Forming Secure Attachments – Handout for parents and caregivers

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Forming Secure Attachments

Handout concerning helping a child to form a secure attachment – an alternative to behavioral intervention and other parenting strategies that might not have worked for your child

1.) What is attachment theory?

          In short, humans are “wired” to be in relationships. The quality or security of a person’s relationships has a dramatic affect on every aspect of their life – research is even finding that helping relationships is perhaps one of the more effective ways of treating behavioral disturbances, and mental health concerns such as depression.

Attachment theory looks at the way in which humans are drawn to bond with one another. Attachment theory suggests that we all have vulnerabilities concerning feelings of losing relationships to significant others such as primary caregivers, siblings, or other important people.

The fundamental questions associated with attachments to significant others are, “can I trust you (for safety, love, predictability, nurturance, and acceptance etc)” and “are you going to be there for me when I need you? (Will you ever leave me?)”

During life people can be affected in different ways when a significant person was not trustworthy or not available enough for that individual’s specific needs. (Note – this differs dramatically from person to person – it is possible to parent two children exactly the same way and have one child be perfectly secure while the other child struggles a bit). Romantic and platonic non-family relationships can also have an affect on a person’s sense of security as related to their attachment to others.

Adoption, foster care, infidelity, trauma, and divorce are some examples of instances that might affect a person’s attachment style.

What can you do as a parent or a caregiver? How can you help a child with special attachment needs?

1.)      It is important to help the child to understand and to communicate with non-verbal language. You can do this by encouraging eye contact, by using a soft tone, by using nurturing touch (hugs), and by using various movements and gestures while communicating with your child.

Your goal is to communicate safety, acceptance, playfulness, curiosity and empathy. Threat and coercion will not be helpful in the process.

Your child will learn how do reciprocate over time… be patient… you can only truly control how you communicate (to an extent) … your child’s communicative and emotional ability will evolve over time.

In some instances where attachment is a concern, the child may not have had much contact with other humans during their early years … these early years (especially the first 6 months to be most specific) are an important time in relation to human development. The good news is that children tend to be very resilient, so spending extra time offering sensory communication and other sensory-based learning experiences will be beneficial.

2.)      Ensure that there is a large amount of positivity, happiness and enjoyment throughout the day… if you think about it, all of us deserve to laugh, to play and to have fun… these benefits should not be solely something that is earned or something that can be taken away for misbehaving. In short, your child should always have access to enjoyment so be wary of punitive practices that limit access to happiness and be wary of interventions that suggest that happiness is something that a child must always earn by complying with a behavioral expectation.

There are times for teaching and behavioral adjustments, but they should not take the place of times spent attaining happiness or times spent enjoying a relationship.

3.)      Set your child up to succeed. If you have a goal pertaining to your child’s behavior start small… allow them to successfully navigate the “baby steps” toward the ultimate goal. For example if your want your child to wash their own dishes start by congratulating them for putting their fork in the sink. We are far more effectively motivated by positive feedback then by negative feedback… tell them what they did right seven times for every time you tell them what they did wrong.

4.)      When your child is successful they learn to motivate themselves… this means that they will engage in age appropriate behaviors because they enjoy feeling good about their ability to successfully do those behaviors. If a child is only motivated by fear of a consequence they will not be as able to engage in the desired behavior without the person around who delivers the consequence. This is setting the stage for a child to learn how to be internally motivated as opposed to being solely externally motivated.

5.)      The child’s symptoms, or negative behaviors, or problems are met with acceptance and a degree of understanding and emotional regulation on the caregiver’s part. This does not involve condoning a behavior – again there are instances where teaching or timeouts are appropriate.

