Why Former Canadian First Lady Sophie Grégoire Trudeau Says “We’re All One Trauma Away from Each Other”

“I want everybody to know that you are never alone when you suffer,” Sophie Grégoire Trudeau says. “It might feel that way in the moment, but you are not alone.” 

Grégoire Trudeau, a Canadian global mental wellness advocate, is the author of the new book Closer Together: Knowing Ourselves, Loving Each Other, which features illuminating interviews with revered relationship, mental health, and trauma experts including Terrance Real, Gabor Maté, and Catherine Price, to name a few. In the book, Grégoire Trudeau offers an urgent, albeit warm and accessible, call for each of us to better examine our mental and emotional landscape. The book, part memoir, part wellness guide, is deeply personal. It reveals details from her time as Canada’s first lady, her personal struggles, and her tangible desire to encourage people to take responsibility for their health and lives. When we take the reins of who we are and gain “more emotional leadership in our mind,” she says, we can better prepare ourselves to deal with big emotions and the hardships in life. 

The brightest light in all of this is one that Grégoire Trudeau builds steadily and beautifully in her book: that caring for our mental well-being needn’t take giant sweeping changes all at once. It can start with taking “five minutes of nothing and silence,” she tells us. And when we better care for ourselves, Grégoire Trudeau adds, we take better care of the world around us. “Deep, meaningful human connection is the key to addressing all of our issues.”

A CONVERSATION WITH SOPHIE GRÉGOIRE TRUDEAU

Your book is textured, with personal narrative and Q&As with many practitioners, physicians, and wellness advocates from Judson Brewer to Gabor Maté to Jewel. How did you envision the book as you started writing and creating it?

The inside joke with all the people who know me is that there’s never a boring moment. I wanted to make sure that we would dance together through the different emotions of life and the different predispositions and positions in our bodies and minds. I wanted people to feel. That was a goal that I kept in mind the whole time.

You write, “On a purely neurological level, our brains don’t care if we’re happy (…) It actually takes courage and work to be happy.” Tell us more about the research that says we get in our own way and how we can work to change this. 

The primitive part of our brains is 200,000 years old. And this structure, this hard disk, hasn’t varied much in all those years. When we look at our primitive brain, it is made for our survival. It’s fear-based, and it’s comfort-seeking. Think about addictions: This is insecure, emotional-longing, fear-based, and we’re looking for the incentive to make us feel better. All addictions are a lack of proper emotional nourishment that we’re trying to hide or not pay attention to, and we’re trying to find soothing through the drug of choice—lust, distraction, rage, TV, sex, food, whatever your drug of choice is. You’re trying to go from fear-base or insecure-base to comfort level. So, that’s how our brains are wired. After a hard day of work, you want your beer, junkfood ,and Netflix, and the brain will say ‘yes!’ because it’s easy. Laurie Santos from The Happiness Lab, whose information this is, tells us that the only person standing in our way is our own brain. But if we have more emotional leadership in our mind, then the mind changes the brain’s structure, and then it becomes a trait. Therefore, we must work and tell ourselves, ‘It’s not going to be the couch; I’m going to go for a walk outside.’ Or, ‘It’s not going to be junk food; I’m going to make myself a huge protein salad or a nice meat with some veggies.’ Or ‘I’m going to turn off all my devices for five minutes.’ 

We’re not asking for miracles in our daily lives. This can mean five minutes of nothing and silence, where we think, I’m not going to feel overwhelmed by this silence because I’m worthy of rest. We have not integrated that lesson yet because we live in a fast-paced, chaotic, and performance-driven world that focuses on doing instead of simply being and sensing. When I teach yoga and meditation, that’s what I go back to all the time: It’s okay if a thought comes. They always do, but they’re just passing clouds. They’re not who we are.

We also live in a world that focuses on binaries. It’s either this or it’s that, good or bad. Someone is either partnered or divorced, right or wrong, on this side or that side. What does this thinking overlook and neglect? 

You’re absolutely right. I think that most people feel that we’re living in a world of dualities, and we forget that we’re all interconnected and that my happiness is linked to your happiness. So, we have groups that create division and polarization, hatred and dehumanization. I talked to David Livingstone Smith, an expert on dehumanization, for the book, and we go deep into why do people hate and why do we dehumanize? Interestingly, it comes from a deep need for human connection.

We categorize trauma as a duality, as well: nothing happened to you, or something happened to you. And this is not true. Dr. Gabor Maté, a specialist on trauma and addiction, says trauma is, yes, something bad that took place and that happened to you. But trauma is also something that should have happened that is nourishing that never took place. And if we don’t examine our minds and our hearts, we have an unexamined life. An unexamined life, brain, and heart means that we’re not living consciously, and when we’re not living consciously, we feel insecure. What do we have to fall back on when we don’t perform well enough, according to society’s standards? We teach little girls to hate themselves. We teach boys they shouldn’t cry. How do we accept our natural processes when we’re constantly trying to counter aging—our faces, our bodies, it’s never enough—and our mortality? We push away people in our society, so we lack this great natural transmission of wisdom. We don’t accept our sleep cycles; we’re in full light in our homes when it’s time to calm the brain and body down. We should be resting when we are heading to rest, but rest has become a luxury. 

