Welcome to my Blog and Resources page. I will post resources and articles that you can read and use as an enhancement to our counseling sessions. I hope that the information provided will be useful in your journey of change and growth.
Welcome to my Blog and Resources page. I will post resources and articles that you can read and use as an enhancement to our counseling sessions. I hope that the information provided will be useful in your journey of change and growth.
Any Fringe fans out there?
Oops, I just gave away my inner Sci-Fi nerd by asking. If you’re not a fan or have never seen the series, it’s a smart and entertaining take on parallel universes and what could happen if they exist. BUT, you’re probably not reading this blog entry to geek out about a Sci-Fi series with me. After all, this is a psychotherapeutic forum and you probably clicked on the hyperlink to explore emotional health.
Stick with me. I’m getting there.
In the series, there are these futuristic beings called the Observers. They are evolved humans, genetically modified to have no emotions. The engineers of this emotion removal project perceive the emotional expression of humans as irrational and getting in the way. The basic idea is that they view an evolved human being as one that would not let emotions get in the way. In this future portrayal of non-feeling beings we see humanity at its most horrific. Beings lacking empathy, having no need to bond with others, and growing humans in capsules instead of wombs. An engineered race of detached humans. I don’t know about you, but the concept was nightmarish.
Crazy, right? Why would you want to obliterate the one thing that helped us survive and evolve? A system that at the heart of it, makes us human. Our emotions are part of an elegant meaning making system that makes us capable of loving, nurturing and creating a purposeful existence.
We might not be quite like the enthusiastic engineering Observers, but we similarly downplay the value of emotions in our North American culture. A culture that prizes individuation. Often the dominant message about expressing emotional vulnerability by wanting to be needed and needing others makes us weak or childish.
Thankfully with the hard work and research in Adult Attachment and Bonding we have been making headway to make the argument for health and human survival by depending on others throughout our lifespans. The Attachment field tells us there are two types of dependency, effective or ineffective dependency. Words like co-dependent miss the mark, and get us thinking that there’s something like catching a horrible disease to depend on someone and worse, that there is something wrong with us to want and need another human being.
In my practice and even in my own experiences, I see how displacing and or disowning emotions gets us stuck and how in those moments we haven’t managed to maximize the use of our elegant emotional intelligence system. Instead the experience and expression of feelings sets off old rigid patterns. I get it, emotions like fear and shame, which probably are the toughest and difficult to express feelings of our emotional repertoire, have a way of getting us off balance, and in some cases reacting in ways that end up hurting others and ourselves even more.
So how do we work with rather than against our emotional experience?
-A good first step is acknowledging that our emotions are valuable and are embedded in its own intelligence system.
-Work toward identifying any rigid strategies we use in our relationships that keep us stuck and feeling misunderstood or more disconnected from others. If you’re a self-motivated learner reading about Attachment strategies may be a helpful way to understanding your own strategy. There are quizzes available online for free.
-Expanding the information and organizing the meaning of what these emotions tell us about our relationships and ourselves takes work, but the ultimate payoff is invaluable. We can renew our relationships with others and more importantly begin to value ourselves in deeper ways. We can begin to expect love and caring without experiencing barriers that keep us from it.
In the show, Fringe, Observers were likened to lizards, only capable of what we call fight or flight reactions. Fighting or running from a perceived threat. Mostly they fought. They could not enjoy the emotional colored nuances of flirting or getting lost in the bliss of falling in love or fighting for something they cared about. They did not have the need to bond with another, which inevitably meant that they had no purpose other than surviving.
Our emotions are an untapped intelligence and resource that no computer app or artificial intelligence can replace. I hope you choose to do the work and get to experience the value of your emotional experience. If you find yourself getting stuck and need extra support, finding a therapist who is trained to help guide their clients through their emotional blocks can be helpful.
