As an acupuncturist, it has long been clear to me that relationship difficulties are very often major factors contributing to my clients’ suffering, from “Binding Entanglement of Liver Qi”, to “Heart and Kidney Losing Communication”, and “Heart Spirit Disruption”. Many old expressions: “She’s a pain in the butt!”, “I can’t stomach his criticism.”, “Her voice sets my teeth on edge”, “I went weak in the knees” reflect the body-based intensity with which we react to interpersonal dilemmas.
In my own healing process, it took many years to discover the ways my particular relationship issues stem from my mother’s year long absences to recuperate from TB when I was a year old and again in first grade. I remember the electrifying hope I felt when I first heard the term “attachment repair“. My mom was gone during two developmentally critical times for any young child and even though I lived with my dad and my beloved “Grandma Gracie”, I developed strategies for bracing myself against abandonment that still kick in to “protect” me whenever there is a flicker of doubt in someone’s ability to be present. In what ways does this relational/emotional hypervigilance translate into autoimmune hypervigilance that sees my thyroiditis flare when relationship conflict arises?
The latest research in neuroscience points to the critical need we all have to feel safely connected (attached or bonded) with others. (Steven Porges’ polyvagal theory: stephenporges.com/ and Dan Siegel’s interpersonal neurobiology: drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/, and his book The Developing Mind, Second Edition: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are ). More on attachment from Dan: On Recreating Our Past in the Present www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzI5vLBrX8A . On optimal attachment: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XjXv6zseA0 , on avoidant attachment: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgYJ82kQIyg , on ambivalent attachment: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGhZtUrpCuc , on disorganized attachment: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGDqJYEi_Ks and www.youtube.com/watch?v=zovtRq4e2E8
Of course, since we’ve all been working with the same nervous system, the great spiritual traditions have been there all along: In Tibetan dzogchen, the Benefactors practice, currently offered in America through John Makransky, is very much like the initial attachment repair practice, “imagining kind eyes” offered in DARe (Dynamic Attachment Re-Patterning Experience). DARe is Diane Pool Heller’s Somatic Experiencing-based attachment repair program, http://dianepooleheller.com/. I am currently in the DARe training, one of the next steps in my Somatic Experiencing practice for supporting people with relationship-based issues that aggravate health problems, especially syndromes like chronic fatigue/pain, IBS, migraines.
Some of us have found Diane’s Attachment Styles Quiz: Know your Adult Attachment Style to be informative. Note that we are not just one style, but a blend. It’s interesting to do the quiz several times, each time with a different relationship in mind to see how the balance shifts from a sense of security to various levels of anxious/ambivalent, avoidant, disorganized connection. Doing it for the same person when feeling connected vs when feeling distant was enlightening for me. dianepooleheller.com/attachment-quiz/
An attachment repair practice we can do at any time we need call in comfort when we feel challenged is the “Kind Eyes” meditation. Here is a guided video version and more information about it: dianepooleheller.com/2011/12/video-kind-eyes-exercise-with-diane/
A number of my clients. friends and I have appreciated a similar practice through hearing: the audios of guided Benefactors practice and explanation at www.johnmakransky.org/resources.html His book/CD is Awakening Through Love: Unveiling Your Deepest Goodness,www.johnmakransky.org/
Stephen J. Terrell, of Austin Attachment and Counseling Center ( www.austinattach.com/ ) and Kathy Kain ( www.somaticpractice.net/ ) train practitioners to work with current developmental adverse experiences/trauma in children and with the aftermath relational, sensory, emotional and health challenges in adults.
Austin Attachment and Counseling Center was founded by Stephen J. Terrell after his own experience with adopting two children with developmental trauma. His own personal search for help led him down many dead end roads. Today, AACC treats all ages of those affected by trauma and their families. AACC works with Individuals, Couples, and Families both in Central Texas and around the world and provides consulting service and continuing education to professionals. A good recording, Stephen Terrell on Developmental Trauma & Attachment Disorders: http://septalk.com/2012/03/terrell/
My studies with Kathy and Steve have included the year long Touch Skills Training for Trauma Therapists, Kathy‘s Working with Motor Vehicle Accidents, Somatic Resonance, and Complex Trauma: Touch-based methods for early trauma, syndromes and trauma structures. In 2014, I will rejoin them for their Somatic Resilience and Regulation after Early Trauma training: “This three-module program will focus on understanding the effects of significant trauma during early development. We will present techniques for working with both children and adults, including recognizing early trauma in its adult disguises. By understanding how trauma affects the developing child, we can also better understand our adult clients’ symptoms of their early trauma.”
NARM (NeuroAffective Relational Model, which one client and I dubbed Nourishing Attuned Relationship Mirroring) is another deeply resourcing modality for working with early adversity. See lelaccarney.com/developmental-traumaearly-aces/ . NARM works in a different and complementary way with the adaptive survival strategies/styles children develop in unsafe or unattuned environments. When these persist beyond their usefulness and are still active in adult life, they create significant psychobiological challenges that cannot be handled on a nervous system level alone. This is because they have permeated a person’s very sense of identity— typically in the form of chronic shame and low self esteem.
Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, is a useful and readable book about EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) for couples whose relationship conflicts arise out of early attachment disruptions. (Most all of us, one time or another, in different degrees of severity) This approach to therapy is used to support military couples and families of firefighters and police. In research done after 911, first responders who had someone to talk to that they felt safe with often experienced “post-traumatic growth”, a deepening understanding of themselves and life. Those who kept feelings bottled in and tended to isolate seemed to experience prolonged symptoms of post-traumatic stress. See www.holdmetight.net/ and my description of the process: lelaccarney.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Hold-Me-Tight .pdf
Other resources: If you want to learn more about the history of our understanding about attachment, read Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen
Couples’ therapist John Gottman’s work with ATTUNE: Awareness (of the other person’s emotion), Turning Toward (their emotion – and one’s own), Tolerance (of 2 different viewpoints), Understanding, Nondefensive Responding, Empathy. Gottman says that “Bonding created by turning toward any negative affect and fully processing conflict and failures to connect . . . has the power to create trust.” Great brief YouTube clips of Gottman on relationship: How to Build Trust (and understand betrayal), Relationship Repair that Works, The Emotional Bank (has a great explanation of what a “stonewaller” is trying to accomplish by his -usually- silence), How to Make Relationships Work – Part 1-4.
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