029: Is Trauma A Root Cause For Your Skin Rashes? w/ Dr. Keesha Ewers

The concept that childhood trauma could have an impact on adult health seemed very woo-woo to me…that is, until I was schooled by today's guest.


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Dr. Keesha, the Mystic Medicine Doctor, is an integrative medicine expert, Doctor of Sexology, psychotherapist, Huachumera (medicine woman trained in plant medicine from Peru), and the founder and medical director of the Academy for Integrative Medicine Health Coach Certication Program.

Dr. Keesha has been in the medical field for over 30 years. After conducting the HURT Study in 2013 (Healing Un-Resolved Trauma), she developed the HURT Model for understanding how past childhood trauma impacts adult health.

In this episode, we talk about how trauma can have an impact on skin rashes, as well as brain and overall health. 

Have you improved your skin health after dealing with trauma? Tell us about it in the comments!

In this episode

  • What does it mean to have trauma in your life?
  • Different kinds of trauma and their impact on the physiology of the brain.
  • Why staying in fight-or-flight creates inflammation and more.
  • How dealing with trauma can help.
  • How to get started.



“Emotional resilience is the thing that actually creates an ability—we call it heart rate variability—to be able to come into a state of fight-or-flight and come right back down to rest-or-digest.” [9:05]

“Children do not have a fully developed executive function brain (a prefrontal cortex). This part of the brain is not fully formed until you're 26 years of age.” [12:40]

“Make sure that the language that you're speaking to yourself is as if you're a kind, loving parent speaking to a five-year-old child.” [22:10]



Find Dr. Keesha Ewers online here

Click here to download Dr. Keesha's 21-Day Quick Start FREE

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“Emotional resilience is the thing that actually creates an ability—we call it heart rate variability—to be able to come into a state of fight-or-flight and come right back down to rest-or-digest.”

029: Is Trauma A Root Cause For Your Skin Rashes? w/ Dr. Keesha Ewers FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer:              Hi everyone and welcome back to The Healthy Skin Show. Today I have a guest with me who proved me entirely wrong many months ago when I first interviewed her on the topic of how past trauma can affect your health. Further down the line, and I'll give this story in a moment, but I want to introduce her. She's Dr Keesha Ewers. She is known as the mystic medicine doctor. She's an integrative medicine expert, doctor of sexology psychotherapist. Oh my goodness. I cannot say that, can you pronounce that for us . Dr Keesha?

Dr Ewers:             Huachumera.

Jennifer:              Huachumera , which is a medicine woman trained in plant medicine from Peru and the founder and medical director of the Academy for Integrative Medicine Health Coach Certification Program. She is in, been in the medical field for over 30 years and after conducting the HURT study in 2013 and that actually stands for healing unresolved trauma, she developed a model known as the HURT model for understanding how past childhood trauma impacts adult health, and so here's the thing.

Jennifer:              She's done a lot of stuff. She's got some great books and she's got an event coming up we're going to talk about, but let me give you guys the backstory here. So when I interviewed Dr Keesha for the eczema and psoriasis awareness week, she came to me and said, listen, I want to talk about how trauma can affect your health. And I was like, huh, okay. And it sounded really Lulu to me and I was like, I'm going to prove her wrong. I'm going to pull out all these studies. Yeah, all the studies I found you guys. So for anybody who's listening to this going health past trauma connected to my skin health, guess what? There are legitimate studies at universities and through physicians and all sorts of stuff that actually show that past trauma and it can be big traumas and little traumas can affect your health now that you have not addressed, you have not dealt with.

Jennifer:              There were publications at major universities like Harvard and Yale and Johns Hopkins. I mean, I was proved totally wrong. So I am very blessed and feel very appreciative that she was willing to come on. She schooled me, which I'm glad about. And she is here to talk about this today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr Ewers:             Well, I had no idea any of that was happening behind the scenes.

Jennifer:              I was like, this was like my skeptic hat. That sounds super woo woo. Let me really see if that's a thing. And I was like, oh it is, oops, I was wrong. So I'm glad because a lot of people come to the conversation thinking that that doesn't sound like it would make any sense. And so I just want to share that for anyone listening who feels skeptical, there's legitimate research about that. So can you share a little bit about, you know, the issues around trauma? Like what does it mean to have trauma in your life?