We've all just gotten our yearly dose of all things Valentine's day. Some of us may be experiencing hangover-like symptoms. Withdrawals from the rose-colored tinted experience that the holiday brought or didn't bring you this year. Leaving some of us feigning for that romantic high, that IV-dripped plunge into immediate relief that comes with being admired and loved by a special someone.
Experience in the helping profession has helped me infer some observed emotional states and patterns for the months that follow the relationship-focused holidays of November-February. The season can really do a number on people. There's something about our most intimate attachments with others (or reminders that we're not attached) that can set us off on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Valentine's day seems to culturally symbolize that last opportunity to be recognized as a part of a significant relationship until Fall rolls around nine months later with the holidays again. We begin the dreadful walk into the desert, and for some of us, the "I will not go through another holiday single" mantra begins.
Often in our anguish and obsession of coupling we miss out on the lessons that can be learned in a season or seasons of being single. I have found myself in such dry deserts, parched, with dehydrated induced hallucinations of oases where I imagine the luxurious perks of coupling life. Sometimes for much longer periods than I've liked. But, I am a firm believer that we usually don't get what we want. We always get what we need. And sometimes we need to be single. I needed to be single.
There is much insight and development to be gained for our personhood and future personhood from time alone. Opportunities that can only be experienced directly out of being in relationship with self. When we forget that there's a primary relationship with ourselves we can ignore our Universe-assigned quest to figure ourselves out, alone, before we navigate the realm of relationship with others. When alerted by the "OMG, I CANNOT GO THROUGH ANOTHER HOLIDAY SINGLE" we can end up focusing our energy on obtaining the next date, obsessing about how to get the next love interest and when it will happen. We miss out on this especially carved out time made for exploring our own unique philosophy of what it means to be loved and love. The time of Me, Myself, and I.
I've been inspired of late by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell's work, Parenting From the Inside Out. Although their collaborative work focuses on parenting, I was able to find some gems that highlight a process in which we can figure ourselves out to continue developing in our relationships throughout our lifespan. An excerpt from their book: "People who remain in the dark about the origins of their behaviors and intense emotional responses are unaware of their unresolved issues."
Whew, that one swung out of the pages and Fozzie-tomato-splattered me right between the eyes. And if you're like me or anyone with a heartbeat you will probably experience some things that just rub you the wrong way more than other things. And feel bigger than other things. Things that catch you off guard. Things that need to be understood. Because these unresolved issues can wreak major havoc on our relationships.
Why reflect, why figure out how things in our past impact us and the stories we tell ourselves and how we construct our stories? Because the way in which we remember, perceive and tell our stories are linked to how we respond in our relationships. Often the things that are keeping us from being available to others are embedded in this process. Lucky us, we have this thing called Free Will and we can choose to continue closing ourselves off to making sense of the way we have constructed our reality. I honestly understand this coping skill, it numbs the pain and shame. Sadly though, it keeps us stuck. It keeps us from growing into our potential emotionally and relationally. It blocks authentic connection and attunement with others. And if you've ever experienced authentic unblocked attuned connection with an other. You know it is a space of infinite magic. If you haven't yet. Trust me it's worth getting uncomfortable for. It's worth feeling wounded for.
We don't have to give up participating in life as we know it and go on a solo quest into the wild somewhere to find ourselves. Although, personally that sounds very cool and I’m totally for the option of being able to go off the grid and find adventure in this self-exploration quest. Just find the way to do the work. Find your way. Find your thing or things. Dig up those mined gems and invest that wealth into your relationships.
The point is, as Dr. Siegel says, "chance favors the prepared mind." We all know that finding "the one" requires chance, situation, timing and luck. Things out of our control. What is in our control is to have a prepared mind. To understand ourselves. To be in favor of that chance when it lands on our laps.
So let's get to work! Things that I wish I contemplated and made sense of in my earlier seasons of being single:
For those who are I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T and sing the anthem out loud, I am your spirit animal. Been there. Done that. Was it helpful? In some ways. It protected me financially. Emotionally? Not so much.
