Dec 12, 2023 | Podcast

Heather Wagner on Trauma-Informed Leadership

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Trigger warning:
This episode may contain triggering content for some listeners; please review the show notes to know if this episode is proper for you now.

In our latest podcast episode, we’re diving into empathy, personal growth, and the essence of trauma-informed leadership. I’m honored to have Heather Wagner join us, sharing her inspiring life story woven with her own insights into managing trauma. Together, we explore our experiences’ unique impact on shaping our leadership styles and the pivotal role of empathy in fostering environments where everyone feels included and valued. But this episode goes beyond just grasping the concept of trauma – it’s about reshaping how we approach leadership and coaching, infusing them with deeper compassion and more humanity. I invite you to join us in this exploration as we peel back the leadership and personal development layers. We’re challenging the status quo, embracing a more empathetic and comprehensive approach. Embark on this journey with us and see how empathy can revolutionize how we connect, lead, and evolve.


Topics discussed:

  • Heather’s journey of self-discovery, from changing careers to evolving as a parent and individual
  • Understanding the impacts of trauma beyond PTSD
  • The importance of being sensitive to different lived experiences and incorporating this understanding into leadership and coaching
  • How empathy can enhance leadership, particularly in creating environments that are considerate of individuals’ triggers
  • The contrast between old and new models of transformation and coaching
  • Boundaries, their evolution, and their importance in personal growth and relationship dynamics
  • How capitalism, colonialism, and ableism influence individual behaviors in terms of rewarding specific trauma responses while punishing others
  • How integrating empathy and trauma-informed approaches can lead to more holistic personal development and leadership styles


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Click here for a raw, unedited transcript of this episode



Catherine A. Wood  00:02

Hi, Heather, welcome to the podcast.


Heather Wagner  00:04

Thank you for having me.


Catherine A. Wood  00:06

So just some context for all of our guests who aren’t seeing Heather right now. Heather is a reverend, a trained coach, a trauma consultant. And she’s also wearing a hoodie, has a black Yankees hat, and has this amazing zoom background that I have never seen before. So it is like the perfect environment to be talking about trauma informed work and leadership. How is that for Intro Heather.


Heather Wagner  00:40

visual to it’s a very inclusive way to kind of bring me into the space. So thank you totally.


Catherine A. Wood  00:49

Well, I know that we’ve known each other for a decade now having trained together as coaches through the same program. And honestly, my first I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this story. My first experience with you was you came to DC, to come to an observation session of the coach training program in DC. And you put your hand up to talk as a guest during the observation. And you spoke at length Heather, I don’t know 5-10 minutes about fruit, some metaphor about apples. And I was like, it’s gal, she’s a guest. And she’s like, owning this whole room. And I was just looking on with infatuation. Because at that point in my journey, like, I was like, the silent perfectionist, high performer in the room, right. And you were like, fully self expressed. And I was like, wow, about fruit.


Heather Wagner  01:48

So. But it’s also just a testament of like, how unbounded I was at that point, because like, I’m gonna walk into someone else’s space and own it. Like it’s mine, which is great, like, but it’s so funny. I literally brace every time I hear someone say I saw you in an observation back. I’m like, oh, man, I don’t know what I Saturday, like what’s coming. So.


Catherine A. Wood  02:16

But you’ve come so far in our journeys, and I have been looking forward to having you on the podcast for months to talk about our topic. So before I’m like before, I’m just chomping at the bit before we get started, like, I would love for you to share to share your pronouns and a little bit of your story with my audience.


