s kind of what I need. That’s data that thought. Hmm. Okay. How can I not act on that by the enrolling in my eyes, at her in avoiding her or being passive-aggressive or outright, those are those automatic responses?

La Shanda:
How do I take it as data? And then say, what do I need to feel safe right now, as I’ve learned to do that for myself, I then learn to see other people through the lens of their vagus nerve. And so it, and, and again, it takes a lot of practice, but I was home visiting my mom a couple of weeks ago in Detroit. And my sister and I had gone to like a corner store. And it’s so interesting. Cause my sister was like, Oh my God, they do not know the meaning of social distance right now. So she’s like getting worked up. I can feel her hers, her sympathetic nervous system rise. And, and me I’m, I’m, I’m really, I’m good. I’m calm. I’m aware that other people’s ability to social distance doesn’t mean I can’t social distance, right? She hadn’t taken that data point enough.

La Shanda:
So everyone else’s proximity was starting to get her overwhelmed, which didn’t allow her to realize that she still had control of her ability to distance. And so we’re getting ready to pay. And there was a gentleman who walked in and a guy who was outside on a bike. And I think the guy on the bike held the door open for the gentleman who came in and the guy who came in was like, I don’t need you to hold the effing door for me. Right. This is what he said. And I instantly thought I wonder what’s causing him to feel unsafe right now. It’s no lie. Like I’m not, this is just how I think. Now when I’m in my functional adult, when my teenager taking over, I do not think that, so trust me, this is people, but when I am grounded, I was able to look at him and go, wow.

La Shanda:
Something that came through his wife since it’s true. And then I began to think like, and I wonder what experiences he’s had in the past that equated that gentleman holding the door for him as something that could have been potentially unsafe. And so I saw him as a full human with the central nervous system instead of what the hell is wrong with him, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and make up a story. We, when we realized that our brains’ responsibility, our cortex will make it’s wrap story around what’s happening in our body. The challenge is so much of what happens in our body is decontextualized trauma. That the story that gets wrapped around it isn’t really necessarily related to what’s happening. It’s the most convenient narrative. So we’re reading our brain will grab the most convenient narrative and give it to us. And then the thing is we respond to the story.

La Shanda:
Our brain is made up, not what’s actually happening process I’m suggesting is slowing down enough to come down to what it’s really about, which is safe and unsafe and slowing that story down enough that I can go, wait a minute. This has nothing to do with what my brain is saying right now. I’m not feeling safe. Or in the context that what you were saying is how I’m feeling really connected. I am, you know, there is something that feels really safe about this person. And I want to acknowledge that instead of maybe another circle, my God, you know, we start finding, Oh my God, they’re so great. And maybe they may be great, but the key is you feel connected. So whatever side of the safe or unsafe it falls on, if we can begin to look at all what’s happening in our body as data points to our survival system, I think we have a very different engagement with the world than when we kind of have these stories that, that, that are made up.

La Shanda:
And where we put on the conversation we’re talking about is the story that’s made up is informed by all of the biases that have come through our census before. And so it becomes, I don’t feel safe. What’s the narrative let’s find it. Oh, there’s a black person. I have been culturalized to believe that black people are generally unsafe. That must be it. When, if we slow that down long enough, we might realize, wait, I don’t feel safe. Really. It’s not what I see. It’s what I smell. What is that? Smell? That smell is triggering something from my past. I no longer have to look for the most convenient narrative. I go, Oh, that’s what it is. If that makes sense.

Genia:
It does make sense. And I’ve just been writing down some, some, some thoughts to try and summarize what, what you’re saying. Just these little jagged notes, but what you just said about what our, you know, our previous experiences have informed our bias. I’ve two thoughts. And then I want to go back and read to you what I, what I think I’ve captured from what you said. So my two thoughts are that our biases are lifelong experiences and traumas and biases that we’ve experienced could simply come from what we’ve seen on television and the kind of crap other people say, as opposed to any actual, authentic experience of trauma.

La Shanda:
Yeah. More so because you have more entry points of media, social media, and conversations than we actually do face to face experience, you know, individual experiences. So you’re dead on. Yeah.

Genia:
Right. Okay. So, so in this idea that we can actually be de-valuing and discriminating against our own children based on our biases. So if we and those are our default settings, and if we want to change our default settings, we, and the way, so what you’re saying is that the way we can do that is by choosing to slow down so that we can actually make a conscious choice about how we want to respond instead of just reacting based on our biases and our internalized evaluation, or another way slowing down to ask a question, instead of just making up a story, that’s informed again, by our biases, our devaluation, our experiences of trauma, like as a reaction kind of thing. So that’s that first step, and it can work for both the positive and the negative aspects.

