Healing disorganized attachment

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.

Sometimes, people seem caring but then they seem to turn on you. For no reason that you can identify.

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.

This is understandable.

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

As children, we can’t just walk away

When we’re young, we don’t have the option to look at our parents and say, “This isn’t working out well. I think I’ll find 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 to employ 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 —

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. You can’t 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?

When I see clients who have struggled with these binds, hope often starts to come in quite soon. A lot of this is that I get it about disorganized attachment, so from our very first session, we start to talk in an open 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!

We 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.

We 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 tracking a pattern together: 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 for me to back off or be 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! We both get to be human beings who make mistakes. One of the big things that heals is that I stick with you. We look carefully together at both the moments that feel great and the moments that don’t feel so good — and we 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.

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.

We find together the moments where you connect in a secure, kind, well-boundaried way — and we 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. You and I will have many great moments, and we’ll notice them together! We’ll notice what it’s like to come in my office 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.

We’ll work slowly and quickly, all at once!

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 I get them, and that we can work through the feelings that have been too hard to put to words — together.

Attachment wounds heal through relationships. So you and I 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– well, it’s not necessarily smooth sailing. But it gets a heck of a lot easier!

Here are some therapies I highly recommend if you’re struggling with disorganized attachment types of struggles:

  1. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. A therapy that helps you to feel safe, secure, and grounded in your own body, and helps you to learn to reach out in ways that feel safe. You learn lots of tools for self-soothing, you get help resolving traumatic reactions, and with a therapist who is a good match, you find new experiences in relationships. This therapy is compassionate, non-pathologizing, helps you to slow down and notice what’s happening within yourself moment to moment.
  2. AEDP – (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy). A therapy that’s about developing a sense of safety with your therapist. A good AEDP therapist doesn’t just listen; she really engages and feels for you as you speak. AEDP therapists will help you to slow things down and to be mindful together of what’s happening within you. AEDP therapists say kind things, and then ask how you’re hearing those things — so that there’s lots and lots of space and permission to say, “I feel like it should feel good to hear that, but I actually feel scared…..” Or to say whatever it is that comes up in the moment. AEDP will help you notice what’s going on in yourself and in your relationships.
  3. Somatic Experiencing – Can help you to work through the intense feelings of overwhelm and shut-down in your body, and can help you to feel more empowered within yourself. SE can come as a huge relief for clients who “can’t talk about it,” because the therapist notices your breathing, your posture, and different motions you make, and helps you to find ways to feel better, stronger, and safer — often without any story needing to be attached at all!

The key thing is to find a therapist who “gets it” about disorganized attachment. Someone who you feel safe with who can help you to feel safe with yourself and connected with them. At a pace that feels right for you.

 

 

 

Group counseling

Group Counseling

Most of the people who are looking for help and healing have one major thing in common: They’re longing for a solid sense of connection. Common questions in therapy touch on this:

  • How can I hang onto who I am when I feel criticized?
  • Why don’t I have better, deeper, richer relationships?
  • Do other people experience what I’m talking about? Do I make sense?
  • I keep ending up in the same relationship patterns — I keep becoming the caretaker, or getting too needy, or ending relationships or having people fade away: What the heck is going on?
  • How do I come to feel worthy of love and connection?
  • How do I keep an open heart without being taken advantage of?
  • How can  I depend on other people when I’ve had to depend on myself my whole life?
  • Why do I get so anxious around other people? Will this ever stop?

Group therapy offers you powerful answers to these questions and more, in the form of experiences. In group, people come together on purpose, and they work together to build a sense of connection. In the kind of group I lead, you’re welcome to show up with your struggles, your yearnings, and your fears. The group helps you to put this stuff out there, and to be heard and responded to with genuineness and warmth.

A safe place to try something new

Often, our relationships are held back by us not knowing what’s okay to say, and what we need to keep hidden. Or our relationships end up in patterns that feel familiar, and we don’t know another way to act. Clients who are feeling stuck in these ways often say things like this:

  • I want to get closer to other people, but I don’t know when and how to open up.
  • I want to set boundaries, but I’m afraid I’ll be too harsh and I’ll lose people in my life. I need to know what to say and how to do this!
  • I wish I could stop taking care of other people so much, but I don’t know how to interrupt the pattern of everyone coming to me with their problems. It’s like I’ve trained people not to ask me about myself! So what now?
  • People say I’m standoffish, or too nice, or too needy — but I don’t know quite what that means. What am I doing, and what can I do instead?