Heather Wagner  02:35

Yeah. Um, so pronouns are she her hers. Although there’s this part of me that’s like, do I want to explore other pronouns? Because, honestly, I am 45. So, looking back, I now have language to describe my sexual experience, my sexual identity and my orientation. Not that pronouns necessarily relate to that. But just to distinguish that, like, I think I grew up in a generation, and in a time where I didn’t have a lot of space to explore identity. And there’s this part of me that like, I present as a very heteronormative, white woman, and I’m not. And so I think there’s this part of me that’s like, I’d love to play and express with identity with pronouns, because I feel like it’s a place where I can kind of lean into, like, where are my more like integrated traits? And what do I find that the masculine in me and what do I anyways, we could have a whole podcast about that. But as of right now, she her God. And then my story? Oh, there’s so many versions of my story. But if I think contextually, I’m prosperous empath. So I think I was a, my mom got pregnant as a teenager. And I think, you know, I love my family. But I definitely think there was a lot of dynamics that caused me to experience a certain level of trauma being a very sensitive child. I was diagnosed with ADHD at 12. And at the time, things were really hard for me. And I was lucky to have a mentor and my middle school therapist, psychologist, counselor, whatever they are, who saw that I was spending all this time in in school suspension because I was kind of like, the I was the at risk youth as they say. And she saw that I just needed to have me my energy directed into something useful. And so she got me involved in this program called The theater group, which I tend to joke was like a group of it’s like the Breakfast Club of misfit middle schoolers. And we would act out through improvisational theater, all these different skits that people, for our peers, addressing things that we all kind of dealt with his peer. So it could be like rumors or peer pressure. We also address heavier topics like suicide and drug use. And at the time, I did say I’m 45. So at the time, the HIV epidemic was really big, and the AIDS quilt was very big. And we did do a skit based on that. And I played the doctor in the skit and I got to go to like the AIDS Institute in Rochester and learn and research. And one of the things about this program that was really interesting is after we would play out the skit, we would sit in character on the stage and allow our peers to ask us questions. And so there’s a few things I got out of that experience. One, I learned at 12 years old, how to have really complex, vulnerable and dynamic conversations and to hold space for them. And I didn’t know at the time, it would end up being like the thing that is my superpower as an adult. And as the core of my work, I learned that I actually when I channel my talents into something positive can have a really huge impact. And I also learned how to be sensitive and attuned to people in the space through improvisational work, but also just through my own innate talents as a sensitive child who couldn’t get her needs met in other places, but I could get them met in this kind of a format. So I think that’s kind of like where my story really starts. And I ended up you know, going on to study biology and ecology. And it’s interesting how I use that and some of the culture work that I do now and my route understandings of biology and how it plays into my trauma work and, and then as I grew up, I, you know, married my husband beyond a restaurant for a while I did that there’s a joke that I’ve had, like 32 careers in my life, and we could probably do a podcast on all my careers. I had a son 2012, I very quickly attuned to his sensitivities, and he ended up getting diagnosed autistic. And so for the past 10 years, I’ve really been learning how to raise an autistic child in this non neurodivergent friendly world. And through that, as with many parents of autistic children, these days, I realized and collected a bunch of my own diagnoses, like, I am a highly sensitive person, and I am, have PTSD and I have sensory processing disorder, and I am also autistic. And I’m also high performing in high achieving and so I think my story is really learning how to be all of those things. And a world is not necessarily designed for all of those things with this deep connection to wanting to create safe space for everyone to just be who they are.


Catherine A. Wood  08:28

I think that that is a beautiful segue to the topic of being trauma informed, because I can certainly appreciate how your journey has oriented you to being exactly where you are. And meant to be like exactly where you are. And honestly, when I think of being trauma informed, like you are the person who comes to mind, as well as your teacher, who I recently found out that you studied with So, I would love for you to define for me and for my audience, because I will admit, like I would love to I intend to learn more, and I would love for you to define what is being trauma informed mean.


Heather Wagner  09:12

So, I I tried to be inclusive here and try to also educate because, really, it’s defined a lot of different ways, right? So if I just started with kind of the DSM model, you know, traumas really only diagnosed as PTSD and it tends to come and be related to very what we would call acute traumas, or sometimes chronic traumas, but they tend to be more big T traumas. So like war, and I want to put a trigger warning on this I may use terms or phrases that could make anyone uncomfortable who’s listening. And so if you notice in your own body, you become uncomfortable and you need to walk away or press pause and come back to this, I just want to give you permission to take care of yourself. So


Catherine A. Wood  10:15

name like that that right? There is an example of being trauma informed, right? Like, that’s, that’s a model a modeling of it? Yes,