La Shanda:
That is exactly it. I would say though, that that is the second step. Okay. First step is realizing that what we’re responding to is in our bodies. So with that step, but even the asking the question has to come after the, and maybe when I’m saying is the slowing down is attunement to the body. So that slowed down is like, Ooh, that’s I feel that in my stomach, I, this, you know, I think this here, I put this here, that’s the slow down where, where am I, where’s my body engaging with this? And by bringing it down to the body, it begins to slow us down long enough to then ask the question and then have that perceptual difference. But I want it to be clear for people because if we just stay in the head, we miss kind of where all of this is manifesting, which is in our bodies. If that makes sense,

Genia:
It does make sense. But I wonder if you can expand a little bit, because one of the things that I think I get it, but it doesn’t, I can almost hear people objecting a little bit is to this like safe, unsafe dichotomy. And because again, I’m thinking, I’m thinking about primarily how we, I’m thinking about our kids and then also, you know, other people in the world, but just recognizing that, even when we don’t want to, we’re still you know, we are internalized biases and, and devaluation comes out. And I don’t think like your, your example of like that black man on the street. Like, I feel like that example absolutely triggers like a direct cultural, societal fear that has been embedded in us. Right. The black man is a threat, but I think when we’re thinking about like our own kids, when we’re, I’m thinking about things like well, the best place for my kid is in a special place with special people just like him.

Genia:
So like the, the sort of segregating, warehousing, institutionalizing and othering of our kids that way, or you know, well you know, I’m grieving because you know, my child is never going to you know, grow up and have a meaningful relationships or like, or any of the other, many, many ways that we play out our unconscious devaluation onto our kids with disabilities or any number of other people. It doesn’t, how does that show up in the body when it doesn’t show up in a way that we instantly recognize as safe, unsafe?

La Shanda:
Yeah, no, that’s really good. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to need like a department to tell a story that hopefully can get us in that mode and then let’s bring it to us. Like, what are some examples of that? So when I went home to visit Detroit I had to rich, I had to go get some food from my mom and I in a neighborhood that when I visit home, I don’t normally have to go in. And as I was driving there, there was a moment when I, when I thought this was a thought Oh, I remember this area. And, and that, that was kind of it. I remember it, I, it wasn’t Ironman this area. I thought of the specific reason why I remember the area and then it was gone. The reason I remembered it is because it is peripherally related to one of my traumas.

La Shanda:
It’s peripherally related to my rate, not directly, but like I said, peripherally, I wouldn’t get the food. I come back home, my mother and I eat all of a sudden, I am so tired. I am just like, Oh my God. And my stomach is not responding well. And so the convenient narratives for, for that entire experiences, of course, you’re tired. You had a long week, you just drove all the way up here and your stomach just didn’t like the corn beef sandwich. So the convenient narrative inmate’s sense. So I was like, let’s just, I’m a laydown. So we start binge watching Netflix or whatever there was work I wanted to do. But in the moment of, I took a deep breath and I just was reflecting for a moment. Some self-awareness slowed it down. I realized, ah, I am having a dorsal vagal response.

La Shanda:
My body’s shutting down because my trauma was re-triggered. And it was in that moment that I realized this has nothing to do with how much I worked or what the drive was. My default response during my rape was freeze my body shut down. And even being the sight, the smell that I took in this, this thing that my body started to respond to. And no, it wasn’t this blaring thing, but I was like, that’s it. So what I had to do in that moment is go, Ooh, what do I need to feel safe right now? And I was able to do that for myself. And then there you go. I was no longer shut down. So I say that to say that these things can come and we will wrap another story around it because you know, it of the trauma that is still living inside of our bodies.

La Shanda:
And so with one example you gave with this thought of, you know, it’s best if my child goes here, you know, and, and, and often we’ll sometimes again, wrap our child’s intention around it. They like Boeing isn’t that the default kind of thing, take them bowling. And, and they want to be with people who are like them when if we can slow down long enough, the question is, what is my fear? Am I afraid that if I integrate them into the world so that they can meet people with common interest, instead of someone who shares a devalued label, that they will continually be othered, that I will have to worry more, that they won’t what’s underneath there. So it deserves a pause to go, wait, something about this. Doesn’t feel safe. You know, something about this is triggering that, whatever that is. And again, we can meet those things without judgment. It’s not, Oh my God, I’m thinking this it’s terrible. It’s let’s just start with, Oh my God, this is, this is what I’m thinking. This is what I’m feeling.

