Featured

Go beyond “just talking.” Find true connection.

Do any of these sound like you?

Highly Sensitive – exquisitely and sometimes painfully aware of the feelings of others, ever-vigilant to others’ responses toward you (Which can get paralyzing fast!).


Smart – possibly so smart that you can talk yourself out of your feelings and instincts. Trapped by trying to think your way out of feelings.

Shamed, guilty – feeling like you’re not enough, or you’re too much – or both. Trying to improve yourself again and again, but there’s the nagging despair that something’s wrong with you.

You’ve talked your way through therapy before…

…but without deep change happening in your emotions, beliefs, or relationships.

You have more insight, but the change just doesn’t seem to take root inside.

Parts of your childhood left you feeling frightened, alone, or unwanted.

You’re left with impossibly high expectations of yourself.

Compassion for other people – you’ve got it.

Compassion for yourself – not so much.

Even though your work is highly respected, your close relationships are difficult, and you struggle to reach out from a genuine place that can connect you to others.

Or you keep reaching out, keep talking, and yet, something still aches inside. It feels like nobody gets it.

It’s time for something deeper, more interactive, more lasting.

Stop doubting your own worth.

Achieving your dreams is possible, so don’t let perfectionism, fear, or shame make it harder to finish them, or to take on new projects.

It’s time to stop disowning your own depth, your own feelings, and the richness you bring. Do the work that finally lets you honor and claim all of yourself and lets the true you be seen and known.

If you need to get past challenges, get unstuck, honor your sensitivity and smarts, and pursue the depth in life and relationships you really want, I’d like to meet you!

Hi, I’m Michaela.

I love working with people like you!

I love to help you to stop feeling stranded and alone, to end the fear that no one can understand you, and to help you find an affirming experience from the first moment we meet.

“I know it’s safe in here because your words, your posture, your laugh — they all tell me it’s really okay to bring all of me here. It’s a sense of safety I’ve needed for a long time.”

Some of my clients worked hard to get themselves to therapy.

They started out unsure of themselves. They were afraid of yet one more situation where they’d feel misunderstood. Maybe they felt close to giving up, on counseling or on themselves.

Coming to counseling is a leap of faith, or an act of honoring yourself, even when you’re not sure that you can get better.


Not every counselor, not even every good counselor, is the right counselor for you.

It takes resonance. It takes connection. It takes feeling understood.

Would you like to meet me? Reach out for your first appointment on my work with me page. 

“Counseling with you was so different! I’d worked with 6 different people  before I found you, and while they were nice, I couldn’t stop the circling in my head so I didn’t really get anywhere. You helped me to find my deeper emotions, got me in touch with my body, and helped me to really experience something new and profound with you. I’m more confident, centered, and connected because of our work.”

“My relationships always end after a few months”

“Why do I always end relationships just when we’re getting close?”
“I always find myself wanting to break up when relationships get to a certain point.”
Or,

“I always burn my support people out after just a few months.”

Different stories, but with some similar feelings and undercurrents.

Someone tells a friend, “I don’t know why…..I just start to despise the person I’m with. All of a sudden, it’s like he can’t do anything right. It’s a different reason every time, but……it’s frustrating! Is it just that I have high standards? Have I just not found the person for me? Is my “picker” broken and I keep getting with losers? Or am I being too critical?”
Another person gets dismissed after a few months, and has been broken up with yet again, and she wonders aloud, “What is this? Do I keep picking people who are unavailable and insensitive? Or am I expecting too much?”
Sound familiar? Some people experience this kind of thing anytime they get close to someone: friend, lover, therapist, even a group of friends. Others have lots of stable relationships, but particular ones and particular kinds of closeness elicit this kind of push-away.
The good news, if this is your struggle, is that there’s something really rich to be seen, heard, learned about, right in the middle of those sticky feelings right at that 6 month (or however many months or weeks it is for you!) mark.
That mark is right where your History is probably kicking in. Those old scripts about the world and about relationships. It’s where you’re confused, disoriented, sad, angry, and pained, that you are in touch with something within that can be transformed.
I had a client once who, whenever she felt people begin to like her, would begin to panic and to feel her dreaded need again. It was an agonizing need, a frustrating place for her to be, because she would feel, all of a sudden, LOTS of need for LOTS of contact and reassurance. At the same time, she felt terrible shame and fear. She had a long history of people rejecting her once she started calling too much. Close friends suddenly were accusing her of being too much, pushing the boundaries……and she knew they were right. Yet she didn’t know how to stop this pattern without a self-imposed, rigid exile from closeness. Turns out that this place in her that called people so many times was a place that really DID need help. A focused kind of help and attention that somatic, connection-focused therapy began to meet. There was a very young, scared part of her that needed help to feel seen, met, held, and safe. Once she could take that in, her grown up part became capable of doing relationships differently. And that little one in her could feel the care of others without that “more more more” thing kicking in. Big relief!
Another person I worked with began to dismiss people when they got to a certain point of closeness. He was an expert fault-finder, and could always see validly what in others was of concern. His biggest pet peeve, however? “Neediness.” People were always too needy, he said. Turned out that there was a young part of him that had unmet needs, a part who had learned early on to turn away from those needs — to suppress tears, to “get alone” to find himself where there would be no ridicule. Meeting this young part and helping the defender of this young part to relax both enabled him to embrace both his vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of others. His relationships improved a lot and others remark now on how much more open, soft, he seems to be.
Relationship healing can happen. It’s those bewildering feelings that keep coming up over and over again that offer the clues as to what needs healing within you.
Often, what feels like intractable behavior is something covering over precious parts of ourselves with simple needs, yearnings, desires. These places can be found, met, transformed.
And this can free you to be who you really are meant to be in relationships. And to begin to have relationships that last longer, if you want them!