Heather Wagner  10:23

yes. And so being trauma informed, really, at the end of the day is just kind of being attuned to the fact that there are people with a wide variety of lived experience. And it’s not well, it’s not our responsibility. And this is an argument I have gotten into with some of even our colleagues before. It’s not our responsibility to kind of like, create an environment where no one ever gets triggered. But I think as an empathic leader, and as someone who is sensitive to other people, and compassion towards other people, I do want to at least be responsible for how I show up in a space and give people the opportunity to have agency and choice on whether or not they choose to stay or not, and at least give them the opportunity. And I think there’s some people who believe that you should just walk around and be whoever you want, and other people’s triggers are their problem. Yes, other people’s triggers are their stuff. And what am I doing or what can I be responsible for, right, so. So going back to, like, trauma and trauma informed can be defined a couple different ways. If we think about trauma, some people are looking at it strictly through the lens of like, acute traumas that have diagnoseable. In the last 20 years, our understanding of trauma has really expanded and really our our modern understanding of trauma really only goes back to like the 70s, and 80s, because we didn’t even have language or understanding of what that was. So nowadays, one of the ways I define trauma, and this is in the space is anything that happens too much, too soon, too fast, for too long of a time where your agency has been taken away. This can cause an internal neurological response to a threat, and everyone’s relationship to how they respond is different, right. So if we understand that, as a definition of trauma, and not the right definition, but a definition of trauma, then trauma informed becomes acknowledging that that exists in the world, and that how we choose to relate to people, and how we choose to build systems around people can then include that knowledge and information in a sensitive and empathic and compassionate way. Because so many of our systems, our current social models, and from the transformational spaces, to the education system, to the criminal justice system, to our medical system, all of our systems are built in a way to actually be re traumatizing, and not be trauma informed.


Catherine A. Wood  13:06

Wow, that’s so powerful. As you were, as you were thinking, as you were talking like I was just thinking of so many examples, so many personal examples that came up. But a theme that, at least I’ve noticed, for me that’s shifted a lot over the years in my, in my coaching and also in the transformational containers that I run in my masterminds is this theme around consent, and how through, like extending consent to people, reminding people that they always have consent, that they have the opportunity to opt out to say yes to no decline that like, for me that that is something that feels very enlightened with being trauma informed. That is not always something that I felt was modeled for me.


Heather Wagner  14:01

No, it was not modeled in some of the more. So here’s one of the first things I learned in my very first trauma educator course. Was that the old model of transformation, and healing, even in the psychological like even in the therapeutic psychological space, there was this ideology that you drive up people’s stuff on purpose, because then you have material to work with. And without really understanding that that is inherently re traumatizing to people. And I think what I’ve come up against with some folks from like, conflicting ideologies standpoint is like, well, you know, this is what happens in the world anyways, so like, what’s the difference? Or how are you actually going to create change if you don’t drive up people’s stuff? Um, and I’m just like, listen, the world provides us with credit, plenty of organic opportunity to address stuff. And the other argument I’ve heard is like, well, you know, if you’re willing, then that can actually be a great experience. And for some people, even I think some of the shared spaces we’ve been in, some people have thrived at thrive in an environment like that, where other people have completely gone into full trauma response. And so a trauma informed approach, especially in transformational containers, is there really respect that everybody’s capacity to hold their stuff at certain levels is different. And quite frankly, it’s different for everyone all the time. Like, and I use this example, a lot like when I was a mom to a newborn, two years ago, my capacity was very narrow, like my window of tolerance, if you go back to if you go to the polyvagal model, and I can geek out on that if you want. But there’s this model of understanding that we all have a window of what we can tolerate, before we get pushed into a trigger, or what is actually a nervous system response to something we can no longer process because it’s just too much, it’s too much for us, we all have a window of tolerance, that window of tolerance and that capacity to tolerate, you know, stuff, changes based on how supported you are, how much sleep you’ve had, your access to good quality food and nutrition, your access to resources, your access to education, like there’s this whole world of what helps us build your tools, your resilience tools, how much trauma you’ve processed and integrated in your life. So I think, going back to your piece about consent, and to just kind of shifting is like, every time you give people the opportunity to choose every time you go back to consent, you’re restoring people into that tolerance and that window of tolerance and their capacity to feel like they have power in a situation. And we have no idea what their capacity is, we have no idea what they can handle, we have no idea what they’re even ready to cope with and face. And so many of the old models don’t honor or respect or hold reverence for that.


Catherine A. Wood  17:25

You’ve mentioned this idea that of the old model of transformation versus the new model. And I’m wondering if there are other aspects that differentiate the two and if there are, gosh, foundational things to consider for our listeners, as they’re considering not only which transformational containers they want to choose to belong to, but many of our listeners likely want to create their own transformational containers. So what should they be considering as they’re wanting to be more? More trauma informed, more responsible?