Remember that timeouts are not punishments – used correctly they involve the caregiver using a neutral emotion, while avoiding a power struggle (defensiveness, critiquing, emotional reaction, and answering the child irrelevant questions should be avoided… with a neutral face you just say, “I need you to take a time out” or “time out please.” It is not particularly effective to offer education while the child is escalated… so wait until they have taken the time out and are cooled down to tell them what they can do next time (always tell people what they should do as opposed to what they should not do).

when an attachment concern is present it is important to remember that the child may have a heightened fear of being abandoned, they might have a negative self-image, and they might have anxiety or stress levels that make them a bit more sensitive to your reactions surrounding their behaviors.

It is particularly important that the child understands that the behavior was disagreeable without the child believing that they are inherently bad, unlovable, or expendable.

Attachment theory influenced interventions are in contrast, to a degree, with behavioral intervention. Behavioral intervention runs on the assumption that there is a function to every behavior which in some way benefits the person engaging in that behavior… Attachment theory would suggest that some behaviors are engaged in that do not truly benefit the person.

There are times when children with attachment concerns (or children who have survived trauma) engage in behaviors that were either historically beneficial to them (and are no longer) or they are trying (unsuccessfully) to get an attachment need met. In these instances it is ideal to get the attachment needs met (trust, bonding, unconditional love, acceptance, safety, predictability, nurturance etc) while trusting that the ‘negative behaviors’ will slowly go away as they no longer serve any purpose (or function) for your child.

6.)      The child’s resistance to parenting and treatment interventions is responded to with acceptance, curiosity, and empathy.

There is good reason for the child to be resistant to parenting and to therapeutic treatment; their resistance should be met with acceptance. Often children with attachment concerns survived a period of time in their life where it was very important for them to be in control and for them to not trust or depend on people (doing so was either not an option or was dangerous)… their resistance historically was important to their survival… slowly they will learn that people are trustworthy and that they can give a degree of control to a supportive caregiver or parent.

Acceptance does not mean that you take no action. Acceptance is needed before a person will be able to offer help from a sincere, authentic, and empathetic place. People are very unlikely to accept help from a person that they feel does not accept them. Acceptance is not the opposite of change… instead; acceptance is perhaps the most important variable when attempting to reach meaningful change.

7.)      Being patient with yourself and with your child is very important… even if you are doing everything “perfectly” the process might move slower then you had hoped. And perhaps more importantly, no one is actually perfect and you are likely doing a great job. It is important that parents and caregivers are well supported for this reason… often you are doing your best and perhaps you are at times judged a bit unfairly because of your child’s behaviors… you are doing your best and your efforts deserve more admiration that they probably receive.

This is true of your child as well… they are doing there best given the circumstances and they need a bit of patience and an honest “congratulations” when they make small steps in the right direction.

8.)      The parents’ ability to self-regulate their emotions will help the child to learn how to regulate their own emotions. Authenticity is important… I am not suggesting that you go through life faking, hiding, repressing, or rationalizing your emotions; instead I am suggesting that you convey them in a useful way to the right people at the right time.

As people learn to use stress reduction strategies and other techniques (such as mindfulness) they learn to explore their emotions more fully… in this exploration we often find that we were actually feeling something different than what our immediate reaction suggested (mad people are usually sad, fearful or embarrassed) and the source of that feeling is often from a different source than they might have originally thought.

Children and adults often react to the emotion that is being presented as opposed to the narrative… you can help your child to understand your message by monitoring what emotions you are presenting (this is unbelievably helpful with teenagers).

9.)      Eventually the child will need to make sense of his or her history so that they can better understand how their history affects their current level of function (the way they behave and relate to others etc). This is not for justification but for self-awareness – with increased awareness we gain new ways of perceiving, and new ways of moving towards a solution.

10.)    The adults must make every effort to remain empathetic to the child, as the child is likely doing the best that they can given his or her history. It is very important that the adults in such situations are very well supported as quite a lot is being asked of them. Again… don’t be too hard on yourself, and if you need help it is a sign of strength and integrity to ask for it.

