How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

mareks-steins-1136914-unsplash.jpg

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“We're only as needy as our unmet needs.”- John Bowlby, Founder of Attachment Theory

At the core of attachment theory is the assumption that we all are wired for connection. This primal drive to connect is wired into every human being, shaped as a survival mechanism over millions of years of evolution. We connect to survive. Hence emotional isolation can register as a life or death situation in the most primitive and fastest-to-act part of our brain, the amygdala. Some call it primal panic.

Add the fact that the reason we may feel the alert—such as needines— is not just because our adult needs are not being met; it can also be the result of our childhood needs that were not met. These unmet needs can be associated with what happened many, many years ago, but the pain of not having them met has remained trapped in our body. And when triggered, the pain can come and surface in the present.

John Bowlby’s attachment theory emphasizes the importance of a secure mother-infant bond in development of a person’s well-being and later mental functioning. One of my favorite modern authors, who expanded on Bowlby’s attachment theory, is Stan Tatkin. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology, and one of the world’s experts on attachment theory, he wrote several books, including “Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship”. In his work, Tatkin uses attachment terms such as anchors, islands and waves, rather than the more traditional attachment terms of secure, avoidant (or dismissive), anxious (or preoccupied), or the less prevalent anxious-avoidant (or disorganized).

Anchors, Waves and Islands

The interactions with our early caregivers shaped our autonomic nervous systems. Those interactions determined the way we as infants and children engaged with those around us, and the way we tend to engage with the world now; whether we need interaction, or we need space. As life goes on, our peers and partners eventually take over the role of our primary attachment figure. They become the source of safety and confidence, or they become the source of anxiety and mistrust.

Thus, those who are anchors experienced—or learned later in life about—secure attachments. They learned they could rely on others, that relationships are important, that their needs would be attended to, and in general that the world is a safe place. According to research (Tatkin, 2012), a bit more than 50 percent of people fall into this category. Unlike anchors, islands and waves were raised in an environment where relationship did not come first, and their needs were often not met by their primary caregivers. Therefore, to self-protect and to have their needs met, from a very young age they had to adapt themselves to their environments. 

Now, it’s not that islands and waves do not want relationships. We all do. Islands and waves will just struggle more with trust. Waves tend to believe they are going to be abandoned, that it’s inevitable, questioning if others will be there for them, and so they tend to be more dependent and often cling to others. They may sometimes even look for proof of an approaching abandonment, and this fear activates their attachment need for contact. They tend to seek reassurance about themselves and seek safety from others. On the other hand, islands believe that if they depend on another, their independence will be taken away, and they will feel trapped, or even in danger of being suffocated in a relationship. In order to avoid these emotions, islands tend to seek distance. The fear of engulfment is what causes them to deactivate their attachment need, therefore they diminish the need to connect with their significant other. This deactivation explains island’s distancing behavior.

What Can You Do?

Does your attachment style affect your dating life or your committed relationship? Does your attachment style affect how you communicate with your partner? Does knowing your attachment style, and that of your partner, make your relationship stronger? Yes, Yes and Yes. 

1.  So, get to know yourself! Take an adult attachment style questionnaire with your partner. Get to know how your partner functions and why they function that way. Tatkin often refers to “becoming an expert on each other”. 

2. Own your own tendencies in conflict and recognize your partner’s protective behaviors. While some attachment style combinations may be more challenging, the good news is research shows that attachment is fluid and can change during our life. We are hurt by people and we are healed by people. As paradoxical as it sounds, I truly believe the only way out of insecurity is through a mindful relationship. Knowing your own attachment style tendency and that of your partner makes the healing process easier. 

3. Ask your partner “Am I doing that thing again? Is that what causes you to feel …?” Building a healthy relationship requires frequent safe connections with your partner in order to regulate, so make room for safe connection in your life. 

4. Slow things down. Pay attention. Be mindful. Be present. 

5. Remember, the most primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, acts the fastest, and it may take a bit more time for the newer neocortex and reasoning to catch up so that we can act in a safer, more appropriate and more desirable way. 

6.  Andbe patient with yourself! This work can be demanding.

We all long for intimacy, we all long for connection. We may express this longing differently, but that longing is there even if we learned this need can be dangerous and may hurt. Understanding adult love tells us what matters and when it matters. These insights offer us a compass in the reshaping of the interactions between partners. Unlearning patterns that are heavily ingrained will take effort and time. But it is all doable, and these new neural connections are developing as you are reading this. 

Tatkin, S. (2012). Wired for love: How understanding your partner's brain can help you defuse conflicts and spark intimacy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

 
Joanna Alvord.jpg
 

Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

jon-asato-246160-unsplash.jpg

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends



By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson brilliantly sums up what happens when couples get stuck in negative and reactive cycles: “In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” Dr. Johnson goes on to talk about the healing power of love and emotional responsiveness in a love relationship: “Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.”  