Heather Wagner  18:02

Yeah. It’s fun. Thanks for reflecting back to me that I kind of create that dichotomy of old model versus new model, because I don’t know that I use that a lot just to kind of create distinction that because I could be like, if it’s not trauma informed, it’s wrong, right. And I don’t want to be that way. Because everything’s different, right? So I think if I was to create some kind of markers, I would say some of the ideologies that tend to come out of what I call old model tends to be like it, they don’t necessarily honor people’s capacity. It’s like, oh, well, if you’re just not willing to do the work, using language like victim, victim mindset. Unfortunately, when you do have people who have lived experience, and when I say lived experience, this can be lived experience of any kind of trauma, I happen to work now for an organization that works to fight to end human trafficking. And so when we talk about lived experience, we’re specifically talking about trafficking survivors or victims. But it could be people have any kind of major big trauma that they have lived experience of, of that, right? So there’s not a lot of honoring of people’s lived experience and how that informs and that can also be lived experience of your identity. Like if you come into a space and you don’t see anyone else who looks like you, or shares some of your identity, that might be a red flag that that’s not necessarily the safest space for you. And when I say safe space, that’s such a charged thing. You know, there has to be space where you can show up in your full self. So whether that’s spaces like you have created for empathic HSP folks Whether you’re a person of color, and that’s a space where there’s a lot of other people of color, or the leaders are people of color, if they’re your neurodivergent, or, and it’s not to say we need to kind of go into these silos, but a lot of unpacking and processing of our own stuff, at least requires somebody who can have sensitivities to what that lived experience is. And I also think the old model we came from, taught us that like lived experience doesn’t matter. It actually just creates more context for you to get enrolled and some of their stuff. And it’s like, no, actually, it means that you it’s not their stuff isn’t in your blind spot, because you have shared lived experience. So, you know, are they forcing you to go past your capacity? Are they shaming you, if you’re not willing Because it no longer feels safe for you? Do they push you past your window of tolerance? Do you see people who have shared lived experience with you? And this is something people I don’t always think consider but like, does that space have shared values. Because if you’re in a space that doesn’t share your values, and then you’re asking to like really unpack and get in your most vulnerable place, but you’re constantly almost gaslighting yourself by being in an environment that doesn’t align with you. It’s really hard to do transformational work when you’re working with people who don’t share those values with you. And a great example of this could be, you know, are you Muslim, but you’re showing up in a predominantly Christian space, like, just as one example, are you non binary, but you’re showing up in a space that doesn’t actually value or respect that particular identity. And so I think making sure you have a space was shared values. And then I think the easiest thing is, people who identify as being trauma informed I know in the plant medicine spaces, there’s a lot of people that are just think that they’ve done it a few times, and therefore they can host you know, different types of plant meeting spaces. And they have no idea that like, a lot of what plant medicine does is shut down the protective mechanisms of our neurology and allow all of our stuff to show up. And that can actually cause people to go into full on activations that if you aren’t trauma informed, you don’t know how to properly handle. So are they trauma informed? And then the last thing I’ll say on that is like, just because they say they’re trauma informed, ask what that means to them. What are the tools and systems they put into place? What are the practices that they use to create that kind of environment? And are they saying things like agency and choice and nervous system regulation and window of tolerance? Like, are they talking about these terms? Are they referencing the SAMSA trauma informed practices, which is a whole kind of like the origin of where trauma informed came from? So I think those are the things I look for when I’m going into spaces that help you identify and then also create that for yourself.


Catherine A. Wood  23:17

You’ve talked about like this, like this big T trauma versus little T trauma distinction, and I’m, I’m even just thinking about myself, right, like, as a recovering perfectionist, a recovering workaholic, a people pleaser, like have gotten worked through so much codependency, right, like so many of those behaviors are our true our traumatic responses. And they have caused me great success, right. They’ve been the reason for significant levels of success in my business. And they have perpetuated harm for myself because I’ve been doing things just like copying what I was taught, right, like doing what I was told, perpetuating these same habits that didn’t work for me because I thought it was the right way to train the right way to coach the right way to lead. And and so I’m, I’m just thinking from for myself and for my listeners as an empaths highly sensitive, who are prone to being over givers and being high performance oriented, like what’s the path to really distinguish? Where do we stop perpetuating harm versus start charting our own course doing our own internal work, like, where do we I mean, I don’t even know if I could tell you like where I made that switch for myself. It was certainly a long journey. 