In group, you get to try new things. You get to try on new behaviors, and practice saying the things you haven’t said to people in your world. You get to ask questions: “How am I coming across? What do you think of what I just said? Why do I feel like everyone is pulling back from me right now? I feel unheard, and I don’t know what to do.” In group, we make space for these questions, we make space for their answers, and we make space for you to fill in the gaps in your relationship experiences. If you tend to people-please, we help you to set kind boundaries. If you tend to disconnect, we help you to reconnect. If you do something that people find off-putting, we not only help you to identify what that is — but we help you to do something else that better meets your need and other people’s need for connection.

In my groups, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the healing power of community. When people deliberately come together for the purpose of connecting, amazing things happen.

“How do I sign up?”

If the stuff I’m talking about sounds like something you’re looking for, please contact me on my “Meet with me” page. Just schedule a consultation for my group — the consultation is free. I will want to meet with you one on one a couple times before the group, so we can talk over what the group entails, and so I can learn about you and what you’re working on. I’ve heard from group members that feeling safe with me first helped them to feel much safer in the group, much sooner. When you know that I’m attentive to your concerns and that I am here to support you in the group, it helps things a lot. So sign up for a consultation on the work with me page, and we’ll get that process of safety building started. You may opt to work with me one on one for some time before joining a group, or we may meet just a few times and get you started in group quite soon. We can find out what works best for you, together.

“When, where, and what’s the fee?”

My group will be meeting at my office, on 260 SW Madison Avenue (across from Many Hands Trading), in downtown Corvallis. I’ll fill you in on the details of when we meet in your consultation. I bill for group sessions by the month, and my current fee is $225 per month. This is less than half the cost of individual therapy, but many clients say that they get huge results from group work – they feel more confident in their relationships, more open, more able to set boundaries, and they stop feeling alone.

Schedule your meeting to discuss my group right here.

I look forward to meeting you!

 

 

 

 

6 things transgender clients taught me

My transgender clients have often been very articulate as they navigate the ups and downs, the joy and the confusion and the sudden “click” — of putting words to realities that have sometimes been buried somewhere within them for years.

Sometimes, clients come to me well after they’ve begun their transition. They’ve already done mammoth amounts of research. They know who they are, or they’re comfortable with knowing that they don’t entirely know, but they can point out where they feel they identify on a spectrum, or even explain why they find the spectrum itself too confining. They know the language around this stuff, have explored their feelings and thoughts in depth, and will talk readily about it if given an opening.

Other times, I’ve seen someone begin to explore their gender more openly midway through the therapy, at a time that they’re feeling less fear than they used to, are getting more comfortable with themselves and their emotions — and as they’re exploring the, “Who am I now” question, some questions emerge about gender, questions that have long been there but have patiently waited until the person felt safe enough to open up to the exploration.

I’m definitely not an expert on transgender concerns. At all! But my clients are very good teachers, and the more they open up to me about this aspect of themselves, the more I learn. Here are some things I’ve learned from them, thus far:

