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 even a little bit. These are about ways we all learn to cope with how connection has been for us. Any of us could have adapted any of these styles, or any combination of them.

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?

Therapy 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 tracking her. 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.

Knowing about this helped us both. We could talk, when she wasn’t in that fragile space, about what it might be about. We could connect, notice when she was feeling ready to dive deeper, and then check in with the part of her that might not feel safe to do that.

Therapy with disorganized attachment takes time. It takes delicacy!Transparency and genuineness 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 therapy is 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 would 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.

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.

You and a counselor can find together the moments where you connect in a secure, kind, well-boundaried way — and you can notice this together! 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 very 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, please know that therapy 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 a heck of a lot easier!

Therapies 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’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.

There is no perfect therapy relationship (or any perfect relationship anywhere!). It turns out that in every healthy relationship, we go through a three step process over and over again:

Attunement

Rupture

And repair.

So it’s vital to find a therapist who attunes to your needs and feelings, as best they can.

It’s even more vital that they can be curious with you about those inevitable moments of disconnection, or of missing each other. So that you can begin to experience the relief of repair — of knowing that all relationships involve both moments of connection and moments of disconnection. The best therapies will help you to feel an even deeper sense of relief and safety as you heal the inevitable disruptions.

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.

 

Abandonment fears

Pete Walker has eloquently put into words what many clients with abandonement fears feel deeply but can’t always put words to.

Emotional flashbacks to abandonment

Someone I’ve worked with used to call this abandonment depression “psychic death.” She described a place she went inside where no one was there for her. When she reached out for help, it was tinged with hopelessness and a “why even try.” She needed connection. But her body and her mind were already preparing for prolonged shut down.  She was in a flashback to early childhood or to babyhood, when care from the people around her was not at all certain.

Unfortunately, that flashback colored her communication, so that when she did reach out to people who were available for her, they couldn’t tell if she wanted their help or not! She was giving up before she’d even started.

And that makes sense. Because her abandonment flashback told her to just give up and expect the worst. It’s no wonder her requests were tinged with both passivity and anger—anger at herself for wanting something she was sure she couldn’t get, anger at others for not being there for her. It was a mess!

More powerful than you’d think

Often, clients are startled to be experiencing extreme distress when they feel that “other people have been through so much worse than me.” But being abandoned or ignored in times of distress, to our young selves, constitutes a big trauma.

This video of “the still-face experiment” shows what happens with a baby whose mom is usually present and attuned, but who goes still and unresponsive for just a minute. As you watch baby’s reactions you’ll see what I mean: Mom’s inattention here is a big deal for this baby. Mom comes back to full engagement in this video, so this has a happy ending. For those of us where our caregiver couldn’t quite come back to us, we can end up feeling pretty scared and pretty stuck.

If you experience abandonment flashbacks, then you know these debilitating feelings of hopelessness, despair, and shame. I suspect that some people with strong fears of getting to know people are actually anticipating abandonment or rejection, and experiencing panic to keep them from nearing what feels like the tortuous zone of the “still face” seen above.

There’s no denying it

“So why does this hurt so much?” you may ask. “I’m an adult, right?” One client reasons, “It’s fine for me if not everyone likes me.” But her emotions tell her differently.

When she sees that look of indifference in a coworker’s eyes, she sinks so deeply into herself that she feels tranced for the rest of the day. Or she asks a friend out to eat, the friend isn’t available, and she wilts, despairing that anyone will ever want to spend time with her.

Attachment is as necessary as oxygen

When we’re little, proximity to our caretakers is life. We need to be attended to. We need our cries to be met with love and reassurance. We need people. It’s how we’re wired. It’s good that we need people.

When we have caretakers who, for whatever reason, weren’t around to adequately meet our needs, we skid into despair. It’s like a part of us freezes, gets stopped in time. This part shuts down. They can’t get their needs met. They can’t stop the sense of need. They panic. They shut down, because their needs for soothing aren’t being met and they don’t yet have the capacity to self-soothe. How could they? We learn how to soothe ourselves through being soothed by others.

As you saw in the video, when we need soothing and we can’t self-soothe, we protest. As babies, we cry and maybe scream. After protest, if no one still comes, we shut down. It’s like a part of us gives in to the inevitability of no help. No help ultimately means death. Our bodies are hard-wired to know this, to feel this. And to shut us down if they anticipate no end to the need, no comfort, no help.

Two stages of abandonment depression, and becoming stuck between the two.

When we anticipate that our needs may not be met:

  1. First we protest.
  2. Then we give up.

The “protest” stage

A person in protest may be called “needy” by others, and may hate herself for being so. Or she may be extremely demanding and perfectionistic, demanding that other people meet her needs just right.

One person I worked with was so demanding that his wife do everything just right that the wife was fed up. He acted as if he had a huge sense of entitlement. What turned out to be beneath this imperious surface was a child part that was terrified of the smallest hint of abandonment. So he protested loudly, repeatedly.