Heather Wagner  25:02

Well, and I’m guessing in certain environments, you would be pushed into those old patterns again, right, because our tolerance in certain environments, so you’ve built up in your business, for example, excuse me, you’ve built up in your business, the self awareness and the boundaries and the existence of what it looks like to not lead from those places. And part of it is because you’ve built up enough safety in your business, I think, with new business owners when this is why I am not a fan of people quitting their jobs. And going all in I know, it’s an unpopular opinion. But I’m not a fan of people doing that, because not everyone has the capacity to regulate, and then they’re creating their business from all of those places. So I think that there comes a point where there’s enough financial stability, where you feel safe enough that you can then start to unpack those behaviors and start to discern, I’m a big fan of the positive intelligence tool, I don’t know, I’m sure that’s come across your plate at one point. The reason I love the Positive Intelligence tool is it inherently is a trauma informed practice without being a trauma informed, labeled tool. And I’m actually certified and I sit inside the organization on some of their communities of practice. And we have started like the trauma people have been like, actually, you should kind of think about how this works, because what’s cool about that tool is it’s rooted in neuroscience. And it’s rooted in behavior management and change. And the thing about that tool is, it recognizes, for example, that the shadow side of people pleaser is self abandonment, over giving and all of that stuff, right. But when and when and when you’re in the left part of the brain or in the limbic part of the brain, which is the fear part of the brain, you are doing those things unconsciously as a coping strategy from a lack of safety and fear. When you can regulate the nervous system through the tools and strategies they teach, you shut down the fear part of the brain and you bring the prefrontal cortex back on line, and I’m speaking a bunch of neuroscience, but run with me here. And you actually get into the part of the brain where discernment lives, where creativity lives, where compassion lives. And there’s always like people pleasers also happened to be some of the most empathic people happen to be some of the most attuned people. And so I think there’s that threshold of like, where am I using these things as coping strategies from fear? And when am I using these things to actually create really cool boundaries, systems and processes and ways of being in my my containers in my business? And that’s that self development work? That’s that self attunement work. That takes time it takes years, I think, but it really lives in how safe do I feel in this environment right now to be a part of my body and my nervous system that allows me to do that.


Catherine A. Wood  28:09

So beautifully said, love all of that. And a couple of the terms that you said that really stick out is this idea of self abandonment. Because I don’t think we talk about it nearly enough. Like this idea that when we’re being a people pleaser, when we’re being perfectionistic. Like we are absolutely abandoning ourselves, our needs, our self expression, our desires, at the risk of getting them met through doing or being something or someone for some one or something else. And in your right, like, I’m just kind of connecting the dots for myself, but it absolutely is a long process. And I think it starts with getting reconnected with ourselves. And is it safe to be me like, is it safe to say what I really think? Is it safe to do what I really want to do? Is it safe to share my boundaries? Like I talk about boundaries, a ton here. And I also talk about like, and I’m sure I’m still curious to hear your thoughts on this. But when I first started doing my own healing work around boundaries, I was so rigid in sharing them, because I was I was scared like, I was kind of I didn’t fully trust the boundaries that I was saying, and people could feel that rigidity, and people would often get triggered by my boundaries. Oh, yeah. And then as I continue doing my work around boundaries, and knowing the line, like how can I be generous but boundary like where’s the line where I stopped giving from myself and I start giving for someone else. And boundaries became completely embodied and I stopped triggering other people through communicating them.