11.)    Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is to trust that offering safety, security, unconditional love, and nurturance is the most effective way to help a child with special attachment needs. At times you may feel as though you are swimming against the current as you are inundated with parenting suggestions from sources that do not truly understand attachment theory or the trauma recovery process. Because of this fact, it can be immensely helpful to find a group or community of caregivers who are in a similar situation as yourself.

12.)    The symptoms or behaviors of a child with special attachment needs can look very similar to that of a child who either was spoiled or was raised with limited structure and guidance. This can be very confusing and the general public is far more capable of using interventions to aid the child who simply needs better structure and direction.

We need nurturance and support from others in order to learn how to be in control of ourselves…when a child does not receive the nurturance that they need during their early life they can have times where they have limited control over themselves… their action don’t always match their intentions (this is true of everyone).

At times the public needs help to understand that what works for one child might not work for another child.

13.)    In some instances a child might feel so overwhelmed, over stimulated, escalated, or deregulated that they will benefit from being away from an environment that might have expectations that they will not be able to meet.

Often children with attachment concerns will feel guilt for behaviors that they had little control over… In these situations they need to be offered compassion and they would appreciate your assistance in removing them from the difficult environment until they feel in control again. (They might fight you at the time, but deep down they appreciate you helping them to avoid feelings of guilt).

Caregivers can learn to be pre-emptive in these difficult situations… if you pay attention there are often precursor behaviors (actions they will do before) to “blow-outs” (tensing, fidgety behaviors, tone of voice, facial expressions, repetitive movements, teasing (by them or at them), feelings of failure or inadequacy, embarrassment etc are just some examples).

14.)    Therapists will often recommend one on one playtime with the child who has special attachment needs. Play (reading books, doing art, playing with toys etc) is a perfect setting to carry out the non- verbal (and verbal) communication goals. During play the child has the opportunity to tell you things that are important to them and to tell you about emotions that they are carrying (they are not conscious that they are doing this… most caregivers have scene this, the child will be playing with toys and acting out a scenario that very obviously happened to them)… You are not responsible for helping the child to reach some kind of existential insight, simply offer them unconditional positive regard, empathy, acceptance and all of your attention. The one on one playtime offered at a predictable time every day is a perfect way to help the child in receiving their attachment needs. Playtime does not need to be too long and if there is more than one caregiver it is beneficial to share this responsibility.

15.)    Mostly children with special attachment needs are just like any other child. This means that they will thrive with clear boundaries, with realistic expectations, with structure, with education, with developmentally appropriate activities, with proper nutrition, with plenty of exercise and play time, with opportunities for peer relationships, with nurturance, with safety, and with predictability.

16.)    It is important to note that not everything about a child is directly related to attachment concerns… they can still be spoiled, they will still have their own unique personalities and interests, and they will all be uniquely gifted in their own individual ways. The suggestions above could be beneficial to any child.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Tips for getting your Attachment needs met in your adult relationships

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Tips for getting your Attachment needs met in your adult relationships while managing the attachment needs of your child. 

Quick summary: When you are parenting a child with special attachment needs it is very common to feel extremely vulnerable… having a strong connection or attachment to another adult can act as a safe guard during these trying times. 

 The simplest way for me to explain attachment theory is as so: 

 Forever we have taken for granted that we have four basic needs in life – we need food, we need water, we need a way to maintain a healthy body temperature (shelter or clothes), and we need air. 

 Attachment theory proposes that there is a fifth basic need.  

We also need a loving, compassionate, trustworthy, secure, and validating relationship in order to survive… 

      We need to feel attached to another person to function. People in the field of attachment have investigated the biological and evolutionary roots of this primary need while other is the field have studied how to create optimal attachments. 

Just as it is important for a child to get their attachment needs met with their caregiver so is it almost equally important for adults to get their attachment needs met with a significant other adult. 

      Obviously the vulnerabilities of an adult are typically displayed differently than that of a child, yet the truth is that even adults show significant signs of distress when they feel as though an attachment to a significant other is in jeopardy or compromised. 