Genia:
Okay. So I get that. And if we can bring this back, like, I want to be talking about parents’ experiences with their kids with disabilities, but I feel like I can explain my question better if we talk about racism and white supremacy. So I’m going to try to express myself. I hear what you’re saying on the racism side of things, but I can’t make it make sense. I’m not sure if my question is even going to make sense here on the white supremacy side of things. So the ways that we have internalized the ways that we have internalized white supremacy or the ways that we have internalized able bodied newness and you know, intellectual or academic achievement, or like any of those kinds of conformities that is not necessarily about the, like, we, we dislike what we fear or we like it somehow exists on some, some more of a like, systemic way that has to do with superiority, not threat or safety.

La Shanda:
Well, sometimes.

Genia:
I feel like I can poke holes in my own argument there, but I’m hoping I can understand what I mean about this like kind of shit.

La Shanda:
Yeah, no, and I, I think, I, I think I get it part of it is that the fear then is not meeting it. So the fear, the threat is my, so I, I, yeah. Let me take a second. So I get it. What am I trying to say? Shanda? What are you saying? Our, so think of maybe being from an internalized superiority perspective, is that what you’re saying? So from that perspective, it could be that the thing that is triggering or the threat that is being perceived is being othered. So the thing about other ring is, is, is damaging to those who are, and traumatizing to those who are othered, but it’s also harmful to those who sit in the position of the dominant narrative, because it is this constant sympathetic rise of not falling outside of whatever that is.

La Shanda:
And so I also think that’s why it’s so challenging for people who have internalized superiority to come face to face with that as a mirror, because in some ways how exhausting it must be to know that there are very few people who fall, you know, that what is it top 5% who actually benefit from all the crap that we go through on a regular basis? And so this mirror will inevitably point out, I think, a lot for people where they fall short of that. And so it is this constant achieve or constant reaching towards which resonates in their central nervous system. I believe the same as it does to those who are actively being othered. If that makes sense. And if that was even your question.

Genia:
Yeah, it does make sense, but I feel like I need to, I need to think on that a little bit more. Okay. Not necessarily in this conversation, but it’s like something to chew on, I think. Okay, so we’ve covered an awful lot. Yeah. We’ve talked about a lot. If you had to sort of boil it down a little bit and think about, you know, thinking about speaking to parents of kids with disabilities thinking about helping parents think about their own internalization of, of bias and devaluation and what they can do about it. What’s, what’s your sort of takeaway message.

La Shanda:
I think my takeaway message is once a person understands what’s been put in them, they understand what comes out of them. And that’s awesome. Part of the challenge, I think a lot of people and parents experience is they haven’t done a lot of intentional work with looking at what’s been put in them. And so there is some times a denial or a resistance or hesitation to look at their output as something that’s troubling, problematic or traumatizing to those they’re engaging with because they have this narrative of what they is in them and not what’s actually there. And so I think the work of just improving our humanity, which then encompasses parenting and other relationships is being very honest with ourselves and taking stock of what’s been put in us. And if you’ve grown up in a society and a culture that is rooted in supremacy of any kind, there means there is someone who’s better in someone who’s not, then that’s, what’s in us.

La Shanda:
And our, our perception of the world is going to come through that lens. Even if it’s ourselves, even if it’s our children or our neighbors or whoever that is. And so big takeaway is what’s in you and knowing that we have biases because it’s part of the human experience. One place to start is how did I come to know what I know, what were my resources or these sources that in get that input, that information, and that can start to give us a whole lot of understanding about what’s actually coming out of us because we’ve taken the time to look at what’s been put in us.

Genia:
That’s beautifully said, thank you. La Shanda, if people want to follow up with you, learn more about the work that you do or work with you, how would people find you?

La Shanda:
Yeah. So my website is www.thelaborsoflove.com. From there you can access all of my social media. We’re on all the major social media outlets. I do have a podcast, The Labors of Love Podcast, everywhere you get your podcasts. I also have a YouTube channelwhere every Thursday I do a therapy Thursday video, four to six minutes of topics around relationship trauma, mental health, or whatever else is coming. So those are our primary ways.

Genia:
Awesome. So we’ll make sure that, thatall of those links are in the show notes of this episode. And I just want to point out for myCanadian-British listeners that Labor of Love is spelledthe American way. So L-A-B-O-R not L-A-B-O-U-R. Just in case you’re typing instead of clicking the link in the show notes. La Shanda I’ve really, really deeply appreciated this conversation. And I, you’ve given me a lot to think aboutthat is going to bereally personally valuable to me. So thank you so, so much for your time time today.

La Shanda:
Thank you for the invitation I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Genia:
Have a great, great day.

La Shanda:
Thank you.

Thanks for Listening!

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Special thanks to LA SHANDA SUGG for joining me this week. Until next time!

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