Help for disorganized attachment

I’ve been reading about attachment styles, and am wanting to summarize, in my own words, what I’ve been discovering about these different styles.  (These summaries, by the way, are not about mental illness, not even a little bit! These are about ways we all learn to cope with how connection has been for us. Which means that I work from the premise that anyone who grew up with your parents and environment would likely come out with the same attachment style you have: it’s not who you are but how you learned to relate.)

Today, I want to review some of what I’ve learned about one of the most misunderstood styles, the “disorganized” one.

If you’re struggling with a disorganized attachment style, you are torn between two or three different impulses in relationships. It feels chaotic inside, and it can get chaotic in your relationships. You yearn for closeness, yet that very closeness you yearn for can bring on some of your scariest, saddest, hardest places inside.

The deeper, the scarier

You are fine with acquaintances, but once a relationship gets deeper…

You are fine with acquaintances, but once a relationship gets deeper, you start feeling some internal chaos — like you don’t know whether to get way closer, to run away screaming, or to split the difference somehow!

You find yourself feeling like you’re going in two directions at once in the same relationship, and it’s exhausting for you (and maybe the other person!). It’s like wanting to floor the accelerator and pound on the brake of a car at the same time.

You are afraid to get close to people, afraid of the chaos this might unleash.

You have a vague sense of dread in relationships. You may not be able to identify quite what this is all about, but somehow, it feels like you aren’t really safe with others. You can’t settle.

You feel out of control of your own feelings, impulses, and behavior.

You alternate between trying to avoid someone and wanting to be very close to them, and you often don’t know what’s governing these cycles of closeness and distance.

You say things that other people find to be inconsistent. Like you ask for help, but then if help comes, it doesn’t feel safe, or good, or like what you asked for. Maybe others find you hard to please.

You sometimes feel like giving up on yourself, or giving up on relationships. But you have intense yearning at the very same time.

You feel stuck in your relationships, and if you’re in therapy, often feel stuck there — like you, your therapist, or both of you, are being too difficult!

Relationships feel like a landmine.

And yet, you need relationships

You want to be close. (We all do!) When closeness stirs up memories of abandonment or hurt, though, it’s like your body starts doing something else. It’s as if you move toward and away from relationships at the same time.

Connection has gotten entangled with hurt. With fear. With rage. With desolation. With desperation. With conflict.

It makes sense that you’re divided!

This is what happens when, early on, some of the people who were supposed to take care of you, listen to you, and keep you safe were the same people who walked away from you, didn’t listen, or were the source of hurt.

As children, we can’t just walk away.

As children, we can’t just walk away. When we’re young, we don’t have the option to say, “Sorry, this isn’t working out. I’ll find other parents who are a better match for my needs.”

We have to connect to them. Even when it’s scary. Even when it’s confusing. Even when it hurts. 

But, when we’re being hurt — physically, emotionally, or spiritually — we also have other impulses, to flee or to fight. Our self-protective impulses kick in.

These are good impulses. But they aren’t safe with caregivers who are bigger and more powerful, than the moment, than you are. You end up with suppressed rage, an urge to run but nowhere to go, or …

And  yet still, the yearning for connection.

Often, this all gets so confusing that you freeze up — it’s like you don’t feel safe coming toward your caregivers, but there’s nowhere to go. It’s not safe to fight, but it doesn’t feel safe to connect, either.

As an adult, you feel like these same binds keep playing in your relationships over and over again. You may sometimes feel like you’re insane, and other times feel like the  whole world’s gone mad!

Things just don’t seem stable, or safe. You just can’t get comfortable. Someone feels great to be around one moment, and terrifying the next. It’s like everything keeps getting flipped upside down in your mind, in your world. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Even when you’re with a partner, or a friend, or a therapist who demonstrates that they care for you over and over again, and who never hurts you, sometimes you still can’t trust them. And, on a deeper level, you feel like you can’t trust yourself.

So what can be done?

Counseling for disorganized attachment

If you see someone who has experience in working with these types of binds, your  sense of hope may start to come in quite soon. A lot of this is that when someone “gets it” about disorganized attachment, you can more easily  start to talk in a candid way about yearnings, fears, yearnings towards and push-aways — and this opens up a safe space for all of the parts of you to come forward!

You can also work, carefully, to help you through the traumatic reactions in your body — reactions to the “fear without solution” you experienced when you were small.

You might notice empathically together what’s happening for you. For some clients, this is the first experience they’ve had of getting explicit compassion for their conflict within relationships. We start to notice what’s happening together, and what might happen next.

One client of mine and I started noticing a pattern: She would feel connected in a session, like I was understanding her so well. Things would start to make sense and a sense of compassion and warmth would open up.  She would start to share deeper things with me, to really start to kind of “land” — and then, all of a sudden, it was as if I couldn’t say anything right! The slightest shift in my tonality could be experienced as hurtful — and yet, it also didn’t feel safe if I backed off or was quieter to give her more room.

She had never understood what was happening in these perplexing moments, never had someone to give voice to the parts of her that wanted to get close and open up and also to the parts who were terrified of this same connection, afraid to trust, afraid they’d be let down again.

We worked to keep both parts right with us, so she could experience compassion for both. Especially when connection started to deepen, I’d pause her for a moment and ask if we could check in with this more wary part to see how she was doing, if she needed anything from either of us. This opened up more freedom in her other relationships, too. And it helped to make our work safe in the very moments that other work had mysteriously flown into chaos and disconnection.

Transparency and genuineness (from your counselor and from you!) are so deeply important, because you and your therapist both need to contend with being human beings who impact one another, and who can make mistakes and repair them. One of the big things that heals is when they stick with you, and you with them (Assuming the counseling is truely safe-enough and a good fit!). You might  look carefully together at both the moments that feel great and the moments that don’t feel so good — and find new experiences together. Experiences where you can come closer — and have your needs heard, met, seen, and understood. Experiences where you can have your terror understood, worked with, talked with directly, and soothed.