The father of Attachment Theory, British Psychiatrist John Bowlby, summed up what Attachment Theory teaches us about the key relationships in our lives: “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature.“ Bowlby also wrote on how relationships with key “others” are vitally important in the growth and health of all individuals.

Given this information, here are some conclusions about vulnerability:

Attachment Theory teaches us that key relationships (in childhood with an adult care-giver and in adult romantic partners) play a huge part in the human development of a safe haven and the strong ability to be in the world and take risks; the risks are tolerable because the person knows that their partner has their back emotionally and will be there when they reach out in need.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, is a highly effective couples therapy modality that focuses on helping clients learn to communicate the softer primary emotions (think vulnerability, or the need for acceptance) that always lie underneath the more surface emotions (think anger, contempt, and defensiveness) that put us in a negative cycle of hurt and disconnection.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) brilliantly supports couples to share their vulnerabilities, which leads to the creation of an emotional “safe haven” and a strong bond that can stand firm in the face of life’s many difficult emotional challenges.

Ed Headshot.jpg

Ed Peterson LCSW, MBA is an EFT certified therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. He specializes in individual, family and couple’s counseling. Would you like to meet with Ed? Send him an email to discuss scheduling: peterson.ed.lcsw[@]gmail.com

The Realities and Big Lies of Male Body Image

max-bender-199968-unsplash.jpg

Hair, Height, and Everything in Between:

The Realities and Big Lies of Male Body Image

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

Hair, Height, and Everything in Between: The Realities and Big Lies of Male Body Image

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in one’s self. –Simone de Beauvoir

Becoming Ken is just as impossible a feat as becoming Barbie.

It’s no longer a secret that a woman’s relationship with her body will often be tumultuous throughout her life. The issues of body image and physical perception are being shown the cold, harsh light of day in today’s changing social climate, often for the first time, in a very real way. But while more people than ever before are aware of women and their ongoing fight with self-image, it’s not just the girls who are struggling. Of the estimated thirty million Americans living with an eating disorder, roughly a third are men, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. And correlating the ‘ideal body’ with one that looks somehow different from their own is something that’s happening at a frighteningly young age—in as early as six to eight-year-old boys, according to a heartbreaking report by Common Sense Media. So how does The Big Lie feed into this male body image crisis? And more importantly, how do we move away from trends that lead to depictions that end up endangering men and boys both physically and psychologically?

Boys, Men, and Their Bodies

There was a time when all body image, eating disorder, disordered eating, and addictive food behaviors were strictly filed under the women’s problems header. Give ‘er a vibrator, boys, she’s obviously hysterical—nothing more to be done here. Thankfully, the nuances that surround these issues have since become much more widely studied and understood—along with the fact that half of the overweight adult population and at least a million Americans suffering from an eating disorder today are in fact men. And a deeper look at the issue uncovers a startling reality: male eating and body dysmorphia disorders often go undiagnosed, untreated, and misunderstood.

Intrinsic in the outdated school of thought that cultivated The Big Lie is the idea that displaying feelings or showing emotions is a sign of weakness. Unfortunately for boys brought up to believe in this version of “manliness,” being taught to suppress any signs of sentiment doesn’t make the growing pains of life any easier.  Bullying, low self-esteem, abuse, depression, adolescence, and all the other hallmarks of disordered eating that appear in women will also make themselves known in men, but it can often be much more difficult for boys to deal with these issues openly, even among friends. This can lead to less teen boys and adult men seeking treatment for their body issues and eating disorders.

Historically, men also haven’t been held to the same unrealistic standards as women to be thin or out of proportion in the name of beauty. (Consider Adam West and his Dadbod version of Batman). But times have changed—in a big way.

Hashtag Fitness and the Superhero Effect: Unrealistic Expectations

From Hugh Jackman and Dwayne Johnson to anyone gracing a superhero costume, it’s hard not to notice a striking trend of the silver screen these days: the leading men are getting ripped. Women have long-since been exposed to ridiculous standards of beauty in Hollywood, but in recent years, a huge emphasis has been placed on the ever-present need for chiseled abs and bulging biceps on our headlining gentlemen.

And it’s not just the big screen. Turn on your computer, flip on your television, or peruse social media for more time than it takes to do a box jump and you’re bound to come across at least a half dozen people giving you their #gymmotivation for the day—replete with rippling bicep mirror selfies, ads for weight loss supplements and a guaranteed way to get you shredded in 90 days. While living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is something everyone should strive for, the fact is that most of these bulging, massive, 0% fat bodies are realistically something only attainable for a small percentage of the male population.

