I’m a filmmaker. I’m working on a documentary about the new Chaplin at Riker’s Island, Justin von Bujdoss, who’s also a Buddhist. Bujdoss was hired by a female warden and his Chief Officer is also a woman. In our first meeting, he shared with me that they have an unusual combination of deep compassion and almost brutal strength. I think what struck me was that this didn’t strike me as unusual.
I grew up studying dance, where most of the people I spent time with were women. I went to a woman’s college where I was surrounded by strong, smart and fiercely independent women. When I moved to New York City at the age of 20, to pursue a career in dance, I started my first company, Brouk Moves, an elite in-home personal training company, where I was the CEO. I chose to run my business from a place of compassion and strength, so that not only would I be making money while I was on tour dancing by demanding excellence, but I would also earn the respect and loyalty of my team, because I created a safe space for them to work in, grow in and become the women they are meant to be in the world. This combination of deep compassion and brutal strength describes not only me but the women I surround myself with. And I believe ultimate success and growth comes from creating, working and living in a space that’s safe, while also being deeply compassionate and brutally strong.
Brutal does not have to be defined as savage. It can also mean ferocious and direct, straightforward and blunt. Two words that describe me perfectly.
Photo Courtesy of John Demato
In addition to running Brouk Moves, I have written, directed, choreographed and produced, plays, musicals, web-series, documentaries and short films. Because I am straightforward and direct from the first moment I meet a collaborator, the space is deemed safe. I make it clear what I expect of them, what they can expect of me and that they can discuss anything with me, good or bad. Because I am brutally strong, an immediate bond is formed. And because I am deeply compassionate, we can solve problems together.
Photo Courtesy of John Demato
In my other company, The Big Talk, I apply my expertise to the art of public speaking. When a speaker comes to me with an idea, I sometimes steer them in a different direction because either the idea is over-done, or I can see that they have something more to share and it’s my job to get them to share it. I have to create an environment that’s safe so they will trust me and share with me their most intimate idea, which is what will have the most impact on the world. How I do this, is with an active listening session. I spend two hours asking questions and actively listening. They simply talk to me and I listen. There is nothing that feels safer than being heard. When you are heard, you’re validated, your self-worth improves and you begin to tap into everything you have to offer your family, your work and your impact on the world.
Creating a safe space also starts with being able to communicate clearly. This can mean simple emails about what time a rehearsal starts and ends to complicated conversations about intimate scenes that either requires nudity or delicate physicality. I choreographed several love scenes for Black Box on ABC. The incredible Kelly Reilly played a neuroscientist who suffered from bipolar disorder. When we first discussed the movement vocabulary, I wanted her to feel safe, so my communication had to be clear. The sex was going to be choreographed like a dance. Each movement would be created, rehearsed and repeatable. This was not a free for all. This was going to be highly technical and built with the intention of the scene as support. I was able to communicate this clearly to her so that she could let go of any fear and worry about the upcoming scene. Then I hired a dancer to work it out with me so that we could show Kelly on set before she had to step in. At that point the director, Simon Curtis would make adjustments on me. so that Kelly could watch, still feeling totally safe. Mind you I was fully clothed and this is totally non-sexual. There is nothing sexy about this kind of technical rehearsal, and that’s also part of making the space safe. Once everyone, including the DP, the wardrobe team, and the cast felt safe, the work could begin. The freedom for the actors to be in the moment had been created for them, by clearly communicating.
Because of the recent violence against women and men (Chaplin Bujdoss reminded me that it is violence) coming from Hollywood, Networks and the Whitehouse, the notion of a safe space has seemingly never existed. But I want to remind you that it does exist.
Photo Courtesy of Sylvia Hoke
I also want to point out that collaboration is also paramount in creating a safe space. When you align yourself beside your team, instead of above your team, the space is safe. I don’t mean you can’t be in charge and leading, but you can lead standing next to someone. You can lead by sitting in the middle of the table instead of the head. You can lead by lifting your team up, sometimes above you.
I believe we can create, live and work in a safe space. I believe you can create a safe space for your home, your children, your employees, your actors, your dancers, your spouses, your partners, your lovers. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about us. Communicate what you want and need clearly, while being totally direct. And Collaborate. Yes, even with your children. Listen to them, hear them and implement their ideas to create this safe space that together, you will share.
And finally, we must support the women and men who are not in safe spaces, by giving them a voice and offering up safe space to them. When a space is free from fear, ego, the possibility of sexual abuse or abuse of power, human potential increases exponentially. We can have lives filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment that brings about positive social change. I invite you to become more deeply compassionate and brutally strong.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."