A skillful counselor can also gently bring behaviors to your attention that may be sabotaging relationships — but without blaming you or minimizing your feelings. This kind of feedback can be deeply healing when it’s done with empathy for you and the places your behaviors come from. Often, people with this type of attachment yearn for someone to be real with them, to tell them how they’re really coming across — and others have walked on eggshells instead, further deepening your fear that your problems are too deep to even be talked about. With someone you’ve built trust and safety with, however, the behaviors can be spoken about directly. Because you need to know what gets in your way, and you need to hear it with enough clarity that you can see it too. On the other hand, simply saying “Stop that!” doesn’t work. The behaviors that trip us up come from deep pain that needs to be seen, heard, understood. We do both.

In this kind of therapy, you learn over time to be more compassionate with yourself. You learn to tolerate other people’s mistakes without them feeling so dangerous. You learn to notice what’s safe and what isn’t safe. You learn to draw toward people at a pace that’s safe for you.

By the way, none of us are all one attachment style, so even though your relationships may have been fraught with significant conflict, there are still lovely moments that you have with people. In counseling, you get to notice what it’s like to come in to see someone and to just know that you’re welcome, or what it’s like to feel those tears of relief when your sense of urgent need is welcomed and understood.

Clients who do this deep work often report unexpected changes in their lives in a short time period: Sometimes, they feel an overall sense of increased calm. Sometimes, they find that they can take a nap when they’re tired and go to sleep at night, when this had been difficult before.

Clients use words like “ease,” “safety,” “feeling welcome”.

Clients also use words like “relief” when they see and hear that someone “gets them” (finally!), and that it’s possible to work through the feelings that have been too hard to put to words — together.

Attachment wounds heal through relationships. So you and your therapist work to build a relationship that feels safe enough, steady enough, good enough. (Not perfect, because no relationship is!).

If you’re dealing with wounds from this attachment style, counseling can help. Even if it hasn’t helped before. Even if you’ve had your attachment dilemmas pathologized or you’ve been blamed before for your “faulty thinking” or your “poor communication.”

Once you work with a therapist who understands trauma and attachment wounds and knows how to work compassionately with them (and there really are lots of us, even though finding one well-suited to you might take some time.)– well, it’s not necessarily smooth sailing. But it gets SO much easier! It’s important to know that you don’t need to settle for someone who deepens your shame or tries to change your behavior without regard for your emotions. It’s important to know that true care and attunement can help to heal these internal rifts and help you to go beyond managing and to find true relief that is felt and seen from the inside out.

Counseling for disorganized attachment

When looking for therapy for disorganized attachment, one of the biggest things I recommend is finding someone who has regard for you, and who you have regard for. Someone who remembers and reaches out to your best self, someone who knows that your struggles make sense — and who can work not to personalize it if you get mad or scared or conflicted. Someone who can sit with you through fear and anger and ambivalence and yearning – without blaming, or scolding. Someone who understands something about this, or who wants to understand. That way, you can be curious together about what unfolds within you and between you. This is a key part of how we develop security in relationships.

I also recommend walking in knowing that this might feel conflicted for you at times, and that you discuss past rifts with anyone new you’re looking to work with. That way, you can get a sense of what this counselor’s approach looks like with moments like the ones you’ve struggled in before.

I’m particularly fond of experiential kinds of therapies  that have a focus on attachment. By having an experience in therapy rather than just talking about your struggles, you get to feel what healthy attachment looks like. You begin to know how it feels to have someone else who is attuned to your needs and curious about you.

Disorganized attachment can heal. You can become securely attached. The yearning for safety and closeness you feel are not just yearnings, but a clue to what’s possible for you in relationships — both with others and with yourself.

Connection Survival Style: When longing is mixed with dread

A client walks into my office. She sits down, hunched over. Her face is pale. Her hands shake.

I say hi, and she says hello robotically almost, a fake smile covering her face. Then she looks down, away. Then stares at me, trying to keep eye contact. She’s heard, after all, that it’s only polite.

Her issues? They vary. People with the “connection survival style,” a phrase coined by Laurence Heller, often talk about a feeling of emptiness, and say, “I want to find out who I am.” Sometimes, they pride themselves on not needing anyone, but they are starting to feel twinges of longing, or they’re starting to develop a close relationship. But as their connection grows, so does their fear. Of being too much. Of losing their independence. Often, it’s a fear too old, too primal, to put into words.

She may have very well-rehearsed social skills. Or she may be huddled in her home most of the time, maybe spending most of her time with animals, or on nature trails. Whether she presents as sophisticated and poised or she presents as ill-at-ease, she’s likely dealing with the most fundamental of our emotional needs as an infant:

She didn’t get the level of connection she needed to really feel like she could be herself. She may not feel that she has a real self. She has been trying like mad to mirror others, in hopes that, by approximating the moves of connection, she’ll find her way in, find her way to being welcome.

At the same time, she’s terrified to reach out. Terrified to want. Terrified to connect.

Longing mingles with dread. Possibility and hope mingle with fear and despair.

She has a deep yearning for connection. But she fears connection too. Because it wasn’t dependable when she was young. Maybe her parents were ill, or preoccupied. Maybe they weren’t nice to her. Maybe they communicated to her, with their hurried way of tending to her young needs, that she was a burden. Maybe her birth had complications, leading to a less-than-warm and welcoming vibe in those very first moments, or she was ill as an infant.