What I needed to learn: Dependence on an other is normal and is a core human need for our development throughout our lives. We are wired to attach and it is HEALTHY to do so. I’ll repeat myself here, because this is important! It is HEALTHY to NEED someone emotionally and physically. We are the most underdeveloped beings when we are born and require TONS of nurturing and help before we are able to care for ourselves. This need is not only present as infants and children. This need is with us for life. Obviously this need evolves through different developmental phases of our adult lives. But the core need remains. We need each other. If you are uncomfortable with needing someone or when someone needs you, this may be an area to grow in and make sense of. Healthy attachment and understanding valid needs and dependence on someone who we are in a bond with is a main component for healthy and satisfying relationships.
What would it mean to have to depend on someone? I struggled with this concept of attachment and needing an other for a long time. My single mom, reinforced in me, over and over again that I was not to depend on someone else, especially not a man. Although this has served me in many areas of my life and has contributed to my ambition, personal success and discipline, it created a disability in healthily attaching and creating secure connections in my romantic relationships. I possibly suffered more than I needed to, fighting with this dependence thing. Although the belief that supporting myself financially is still important to me, I can see the value of emotional dependence on another. Through some soul-work I have a new understanding of the difference between emotional attachment needs and financial supportive needs. An emotional attachment and emotional security is the glue for love. I do need to depend on someone and others. We all do. It’s about survival. It is primal. It is our birth-right.
Other questions to explore whether you're in a relationship desert or its oasis (Questions for contemplation are from Dr. Siegel and Mary Hartzel's book, Parenting From the Inside Out):
What does it mean for you when someone will need you and have to depend on you?
How do you feel about closeness and separation? Where do you think you learned how to be close or to stay distant? Is this something that makes you feel safe or is it something you want to change?
Do you tend to only want to experience things from a distance?
Do you tend to emotionally relive things from your past? Making it hard to be in the present? Do they seem so intense even though they've happened a long time ago?
Do you remember many details of your early life? (For insight about our narrative/story types, Dr. Daniel Siegel’s work about the Adult Attachment Interview can be helpful.)
If you are in a season of being single, take this time to rejoice, do things that partnered up people can't. Discover all the layers of yourself. Do brave work. Find your own value. Get sweaty from the emotional workout that this type of work calls for and build some new muscles you never knew you had. So when chance comes around the corner, you will be able to reap all its favor.
It's that time of year. Valentine's Day. A holiday marketed to tug at our emotions. For some of us the messages we receive this time of year may bring with it a void or feeling like something is missing or lacking in our lives. Even if we are in satisfying relationships we are nudged to take a closer look at our coupling life. I hope that wherever you fall on the relationship status spectrum, this piece will inspire a deeper understanding of how your unique past can intrude on your present and allow you to discover new ways to optimize the quality of your current or future relationships.
"I can forgive, but I can't forget"; "I just snapped"; "He's such a momma's boy, I can't deal with it"; "She definitely has daddy issues, nothing I can do about that!"
All these statements reflect an underlying essence of unresolved or leftover stuff that get in the way of understanding ourselves and the people we love. We operate in the present based on strings of moments that happened in our past. Despite all of our superhero strength that we might conjure to conquer our day, we all have stuff from the past that have the potential of catching us off guard and wreaking havoc on our present. Our spidey senses, x-ray vision and capes can let us down in these moments.
A proton pack might be a more appropriate tool here, because what we're dealing with is a different villain. Ghosts from our past tucked away in our implicit memories.
Dr. Dan Siegel does one of the best jobs I know of explaining in simple terms the difference between implicit and explicit memory, the latter type being what we normally think of when we think of memory recall. For more in depth understanding of the workings of these memory types, I would recommend his co-authored books The Whole Brain Child and Parenting From the Inside Out. I will be focusing on implicit memory and provide some basics to help us understand how implicit memory works so that we can start exorcising.