Heather Wagner  29:56

So my so there’s a call Couple of things here. One thing is, I think in the beginning, people use words. And I call them they don’t set boundaries, they set walls, like or they set lines in the sand or they make up rules. Like, you know, that doesn’t work for me. You know, right. Like, there’s something there or, you know, my son the other day, I told him, I wouldn’t take him to do this thing he wanted to do. And he told me I was violating his boundaries we’re working on. No, that’s not a boundary. That’s a preference. And no, I’m not honoring your preference right now. You’re right, but and then we talked about how like, a boundary would be, Mom, you can’t yell at me and tell me no, I won’t do that thing for you. Can you please speak to me in a kind way? And tell me no, I won’t do that thing you do like? So I think when we stop communicating with words and rules, and we move into communicating from words and experience where it’s like, Oh, hey, like, I just that didn’t. This morning, I told my husband, you said something last night that like, I know, you didn’t really mean, but it kind of stung a little bit. So can we just talk about that for a second? And like he feels my boundary? Because I’m sharing the experience and I’m communicating versus, Hey, you said that thing last night. And that’s not going to work with me anymore. So here’s my boundary. Like, it’s kind of hard to articulate but to your point when I don’t know who said it, but someone said, boundaries aren’t communicated there felt. And I That, to me was like the epitome of what a boundary actually is. But, and I know I don’t know where we mentioned, my mentor, Thomas Hubbell. But I love the way he talks about boundaries, which is literally a boundary is just this, this like liminal space between where you and him begin and where I end and begin. And a lot of times when people are codependent, there’s this a mesh moment where the boundaries get blurred between each other. And part of the codependency work is like pulling away and figuring out where that is. And the way he talks about it is what happens is when we are traumatized or wounded, or as children had our boundaries violated, we become numb to that particular area of our of our experience. And, and when we’ve been wounded in certain areas, we become numb to that experience. And so part of boundary work is actually learning to actually get back in touch with those parts of ourselves. And we could get into parts work in a whole nother conversation. So I know we share them parts work, work. But when you reconnect to those abandoned parts of yourself that are numb, and you actually integrate that experience, he talks about how boundary work is actually learning how to hold more of your own lived experience, without shutting down or going into a trauma response, you can actually just hold that. And I think that comes from that integration, work and better understanding. So I think boundaries are far more complex than we understand. I think at the very surface level, we just think that it’s like, here’s my line. And here’s my rules. And here’s how you engage with me. And it has to start there. It does. I think that’s a natural place to start. But when you get deeper into it, that’s when the real work starts.


Catherine A. Wood  33:40

Yeah, no, I think I think that makes a lot of sense. I think that there are so many layers and levels to the boundary conversation, like as you were talking, I was just thinking about. I mean, a component of the parts work, right. It’s like when we commit to doing that deeper healing work and we start reconnecting with our abandoned parts. We stop trying to get those parts met through our unhealthier and boundaried relationships. And then we might outgrow, or move on from relationships, which is a whole other aspect of boundary work. Really. Yeah,


Heather Wagner  34:22

that was one of the one that was harder for me, I’ve realized the more boundary I get, the more attuned, the more self honoring I get. There were certain relationships that I just could no longer be in and they were really heartbreaking losses. And there was a lot of grief in that. And it’s that complexity of like, while I’m healing and growing. I’m also losing some things that are healthy or not healthy. There’s still a grief in some of that loss. And it becomes this really dynamic experience. And I think that is one of the reasons why people get scared is I think there’s an intuitive understanding Knowing that if I am going to grow into this person I want to become, I’m going to have to let go of some things that I’m really comfortable with, even though I know they’re not healthy for me, even though I can kind of sense like, Oh, like this person, I don’t feel good after I hang out with this person, or it’s still the person you know, and love and care about. You just don’t necessarily care for those. Some people are easily. That’s That’s true. But you’re so complex, I love you for all these reasons. But those things you do just really don’t work anymore. And you don’t want to change. So I have to opt out. And that’s hard. Well,


Catherine A. Wood  35:41

speaking of boundaries, I want to be mindful of our time. And there’s a topic I really want to touch on, we could probably do a whole episode on it. But something that I talk about a lot these days is internalized capitalism.


Heather Wagner  35:56

And love. She started talking about that. Yes.


Catherine A. Wood  36:00

And you responded on a LinkedIn post of mine last fall. And I just, I just loved what you said. Like it was like, it was a whole nervous system response. Yes. And I would love to talk a little bit about your relationship term internalized capitalism, and like, how does it reward some of our trauma based coping mechanisms and hurt others? And like, where’s the line?