Are you struggling with the connection survival style? Here are some indicators that you may be:

  • You feel like you don’t know who you really are.
  • You struggle with feelings of meaninglessness, emptiness.
  • You sometimes feel spacey, or like you’re floating, or disconnected somehow.
  • Other people feel foreign to you somehow, like you “don’t belong here”. Relationships don’t make intuitive sense. You don’t feel welcome or a part of things, no matter what. You may have learned lots of ways to compensate for this, but at heart, you feel like you’re acting somehow, going through the motions.
  • You experience unexplained fatigue, tension, and aches and pains.
  • You aren’t in touch with feelings of hunger and fullness. You may undereat or overeat, or forget to eat until painful hunger takes over, or until you’re physically weak.
  • You experience fear of interacting with others, and try to avoid social situations.
  • You long for closeness to someone, but once you do get close, you get scared. Fear of abandonment creeps in, or anger at unmet needs, or you cycle between feeling exhilarated and disconnected.
  • You feel this underlying sense of dread in the pit of your stomach almost all. the. time. It may attach itself to different things happening in your life, but it seems wordless, sourceless, everpresent. Sometimes it’s a dull background feeling, and sometimes it almost overwhelms you.
  • You feel a lot of shame about wanting anything, about making yourself known, about speaking up — about many things. You may, deep down, feel ashamed for existing.

2 Subtypes of the connection style — or, in other ways, two common ways people escape the pain of their unmet connection needs:

  • Intellectualizing. You escape into the world of your thoughts.  If people ask you how you feel, you tell them what you think. If you start to feel something, you start working to think your way out of it. Maybe you analyze everything. Maybe people tell you you overthink things. When the longing in our hearts feels crushing, we go elsewhere: One place we can go to is the safe world of thinking. Maybe you’ve developed research skills, or hidden in the world of books. You probably have a great breadth of knowledge. But somehow, all that knowledge hasn’t brought you closer to knowing who you are.
  • Spiritualizing. If this is a way that you’ve worked to meet your connection needs, you are likely very sensitive to the spiritual world. While this is a gift and a resource, Laurence Heller also hypothesizes that you may be so skilled in picking up on spiritual things because it “has never felt safe to land on the planet.” Not feeling connected to people, you connect to God or spiritual beings instead.

Here’s the good news:

We all have a fundamental need to connect, and we have the ability. You do too! The struggles you have just indicate that the need hasn’t been met for you. The ways it’s getting met now may still feel too “loud,” too “wordy.” Because in our first few months, we need softness, welcome. It’s possible you didn’t get enough nurturing for you to quite land within your own body and your own experience.

Your shame isn’t based on a badness in you, even though it feels so deeply that way. It’s based on very young stuff. When we’re too young for words, we can have these very scary, big, feelings. But in that time of our lives, we don’t have the ability to differentiate those bad feelings from us. Those feelings feel like the whole world!

As we get older, we start coming up with reasons we feel awful. One reason we can come up with is, “I must feel awful because I am awful!”

Also,  if we feel unwelcome or unable to deeply connect  for long enough, we can start to give up hope, without being able to give up the need. If we give up the need, we start feeling that our need is bad. That we are unwelcome, unwanted, unlovable.

But that’s not the case. The case is that, for whatever reason, you missed out on something we all need when we’re young. (This can happen for all kinds of reasons, even in really good families, by the way!)

This can change. It takes time, it takes gentleness, and it takes patience. It takes a safe relationship. Some people find this through a pet, and then later on, they find a partner.

Some people find this first in therapy or coaching that focuses on connection to their bodies and their emotions and to another person, safely, incrementally, step by step.

The connection survival style is a set of ways you learned to adapt, to survive, when your needs weren’t being met.

Now, the task is for you to connect to yourself, maybe for the first time. Sometimes, this starts with very simple things, like body awareness.

Often, we need a “safe enough other” in order to do this. A therapist who understands something about this survival style and how to work with your emotions, your body, your nervous system, and your spirituality — will have a good chance of helping you to navigate your way safely, gently, and gradually — into connection with yourself, and with others.

It’s beautiful work. Because the wounds of the connection survival style are preverbal, the therapy work we do around it is often difficult to put into words too.

But when people experience this work, they notice some things start to shift:

  • They start to feel a sense of safety, of welcome, first with me, and then with others.
  • They may notice changes in body temperature, like feeling warmer. Sometimes, they hadn’t noticed they felt cold! But the warmth, they notice.
  • They begin to notice and tend to their bodily signals, like hunger and tiredness.
  • They begin to reach out for connection with others, and to feel like it’s okay to do this!
  • They speak more easily. Some clients have told me that they had a throat constriction and that, in the course of this work, it loosens up.
  • They may even breathe more easily! When you’re unsure of yourself and your welcome, it can be like a trauma in your body. You may have tightened up, and you may be unconsciously holding your breath much of the time, or breathing shallowly. This work tends to help people to feel an openness in their chests, and to begin to breathe more deeply.
  • You feel settled, centered, calmer.
  • You start saying, “I would like….”, “I prefer….”, “I’m really feeling a longing for…..”
    And you can act on your wants and yearnings! Some clients say this gives their lives an organization that it’s never had before, that it’s like going from floating around waiting for things to happen to knowing what they want and feeling that, at least much of the time, they can make it happen.
  • Your shame diminishes, and as this happens, you get in touch with healthy anger. Anger helps you to set boundaries, to know when you’re not getting what you need, and to advocate for yourself.

The transformation in therapy with folks with the connection survival style is profound, as you can likely tell from this list.

This kind of work goes way beyond teaching you strategies or relationship skills. Clients who go through this work, and stay with it, say that they feel like they’ve finally come home. They say they feel like they know and like who they are.

They sometimes have difficulty putting into words how profound the changes are. But they do say that they can feel the shift in their bodies, in their emotions. Their loved ones say they too notice a deep difference.

You can experience profound shifts if you’re struggling with this style.