Implicit memories are with us at birth, maybe even in utero. Implicit memories do not require our conscious attention, i.e. awareness for recall. Implicit memories include our behavioral, emotional, perceptual and maybe even bodily memories. Implicit memory is the magic that lets us drive a car, walk, react to the sound of an ambulance in traffic and many other human experiences. Implicit memory stores mental models of our experiences so that we can anticipate and prepare for action quickly.
A lot of how we engage in our world and in our relationships rely on implicit memories.
Implicit memory at work: Can you imagine if you were on a busy highway and an ambulance was coming up behind you and you had to go over each minute step for what to do in that situation? It might go something like this: "Okay, I hear the siren. Now I have to look in my rearview mirror. I have to turn my head to the left and right to check to see which side would be best to move to. Do I have space to get to the side of the highway. The car in front of me just stopped abruptly. Now I have to press my breaks to slow down," and so on. Most of us experience all those steps of readiness in a nanosecond and can respond effectively. If we were to recall all those steps with conscious awareness, in a real life situation it would probably take us too long to get out of the way or we may get into an accident. Implicit memory is the solution to that dilemma. It is elegant in the way it allows us to anticipate a need and respond quickly by the way it stores, organizes and recalls our experiences without our awareness.
It's all fun and games, until someone gets hurt.
In this game called human existence we are bound to be rejected and misunderstood at some point in our lives and most of us would agree that this is a fairly normal part of our development. However not all rejections and misunderstandings are equal when it comes to how we experience them. At certain developmental stages in our life we are more vulnerable when experiencing rejection and feeling unloved. This would be when we are children, a partner in a romantic relationship and as parents. Implicit memories captured during these times of how we respond to each other and cope to our needs not being met can be more intense.
Implicit memories help us to organize the way we behave and experience our relationships. On the disorganizing side of the spectrum, when we have a physical or emotional need that is not responded to repeatedly, we become confused and may become distrustful of our need and the other with whom we are in relationship with. Each time we reach out and our needs are not met or misunderstood the stronger the reinforcement of a mental model: "my needs are not valid," "my caretaker or significant other doesn't want to or know how to meet my needs."
Remember how implicit memory worked when we responded to the ambulance in traffic? The same concept works for how we respond in our relationships. We can end up responding to our others based on generalizations and mental models that we formed from interactions in our past that don''t match up to the need or emotions of our present situations. It is key to remember that implicit memory does not require active recall and our awareness to be activated. And if we've been storing unresolved or leftover stuff over time without our working through them along the way, some of us may end up discovering that we are chilling with more defensive gangsta ghosts than we thought
Be more fearless than a Ghostbuster when facing an unwelcome visit from an implicit memory.
Tips for how to use this new understanding of implicit memory to continue your personal development and support healthy relationship:
Awareness. Presence. Investigation. Courage.
As mentioned, implicit memories are very much at the heart of our unconscious level of experience. Using awareness will help you recognize when an implicit memory is a block to healthy attachment. Experiencing an unresolved or leftover issue feels intrusive and is sometimes accompanied by feelings of helplessness, despair, loss, terror or betrayal. It's a reactive state to what is unfolding in front of you that has more to do with something that happened in your past not the event you think you're reacting to in the present. Sometimes we can't catch ourselves in the middle of a reaction, but we can use awareness after the reaction to own our feelings, take responsibility for them and work toward making a choice to respond differently next time.
Presence requires attention. With presence we can observe. Presence is calm and a space of creativity. Presence allows us to see the need unfolding in front of us, not the need we may have had in the past. When we are in the throes of an implicit memory we are reactive and are usually incapable of responding with ability.
Investigate. Where does this reaction come from? Is it interfering with a valid need of my child, partner or friend in the present? When has this happened to me in the past in a similar way? Is it possible that I haven't made sense of that experience? How can I make sense of it's impact on me and my life so that my current relationships can thrive and I can grow? How can I take responsibility for the way I reacted and do something differently next time?
Have courage. Vanquishing our ghosts requires a warrior heart and mind. The potential of your current and future relationships are counting on you!