  1. When you are having discussions with someone about their sexual identity, just wanting to understand can go a loooong way. I’ve sometimes felt awkward when I haven’t known the terminology, or have fumbled a word or a question. The fact is, often someone who is in the midst of a gender identity exploration has felt an implicit message to just stay silent about these issues. So showing interest in an awkward way beats out silence any day! I tell my transgender clients that I’m likely to say something dumb every now and again, and I want them to tell me about it when I do.  This alone helps them know that I’m on their side. They tell me that, just by me wanting to understand and by my awareness that I may get it wrong, they feel safe with my questions.
  2. Do some research! My clients have been incredibly helpful with this, eager to share links to videos and blog posts they particularly resonate with and that walk people through the terminology and through the steps of various transitions. For me, just taking half an hour to watch videos explaining more about transgender, testosterone,  hormone inhibiting, and a bunch of other things involved with transitioning, made my next conversation with a client that much more interesting. By showing an interest in the language, the processes often involved in transitioning, and issues that often come up, I’ve felt more comfortable with these conversations, and clients have shared much more with me.
  3. Sometimes clients want to talk this stuff through at length, and will tell you a lot, and with great relief, once you bring up the topic and show some knowledge and interest. Others will test the waters a bit, talking about it a bit today, and then waiting to see if you’ll still be interested next week, or next month. And still other clients are not that interested in discussing this facet of their lives, at least at the phase of therapy they’re in with you. If someone comes in and says that they’ve transitioned from male to female or female to male, but says the issue they really want help with is a specific relationship, that’s great! I show interest and curiosity while letting the client steer. I express enough curiosity to facilitate it if they want to discuss this facet of themselves, but I don’t continue to ask questions if they don’t show much interest in the topic. I just say it’s something that I’m open for them to talk with me about. Any time. And then we move on to whatever their concern at that time is.
  4. Integrity is often an important value, hard-won, by folks who are openly stating their gender identity. They’ve often done LOTS of self-exploration, have been through their share of self-doubt,  done their research, risked lots of invalidation — and shared the truth anyway. There’s a bravery in this, an integrity.
  5. By openly stating their gender identity, often choosing a new name, and having all these discussions with people in their lives, they’ve chosen integrity. And that’s huge. It’s something I like to really expand upon, and to talk with them about the import of their coming out. It’s often meaningful on spiritual as well as emotional levels. I want to acknowledge this.
  6. Often, the person has encountered a million little wounds and invalidations throughout their lives, a whole bunch of ways they have felt like they can’t be true to themselves. Maybe they’ve felt shamed for being who they are, and still do sometimes. Maybe they tell me proudly about their identity, or they tell me as if it’s no big deal. And at the same time, parts of them have felt shamed about this facet of their lives. I express interest in what clients have learned about themselves, and also mention that sometimes, people feel despair about this stuff, or used to. Sometimes people feel terrible when the people around them refuse to use the appropriate pronouns, or when people cast doubt on who they are or why they’re making changes. Often, there are stories about that right beneath the surface. Sometimes, clients have been afraid to share about the times that they’ve felt shame, because it’s so important to them now to feel pride in who they are. When we take some time to gently work with the shame, it helps the person feel more free to feel exactly how they feel about themselves: Pride, or stability, or that ongoing question mark that keeps them exploring and being curious.

I still have much to learn!  It’s part of what makes this work so rewarding, this learning. Sometimes, when a client and I discuss things, we struggle together to find the words for what most truly expresses them. This is true with feelings, thoughts, and issues of identity too. These conversations are worth it. These struggles are worth engaging with.

On the other side is a person who stands strong in who they are, and often has an amazing sense of their masculine and their feminine side (and often a sense of a self that transcends gender roles and expectations!)  and what this all  contributes to their lives and to their relationships.

 

 

 

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. Their sense of longing is becoming a fear, too, 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.

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 social anxiety.
  • 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.

Working with clients with the connection style is one of my favorite things. The fact that you are struggling with connection means that there are some basic unmet needs that go a long way back for you.

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. 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 needs that went unmet. When those needs go unmet, we feel awful. If we feel awful for long enough, we 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 didn’t get the nurturing you needed. Maybe you weren’t welcomed when you arrived on the planet, even, and so you didn’t get that basic message we all need when we’re born: “Hey, you’re here! And wow, you’re so delightful! Welcome to the family!” If you didn’t get that, you don’t feel welcome on the planet.

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.

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. Other people skilled in working with this style may have trainings like these:

-AEDP – Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. An exquisite therapy model that lets you and your therapist develop a connection that feels good, safe, and right, and that can help to heal very young hurts.

-Internal Family Systems Therapy – Helps you to get to know and care for the different parts of yourself.