*This style and 3 others are explained in depth in Laurence Heller’s book, “Healing Developmental Trauma.” Laurence has offered a training called “NARM”, a method that combines Somatic Experiencing and relational work. But there are lots of people who know how to work with this. You’ll want to look for someone gentle and who can help  you to compassionately notice your present moment experience and who can help you to gently begin to get a sense of welcome, room for you to be, room for you to want things, room for you to know yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autonomy survival style: “I just need more space”

I’ve been reading a book by Laurence Heller called, “Healing Developmental Trauma,” where he talks about four different strategies around connection we can develop depending on needs that may have gone unmet for us. This post is a summary, in my own words, of what he shares about “autonomy survival strategy.”

If you struggle with this “Autonomy Survival Style,” you are in a bind.

You feel pressured from all sides. You feel torn. You often feel victimized by people’s demands. And you don’t feel that she can speak up directly about your needs or feelings without endangering love. But the anger at feeling like you can’t be who you are has to go somewhere, and it often comes out sideways.

If this sounds like you, you came by it honestly. Here’s how it probably went down:

You reached an age when you were little when you could start speaking, and walking, and exploring. You had the natural impulses all little kids do: You needed to explore. You needed to say “No!” You needed to test the boundaries, and find out what your body and your words were capable of. You needed to develop a sense of your own voice, and your own space.

And then you were stopped.

A parent or caregiver, maybe without meaning to, stopped you. So you were not allowed to explore. Or you did not get to say “no”,  did not get to test the boundaries,  did not find out what your body and words were capable of. You did not develop a sense of your own voice,  your own space.

So you did what any child would do in that situation, what you had to do: You stuck close to the parent. You smiled, you cuddled, maybe you said “I love you” more times than you  wanted to. Or you maybe left your toys behind to stay close to Mommy or Daddy, because they needed you.

So it looked like you never developed your own independence, your own individuality, your own preferences. But not really. It was there. You hid it deep inside. On the outside, you were loving, compliant. But on the inside, a part of you stayed separate.  This part is isolated, hidden from the world, and perhaps hidden even from your own conscious awareness. The needs and behaviors driven by this part of you can seem uncontrollable, and like they come out of left field.

Suppose you had this history and this problem. What would you notice after you’re no longer a child, and you’ve grown up now? Probably, some of these:

  • You are good at figuring out what other people want.
  • You are intensely aware of other people’s needs and feelings.
  • You find it hard to say no.
  • You procrastinate.
  • You find yourself feeling inexplicably tired, fatigued, and ill.
  • You experience chronic pain or repeated injuries.
  • You are lonely, even in a relationship.

So why is this? Let’s look at it this way: You have two parts that developed out of your childhood experiences:

  1. The part that learned to live up to expectations. This part probably to learned to read other people. In fact, this part learned to stay one step ahead of others, perceiving what they want, what they feel, and what they need.  This part imagines that its sleuthing and pleasing is the only thing that makes you acceptable to others. Your self-concept may include only this part, and leave out this next part.
  2. The part that protects your independence. This part is fiercely protective of your space. This part is often hidden, and may feel guilty that it even exists because it is working at cross purposes to the “good child” part. Yet this part is essential.    This part is trying to maintain your sense of self, but has never been allowed to do this directly. This part sometimes sabotages the first part’s efforts to help others. This part sets boundaries indirectly, for example, through telling half-truths, through procrastination, through fatigue. If you’re not aware of the job this part has, you and people close to you can feel constantly blindsided.

These parts are both doing their very best to protect you. One wants to protect your relationships, and holds a deep fear that no one will really care about you or like you if you aren’t scrambling to always please other people. This doesn’t leave a lot of space for you!

The other part wants to make a space for you. It is often (quite understandably!) angry at the situation it finds you in, though you may not be aware of this anger.

And then, there’s you. You are more than the sum of these two parts. Much more. While both parts of you have something they contribute, they sometimes obscure how sensitive, caring, and perceptive you truly are.

When I work with someone with this style, I get very interested in helping you find out who you are. How do you do that?

You resolve the conflicts between these two parts, recognizing that they’re ultimately working toward the same goals. This, in turn, will give you your own authentic voice,  neither a pushover nor pushing away. You discover your sensitivity and your creativity. You discover that there’s more room for you within relationships. You discover a new softness and a new strength.

If you developed this Autonomy Survival Style, I know it hasn’t been easy. But along the way, you’ve picked up some tremendously valuable skills that most people don’t have, including an accurate sensitivity to others.

You learned to bury your deepest gifts and your depth and your passions deep inside. Maybe you’ve been pleasing, placating, distracting, “shoulding” yourself, and feeling angry and stuck for years. But who you are has been protected.

Now you can find who you really are. Easy? Nah, not really. Liberating? Very much so! Moving? Definitely. I love when people who’ve been hiding behind these defenses for years start to peek out and show who they are. I value their “no’s” as they flow genuine; I value their “Yes”es as increasingly trustworthy.

They learn to value alone time and relationships, and to stop pleasing and start connecting.

You can do this too.

 

 

 

 

Feeling stuck in therapy? 5 ways to move forward

Feeling stuck in therapy? Change is on the horizon!

Recently, a client and I were musing together:  “It’s so interesting, isn’t it? Being right on the verge of a breakthrough sometimes feels exactly like being stuck!”

And that’s the theme. When you feel stuck, it’s often because something within you is ready to move forward, to do something new. You’re tired of things being the way they have been.  You’re ready for change.

That’s why feeling stuck in therapy can be a good thing. A really good thing!

But often, people feel, right before big change, like they can’t change. They don’t know how. They don’t know what’s next. Some people call this a “tipping point”: Things can’t stay as they’ve been, but they haven’t shifted to a natural new balance yet.

But other times, there’s genuinely something missing in the therapy. And how on earth do you tell the difference? How do you get unstuck?

Here are five tips for gaining more clarity about your stuckness.

1. Talk about it with your therapist!

Mention what you’re feeling. Notice the thoughts that go with the feeling of stuckness.

