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Leaning on your own two feet: Resolving the dilemmas of promoting independence and dependence in couples therapy.

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Presentation on theme: "Leaning on your own two feet: Resolving the dilemmas of promoting independence and dependence in couples therapy."— Presentation transcript:

1 Leaning on your own two feet: Resolving the dilemmas of promoting independence and dependence in couples therapy

2 Bruce’s confusion Standing up for himself Vs empathising and caring In practice he found these approaches worked against each other much of the time.

3 If you become too dependent on your loved ones, you may become less effective in your wider relationships and activities. In order to truly love another person you must first learn to love yourself We must mature as individuals in order to improve our relationship, not the other way around.

4 The Age Old Argument The Intrapsychic Vs Interpersonal The Attachment Movement The Systems Movement Object Relations Vs Attachment

5 SELF IN RELATION TO OTHERS “There is no such thing as a child” (Winnicott, 1965) There is no such thing as an individual. Internal Working Model of Self and Other (Bowlby) Corollary for Individual Wellbeing Feeney’s study

6 In Couples Therapy Approaches that emphasise promoting individual growth VS Approaches that emphasise promoting the growth of mutuality and dependence in the relationship Exemplified by the approaches of David Schnarch and Susan Johnson

7 David Schnarch Passionate Marriage, Crucible Approach Reflected Sense of Self Emotional Gridlocks – crystalised by competing and mutually exclusive need eg. Bring Focus to own part in gridlock Emotional differentiation Bowenian approach to increasing anxiety tolerance to favour personal integrity over relationship equlibrium Growth Cycle Self Validated Intimacy Two-Choice Dillemmas Acting from the best part of oneself

8 Susan Johnson – Emotionally Focussed Therapy for Couples Safe Haven and Secure Base function of couple Difficulties due to defensive secondary emotions and reactions If primary emotions (attachment related emotions) are brought into relationship and met by partner, therefore problems will lessen Engaging Withdrawer Softening of Blamer Reaching Out to Spouse Intimacy

9 Common Attachment FearsCommon Attachment Needs being rejectedacceptance being abandonedCloseness Not measuring up, being a failureunderstanding Not being accepted or valuedTo feel important Being unlovableTo feel loved Being over-controlledBoundaries, differentiation Being burdened by other’s needs

10 STAGE ONE: DE-ESCALATION 1. Assessment 2. Identify negative cycle / Attachment issues 3. Access underlying attachment emotions 4. Frame problem – cycle, attachment needs/fears STAGE TWO – RESTRUCTURING THE BOND 5. Access implicit needs, fears, models of self 6. Promote acceptance by other – expand dance 7. Structure emotional engagement – express attachment needs. STAGE THREE: CONSOLIDATION 8. New positions / cycles – enact new stories – of problems and repair 9. New Solutions to pragmatic issues

11 Two paths to an Agentic Self - continuous acts of risking separateness - experiencing self-definition through empathic attunement and mirroring by an important other

12 Making Bridges Feeney (et,al 2008) demonstrated that a person’s attachment style determines how they engage in and shape new relationships with people – in both social and work environments. Secure attachment (AAI) protects adolescents from risk- taking behaviour (Wills & Cleary 1996) Adolescents with secure attachment patterns with their parents are more able to launch and create interdependent adult relationships (Allen&Land 1999, Noom et,al 1999). Adults who experience secure and reliable dependence with their spouse are more able to explore and perform independently away from their spouse (Feeney,2007; Elliott, 2003). Secure Base, Springboard to Explore

13 Dillemmas For Therapists and Clients How much do I take a stand for my own personal integrity? How much do I care for and validate my partner’s competing needs? How much do we encourage our clients to take a stand for their personal integrity? How much do we encourage our clients to care for and validate their partner’s competing needs? When do we change from one approach to the other? Why do we? Why would we expect clients to not become confused?