Besides the fear of death, perhaps the other two most significant and seemingly universal fears have to do with meaninglessness and being alone… which are related to attachment. 

The process of creating meaning is something done both individually and within the context of other people. 

      It is important that significant people in our lives offer us a degree of validation every once in a while for us to have security surrounding who we believe that we are and for what we claim our purpose to be. 

      In short, It is important for adults to feel understood by other adults so that they might feel validated and secure in who they are. 

As I mentioned, the other fear that most adults carry is a fear of being alone or a fear of losing those people with whom they share a degree of unconditional love. 

      A child might cry or throw a tantrum as they experience feeling of fear as thoughts or biological responses encourage them to question whether or not a loved one is going to leave them.  

      Similarly to a child, an adult will also engage in behaviors (both consciously and unconsciously) to get reassurance that they are not alone and that they still have a secure attachment to another person that can get their attachment needs met. 

What is the point of all this? And how does this relate to parenting and getting the attachment needs of a child met? 

It is very easy when raising a child with special attachment needs to lose focus on the importance of taking care of your self or of taking care of the adults in the family system in general. 

A strong trusting and nurturing adult relationship is a useful way to negate some of the negative impacts of the stress involved in child rearing.  

  

It is easier to meet the attachment needs of your child (or anyone else for that matter) if your own attachment needs are being met by another adult. 

      The more validating and secure you are within your adult relationship = the better able you will be to manage and grow from the feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, and disappointment etc that generally accompany trying to do something which is difficult and unfamiliar. 

Most people have at least a basic awareness of what you can do for yourself independently to live with optimal wellness… you can exercise regularly, engage in a hobby, eat healthy, take time for yourself, practice mindful breathing etc. 

For whatever reason we are not quite as aware of how to get our needs met or to meet the needs of our partner so as to achieve optimal wellness within an adult relationship. 

      In truth I sometimes find myself amazed that it was not until I was in graduate school that I was explicitly taught how to interact in an adult relationship in a way that is advantageous for both partners. 

      Perhaps most of us then learned from popular media and from our friends and family about how to interact with our partners… the problem is this… what if the suggestions or relationship advice that you picked up was actually detrimental to your relationship? 

To encourage secure adult attachment it is important that both partners feel understood, nurtured, trusted, and otherwise loved so that they can present themselves authentically. 

Honest emotional expression is important in an adult relationship and it is equally important that your partner be able to offer empathy for your feelings… feelings are not so much irrational as they are inevitable… I would suggest that avoiding those emotions which are inherent in being a human is what is ironically irrational. 

We humans have developed many different ways of managing our emotions including a tendency to favor presenting our selves as rational and not emotional… given the negative effect that suppressing our emotions can have on our relationships, our biology, and our self-awareness, and our over all quality of life I would humorously point out that rationalization is entirely irrational. 

What you will want to do to maintain a secure attachment in an adult relationship 

  

      Be compassionate and give your partner the benefit of the doubt

  • Their jealous “tantrum” or critical “nagging” is likely just a less effective way for them to ask you if you are there for them.
  • Some people have had very little experience with emotional expression… these people can have the tendency to ‘put their foot in their mouth’ – it can be helpful to do your best to try and understand them even when their words seem hurtful or don’t seem to make any sense… practice makes us better.

  

      Be accepting. 

  • Everyone has faults and sometimes we all need to know that it is ok for us to not be perfect.
  • The more accepting we are of our partners the more we allow them to be who they really are – this generally makes them a whole lot more available.

  

      Work to fix or help behaviors as opposed to fixing people. 

  • It is really hard for people to avoid being defensive if they feel as though they are being attacked for who they are as opposed to for what they do.
  • ex. “when you don’t put your dishes away it effects me…” is better than “you are a messy person.”

  

      Be curious and open-minded. 

  • The more you allow yourself to try and understand your significant other while limiting your tendency to pass judgment, the easier it will be for your partner to express exactly what they feel in the most authentic of ways.