Work with the present moment. That means that, when you sit down with your therapist, let yourself notice what happens right then. Do you start to tense up and get ready to tell lots of stories? Do you notice a vague sense of unease, or boredom? Do you notice that there’s something you’d really like from your therapist, but you can’t put your finger on it? Do you feel an impulse to be a “good” or “interesting” client? Talk about that stuff — these realizations make for some of the richest sessions!

One of my clients calls this focus a focus on “form rather than content.” For her, it makes a real difference when we together shift our attention to how she’s speaking and how she’s feeling as she speaks, rather than focusing solely on the story.

How do we do this? When a client tells me a story, I will listen to what they’re saying and acknowledge the story, and I’ll also remark on the telling of the story: “And as you talk about that, it looks like you’re on the edge of tears,” Or, “Your body went very still right when you started talking about your ex,” or even, “I begin to feel angry on your behalf when you mention how he hurt you.” You can do this for yourself, too, with practice! Start noticing what happens in you as you talk. And see what new directions that can lead you. Because really, all of you is right here in the present moment as you speak, and we can learn so much together by listening below the words – to that activation that keeps emerging, or the tears that seem to want to fall but can’t, or the anger that gets blocked, or the yearning in your eyes or the holding in your chest, or SO many things you and your counselor will find if you look at the moment together.  SO much is happening, and working with any one of these present moment things can do a lot to help you to get unstuck.

2. Do something different!

Sometimes, the feeling of being stuck in your therapy is maintained by doing the same things over and over again. That can include the little things: Sitting in the same place, talking on the same topics, doing everything the same way. So getting unstuck can be pretty simple, and you can get the momentum going again by doing most anything differently: Sit somewhere else. Talk on different topics. Do something, anything, differently!

3. Either go lighter or  go deeper!

Sometimes people start to feel stuck in therapy when their feelings are becoming so intense that they’re feeling overwhelmed. And then, something inside of them starts wanting to put the brakes on the feelings, and that looks and feels like being stuck.

In fact, it can be a natural impulse to “come up for air,” and it can be very helpful to support this sense of wanting to lighten the talk for a bit. Therapy doesn’t need to be all about hard stuff, and sometimes, it can be very helpful to spend a whole session focused on resources in your life, or things that you love to do, or the things that are working well for you, or on something you’re interested in. You don’t want to do this week after week, perhaps, but talking about something lighter can give you a chance to connect with yourself and your counselor from a different vantage point, and it can give you a sense of relief that supports going deeper, but with more resources.

On the other hand, if all you’ve discussed recently is daily life stuff, or the same old stresser, or the same story, you might ask your therapist to get beneath the surface, and to talk more about your emotions, or beliefs you hold about yourself, or a feeling or pattern that comes up for you over and over again.

4. Ask your counselor what they think!

Maybe your therapist and you both feel ready for a change. Or you’ve both gotten into a sense of routine, and it can help you both to talk about how best to move things forward together. You’ll learn something new about your therapist and about the quality of your collaboration together when you bring up your sense of stuckness. That is a good thing.

5. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Feeling stuck for a few weeks, or even for a month or two, can be the beginning of deep change, especially if you keep landing on the same difficult feeling, and you and your counselor continue to work with that. But if the feeling of stuckness is staying or deepening despite your hard work on it, it might be time for a bigger change.

Sometimes you might be in a therapy that was great for you a year ago, but no longer fits with where you are now. Part of how you can find this out is by discussing what’s happening with your counselor, and by seeing if things start to gain momentum. If they stay pretty much at a standstill, it might be time to say goodbye. When this move is done in the right time, the goodbye is a great chance to honor the work you’ve done with your therapist, and to have a solid goodbye done from a grounded place of knowing that you’re making a good decision for yourself. And that you’re empowered to do your next piece of healing in a new way. This is good news.

You can be surer that you’re making a solid decision by avoiding a hasty goodbye and really sitting with  the feelings the prospect of goodbye elicits. This can lead to a deeply healing ending, or to a beginning into a deeper, richer direction with your same counselor.

Safety in Therapy: 4 things that help my clients, and can help you

When you’ve been betrayed and hurt by those you had to trust the most, trusting a therapist with your deepest feelings isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do!

And, even though you might know in your mind that you’re safe with your counselor, your feelings may be giving you entirely different signals!

Here are 6 things that my clients and I have done to build a sense of safety. Find the ones that resonate for you, and bring the ideas/techniques into your own counseling!

1. Honor the part of you that’s learned to be vigilant to potential safety concerns.

I’ve learned that, when a client of mine has been betrayed, especially when it’s happened over and over again, that there’s usually a part of her that watches me pretty closely. That part sometimes might pressure a client to be late, to test boundaries in therapy, or to miss appointments. I always tell the client to honor the part of them that’s looking out for their safety.

Once that part knows that I get that she’ll be watching me closely, we’re often able to work much better together. I invite a client’s protective parts to challenge me outright if they don’t like or are scared by something I say, do, or suggest. Some clients I’ve worked with say that one of the biggest changes they make in therapy is learning to listen to and appreciate the part of them that’s so watchful. It’s good that a part of you has learned to protect you and to watch out for you.

2. Let yourself pay close attention to what happens in session. When you’ve been through lots of bad stuff, it makes sense that, when you feel uncertain, you might automatically “zone out” or “check out” or feel disconnected from what’s happening for you. The problem is, if you disconnect from what’s really going on, it also makes it more likely that fearful parts of you will stay stuck in the past. In order to find out if it’s safe now, you need to take the risk of connecting, at least a bit, with what’s happening in the moment.

In order to do this, let yourself look around the therapist’s office. Notice anything on the walls. Look at the books on the bookshelf. Feel the floor or the rug under your feet. Let yourself notice the chair you’re sitting in.

Letting yourself stop to notice what’s really happening will let your body get the signal that you’re safe.

As it feels safe, notice your therapist’s reactions to you too. What do you see in their eyes? What do you hear in their tonality?