Dr Ewers:             Sure. But first what I'm going to do is do my own little, like anecdotal proof for myself. Eczema and psoriasis used to cover my neck and I don't have any foundation. I don't wear makeup. So I just wear like blush and eye shadow and that's, you know, but nothing on my face. And so look at that. You know, when I was in my teens, twenties, thirties and early forties this was covered and I used to wear turtlenecks all the time to make sure nobody could see. And so now it's nothing, right? Because I've dealt with my trauma. So there you have it.

Jennifer:              We're kicking it right off. But so for somebody, yeah,trauma feels like a very vague concept, you know?

Dr Ewers:             It is and so let's talk about, yeah,

Jennifer:              Let's talk about that.

Dr Ewers:             Sorry about that. So trauma, there are two kinds, capital T trauma and lowercase T trauma. Okay. So capital T trauma would be the kinds of trauma that you think about is trauma, in other words, sexual, emotional, physical, psychological, and even spiritual abuse. Now, lowercase T trauma. This is such an interesting and fascinating study that was done when I was doing my work around the HURT study. I was doing some brain mapping research. So I was looking at different FMRI studies that have been done on brains that have suffered from PTSD. So post traumatic stress disorder, which is going to be capital T trauma as opposed to people that rank high on a perceived stress scale. Now perceived stress is, I feel so overwhelmed, I'm doing too much am I'm over-scheduled, I can't keep up, I can't breathe, I can't do self care. Guess what?

Dr Ewers:             The brain has the same changes for both of those. So if you are listening to Jen and myself right now and you have been saying you're overstretched, over-scheduled too busy and you're always feeling that way to the point that you can barely take a breath into your belly, you're just breathing from up here, your body's getting the message that you're like a zebra being chased by a lion and you're about to be dinner and we're not wired to be in that nervous system state continually. Only momentarily. If someone's chasing you to steal your purse, you know or hurt you until you get to safety, you're supposed to be in that fight or flight place and then you're supposed to resume parasympathetic tone or the rest and digest place. So trauma is anything that pulls you out of that.

Jennifer:              Wow. That,s pretty broad too.

Dr Ewers:             We tend to define it as,

Dr Ewers:             It's broad, it's very broad, and we tend to rest into this idea where as humans we do a lot of comparing with each other and which is very damaging, right? I always say compare and despair, so what'll happen is people that have, let's, let's use Syria, right? People that have been in Syria and their cities bombed and perhaps gone through terrible things like even rape and losing family members will have a certain level of trauma that we could say is capital T trauma, and then we have people that are in our country that perhaps, I don't know, grew up with having hand me down clothes all the time. I've actually done therapy for a woman who's big trauma in her life was that she never got new clothes and she had three older sisters and it was all about, you know that I am not important enough.

Dr Ewers:             Her brain would look the same as the person that went through the Syrian stuff. Isn't that remarkable? It's wherever your bar is set is where your perceived level of trauma is. So if you perceive yourself to be traumatized, you are traumatized and the brain changes that occur are a shrinkage of your prefrontal cortex, which is the adult executive function brain is the one that decides who to date, who to marry, how to spend your time, how to spend your money, what to put on the end of your fork and what to put in your cup. All of those things, right? It's your executive function and the part of your brain that grows is back in the limbic system. It said amygdala, the right side of that amygdala grows larger, which is your fight or flight, constantly scanning to see if someone's trying to hurt you. You become hyper vigilant. Hypervigilant is another way of saying, I'm turned up really high in my fight or flight receptivity.

Jennifer:              And that has to happen too. I was going to say, because think about it. For someone that's constantly checking for a flare and they're always on guard, am I in a flare? Am I spending a flare? You know, are people staring at me? They're experiencing trauma from all, like I can't even take a shower. If I get in the shower, my skin is going to get really bad. I can't wash my hands. Like it becomes this constant cycle of of these little traumas throughout the day that people have even noted that stress can be a major trigger for skin issues.