-Somatic Experiencing or Sensorimotor Psychotherapy – Both of these help you to release trauma that’s held in the body and in habitual postures. Somatic Experiencing tends to focus more on body sensations, whereas Sensorimotor Psychotherapy will more often focus directly on relational trauma and themes around connection.

The most important thing in finding a therapist is your own sense of safety and the sense that you want to develop a connection with that person. The therapist who is helpful to you may have none of these trainings, or some mix of them or similar ones!  I list these trainings because, if your therapy thus far hasn’t helped you, it might be time to find someone with focused knowledge in the area you’re struggling with. Hopefully, this list gives you a start in knowing what you might want to look for next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marsha Marsha Marsha! BPD Video Series

I’ve recently taken a big interest in reading and listening to Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Her book, “Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, gives many insights and gems into this little-understood diagnosis. I like her practicality and her interest in what actually leads to this “disorder,” and more importantly, how to help folks in deep distress to find a way out of their agony. And she’s clear that it is emotional agony that folks with bpd often are going through. And that these problems can be solved. Life can become worth living, and relationships can become not only workable, but deep and rewarding.

So I’m doing a video series on some of the coolest things Marsha says. Because this is a book worth talking about! And also because it makes me think about tools and resources that can help people with the issues she’s discussing. Here are the videos:

Marsha Linehan’s Words on BPD and Demystifying the “Manipulative Suicide Gesture”

Some stupid stuff the DSM said about BPD, and why Marsha says it misses the point sometimes:

Understanding Relationship Triggers, Splitting, and the “Eternal Now” — and One Way to Prevent the Feelings Being So Overwhelming:

Toxic Shame, the Trance of Unworthiness

Toxic Shame: Tara Brach calls this shame a “Trance of unworthiness.” It’s increasingly being recognized as a legacy of relational trauma, and one that often isn’t identified as such. Toxic shame is an emotional flashback that feels like a truth. Not only is it a memory, it can get to feel like a necessary feeling, something that helps us avoid feeling devastated by rejection. It’s complicated, but it can be worked through. To make how it develops clear, let’s start by picturing a child, perhaps a little girl.

She, like all children, has a need to reach out to her parents. She has a need to express herself and to have people hear and accept her. She needs to be heard and met often enough that she gets the message over and over again, “Hey, you’re pretty cool! You are a member of our family. We love you. Your desires are acceptable. Your hugs are delightful. Your stories, your laughter, your tears, and your interests matter to us.” These messages are messages this little girl needs to get daily. No parent is perfect, and no child needs a parent who responds with 100 percent affection and attention all the time. But this little girl needs these to occur often enough that she really gets the message, “I am okay.”

Now, say that this little girl has parents who are busy, preoccupied with their jobs, or with another child. Or that one or both of her parents grew up in homes where they themselves weren’t validated and met. Something goes terribly, terribly wrong in this little girl’s environment. It happens on a daily basis, in little ways that make a huge hole in her heart over time. She says, “Hey, look what I can do!” And her mom says, “Can’t you see I’m busy right now?”

Later the same day, she comes to Mommy to give her a hug. And mom says, “You made a big mess in the living room, and you need to clean it up.”

This little girl is in a bind, big time. She needs her parents. When they push her away, or criticize her, her mind and body get messages that are unbearably painful. She learns:

  • I have to be perfect to be loved.
  • I am unlovable.
  • I am unworthy.
  • I’m not quite good enough.
  • My presence isn’t welcome.

Notice that none of the messages this girl takes in reflect on her parents’ inability or their issues. When we’re little, we are unable to reflect on the whole situation of those around us. If our reach isn’t reciprocated, we decide it’s about us.

Some children try desperately to be perfect, good enough, lovable enough.

Some children learn to pretend needlessness, having given up on getting care from those around them. Their shame endures underneath their facade of independence.

Some children alternate between reaching out and retreating deep inside into disconnection, distraction, escape.

Some children develop an inner critic that shames them and stops them from reaching out so that they won’t get hurt.

Children don’t have the option to leave. They don’t have the option to stop needing either, not really.

Children whose needs aren’t met, whatever their strategy is, grow up to be adults who still have a deep sense of shame and unlovability. They carry a deep feeling, a visceral one, that their reach cannot be met with love and acceptance. They carry a deep fear of being exiled.