  

      Be nurturing. 

  • Every one has different way in which the enjoy receiving love… let your partner know what you need and ask what they need… often the needs are different so this needs to be talked about openly.
  • The question is, “how do you know when you are loved.” example answers: when you tell me, when we have sex, when you get me things, when you give me a hug, when I know you are thinking about me when I’m not there etc.

  

      Listen and only begin to think of what you will say once your partner has finished speaking. 

  • To feel understood it is often important that we feel heard… most people feel alone and misunderstood when their partner appears to be thinking instead of listening.

  

      Be trustworthy and dependable. 

  • We all have faults… life is richer when lived honestly.
  • And just like a child we all need to feel as though someone is dependable for us to be independent and secure.

  

      Be available and accessible. 

  • Every one knows when there partner is in the room but feel a million miles away… communication strategies are more of a means to an ends in relation to attachment. Effective communication is a clear way of displaying your availability.

  

      Ask for what you need. 

  • Again we were never really told how to be in relationships, it is best not to assume that your partner knows what you need. Often times you can even tell your partner and they won’t understand… try again.
  • Often a partner will give you the nurturing that they want for themselves though it might not be the nurturing that you need… some people really need you to be as specific as possible… while other people tend to speak in metaphors.

  

      Express gratitude. Catch your partner doing things right.  

  • It is infinitely more effective to reward positive behaviors than to point out faults.

  

      Try replacing the conjunction “but” with the conjunction “and” 

  • When people say “no but” the listener generally feels as though what they just said is being debated… often an argument over absolutely nothing will follow. We live in a world filled with disagreements over subjects that were never mutually exclusive.
    • Example: one person says, “I would like to go to a movie.” and the other person responds, “But I need to eat some food.” – They argue. The next time the person responds “and I need some food.” the two people now simply engage in two non-mutually exclusive activities and avoid a conflict.

  

      Make time for your adult relationship. 

  • Most of us have everything on our schedules except unambiguous time for our most important relationship.

  

      Live a healthy life style. 

  • Our mood, optimism, libido, hope, drive, motivation etc are all related to our biology… keeping the body healthy is a great way to help your mind and your relationships to be healthy as well.

  

      Practice stress reduction or allow yourself to free yourself from excessive stress. (We don’t always have the choice, but often leaving a stressful environment is more of a choice than we allow ourselves to believe. 

  • If there is too much stress in your life you release too much cortisol in your brain… this encourages you to prematurely enter the ‘fight or flight’ mode… in short if you are too stressed then you will perceive your environment as more threatening than it actually is.
  • Spending just 15 minutes a day following your breath can dramatically reduce stress.
    • Heart breath: breath in for 5 seconds and then out for 5 seconds… imagine that there is a ball in your abdomen that expands like a balloon when your inhale and contracts when your exhale. Allow your mind to focus on the breath and its’ many sensations. As your mind wanders gently encourage its’ attention back to your breathing.

  

      Build self awareness and an awareness of your partner needs and triggers 

  • Every one in life has suffered in one way or another; because we have suffered we can have the tendency to react differently to certain things… if an event unconsciously reminds of a time of suffering, we are likely to have a relatively ‘exaggerated’ emotional response.

      When this happens many people can have the tendency to react to their partner with less self-control and with greater urgency. 

      We all have buttons or “triggers,” it is important that we all become aware of our own triggers and the triggers of our significant others so that we can be aware of when an exaggerated emotional response is do partly to the person’s history with suffering. 

      Once awareness is present it is helpful to allow your partner the space to heal from that suffering when emotional vulnerability is lessened. 

Common traps that you can try to avoid 

      Being “right”   

  • Being “right” is often wrong.
  • If your partner is expressing a feeling that they are holding does it matter if they got some of the “facts wrong?”… Rarely.
  • As a couples counselor this is one of the main things that I see… one partner is trying to express a feeling while the other partner is correcting the details of the storyline…believe me the storyline is mostly irrelevant… your partner tends to feel as they do despite your corrections to the plot…
  • Empathize with the feeling = your partner will feel more attached and secure = they feel better.
  • Correct the plot = your partner will feel misunderstood, not listened to, and alone = they feel worse.

