How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

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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.

 
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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

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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.

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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

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships and 10 Steps to Keep Them

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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/

 
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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

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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.

 
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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!

Please Fix My Kid

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Please Fix My Kid

By Ben Kroff, MFTI

Please Fix My Kid

By Ben Kroff, MFTI

When our cars aren’t working well or something is broken, we are fortunate to be able to simply drop the car off at the mechanic and let them solve the problem; they do their mechanic magic and call us when it’s all fixed and ready to go. It would be AWESOME if we could drop our kids off at therapy, let the therapist do their thing and have them call us when our child is ready to listen, cooperate, get out of bed, go to school, get good grades, treat their siblings better and make better choices.  

Unfortunately, kid problems are more complex than car problems. When a child starts exhibiting symptoms of distress, whether they are behavioral, emotional or psychological, we need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. What is happening in their home environment, social circle, or academic setting? When our child is displaying problem behaviors, it is a sign that something in their environment needs to change. Just as pain in our bodies are signals that we need to change something, if your child is in pain, or if they are causing you pain, it is a sign that something in his or her environment needs to change. Often this change is not something that the child alone is going to be able to accomplish, even with the help of a qualified therapist. The child is part of a larger system that is impacting his or her mental health. The best chance for successful change will be found when working with the child’s most significant relationships.

When waiting for our car to be serviced we can enjoy flipping through magazines, scrolling through Facebook or even eating popcorn in the waiting room; if you are taking your child to therapy and are enjoying quiet time in the waiting room or running errands during their session I would invite you to reconsider how this time is spent. If the therapist hasn’t invited you into the room, ask if you can join. There is much to be gained in joining your child in their pain, in seeking to support and understand and be involved in their recovery. Maybe not every session will be appropriate for family members to join and your child and their therapist can identify those times, but more often than not great work can be done by bringing the child’s significant relationships—like their relationship with their parents—into the therapy office together.

Ultimately, healing comes through nurturing connection. If your therapist has not offered this approach or doesn’t feel comfortable with involving more of the family in therapy, you may want to look into switching your child to a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). These therapists are trained in therapeutic models that incorporate this larger, systemic family approach. At the EFT Clinic many of our clinicians are LMFT’s and all of our therapists have been trained in relational Emotionally Focused Therapy. We look forward to helping you and your loved ones.

Ben Kroff is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at The EFT Clinic and is currently accepting new clients. To schedule an appointment with Ben or any of our many experienced therapists, call our office at 385-695-5949.