Heather Wagner  36:29

Oh, my God, we I mean, I feel like we need to do a series on each topic. By partnership, or toy for partnership. So I think the the short version of this because I am honoring time is part of my work in the neuro diversity space, and really, doing a more inclusive trauma informed work has come to this place of understanding that. Capitalism, colonialism, and I know this is going to push some buttons, but I’m okay with it. ableism, there are some core isms that have yet to really be addressed. We’ve looked at sexism, we’ve looked at racism, we’ve looked at other things, ages, and we need to continue to look at those. But I think the ones that have not been fully explored yet, and how they show up in our leadership spaces in our organizational spaces, are really the colonialist capitalist ableist things. They drive and reward, hyper achievement, and I want to discern achievement from hyper achievement, like you can play to excellence. And that goes back to the what part of the brain Am I in, right? Because in my, in the part of my brain that feels safe and engaged, and I’m in my social nervous system, I can just be a stand for excellence because I value that right. But if I’m in my fear brain, I am hyper achieving, because my value is tied to my productivity. And that really is rooted in that capitalist thinking, right? So we tend to reward hyper achievement, people pleasing, self abandonment, fallen responses. And it’s like, yes, do more of that compliance. Like everyone who follows the rules and gets in line, like, Yes, you are rewarded. People who have more of the rebel, you know, after the system, or they quit, or they have more of those less socially appreciated trauma responses, which happened to be mine and my son, so I’m constantly advocating for those. They’re not bad, you would not punish a child for having digestive juices secretes after they eat a sandwich. Right human being, and their nervous system goes into a fight response, let’s not punish them, they are having a natural biological response, let’s actually help regulate them and help them get into the part of the brain where they feel safe. And we can actually process what’s happening. So I think this is the thing we’re constantly punishing and criticizing and shaming, fight and flight based trauma responses. And we’re rewarding compliance, people pleasing, self abandonment, over achievement. And it’s been going on and is rooted in a lot of these complex societal ways of being that I think are really scary right now to unpack in our climate and our social climate. Oh, stop.



I know. This


Catherine A. Wood  39:47

is like a door opener rather than a nice segue to a core conversation. We might just need to leave that there for part two like it feels Honestly, it feels like an honest place to leave the door open. Because I think there are many more questions to be answered here than answers.



I agree. I agree. Thank you for your


Catherine A. Wood  40:13

solidarity and the values aligned approach. And you know, what I’m really appreciating in this moment is I think that because of all of the inner work that both of us have been doing, I feel that much more connected to you now and 20, almost 2024 than I did in 2014.


Heather Wagner  40:36

I know and we’ve actually, I think both gravitated towards some of the same modalities probably because of our shared and empathak traits. So yeah, and high achieving and all of those


Catherine A. Wood  40:49

things, all the things well, as we wrapped, what has supported you in becoming a prosperous empath.


Heather Wagner  40:57

I’m really looking at myself through that highly sensitive frame, I’ll be honest with you, because it allowed me to have more self compassion when it didn’t work for me the same way it did for other people. And I also got to honor a part of myself that I think previously I had judged or shamed as something wrong. And so that first diagnosis of highly sensitive person and the work I started there through that lens really helped me pivot to be more aligned with things that worked for me. So I honestly think that’s it.


Catherine A. Wood  41:44

Heather, thank you so much for today. This is really special and complete honor.


Heather Wagner  41:50

Well, thank you. Thanks for having me and happy to come back anytime.



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Exploring Sensitive Leadership with Nina Khoo

On this week’s episode of the Prosperous Empath®, we’ll explore how to effectively lead as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), mitigate challenges, and work with your strengths. I’m thrilled to sit down with Nina Khoo, a Sensitive Leadership Coach and a Master NLP Coach who helps HSPs understand and embrace their unique wiring so they can become confident and empathetic leaders. It’s common for Highly Sensitive People to believe that they’re not capable of effective leadership and struggle with overwhelm, perfectionism, and second-guessing. Nina and I uncover how our greatest strengths can sometimes be the traits we feel most self-conscious about and pose a central question: How does a Highly Sensitive Person protect their gifts as a leader? As an empath and an HSP, your brain is physiologically wired to take more information in and process it more deeply, which can be an incredibly powerful leadership skill. Yet, it can also lead to overwhelm and self-criticism. Through our conversation, you’ll learn how to approach leadership in a more sensitive, empathetic, and compassionate way so you can own your gifts and make a bigger difference in the world  

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The Prosperous Empath® Podcast is produced by Heart Centered Podcasting.

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