  

      Being defensive 

  • People can’t always predict or control the way that they are going to react emotionally. Despite this truth it is healthy for people to have a safe place to express whatever emotions that they are carrying. It is very difficult when it appears that you caused the emotional distress in your partner (especially when you feel like there is a misunderstanding or that you are being wrongly accused). If you allow yourself to empathetically listen to your partner without getting defensive you will aid them in their time of emotional vulnerability = this usually makes the situation better.
  • There are times to offer corrections when your partner is carrying a strong emotion for something that was perhaps misperceived. The time to do so is always after you have allowed them the safe place to express themselves. In short – the emotion needs to be expressed whether it grew from a misperception or not.
  • Note: many misperceptions are not misperceptions – instead they are differing perceptions much like differing opinions.

  

      Counter Critiquing  

  • it is very common for people who feel as though they are being attacked to counter attack… often one partner will be trying to express feelings about their partners behavior in a constructive way and the other partner will choose the time to point out the other partners difficult behaviors. Focus on one thing at a time… bringing up multiple problems at once is likely to resolve nothing.

  

      Assigning blame 

  • Assigning blame is unproductive… generally no ones emotional needs get met, and no solutions are created… in short it rarely does anything productive and it usually creates more problems.
  • Instead of assigning blame you can take the following two steps:
    • create a specific solution
    • Express the emotional impact that the problem had on you without making generalization and without attacking your partner’s character.

      Avoiding  

  • There is nothing wrong with taking a bit of time for yourself when you feel as though your emotions are at a level which will keep you from engaging with your partner in a safe or helpful way.
  • That being said there is a method of just shutting out your partner in an effort to avoid conflict.

      This process creates a bigger conflict – your partner will feel isolated and alone. 

      When your partner feels disconnected from you they are likely to engage in more desperate attempts to reconnect with you… this gives you more to avoid and will tend to make the situation grow out of control. 

      Rationalizing 

  • “You should not feel that way because…” or “I should not feel this way because…” – ironically both of these statements are irrational or at least misinformed.
  • Emotions are related to your own subjective or individual way of perceiving and experiencing the world… rationalizations are based on the false premise that there is one objectively correct way of experiencing existence.
  • You feel the way that you feel whether it makes cognitive “sense” or not.
  • Resisting an emotion tends to make it worse… allowing yourself to have the emotion tends to make it better.

  

meeting the needs of your partner is a great way of meeting your own needs… having your partner meeting your needs is a great way for them to meet their own needs… meeting your own needs is a great way to make yourself more able to meet the needs of others… meeting the needs of a relationship meets individual and collective needs at the same time…when the needs of a group and the individuals that make up that group are met, all people involved tend to feel happier and healthier. 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Attachment – why we say and emote one way when we truly feel and think a different way

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Quick summary: I was just re-reading some articles on Emotionally Focused Therapy and on Attachment Theory and I thought I might offer a noteworthy piece of information. Often we say what we don’t mean and we offer an emotional response which is different from how we truly feel in order to protect ourselves from attending to our attachment concerns or fears… ok, so what does that mean? Quite simply it is easier to attack, avoid, defend or distract than it is to allow yourself to be vulnerable and to express your vulnerability concerning an important relationship… it is easier to be mad than it is to be sad… very often anger and emotional withdrawal are very effective means of distracting yourself from your sadness or your fear. Vulnerability arrives when we acknowledge that we hold fear about losing relationships which are important to us… Relational bliss lies within the honesty of allowing yourself to acknowledge your vulnerability in a supportive and empathetic relationship.

Examples:

–         It is seems easier to get mad at your teenager for being late for curfew… were you also afraid for your child’s safety… what is typically expressed with greater effort, the anger or the fear?