Unfortunately, if you’re stuck in protest, it’s like other people can’t do enough. Why is that? Because in this state, the sense of distress, or perhaps of imminent loss, is overwhelming. You get time with someone, you are given attention—but a part of you can’t seem to trust it or take it in. This takes time and gentleness to work through, taking in nourishment one little bit at a time. It’s hard when you haven’t had a lot of care or consistency to trust that people can be here for you now. It can also be hard to tell the difference sometimes between the fear of “child you” and the real yearnings of “adult you.”

Also, a part of you has taken up the role of fighting for your needs, and that has been very necessary. Unfortunately, this “fight part” keeps you from a true sense of safety in connection, a true sense of being able to settle down and relax when things are okay. This “fight part” can push people away from true connection with you as they scramble to meet your needs.

This is a tough place to be!

The good news is that, as you work through your abandonment fears with a caring-enough other person, your sense of panic and urgency will diminish, and you’ll find yourself more relaxed in your relationships.

The “shutdown” stage

If you’re protested and tried very hard to enlist people to be there for you, and you haven’t had your needs met adequately (or haven’t been able to notice they have), you go into a terrible shutdown place. There’s suppressed longing, and despair, maybe a bit of rage. The protest has stopped, and now you’re mostly numb. You may sleep a lot, or do escape activities. There’s a giving up on others and on yourself.

Both phases at once

So in protest, we protest, sometimes furiously! In shut-down, we give up.

What happens if we get stuck between the two phases?

Well, we  get passive-aggressive! Or we reach out in ways that are less than effective. The near certainty of abandonment that you feel makes you feel futile in reaching out, but a part of you is also telling you that you must try to get help.

When these two strategies duel, you may end up asking for help in exasperating ways that preclude the possibility of someone else truly helping.

Well, why not? If you’re convinced nothing will help you anyway, why would you (and how could you) be precise in your request?

And once your helpers fail, and you’re all alone, then at least you’re on familiar ground.

Is there help for this?

Yes. This fear and anguish around abandonment and the fear of it is all about not really believing that help is possible, of course. So from the heart of these feelings, you might not believe me. And that’s okay.

There really is help, though. This really can change.

It’s hard to change this all by yourself. The antidote to abandonment isn’t self-help. The antidote to abandonment isn’t to do something in lonely isolation.

The antidote to abandonment is connection.

How do you connect when connecting is the whole problem?

Finding a counselor who can map your emotions to unmet young needs can be a big help. Certainly, finding someone with empathy who understands that your feelings make sense will help too.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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, and then you smile and start talking faster,” Or, “Your body went very still right when you started talking about your ex.” 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.

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 therapist 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 therapist 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 therapist continue to work with that. But if the feeling of stuckness is persisting for longer than that, 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 therapist, 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.

Am I the right counselor/coach for you?

  • Work with me from anywhere in the world over Skype or Zoom video
  • See me in person in Corvallis, Oregon

Do any of these sound like you?

Most of my successful clients have things in common. If you’re like them, I may be the right counselor/connections coach for you:

  • You are highly sensitive.
  • You’re okay with acquaintances, maybe even popular or respected -but very close relationships can evoke tangles for you – fear of getting close, fear of being abandoned – lots of fear as you get close to people.
  • You feel a lot of shame, perhaps assuming your relationship issues are your fault or believing your sense of shame or unworthiness is “the truth.” (Spoiler alert: it’s not the truth!)
  • You have talked your way through counseling before, maybe sharing a lot and getting lots of support – but still, your deepest feelings and stuck places haven’t really shifted.
  • You have a lot of compassion for others, but are much harder on yourself.
  • You’ve been abandoned or betrayed.
  • You have sometimes doubted your own worth or your own take on things.
  • You dream of doing really cool things, but you have difficulty either taking on new projects or finishing them.
  • You often feel alone, unseen, unmet, yearning for something more but unsure how to get from here to there – or if you deserve to be deeply cared for.
  • You are the rock for others in your life, but no one is your rock.

Did you resonate with some of this? If so, I’d love to meet you.

Who I am

I’m Michaela. I love to help people to connect: to connect back with their bodies, with their hearts and emotions, with others in their lives, with their deepest sense of self. I also like help intellectual and emotional connections to meet: To help join what you know in your head with what you feel in your heart and your body.

I write about and work  mostly with connection tangles. Like the places within you that feel unmet and lonely no matter how many people are around.

Or that place in you that feels inadequate, not quite good enough, even when you get accolades.

Or the place that gets close to people and then feels all tangled: yearning and anger combine, perhaps, or you feel like you want too much, or like you can’t want anything or ask for help at all.

Working interactively to notice and shift your experience, moment by moment. 