This fear, this shame, carries different disguises. Some people who are mired in shame are very aware of their feeling of unworthiness. They have a fierce inner critic that reminds them, “Stay quiet. Stay small. Don’t reach out. You’re not good enough.”

Others carry the fear but aren’t consciously aware of it. They retreat from their feelings, or they blame others when things go wrong. They become masters at “prejection”: “I’ll reject you before you can reject me.”

Shame can be healed. It takes careful, gentle guidance to undo shame.

Shame lives in the body and the mind as a trauma. And an often unavowed one.

A person who is locked in this shame, this “Trance of unworthiness” (Thanks to Tara Brach for that phrase!), does not recognize that she is in a trance.

She has not identified the shame she feels as an imprint from long ago, from the heartache of a reach that went repeatedly unmet.

Further, shame is an emotion that exists within a childlike kind of tunnel vision. Shame is a sign, in other words, that we are still carrying the burden for people’s inability to meet our needs. And that we still have the childlike conception, “It’s all my fault, because I’m bad and worthless.”

Toxic shame like this leaves people frozen in a childlike state. Shame is an emotional memory of being rejected. But it doesn’t feel like a memory. It feels like the truth of who we are.

So let’s say that, in some way, you were this little girl. You now carry a sense of shame.

So how do we work with shame?

Here is a set of steps we can take:

  1. We calm our bodies and help counter the trauma response somatically. Here’s a tool to do that: Place one hand over your heart and another on your belly. This triggers a calming response in your body. As your hand is on your heart, call to your memory one experience of love and connection. Could be with a pet, or with a close friend, or a teacher. Pick one that’s solid, and let your body really sense into that feeling of love, safety, validation. Once those feelings are strong, breathe them in and out, with your hand over your heart. Let your body and mind take it in for 30 seconds. Linda Graham says,  “Doing the one-minute Hand on Heart exercise 5 times a day will actually begin to heal the heart and re-wire the brain.”
  2. We get mindful — Noticing body sensations (Start with positive or neutral ones!), emotions, thoughts. Name a thought as just a thought, a feeling as just a feeling. This will help you to get some distance from your shame.
  3. We get in touch with a sense of compassion. Self compassion can be a tough one when you’re dealing with a sense of shame. So don’t start with yourself. Start with a sense of compassion toward someone else in your life. And experiment with turning that sense of compassion inward. If you can do this even a little bit, it will help
  4. Let that feeling of shame within you meet the feeling of compassion. When you let the experience of love touch that experience of shame, the experience of shame will begin to transform.

These are simple steps, but that doesn’t make them easy! Shame is a sense of disconnect from relationships, and hence from ourselves.

Hence, one of the most powerful ways to transform shame is in an accepting relationship.

If you have people in your life who support you, you may start bringing this sense of support into your heart with the hand on heart exercise, and bringing that feeling back to the part of you that feels that shame.

If the feeling of shame tends to keep taking over and making it difficult to take in loving feelings, from yourself or from others, it may be time to get help. No matter what your shame tells you, there is truly no shame in seeking support for yourself. With the right kind of support, you’ll feel and know for yourself very soon what I already know:

You are lovable.

You are worthy of connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autonomy survival style: “I need more space”

If you have what Laurence Heller calls the “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.

 

 

 

 

How to Support Your Clingy/Demanding Loved One [Video]

When someone in your life seems to need more and more from you, it can push some buttons, especially if they are needy in a way that is hostile at the same time! People who display these behaviors are often missing a sense of security in relationships. Sometimes people with these behaviors are labeled “BPD” (borderline personality disorder), sometimes not, because one aspect of BPD is insecurity in relationships. The concepts I talk about aren’t BPD-specific at all.

For reasons you’ll easily perceive, they’ve also experienced lots of abandonment, and they’re now experiencing a self-fulfilling prophecy that goes like this:

  1. I’m terrified that I’m too much for people, and will be abandoned.
  2.  I feel so frightened of being left that I need someone to be here for me ALL THE TIME, and I need to keep testing if they’re here for me. (Possibly by being obnoxious to see if they’ll stay.)
  3. I have, once again, been abandoned, so now I feel that all my deepest fears are confirmed.