"Learning how we tick, teaching ourselves not to fear the monsters under our bed, and learning how to be in dialogue with what we have run from all our lives is the road to finding our own redemption. On our own terms. On our own time." -Chani Nicholas
This blog post is inspired by my recent audio-book indulgence, Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson and musical artist Justin Timberlake's song, "Mirrors". Pop Culture meets Attachment Science.
Dr. Sue Johnson is mostly correct when she shares her perception that Hollywood and other forms of entertainment miss the mark when it comes to examples of healthy secure relationships and how to best tend to them. Dr. John Gottman also commented on the stark difference between the everyday couple and what is played on the big screen when he reviewed many hours of videotaped couples from his Love Lab. Both of these relationship experts' experience working with couples and their research tells them that the art of love is more subtle and is found in smaller spaces than the big overtures depicted in screenplays and love stories via Western entertainment. We are supposed to be tortured, jaded, anxious or dismissive in love. If we trust what the movies tell us, we have to fly to another state to capture our love on top the empire state building, (Sleepless In Seattle); have our beau hold a boombox outside of our bedroom window (Say Anything); be seduced by poetry from across the room at an open mic night (Love Jones) to feel excited or moved in our own relationships.
There is a high probability that those of us who watch movies like those listed above will be moved emotionally and assimilate the characters' feelings into our own, even if we are not experiencing love like they are. It's as if we are looking into a mirror reflecting back our own emotional system's coding repertoire. We can feel the rapture and excitement of being wooed as if we are the characters on screen.
This mirroring or feeling what the other person feels is possible via our brains' mirror neurons. Mirror neurons allow us to anticipate and predict what may happen next in a social relationship by paying attention to and processing emotional cues in the facial features of others. Depending how our relationships' emotional cues have played out in our lives' story, we sense what may happen next and usually have automatic responses to those cues. Current research tells us our brains our plastic and can evolve and change. This means that our responses to emotional cues can change, which is good news if we are currently stuck responding to emotional cues from others in ways that leave us feeling more disconnected than closer.
So you are probably asking yourself, "So...what does this have to do with Justin Timberlake and Dr. Sue Johnson?" Well, shortly after taking a break from listening to Love Sense, leaving off on Dr. Johnson's explanation of mirror neurons and relationships, I turned on some tunes and Justin Timberlake's, "Mirrors", "Its like your my mirror...that we're making two reflections into one," came through my Pandora radio station. I thought, "hmmmm...this was something pop culture entertainment actually got right in illustrating how to tune in to love." Maybe Dr. Sue Johnson can give"Mirrors" a hall pass.
Justin Timberlake's audio clip on his official website:
"One of the most valuable things in a relationship is being able to constantly change and be individual, but look to the other side to the person that you're with and know that they're changing as well individually, but somehow you two can mirror each other and be the other half of the world that you both create."
Neuroscience research breakthroughs are showing us that we can love creatively, more securely and deeply by being attentive to our partner's emotions. Dr. Sue Johnson, likes to offer her readers opportunities to experiment with the information she has given in her book. In the spirit of that, I'd like you, the reader to focus in on the emotion of your significant other, friend, child or any other significant person in your life the next opportunity you get. This attentiveness can be really helpful, especially when you are in conflict with someone. Attentiveness means looking at the other, their face, searching for their emotional cue. Like Justin Timberlake's lyric, "Keep your eyes on me, baby keep your eyes on me." We know that emotions are universally recognized as: happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust.
If you are able, tend to the emotion that you see as if you are trying to alleviate that individual's concern or celebrate their happiness. If you cannot join with their emotions or feel what they are feeling and are blocked, pause and check in with what your self-talk is telling you. Are you afraid by their anger/disappointment? Does sadness mean that someone is going to leave? Does their happiness mean that they can only have fun without you? Tap into what you are telling yourself that keeps you from helping the other feel better and safe from life's storms with you. We can grow deeper in connection with others when we can recognize and help them with what they are feeling.
We all have that superpower: mirror neurons to the rescue.