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!

Breaking Relational Conflict

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Breaking Relational Conflict

By Danielle Thurman, LAMFT

Breaking Relational Conflict

The more time I spend as a therapist the more I realize that our lives all look pretty similar. Where we all struggle is in learning to cope with the emotions behind what is happening in our lives. My goal as a therapist is to help clients use their emotions to create secure connection. When we feel loved, safe, and secure in our relationships, we are more resilient and are better able to cope with the hard times.

Every relationship has patterns where connection and disconnection occur. No matter what is happening on the outside, these patterns look pretty similar from interaction to interaction. For example, one partner is angry, the other partner shuts down. The first partner then gets louder, the second partner leaves. This is called the pursue-withdraw cycle. Most, if not all, relationships have these patterns. These patterns come from learned experiences that tell us we are not safe or that vulnerability isn’t allowed. It can also be passed down from generation to generation due to trauma. When the cycle is present, often times these conversations spiral out of control.

Opposites Attract

It’s true—in couple relationships, opposites attract. This can be a positive thing as both partners will have different strengths. These differences can also rub on each other; it’s impossible to be that close to someone and not rub raw spots somewhere. Most relationships are made of one person who is a “withdrawer” and one person who is a “pursuer”. These positions are not a bad thing. When relationships get in trouble, it is because we stay stuck in these positions with one another.

Pursuers

When a disagreement occurs, the pursuer reaches for connection by moving towards their partner. They typically like to talk about the problem and actively pursue ways to look at what’s happening right now. It is generally hard for them to take a step back or give time for things to cool down. If they don’t feel heard, they may be critical or blaming. They may also tell their partner how to change or try to nudge them towards change. The underlying reason this happens is because the pursuer feels unsafe and disconnected. Disconnection is a painful, anxiety filled, scary place. Getting back to connection is so important that their actions may feel intense to others.

Pursuers may also experience burn-out; they feel they have tried to get their partner to see what they have seen for so long that they give up. Their actions start to look like the withdrawer’s actions. It may feel like change has occurred in the relationship when really, it hasn’t. This can be when the pursuer starts moving away from the relationship. This role is often times found more in women, but can be found in both genders.

Withdrawers

While pursuers typically take the “fight” response during a triggered moment, the withdrawers take the “flight” position during disagreements. They move away from their partner or conflict by minimizing, deflecting, defending, shutting down, or walking away. The withdrawer has learned that engagement creates escalation. They move away from what’s happening in order to protect themselves and the relationship from the damage that can occur during these negative cycles.

Underneath what’s happening, the withdrawer feels intense emotion. They may feel pressure and have messages like “I’m not good enough or I will never be able to make my partner happy.” By shutting down, the withdrawer can avoid being overwhelmed by these emotions. They can also calm the situation down by not reacting while they are triggered. Men typically take this role, however this role can be found in both genders.

What does this look like?

Typically there is a honeymoon phase in the beginning of pursue-withdraw relationships. The differences between the couple are seen as strengths. The differences may also seem really exciting. This often times doesn’t last long as their communication styles are so different that the couple starts to clash. They may start saying things like “we have nothing in common”.

These interactions typically start with the pursuer seeing a problem. They confront their partner about the issue and want to fix it immediately. The withdrawer feels overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions that come from this conversation so they shut down. The pursuer takes this personally. They may have thoughts in their mind that come up like, “My partner won’t be there for me,” or “I am not important to them.” Anxiety grows inside the pursuer and they become louder. The increase in tension will often times make it so the withdrawer will remove themselves from the situation.

One of the biggest perpetuators of these cycles is the lack of understanding of their emotions. They may also be so scared that they stay on the surface of their emotions and may not even be aware of the vulnerable emotions underneath. For example, if one partner feels angry, the primary emotion of anger is expressed. This doesn’t create connection. Underneath the anger there may be deeper feelings of fear or hurt. The fear and hurt, which could create connection if adequately expressed, is skipped over. In the end, this lack of vulnerability leaves the pursuer feeling unheard, unimportant, and lonely. The withdrawer is feeling attacked, misunderstood, and that they will never be good enough.

What to do

If you can see this cycle in your relationship, seek help. This pattern can be really tricky to spot. It is even tricker to stop without both people understanding what’s happening on a deeper level. A licensed mental health therapist who is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy will be able to help you both see where you get stuck and how to get back to trusting, rewarding, and enduring connection faster and teach you to avoid that pattern in the future.

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

Hidden Trauma

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Hidden Trauma

Danielle Thurman, LAMFT

Hidden Trauma

Before becoming a therapist, I didn’t think I had any trauma in my life. Trauma was for people who had been through extreme experiences like an earthquake or being held at gunpoint. What I now realize is that everyone has trauma; most people, like me, don’t recognize the trauma they have experienced. Yet, it is shaping our lives. This is especially true for people who have experienced trauma as a child. It can be caused by extreme, one-time events as well as an exposure to long-term experiences in our relationships like:  

·    Emotional neglect 

·    Mental abuse

·    Physical neglect

·    Sexual abuse

·    Instability

·    Lack of safety

·    Being separated from a loved one 

·    Medical conditions

·    Violence

Trauma rewires your brain and can even cause brain damage. This leads me to a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. How do I know if it’s trauma? 

Trauma puts you into survival mode. According to renowned trauma therapist Michele Rosenthal, survival mode is initially good; the problem begins when you can’t get out of it. You begin to live your life this way. You no longer recognize who you are. You can’t experience joy. Your viewpoint of life and of others often changes as well. You go from thinking life is good to thinking the world isn’t safe. “I can’t have the life I want.” “I can’t trust others.”

Some of the signs and symptoms of trauma are:

·   Shock

·   Ruminating thoughts that you can’t get rid of.

·   Not being able to let go of memories or events.

·   A cloudy head, not being able to focus, or feeling confused.

·   Anxiety and fear

·   Mood swings

·   Guilt and shame

·   Blaming yourself 

·   Not holding others accountable

·   Withdrawing and disconnection

·   Numbness

·   Abnormal sleeping patterns (too much or too little)

·   Fatigue

·   Being on edge and waiting for things to go wrong

·   Anxiety

·   Physical pain and muscle tension

The biggest problem with trauma, according to Brené Brown, is that it takes away our ability to be vulnerable with others. Without this ability to be vulnerable, we are unable to live a happy, healthy life. We are unable to truly connect with others. We often times also find ourselves in multiple abusive relationships.

While it may seem like a lot of work to resolve past issues, the benefits are tremendous. You can see lasting results fairly quickly. Some of these benefits include:

·  Living a more fulfilling life

·  Healthier relationships

·  Recognizing and breaking harmful patterns that may seem normal

·  A better understanding of yourself

·  More fulfilling sleep

·  Mood stability

·  Less fatigue

·  Being able to be present in the moment

·  To find more joy out of life

·  Being able to move on

At The EFT Clinic, we have made it our mission to uncover hidden trauma and help our clients understand how they get stuck in their patterns and relationships. Let us help you learn to create the kind of life you deserve.

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