This cycle can change, though, particularly if this person is interested in seeking help/self-reflecting. You can change how it impacts your relationship with them by changing the script. If you don’t do everything they’re demanding you do, but you also don’t leave them, it might give them a new sense of equilibrium in the relationship with you.

You can reclaim the space you need, and help that relationship in your life move forward, by using this structure outlined in “Stop Walking on Eggshells.” It’s a three step process:

  1. Offer support. Particularly, let the person know that you’re there for him/her. You care.
  2. Offer empathy. Say, “I can see how hard it’s been for you lately,” or “I see how much you’re struggling, and I can’t even imagine how hard it’s been.”
  3. Tell the truth. Here’s where you state your boundary. “I’m available to talk with you after I’m done with work at 5 pm,” or “I can stay in this conversation with you only if you stop threatening me.

Boundaries are going to help the person know where your limits are, and if you’ve given heartfelt support, the boundary is more likely to be well-received.

And boundaries will help you to keep your sanity, so you’re available for your life and for all the relationships that matter to you.

“The Bachelor” Produces Fake Love: Here’s How

Most seasons of “The Bachelor” end with an engagement. Most of those relationships end up being a train wreck. How can these couples be so sure they’re in love, and be so wrong? Simple: When we feel really frightened and our bodies are revved up, we can easily mistake our feelings for love. All the show has to do is set up scary dates (If a woman’s afraid of heights, expect her to be taken up high somewhere!), a sense of constant uncertainty (Will I get the next date?), and keep the drama going. Almost anyone in that kind of situation will decide she’s “falling for” the guy, which is a much happier explanation than, “Wow, this show is doing a lot of messed up stuff to keep me feeling extremely scared and unbalanced!” Hit show made. Disastrous engagements accomplished. That’s “The Bachelor,” in a nutshell.

Lace, on the bachelor: A counselor’s perspective [Video]

If you’ve been watching the Bachelor, you’ve definitely noticed Lace, who just can’t get enough of Ben’s attention….and who keeps apologizing while, at the same time, displaying the same insecurity that threw Ben off in the first place. Not a good situation.

Here’s my take on her, after watching episode one and two of this season:

Lace is clearly struggling to rein in “insecure Lace.” But the more she tries to act “sane,” the more desperate her behavior becomes. I’ve seen clients in this same scenario.

Is Lace crazy? Nah. But her insecurity is driving her to act off the rails. Part of what’s painful to watch about this is seeing Lace show clear awareness that she’s “acting crazy,” “showing a Lace I don’t want to be,” and yet, she can’t stop it. She is in the middle of a problem that she keeps creating. You can actually see her sense of helplessness in stopping the cycle.

There are a few things she’d need in order to stop this pattern:

-To get the heck off of a show that plays on people’s insecurities and uses an insanely difficult situation in order to provoke people for ratings!

-To befriend “insecure Lace,” who is likely a young part of Lace. It looks like Lace tries desperately to disown “insecure Lace,” and like, the more she tries NOT to be insecure, the more this part of her takes over. It will help Lace to get to know this part of herself and to befriend and reassure her.

-To learn how to recognize when “insecure Lace” is emerging. What triggers this part of herself? What happens in her body? If she can discover these things, she can find ways to break the pattern of compulsively looking to get someone else to affirm her, and she can find ways to take care of herself and avoid accidentally making things worse.

-A relationship that can help her into a secure sense of connection with herself and with others. A relationship with a therapist who knows how to work with attachment styles can help her into a secure sense of herself in relationships, which means that “insecure Lace’s” needs will be met, and she’ll no longer have to try so hard to be accepted.

If you struggle with preoccupied attachment, relationships are really tough for you. And you get pretty fixated on people in a way that keeps you from moving forward with your own life. You may try desperately to be “independent” and “normal,” only to find your “needy side” taking over.

This can change with a good, secure relationship. Therapy can be a great place to start to work with this so that you can transform your relationships, and finally find the love you want — from within and without!