Also, when it comes to our relationships and seeing a person, we think: You’re either good or bad. This is not true. We all have good and bad parts, and we must accept and integrate them and see why we move the way we do. When it comes to relationships, success is marriage, as you said, and divorce is a failure. And this is also not true. Life happens in the between. Psychotherapist Esther Perel, whose work I admire, said on stage at an event that longevity is not automatically a sign of a successful relationship. Let’s stop having that constant fantasy. Therefore, how can we restructure our relationships? Can we enter them in a way that is similar to how we get out of them? That takes two—or three or four—secure individuals to do that.

So, those dualities do not serve us. Life happens in the interconnectedness of opposite poles—the light, the darkness, the happy, the sad, the safe, the danger—and life is in the between, and we constantly dance between the two. 

How does examining ourselves and lives help others? 

Here’s the thing: If we don’t teach our kids, and if we as parents don’t look at our own trauma and revise and calm ourselves in our own insecurities, we pass that on to generations who are going to come after us. That is not responsible. It will heal us when we pay attention to our truth, which hurts—sorry, pain is part of life, and that’s something else we’re never taught about. We think we should be going through life without feeling pain, and we try to get away from it as much as we can, whether it’s in our natural cycles or our relationships. Conflict usually stems from an objection to difference: We see the world the way we see it, and we think everybody else sees it the same way. It doesn’t work that way. Depending on your childhood bond of attachment, how someone took care of you, you will have developed a wiring in your brain for your whole life into all of your relationships. So I’m in your mind, examine your own life and emotions—and it’s fun, we do quizzes in the book. And we’re not trying to point a finger at the parents or anyone. Blame will get you nowhere. But by examining, this is the process of what it means to be an accomplished, mature adult.

I want people to have access to this. It needs to be more accessible and less intimidating, maybe with more micro habits here and there that send signals to your brain that you’re okay. There’s no saber-toothed tiger in the room. You can feel all right. 

Our world is so chaotic, though, that it can be hard and intimidating to examine ourselves. Where’s a gentle place we can all start from?

First, I want everybody to know that you are never alone when you suffer. At the same time you’re going through something tough, millions of other people are going through something very similar. We’re all one trauma away from each other. Every time I say this, there’s a reaction. Because what does that mean? It means that it takes one big life event to change how your nervous system reacts to it, how your brain reacts to it, and how you talk to yourself and other people. Or it could be a series of little traumas that you don’t even notice. For mothers and women, our rights are being denied all over this planet still, so there’s a chronic stress there that is not addressed in our everyday life and we don’t feel as secure finding our hero’s journey on this earth because we’re physically and psychologically intimidated in different ways every day. So, I want people to remember: You’re never alone. 

Second, I want people to know this will pass; whether you feel you’re going through an anxiety crisis or you’re not feeling well, and that’s happened to me. It will pass. It’s a wave, so remember to wait. And I’m pushing aside the extreme circumstances, such as abuse, for a moment. If you’re scared, then you’re scared, but it won’t last. The threat is unreal; it is how you’ve been wired. You’re stuck in your sympathetic nervous system and your fight-flight freeze. So, repeat to yourself, ‘This is only a wave, and I will surf it, and it will not swallow me whole.’

Then, third, ask for help. Please, whatever you do, don’t do it alone. I was not raised to ask for a lot of help. I offered help. And I integrated that into my personality for many different reasons. Believe it or not, I started asking for more help in my forties. Even with this book, I didn’t want to disturb anybody, especially those I had met on the political path. They have a public personality, and I didn’t want them to think I was trying to get something from them. But you’re going to get more yeses than you’ll get nos. So, take the little leap and just say, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to deal with this. I’m not doing so well.’ That is a sign of deep bravery, courage, and humanity.

You’re open about your struggles and what you’ve been through, and this must have taken courage as a public person in the spotlight. What gives you hope in the face of hard times?

Humans! If I trusted what I had seen in the media this past decade about my family and Justin as the Prime Minister, and if I believed everything out there, my mind would have gone berserk. It’s important to understand that the bullying that’s happening on social media, the hatred that’s being shared and provoked, is digging into people’s insecurities and fear-based modes. And people are going for it because they’re actually looking for a source of validation and reassurance. But it’s very much that minority of emotionally unled human beings who spread negative emotions like that. When people are enabling themselves to do this, they’re not in a good place at all. So whether it’s wars raging, bullying in your high school, or your child is being intimidated on a web platform, whatever it is, we must remind each other that this is not as many people as we think it is. It is not as many people (doing this) as it looks. Most humans are good, and they’re spreading their hope and their positivity. 

Here’s where our responsibility comes in: We cannot allow ourselves to get swallowed up by the negative darkness, because it’s part of life. And we can’t be naive. This is not wearing rosy sunglasses. It’s the opposite. It’s having the courage to look within. And it hurts, you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna be angry, you’re gonna feel helpless sometimes, it’s okay. It’s not going to last forever. But we have to trust in each other. The most unhappy people are the ones who cannot trust in others. So, look at the state of the planet entity from a neurobiological imperative. It explains a lot of behaviors, fortunately and unfortunately, because human connection is the key to addressing all of our issues. The only way is by coming closer together—and that’s why I chose that title for the book.

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Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is a mental health advocate, public speaker, and mentor who has received UN recognition awards for her humanitarian work and was named the first National Volunteer for the Canadian Mental Health Association in 2022. She also serves as Youth Leadership Global Ambassador for Plan International Canada. A mother of three, Sophie is a certified yoga instructor and an adventurous outdoor sportswoman.