But that doesn’t change the message being bombarded to men—and boys—via pop culture and The Big Lie: You need big, strong muscles and washboard abs to be brave, dependable, and worthy. You must look a certain way to be a real man.

And it’s more than just the shape of their bodies. Hollywood, the media, pop culture—they repeatedly tell men they need to be lean, strong muscular. They tell men they need hair and a beard (but it must be the right kind of beard!) and offer consolation on height perception, how to fix complexion issues, sexual performance… the list goes on and on.

Keeping it Real

There has been a push in recent years for more acceptance in media, with retailers like Target and Aerie moving towards inclusiveness within their print and online advertisements. Their most recent billboards, posters, and flyers have featured female models of more varying sizes and heights, and with more normal features (yes, even stretch marks and breasts of two different sizes) left in. It’s time for this conversation to cross over—for our boys to realize that they, too, come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors: and that that’s ok.

Keeping the lines of communication open, keeping an eye out for signs of depression or disordered eating behavior in your children or your friends, and pointing out unrealistic body expectations when they are being shoved in our faces with an extra helping of creatine is the first step in having that conversation.  

 
AdamNisenson.BioPhoto.jpg
 

Adam Nisenson is a therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah where he specializes in men’s issues and sex addiction. He is certified co-leader in the ManKind Project and is also the Executive Director of the Jung Society of Utah.

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships and 10 Steps to Keep Them

timo-stern-234939-unsplash.jpg

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them 

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” 
- Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be 
and Embrace Who You Are

What are boundaries? What comes to your mind when you hear the word “boundaries”? Does it have a positive association, or a negative one? Do you consider “boundaries” as limiting or freeing? Necessary or unnecessary? Many ask, are boundaries even necessary, particularly in this one special and perhaps even I-so-wanna-be-vulnerable-with-this-person? I say, “Yes”, they are necessary. Being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Let me repeat; being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Healthy boundaries should not stifle a healthy relationship, they should let it flourish. Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem. 

Here are top 7 boundaries I recommend you focus on:

1.       What you expect from the relationship

2.       What you will tolerate emotionally

3.       Your financial preferences 

4.       Your sexual preferences

5.       Your attitudes towards family and friends 

6.       Your activities and hobbies 

7.       The importance of your dreams

There a lot of misconceptions about what boundaries are and what they do for your relationships. Boundaries are essential not only to your healthy relationship, but also, to your healthy life. And trust me, they are not rigid constrictions intended to suffocate your precious relationship. Boundaries can, should, and do change as your relationship progresses. And this is why discussing them with your partner periodically is so important. Know where you stand and let your partner know.

So, you might ask, how do I set healthy boundaries? Here is what Dr. Dana Gionta suggests:

1.       Name your limits. Communicate what you can and cannot tolerate.

2.       Tune into your feelings. Pay attention to your discomfort and try to answer what is causing it.

3.       Be direct. Talk about how much time you need to maintain your sense of self and how much time you want to spend together.

4.       Give yourself permission. Pay special attention to feelings of guilt, shame, fear, self-doubt. Boundaries are about self-respect, so give yourself permission to set them.

5.       Practice self-awareness. Again, tune into your feelings and honor them. Explore your options.

6.       Consider your past and present. Where we come from and how those relationship functioned are vital to how we tend to act, and what our emotional needs are.

7.       Make self-care a priority. Put yourself first. Honor your feelings. As Gionta says “When we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend”.

8.       Seek support. Friends, family, support groups, therapy, published resources are all good options. 

9.       Be assertive. Follow through. People are not mind readers. It is important to communicate with your partner that they have crossed the boundary, and then work together to address it.

10.   Start small. Assertive communication takes practice. Start with something that is not overwhelming.

So, next time you feel pressured to break your boundaries, know that all healthy relationships have boundaries. And, remember that setting boundaries takes courage, and courage is a skill we can master. One last thing I would like to mention is, do follow through, know when it’s time to move on. Remember, you can only share how you desire to be treated in this relationship, and you can’t make yourself responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. You deserve respect. If your partner can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to consider ending the relationship. 

Healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you stay open, trust your instincts, and communicate with your partner and you both are engaged and invested, the relationship can only get stronger as it progresses.

Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/

 
Joanna+Alvord.jpg
 

Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment!