Cultivating this awareness of the present moment also help you to notice anything that makes you feel less than comfortable so you can speak up or get out of anything that’s not good for you!

3. Bring an object that helps you to feel safe. Some of my clients like to always bring a beverage.  You might bring a stuffed animal (A friend of mine brought a favorite stuffed animal to therapy with her for years, but kept the stuffie out of the therapist’s sight in her purse. It was her own private comfort object, and that was good because it was a special, safe “secret” for her and her parts to hold, something the counselor couldn’t touch.). or a blanket or anything that feels right for you.

4. Record your sessions. I have clients who like to record our sessions on their phones, and this helps in a few ways:

  • It allows them to have a record of everything that happened in session, which is especially helpful if you have dissociative barriers or sometimes don’t remember things well. Their ability to record our sessions and to then review them and ask questions helps them to feel safe with me, and to know for sure what happened in our time together.

 

  • Clients can listen to useful sessions over and over again, and this helps to reinforce the good stuff that’s happening. It solidifies their feeling that I care about them, because they hear that caring over and over again, in multiple ways, throughout the recording.

 

  • It lets clients take in the session and my warmth at their own pace. Some of my clients do some of their most major work in secret, away from my eyes! And that’s okay. They can always thank me for a suggestion, and then decide later, in the comfort of their own homes, whether they want to consider it or try it!

When you find ways to feel safe in therapy and find a therapist who honors your needs to build this sense of safety, your newfound sense of safety will extend outside the therapist’s office, and that will lead to more feelings of safety and connection for you, both inside and outside your therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

Are your Worst Feelings Actually Emotional Flashbacks? [Video]

What is an emotional flashback?

Emotional flashbacks are feelings in the moment that go back to times in childhood where you felt defective, helpless, abandoned, or despairing. They can be tricky to identify, because unlike a specific flashback with specific images, you experience very strong feelings of self-hatred, shame, abandonment, invisibility, or rage. And they’re not linked to any one specific memory.

Here’s a video I’ve made on feelings like hopelessness and the feeling that you’re unlovable, and identifying the possibility that you’re having a flashback. Or if you’re looking for strategies to try right now, scroll further down and find my video that gives you three ways to work with an emotional flashback right now.

Times that you felt despair, shame, rage, futility, a sense of being abandoned or unworthy may be signaling a powerful feeling memory of what it was like for you when you were small.  Because these flashbacks often seem to be related to the present moment, identifying the intensity of your feelings as an emotional flashback is an important piece to healing.

When People Are Having Emotional Flashbacks…

Here are some things people tend to feel and do when experiencing emotional flashbacks:

They Feel Toxic Shame

You get this sense that you are not okay. Everything about you starts to feel pathetic, or worthless, or simply not good enough. Shame is a sense that there’s something wrong with you, something wrong with who you are. It makes sense that a sense of being so worthless would propel this next step:

They criticize themselves, Viciously!

This part of you, this inner critic, says you’re not worth it, you’re not good enough, that you never should have tried, or that you have no right to your feelings and thoughts. This critic often echoes the contempt people received in childhood. This critic demolishes your sense of self-esteem. This leads to the next issue:

They Abandon Themselves, Recreating Early Abandonments

You give in to your inner critic, and you give up on yourself. Some folks abandon themselves through “spacing out”, taking care of other people compulsively (without regard for their own needs), getting into destructive or dependent relationships, turning to food or sleep to dull their feelings, or turning to addictions. Giving up on yourself can be accompanied by suicidal ideation, compulsion/addiction, depression, and giving into the wishes of others to the exclusion of your own needs.

Fear of relationships/social situations

This fear of interaction with other people makes sense when you never developed the sense that you were okay, that people liked you, and that you were worth people’s time and attention.

Emotional Flashbacks Can be Stopped, and You Can Heal!

Here’s a video I did on ways you can work with an emotional flashback right in the moment you’re experiencing it. You might want to bookmark this page or favorite the video on Youtube so you can find it at a moment’s notice!

 

I coach clients from around the world via video, and locally here in Oregon. Clients suffering from emotional flashbacks express great relief once they understand that they’re not bad or crazy, and that their troubled emotions and relationships make sense. Once you know that you’re NOT crazy or defective, you can start the work of healing.  Healing is deeply rewarding, because as you learn to let go of toxic shame, to challenge your inner critic, to notice when you’re in an emotional flashback (and find your way out), you get to feel at home with yourself.  Life looks different. Your anxiety diminishes, your energy increases, and you gain a sense of love, belonging, and safety.

Healing can begin to occur in a safe relationship, often with a good therapist. Read my article about feeling safe in therapy.  People recover from these feelings every day. To recover, you’ll need to develop self-compassion, challenge your inner critic, and learn to care for the child you once were. As you recover, you develop a sense that you’re okay, that you can be safe, and that you’re worth it. You stop abandoning yourself and learn to embrace who you are. Healing happens one step at a time.

 Examples of Emotional Flashbacks

Here are examples of emotional flashbacks I’ve seen:

  • Mary comes to a session convinced that I won’t like her, that no one can like her. When we talk about these feelings, it becomes apparent that, even though I and many other people like her, there’s a part of her that keeps remembering the feelings of helplessness and shame and replaying the voices of her parents saying, “No one will ever want to be your friend.”
  • Thomas tells me he “freaks out” every time his fiance looks at him a certain way. When he remembers what “that look” reminds him of, he recalls the sense of impending doom he had as a child when his stepfather gave him a certain look before beating him.
  • Rose can’t stand for someone on the phone to say it’s time for them to go. It brings her back to a time in her childhood where she felt all alone.
  • When Harry hears that his boss wants to talk to him, he immediately panics and believes that he’s going to be reprimanded. When we talk it through, he realizes that he’s flashing back to a time that his mother saying, “Let’s have a talk” could only mean bad things.