14 Lisa and Brad had rarely had sex in the last ten years of their twenty year marriage. Brad was the more dejected by the standoff. Lisa felt bitter about it as well but was ambivalent as to whether she could find herself wanting Brad the same way she once did. Lisa felt resentful at Brad’s tentative and “unmanly” attempts to skirt the subject. She harboured an accumulated resentment that Brad needed her to be in a burdensome mother position, always having to make him okay. She was also left feeling disappointed that he would give up so easily, wishing someone would continue to want her regardless of any obstacles she might place in their way. In other words, Lisa wanted sex but only if Brad wanted her the way she wanted him to want her. The lack of resolution tacitly suited Lisa. By not effectively and openly wanting sex herself, she did not have to confront her anxiety about facing the needs of important others; a situation she had learned from childhood to be burdensome. Brad, on the other hand, desperately wanted more sex and general closeness but was vigilant of Lisa’s criticisms. Moreover, the pain of rejection was something that he learned to avoid. He only approached the subject indirectly, unwittingly guaranteeing Lisa’s annoyance. In short, he needed Lisa’s permission before he would want openly. The lack of resolution tacitly suited Brad. By not effectively and actively wanting intimacy, he did not have to confront his anxiety about being criticised or rejected. Indeed he had learned from childhood that confronting an important other with his needs risked a schism in his attachment – a scary and disorganising experience for Brad. The situation came to a head when Lisa began to experience the attractions of men at her workplace.

15 DISCUSS Focus on the Individual VS Focus on the relationship

16 Leaning On Your Own Two Feet 1) ability to mentalize - perceiving with accuracy the intention behind the other person’s defensive behaviour, understanding your own reactions and the intention behind them as well as how the other person experiences these 2) emotionally differentiation, internal sense of self 3) Solomon – becoming an expert at providing partner experience of being loved – knowing what particular attachment need spouse is trying to get met and getting good at addressing them 4) strategic accessing of spouse for self-object needs 5) able to soothe through the other and by self 6) meta-communication 7) (for the therapist) not requiring radical alteration of people’s schemas/IWMs – not trying to change dismissive into a preoccupied – the IWM IS the secure base – i.e dismissive style is safe – makes the world predictable More important to promote acceptance of the other person’s style, needs, and vulnerabilities (no.3 above), and to reach out for own needs (no. 4 above) Persist in wanting especially when the other does not want you to want Freud – a need acknowledged is more important than a need met Solomon – meeting relational need of other 1 st in order to get what you need from the other – not visa versa

17 INTERLOCKING VULNERABILITIES Surface Behaviour & Non-Verbals Underlying Feelings & Vulnerabilities Surface Behaviour & Non-Verbals Underlying Feelings & Vulnerabilities

18 Facilitating Meta- Conversations Lisa, in counselling, talked about her anxiety around somebody else being needy. She was able to connect this to her childhood experience of feeling burdened by the neediness of her mother, and resentment at having to be the functional one for them both. On hearing this Brad could see that her prickliness was not actually about him. He could afford to be less defensive and could afford to become empathetic about her feelings. Brad wanted Lisa to understand how he felt about her stonewalling his attempts for closeness and her withering dismissive behaviour. He opened by saying he wanted to talk about his despair at feeling blocked. Lisa’s eye-raising non-verbals had the potential to derail him, but he kept in mind his insight that Lisa pushed back when she felt anxious. By keeping an awareness of Lisa’s anxiety and activated vulnerabilities, he was able to maintain his equilibrium (Schnarch’s, 2002, “holding onto yourself”) and persist. He was even able to let her have her defensive response – as an understandable expression of her vulnerability of feeling burdened by the other- without reacting back to her. By experiencing that Brad did not require her to be different while he was authentically expressing his softer vulnerabilities, Lisa was able to engage with Brad’s experience. This time, she didn’t feel she was going to get lumped with making him okay.

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20 SEX! Schnarch and sexual desire VS Johnson and sexual desire

21 Esther Perel Need distance, need to be a stranger in some sense to our partner Warmth and emotional intimacy is not correlated with more satisfactory sex Need to accommodate love, warmth, affection AS WELL AS anger, hatred, desire to hurt and annihilate the other (at a psychic level)

22 Eagle 2007 The attachment system is entirely separate from the sexual system, AND that they –at least partially – are antagonistic to each other. The more secure and safe we try to make our relationships, the less desire is found.