–         It seems easier to get mad at your partner for his or her choice of seductive clothing…were you afraid that your partner would leave you for another mate? Was this ever expressed? How was this expressed?

–         It seems easier to focus your attention on a fair way of dividing the estate of a deceased family member – most families experience angry and hostile interactions during these times… was the family prepared to talk openly about the sadness they felt for a lost relationship? Where do we learn to express our vulnerabilities?

Please do not interpret this as blaming – in truth we are very well trained in distraction, avoidance, defensiveness, and attack strategies – we tend to be less prepared to express vulnerability.

  • There are many negative associations with the word ‘vulnerable’ – what does it mean to you? What do you believe that it means to your partner?
  • Is allowing yourself to be vulnerable considered a strength or a weakness in your relationships?

 

Society can tend to label vulnerability as a weakness and defensiveness, attack strategy, avoidance and distraction as strengths (defensive – rational/intelligent, attack – powerful/leader, avoidance – clever/independent, distraction – witty and humorous).

–         If everyone feels vulnerable at times than is it truly weak to acknowledge your true feelings? Does it not take strength to be authentic and honest?

The Answer – we say things different from what we honestly think and we display emotions different from what we actually feel because somewhere along the way we learned that it was easier to do that than to express vulnerability.

Solution – (note: this is tricky stuff and it is very helpful to seek a Couples and Family therapist) – much of what therapists are trained to do is to bring behaviors, thoughts, and emotions into your conscious awareness – self-awareness can be difficult to achieve unassisted.

            – sometimes our vulnerabilities need the support of a professional helper – in becoming a therapist most therapists seek therapy in order to sit more comfortably with their own vulnerabilities.

Identify your patterns – what do you usually do when your are feeling vulnerable (attack, withdraw, defend, distract etc)

Identify what you feel vulnerable about – (breaking trust, abandonment, losing love, unequal degree of love in the relationship, not truly loved, being used, being replaceable etc)

Externalize – separate yourself and you partner from the behavior patterns in your relationship – they are not a permanent part of you or your relationship, they are separate – once you see this… once your allow the pattern to be separate… you can use your freedom to choose a new pattern.

Identify where these vulnerabilities might have grown from – (divorced parents, adoption, infidelity in a past or current relationship, troubled relationship with a parent, lack of safety or neglect in childhood etc)

Identify what gets in the way of your ability to be empathetic, genuine, authentic, and to be a good listener. – If you are going to seek support from your partner you should be prepared to learn how to be supportive back (again a therapist is very helpful here).

–         There is not one way of being supportive – you must identify how your partner feels supported – a willingness to accept constructive feedback can be important.

–         Note: many people do not know how they like to be supported.

When support, safety, and empathy are present you get to express your vulnerabilities… the listener is responsible for compassion and empathy – they are not enlisted to ‘fix’ anything – (empathy and the resulting increase in intimacy is the ‘fix’)

           

When this happens most people feel a significant decrease in relational conflict and they feel more attached or bonded to their partner.

 

Pragmatic solutions – once you have acknowledged your vulnerabilities it is significantly easier to handle more surface level conflicts as you have learned to be more self aware, more aware of your partners needs, a better listener, and more honest.

This is one of the more confusing goals of couples and family therapy – often the goal is to help the structure, dynamics, and interaction patterns of the clients so that they can be better able to solve all the problems that inevitably surface in life.

As I have stated in an earlier blog post this is all scientifically substantiated – studies have even been shown to display positive changes to the brain itself. Dr. Sue Johnson has done an excellent job of applying the science to the subject of emotions as they relate to relationships.

 

Attachment theory is mind-blowing – if you want to have that ah ha moment surrounding the mysteries of psychotherapy I suggest you read about attachment theory (Emotionally Focused Therapy and most of the successful childhood trauma recovery strategies are largely based on attachment theory).

“The more that you show your partner the more he or she will have to love” – me

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.