Dr Ewers:             And your perception of your illness is one of them as you just noted. And then let's take it even further to what we do as healthcare providers. Sometimes I wrote about this in my book, my cookbook, which is the quick and easy autoimmune paleo cookbook, right? I wrote a big thing in there about orthorexia. The thing that we do where we start becoming afraid of food, we start becoming really judgemental and rigid in our minds around food. So then you're traveling, you're in an airport and you can't find anything to eat. So you experienced as a trauma and that's only perceived, right? It's not actually a trauma. There's plenty of stuff to eat in the airport, but you're right, it's stuff that could potentially exacerbate a flare. So then that's where you have to learn how to have the lifestyle of taking food with you to an airport, right?

Dr Ewers:             But in the case that maybe you haven't been able to do it, you very quietly, very gently surrender to the state that you're in right now. It's called radical acceptance, right? And that requires a lot of emotional resilience. So emotional resilience is the thing that actually creates an ability, we call it heart rate variability, to be able to come into a state of fight or flight and come right back down into rest or digest rather than hanging out in fight or flight, which actually exacerbates auto immune disease. Leaky gut turns on genetics that we maybe don't want turned on, right? And creates a state of inflammation, which can show up on the skin, but it can also show up in the joints and on your thyroid and in your adrenal glands and you know, all of it. And so it becomes problematic when we become hyper vigilant.

Jennifer:              One interesting thing. As you're talking, I'm reminded of a paper that I read on this when I was doing my research of this woman whose father died suddenly on the operating table when she was 12 and she had eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, all these really serious issues. And she was doing her research for this article around this topic. So again, a skeptic walking into this scenario of can past traumas actually affect your current day health. And she was like a great, almost like a case study, you know, for this. She realized that this, what happened to her father deeply scarred her and when she started to deal with it, she began to see a resolution of her symptoms. So.

Dr Ewers:             Right.

Jennifer:              That said, for somebody who's listening to this, they may have something in their past, you may have, like I was in, I lived in Manhattan on nine 11. That was a really big trauma. And well fortunately I didn't know anybody personally that passed away, but it was incredibly scary and gave me nightmares and posttraumatic stress for years afterwards. So then I'm thinking as a listener, Oh gosh, do I have to relive all of this stuff, this negative emotion do I have to like go back and be in that awfulness in order to find myself more at peace like that? That's certainly a concern, a stressful concern.

Dr Ewers:             Sure it is. And it's a really good question. And it's one that people have in their minds constantly and it prevents them from getting help. And the answer to that is absolutely not. And preferably, please no, you know you've already done it once. Please don't go back and go through it over and over and over again. The problem is, is that we do, and so what happens, the HURT model that I developed from my research, which is healing unresolved trauma. I do these deep immersion retreats at my house on San Juan Island and this is what we do is we go through and we say, okay, I teach everyone this model. When I go around and and educate people about it first, what happens is you experienced that hurt, right? The first thing. So let's say it's nine 11 which scarred a lot of people, or it's the operating table.

Dr Ewers:             You know, someone loses a parent. This is big trauma, right? And we all have them. And it can be something like, actually there was a man that I was doing therapy for years ago who had tripped in front of the girl he liked in middle school, in the cafeteria, spilled his tray of food all over the place. The entire cafeteria had laughed at him. He had not gone back into a cafeteria. He would skulk in the library during lunchtime for two years after that. So he had created a meaning about himself in that moment. That's a rejection, right? Having the whole cafeteria laugh at you. And most people wouldn't identify that as a trauma, but it was for him. So what you have to understand is you have that moment in time. Now, remember that children do not have a fully developed executive function brain, the prefrontal cortex, this part of the brain is not fully formed until you're 26 years of age.

Dr Ewers:             So when you're experiencing all of these different events, when you're a kid, you're doing it with an unformed mind. And when children go through these things and they don't have a wise attuned caregiver right there at that moment to help them navigate it, they will make something up about it. Now who among us, you know, even I'm a parent of four, I haven't been present 24 seven for my children. It's part of the human experience to have this thing occur. So what will happen is first we have our event and then that will create a feeling in our bodies. Now let's take this boy who spilled this food in front of everybody. Probably there was shame, right? Intense shame and embarrassment. So he will lodge that feeling in his body somewhere. Now, from a lot of us, it's in our gut. For some of it's, it's in our chest.