How do we work together? Generally, with lots of compassion, humor, and gentleness. People tell me this work is very different from “just talking” or from trying to analyze what’s up. We take our cues from your emotions, your body, and from what happens as you and I connect. We try to find out what keeps happening that keeps you stuck, and to help replace your old relationship experiences with something new.  Here are some beliefs that deeply guide my work:

Our bodies can convey what our words sometimes can’t. By noticing your body language together, we can tap into and deepen your biggest resources and strengths – and we can also discover and move through “stuck” emotions, old beliefs, and unmet yearnings.
Our emotions tell our stories too (especially the emotions that seem to keep coming up that we can’t quite make sense of), and offer us a vehicle for resolution of those pained, scared, angry places.
Our “weird,” not-so-good behaviors that give us so much shame are our best attempts at navigating the world we grew up in (and maybe the world we’re in now too!).
Movement can heal. Connection can heal. I can’t heal you but I can support you, help you find the authentic voice that’s been waiting to be welcomed, support the movements that have been halted somehow, the pain that hasn’t been accompanied to resolution.

The work is very different from mental health treatment and diagnosis. It’s more of an interaction than a discussion, more somatic and emotion-focused than analytical, more dynamic than still.  This work is best suited to people who are high-functioning but still not satisfied, who have unmet need or yearning. If you skate along but find it rather hard to feel connected, even when you are connected, this kind of work is an excellent fit. If you’re an overachiever who finds it hard to slow down and breathe and feel, it can likely help you too.

If you have unresolved pain (And who among us doesn’t?) that gets in the way of feeling your own solidity, strength, and success, I’d love to help.

If you want to enrich your experience of life and of connection, and if you want help to put some pieces together after some difficult life stuff, I’m  here and ready to accompany you on that.

The best place to start is with a consultation to check with how you and I “jive”. That tends to be the most important thing – As much as I love all the techniques I’ve learned, they’re secondary to the sense of connection you and I can build. You can set up that consultation right here.

What my counseling clients say:

“I can’t believe how much easier it is for me now. I can get through the day without crying. I can go to work. I can talk to people. I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time!”

“I was beyond burnt out on therapy before I met you, and never would have come to see you if we hadn’t met by chance. But I’m so glad I did meet with you, because you changed my idea of therapy, and showed me that I’m not just a ‘set of symptoms,’ and that there are things that can help me. I finally know how to keep my peace instead of going into a rage. I never would have thought this was possible before we met!”

“It’s like there was this sense of being blocked — like concrete in my heart somehow. I can feel the concrete melting now. I’m crying, but with relief this time.”

“I used to feel like I needed other people to take care of me, and I felt so desperate. It was a need that never felt like it eased up, and I had parts inside that wouldn’t work together. Now, it’s like the parts are along with me, and we’re working together. I feel like I can take care of myself now, like I have support from inside.”

“At the end of our work together, I know I’ve come a long way. And I enjoyed our work, too! And I love how many approaches you use, and how you’re always learning new things and bringing them to our work. It kept the work so fluid and dynamic. We did hypnosis, and I had big breakthroughs.   The therapy that worked with my body helped me to feel a sense of boundaries and  solidity in myself. And your empathy helped me to feel what I was feeling, to stop suppressing my emotions.
My relationships are better. I know what I want, and I can say it. I’m taking care of myself, and all the parts of me are working together.

I know I’m ready to move forward. I was stuck, and you helped me to get unstuck!”

I feel like you ‘get me’, and you know ways to help me to move through and past things that have been holding me back for a long time. I finally know how to keep my peace instead of going into a rage. I never would have thought this was possible before we met!”

“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.”

“I suddenly had this epiphany — this realization — that most people are safe. Most people mean well. I hadn’t felt that before. I’d always been on guard without even knowing it.

I used to be so hard on myself. Now, I can catch myself starting to do that, and I imagine your compassion. Your compassion for me is helping me to be compassionate toward myself, and that changes things for me.”

“My energy is coming back, and I can focus now. With the things I’ve learned, I can settle myself and focus. I’m so much calmer at work, and that’s making my time there much more productive!”

“My boss gave me a piece of feedback, and before, I would have just shut down and felt angry at her — and like a failure inside. This time, I saw her feedback as a true gift, and I was able to take it in and make real improvements. She noticed the difference!”

“My partner and I got into an argument again, but I was able to calm down so much more quickly and speak so that he could hear me. He said this is the first time he’s seen me so at ease, and it’s so much easier for us to talk!”

All these words above are from clients of mine, folks who started out feeling unsure of themselves. Some of them had to work hard to get themselves to therapy! But they did schedule to see me, and they followed through. For some clients, coming to counseling is a leap of faith, or an act of honoring themselves even when they’re not sure yet that they can get better.

See Me in Face-to-Face or Over Internet Video

My counseling office is in downtown Corvallis, Oregon, so I am also within easy reach of Philomath, Albany, Lebanon, Monroe, Monmouth, and the surrounding areas.

And I offer connections coaching to clients  from around the world via Skype or Zoom video.

To learn more, schedule a consultation right here.

I'm ready for practical, interactive counseling!

 

Get more tips and information

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Michaela Lonning
260 SW Madison Ave, Suite 104-5
Corvallis Oregon 97333

(541)224-6732

michaela@michaelas-counseling.com