Dealing with Emotional Flashbacks

How do you resolve an emotional flashback? First, you recognize the likelihood that it is a flashback.

  1. Recognizing your emotional flashbacks for what they are can save your sense of sanity. By recognizing these feelings as coming from the past, you can begin to let go of the fear or anguish now, and to be compassionate with yourself as you deal with the feelings from then.
  2. Recognize that you are safe now. When you were young, these experiences could feel life-threatening. But now, you’re in an adult body with adult resources. You’re safe now. You might check out my flashback halting protocol video for a format for noticing safety in the here and now.
  3. Understand your flashback as a message from a child part of yourself. This part still needs care and attention and validation, and didn’t get it when you were young. Now is the time to hear that child’s message. Rather than fixating on the current situation, focus on the feeling and tend to that child within.
  4. Recognize that this flashback will pass, and life will look different then. When you’re in the midst of one of these flashbacks, they can feel eternal. Worse, a part of you may criticize you or shame you, and these criticisms can feel like utter truth when you feel this way. They’re not truth. I promise! Right now, take care of you.
  5. Become an expert in emotional flashbacks. The more you know, the more empowered you’ll feel, and having the words to put to what’s going on will to keep you from getting stuck in a feeling. You can find stuff on my website and youtube channel, of course! 🙂
  6. And you can look at stuff that the guy who coined the term “Emotional Flashback” has written. His name is Pete Walker, and he offers a lot of useful information, written very compassionately. Here’s a link to his website, with articles that might interest you right on the left column.
  7. Realize that you can heal from this stuff. A relationship with someone who has compassion and a clue will help a lot, especially if the inner critic or feelings of shame keep taking over your thoughts and feelings, despite your best efforts. So consider seeking help from someone familiar with this stuff. If you already have a support network (Lots of people struggling with this stuff don’t yet have that, and that can change over time!), find someone safe to start sharing a little bit of this stuff with. And if you don’t yet have that, you might seek help from a counselor. One with compassion, and hopefully one who knows some of this stuff and can help guide you to a sense of self-compassion and curiosity. One you can connect with over time. One who can offer you a bit of a roadmap to where you are and where you can go. One who can, most importantly, offer genuineness and compassion in a way that will help you feel those things toward yourself more and more.

 

 

 

 

 

Replacing “old scripts” in relationships

Do you ever feel like you keep playing out the same old script and having the same old relationships, or the same relationship patterns?

Have you married some variant on the same person over and over again, and do you consistently shrink yourself or fight in the same old ways?

In therapy, you may also notice some of that “old stuff” seeping in. You may feel yourself withdrawing from me the way you withdraw from others, or find yourself talking lots and connecting little — or find yourself suppressing your own needs, or feeling overwhelmed by them.

The beauty of a therapy that works well is that you get to bring those patterns with you, and we get to both have a real curiosity about your experience in the relationship here.

We may make new discoveries together. And we may get to find options beyond that script you’ve played out in relationships a million times.

Pat Ogden, author of “Trauma and the Body”, calls these scripts “procedural memory.” Your body and your mind are used to going through a sequence of steps in relationships — much like how your body and mind just “know” how to drive a car without thinking through each move, your body and your mind also instinctively respond in old ways in relationships.

In counseling, we can actually be curious about these “memories” you relive together — and we can find gentle and compassionate ways for you to interrupt those “old scripts.”

Here are some examples:

-Every time a particular client feels misunderstood, she starts to withdraw, to “go into her own world” and to think about leaving the relationship. She feels misunderstood in my office, starts to “zone out.”

Something new happens when I ask her to take me with her, to help me to understand where the misunderstanding happened. I work with her with feeling her feet on the ground, being aware of her own experience, and with telling me where I “missed the boat.” We talk the misunderstanding over — and she feels herself come back to life. We both feel closer than we did before the misunderstanding — and her body and mind have also replaced an old script, as for a moment, she feels like her voice and her feelings matter, like she can share them instead of running away.

-Another client is used to talking…and talking…and talking. He often gets lost in his own words, talking faster and faster.

I ask him if it would be okay to notice the speed of his thoughts, to notice his breathing, and to take a moment to just sit with what’s happening within him. As he and I make eye contact and breathe together, he feels a release of some emotion, and is able to feel more connected than he did when he was “just talking.” He’s replaced, just for a moment, that old script of hiding himself behind a wall of words.

-A woman shares an important piece of her history with me, and then starts to talk about something else. I ask her to let the words she just spoke sit with both of us, and I ask her to take in my response to the depth of what she’s just said. I may even ask her to repeat her words and let herself feel them.

She realizes that she hasn’t felt safe to let herself share deeply with someone for some time, and that by letting herself register my response to her sharing, new possibilities emerge within her — for feeling the importance of her own words, for feeling that she can be heard. She’s let go, for a moment, of that old script of feeling like no one can understand her.

When clients can try, even for a moment, to play with a new way of being, of hearing, of speaking, of moving, they can start to identify their old scripts — and to learn ways to go outside their same old lines.

This builds the foundation for new types of relationsihps, new ways of sharing, new ways of being in the world.

No one should be confined by a script or two that they learned a long time ago. We all have the potential to learn new lines, to discard scripts that no longer work for us, and to try out new ways of being. Sometimes, it just takes the right support in being mindful of your old scripts and trying out new ways of being.

The old script will always be there if you need it. But you can develop more options. And that’s the point — to have a choice about how we respond. To get to see what maybe wasn’t there before: Safety. Caring, kind people who want to hear us. The ability to make room for ourselves and room for others.

I love helping people to discover their old scripts and to find their authentic voice outside all those old feelings and those “old lines.” If you’d like to talk about working together and you’d like some help to identify how your old scripts could be getting in the way of your current relationships, click here. I’ll be delighted to support you in having a new experience.