The Truth About Men and Tears

tom-pumford-254867-unsplash.jpg

Raw, Masculine Emotion: The Truth About Men and Tears

By Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

Raw, Masculine Emotion: The Truth About Men and Tears

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

–Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“Boys don’t cry.” How many times has this stereotypical, patriarchal notion been reinforced throughout your life? Parents, coaches, society at large—the concept that a man expressing his emotions or exposing the slightest sign of vulnerability, pain, or sadness is tantamount to weakness is one that seems to endure. It’s bombarded into our psyche throughout our lives; a lie that somehow remains ingrained in our culture and the idea of masculine identity; The Big Lie, reinforced time and again from childhood through adulthood and beyond. The reality is that it takes a great amount of strength to be open in moments of grief and pain. To share our sorrows and vulnerabilities with those we love is to gift them with our respect. To trust and allow them to support and console us at our most vulnerable is not only ok, but essential to living our healthiest, most authentic life.

The Most Human of Emotional Responses

In 2017, following the birth of his fraternal twins, actor George Clooney admitted to the Daily Mail during the Toronto Film Festival that he cried roughly four times a day. It’s not an entirely shocking concept. Parenthood—new parenthood in particular—is an awe-inspiring, terrifying jolt just violent enough to reduce even the greatest among us to rubble. Consider attempting to maintain some semblance of normalcy (eating, dressing, contributing to society) while literally learning to keep a brand-new human being alive. All while chronically sleep-deprived. Add to this the profound and spiritual understanding that you – you! – created human life and “New Parent Cries Often” hardly seems like particularly headline-worthy news.  

But headlines it did make, with every publication from Harper’s Bazaar to Metro picking up the “story” and roaring to the heavens about Clooney’s somehow shocking admission. Had Clooney’s wife—had any other woman—revealed that they cried often during the stresses of new parenthood and there would have been no news to report. Women crying is seen as a normal expression of emotion. Men crying is seen as an aberration, a bold admission of weakness. Which is, of course, nonsense.

A Manly Cry

Science and our body’s own natural response system tells us that crying is normal, healthy, and necessary. But culture and the concept of a masculine identity continue to insist that strong men don’t cry, while many parents continue to raise their sons to cry solely in private—if at all. History, however, sides with the criers.

While women’s tears have often been associated with emotional weakness, up until quite recently getting misty-eyed was perfectly acceptable for men. Literature and history alike are filled with the tales of warriors, heroes, and lovers who were revered and respected despite often openly expressing their emotions—and yes, that means crying. Japanese samurai often sobbed during epic battles, and Abraham Lincoln was known to cry during his speeches. The hero of Chretien de Troyes’ round table fame, none other than Lancelot, was known to weep whenever he missed his true love and was adored all the more as a character and warrior knight by readers for it. And the Bible is chock full of examples of everyone from kings and entire cities to Jesus himself crying for all to see.

So… where did all the tears go? Regardless of the shift in “masculinity,” our bodies and minds were not designed to swallow and withhold emotion.

The Science of Tears

Of course, we’re not Samurais, so stopping in the middle of battle or a crisis situation for a good cry doesn’t make much sense. There are certain times when opting for stoicism is the better choice and the fact that in modern society men outnumber women in areas like law enforcement, public safety, and military personnel has certainly contributed to the rise in the image of an unemotional, detached, hero persona that so many have come to associate with a “real” man. Luckily, after years of berating men for expressing their grief, joy, or pain through tears, there seems to be a slight shift towards returning to see men’s tears as a sign of masculine strength.

But even setting the emotional value side, there are genuine, documented health and biochemical benefits to having a cry, as well. For starters, while you might feel a distinct difference between tears of sadness and those of joy, your body rarely makes a distinction. Intense situations of any kind can trigger responses (like the famed fight or flight instinct) in us. Tears act as a type of pressure valve, releasing an excess of stress hormones, including cortisol. Left unchecked and constantly suppressed, chronically elevated levels of these hormones can wreak havoc on your mood and disposition. That sense of relief and calm you feel after a good hard cry is in major part due to this hormonal release.

Those mood-elevating benefits are especially important when you consider than men are less likely than women to seek help for depression than the opposite sex—and three to four times more likely to commit suicide. Emotional suppression can manifest itself in other physical symptoms as well, including anxiety, acute pain, muscle soreness, chronic headaches, sexual dysfunction, gastrointestinal distress, eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Developing enough trust to accept that you won’t be judged for expressing your feelings and vulnerabilities can be a scary, sometimes trying experience. But learning that not only do real men cry, but they embrace the fullness of all their emotions—and share them with those they love—is an essential step towards living an authentic life from the heart.

 
AdamNisenson.BioPhoto.jpg
 

Adam Nisenson is a therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah where he specializes in men’s issues and sex addiction. He is certified co-leader in the ManKind Project and is also the Executive Director of the Jung Society of Utah. The EFT Clinic is thrilled to have Adam on our team. Email Adam (adam[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment with Adam!