Dr Ewers:             For some it's in our shoulders for some neck, some jaw, you know, so we will hold it somewhere and then we create a meaning about that. So, oh my gosh, I just like embarrassed myself in front of my entire class. And I, I am such an idiot. Right? Then a belief will form from that. I shouldn't be in front of people. I'm too clumsy. I'm going to go skulk in the library. Right? And then a behavior is used as an adaptation for that belief. And that meaning his behavior was to become very shy, very introverted, and hide out in his life. So whenever he came to see me, why? Because he couldn't get up in his work environment at Microsoft and give speeches. He would start sweating profusely and he would get that whole social anxiety thing, right? And had this entire sweating problem where all of his shirts were stained because he had all these, you know, horrible sweat spots.

Dr Ewers:             And it was embarrassing for him. He couldn't do his job. So when we started working together, the first thing I asked him was, when's the first time you remember having this feeling in your gut that you feel when you get up in front of a group? We had to go back and we had to rewire his brain and reframe that belief that he had and then change his behavior pattern. So you can't actually, this is why this is so important for people that have poor relationships with food or with themselves or, you know, codependency with people, you can't actually change that behavior. You have to change the belief and the meaning that informed it. So that's why we feel like we fail all the time in our diet, or we are unable to actually change a habit that's not serving us. Right.

Dr Ewers:             So this is such important stuff. You don't have to go back and relive the shame of being embarrassed, but you get to get the power of understanding, Oh, that started there. Now we get to rewire that. And so it's very empowering.

Jennifer:              I was going to say it's more empowering. And what I'm also hearing is that yes, you don't need to relive the actual events, but you're looking at this almost as if you're a third party watching a movie. So there's a lack of that emotional fire that a lot of people.

Dr Ewers:             Re-Trauma.

Jennifer:              Right.

Dr Ewers:             You're not retraumatizing yourself. Right. Exactly. And you're actually getting to see it from the adult brain and you get to say, oh, I see what I did back then and I see and I get to actually go and I get to comfort that kid, you know? So what I did is I helped him build a relationship with that 12 year old boy.

Dr Ewers:             I had you know, reconnect to him and instead of projecting him out and getting rid of him because he was too embarrassing, right? We can't fracture your parts of ourselves out like that. We become splintered. And then we have these different behavior patterns and disease processes that show up. We have to actually integrate all of this together. So he got to go back and he got to do what needed to happen in that moment. He got to redo, right? And so we took a kind wise adult part of him back, pick that kid up off the floor, put his arm around him and said, look buddy, this happens. You know, this is okay. These kids are actually just having ref. They're having a reflex laugh right now because they themselves fear this very thing. You know, nobody likes to trip in front of the crowd, and so what they're doing is they're actually having nervous laughter.

Dr Ewers:             They're not laughing at you, and so you know you, you are okay. You actually took one for the team, right, and so we get to do a do over right there, and it's not a reliving of the trauma. It's an actual rebonding with ourselves and pulling that forward because in essence, the fear that you're to have to relive a trauma is actually happening all the time anyway. Yeah. Every single time he stood up to have to deliver a presentation, he was reliving his drama. And so the fear that when you go and you really try and heal this, that you're going to have to relive something. What you don't understand is you've been reliving it over and over and over again. Every time you look in the mirror and you see an eczema outbreak or a psoriasis outbreak, or you're unable to heal any other kind of autoimmune disease, this is what I realized about myself.

Dr Ewers:             I had rheumatoid arthritis when I was 30 23 years ago. I was able to reverse it, but only after I discovered that sexual abuse and at the age of 10 in my elementary school had something to do with the pain I was in right here 20 years later. Right. And I didn't realize that my perfectionism, my overachieving, my trying to beause remember a 10 year old in a fifth grade classroom who is trying to be perfect so she doesn't get called to the principal's office because he's the abuser. Right. That's actually happening day in and day out trying to make sure everyone likes me. Trying to make sure. So I became a consummate people pleaser. I was a caregiver. I never made self care a priority for myself. I was always scanning the environment to make sure I was safe. I was reliving my trauma constantly. RA was just a call to action to stop doing it and it was the gift.

Jennifer:              And that's a really beautiful perspective that I understand. So anybody listening, I know that that might be hard to hear right now and say how could this skin issue be a gift? But if you take a step back, cause I think that's Dr Keesha, that's what you're inviting us to do is to take a step back from the hurt emotional self. I could be wrong, but this is how I'm hearing it. To take a step back and say we don't need to keep reliving this. We don't have to keep staying stuck in this space of re-traumatizing ourselves. Every time we look in the mirror, every time we go out or every time we go to the gym and we're like, oh gosh, my skin looks bad and do I have to put makeup on in order to go to the gym cause people are gonna think I look gross. And you go on this crazy roller coaster of emotion. That said, what is one thing, one little thing. I mean you've got this great event coming up, which I think many of us could, could certainly benefit from because there's a lot of information to unpack. There's a lot of trauma that goes along with having chronic skin issues. What's one thing that someone could do when they're done listening to us? What could they do to just dip their toe in the water and get started?

Dr Ewers:             You know the thing that I think is the number one thing, okay, so I wrote solving the autoimmune puzzle. And in that book there are a bunch of worksheets that take you step by step, by step through that. So that's one thing. But to start, the second you stop listening to us is to really start listening to your language. And I don't mean like shit damn and hell, I'm actually talking about the way you speak to yourself. How many can'ts won'ts shouldn't. How many times do you say I'm failing or feel betrayed by your body or by life, by God, by people around you. How many times is your language wound up with that kind of tone that actually sets you off into a fight or flight response. And so you are keeping yourself there and once you start to speak to yourself like you would to the little kid that just tripped in front of all the kids in the school, right?

Dr Ewers:             And say, Hey buddy, it's okay. Hey sweetheart, come on. It's all right. I've got you. Right. I love you. I appreciate you. I'm listening to you. You are worthy. You are deserving. Then you're, you're actually giving yourself the affirmation and the approval that you're looking for from outside and you're never going to get that 100% of the time from the people outside of you. It's not possible. They're too wound up with their own stuff, their own inner dialogue. And so really starting to change your language around what life is doing to you instead of it's doing it for you and then how you're responding and make sure that the language that you're speaking to yourself is as if you were a kind, loving parent speaking to a five year old child. And that's, that is a big step right there. Don't shit all over yourself, you know, don't do.

Jennifer:              Don't shit all over yourself. There is so much truth to that.

Dr Ewers:             Exactly. Exactly. Make sure that you appreciate this beautiful body that is the blessing and gift that you have. Because I used to listen as a young nurse, I used to listen to the elderly. Say to me, the golden years are for bird. Like this is not turning out to be golden at all and you don't really actually appreciate your health until it's gone. I'm going to say, you know, skin is skin, but what if you didn't have mobility? Right? And so really start appreciating what you do have rather than what's wrong. And that's part of your languaging.

Jennifer:              It is.

Jennifer:              Thank you so much for this conversation. It hits a level of, at least for me, of emotional depth, that while I love the science and I love biochemistry and I love looking at gut stuff in the [inaudible] stuff and all that, this is, this is harder, I would say to some degree, this is harder work. It's the work that a lot of people don't want to do because.

Dr Ewers:             Totally.

Jennifer:              It's really uncomfortable. But I love your invitation to everyone listening to start thinking, no. Start listening. Start listening to their language of how you experience anything your day, your body, your skin, your, you know, I love that. And I, I challenge every single listener to take time and get out a journal and write it down, like have a can't, write down how many can'ts did I say in a day about yourself? It would be kind of an interesting experiment to see how ingrained that is in your daily life.

Jennifer:              And then I would also invite you to join Dr Keesha on this amazing event that she's going to be launching and a couple of weeks. I'm going to have links to all of that as well as her website, drkeesha.com and her books in the show notes. That way it's super easy for all of you guys to go and check her out, connect with her, and get in the know because this is, this is a root cause for any of you guys listening and thinking, well, I want to do a root cause approach. This is one of the root causes and I will tell you the person who taught me that is Dr Keesha. So thank you very much for joining us, Dr Keesha. I really appreciate it.

Dr Ewers:             Thank you.