23 SEX = MADNESS Fonagy 2008:- we are all prone to borderline mental states when it comes to sex -The emotional roller coaster -Feelings spinning out of control -Idealization of the other -Loss of boundariedness, identity diffusion -Explicit and implicit controlling an manipulation of proximity -Loss of sense of the other as separate from the erotic object Developmental absence of mirroring with sexual experience. “…..uncontained self-states create disorganisation within the self and have to be projected out to be regulated.”

24 Dangers of valuing one approach to sex over others. The IWM/ attachment style IS the persons’s secure base Solomon - getting partners to respond to each person’s attachment needs – experientially, including the avoidant’s C.F. “engaging the withdrawer” Fonagy - The embodiedness of the mind – not all psychic matter is interelational

25 Two paths to an Agentic Self continuous acts of risking separateness and self- definition VS experiencing self-definition through empathic attunement and mirroring by an important other Continuous acts of risk taking and self definition Experiencing self definition through empathetic attunement and mirroring by an important other

26 Sex as the prime exemplar Fonagy – because sexual experience is not mirrored back early in life, it becomes disembodied and must projected outward and experienced as if the other is having that experience, at least in the fantasy mind of the projector. By the other being open to contain that sexual experience, it can be mirrored back and reintegrated by the projector. Both solid self and secure attachment essential Differences between men and women

27 Personal robustness and relationship security necessary for one partners to initiate and for partners to consider being the container of the other’s sexual desire and to allow themselves to resonate with that sexual desire Partners need robustness and boundaries to consider being a receptacle of erotic advances without becoming preoccupied by negative meanings that they may be prone to place on their partner’s advances Sensate focussed activities are useful in practicing this robustness and boundaries in a graded, calibrated steps. Partner Shaping – the trap of the Spontaneity Command Solomon – meeting the erotic need of other 1 st in order to get what you need from the other – not visa versa Mentalizing

28 One Couple’s Homework She was to ask for sexual touch and to draft a statement for him to repeat that expressed desire and wanting. They were not allowed to proceed to intercourse during this exercise. He was to seek out non-sexual touch (foot rub) and focus on his own enjoyment. He was to just notice when his thoughts turned to whether she was resentful or unhappy with the activity, question these meanings, and return his focus to the touch and the pleasure of it.

29 The Erotic Mind Fonagy and associates – The Ontological Stage of Mentalization Development Allowing the Erotic to be held in m ind and in fantasy and to be shared and experienced in the relationship in this way More flexibility for a couple, less powerlessness

30 Failures in Mentalization (Fonagy et.al 2008) Psychic Equivalence Mode World=Mind, ideas are too “real” constructs are not distinguished from external reality that they represent eg. dreams, flashbacks, paranoid delusions Pretend Mode ideas are not real enough authentic feelings do not accompany thoughts Feelings and thoughts are role-played can make wild assumptions about mental states of others, “hypermentalizing” “destructively inaccurate mentalizing” Teleological Mode Mental states are compulsively acted out Only actions and their tangible effects count eg. self harm, violence

31 Lisa and Brad had rarely had sex in the last ten years of their twenty year marriage. Brad was the more dejected by the standoff. Lisa felt bitter about it as well but was ambivalent as to whether she could find herself wanting Brad the same way she once did. Lisa felt resentful at Brad’s tentative and “unmanly” attempts to skirt the subject. She harboured an accumulated resentment that Brad needed her to be in a burdensome mother position, always having to make him okay. She was also left feeling disappointed that he would give up so easily, wishing someone would continue to want her regardless of any obstacles she might place in their way. In other words, Lisa wanted sex but only if Brad wanted her the way she wanted him to want her. The lack of resolution tacitly suited Lisa. By not effectively and openly wanting sex herself, she did not have to confront her anxiety about facing the needs of important others; a situation she had learned from childhood to be burdensome. Brad, on the other hand, desperately wanted more sex and general closeness but was vigilant of Lisa’s criticisms. Moreover, the pain of rejection was something that he learned to avoid. He only approached the subject indirectly, unwittingly guaranteeing Lisa’s annoyance. In short, he needed Lisa’s permission before he would want openly. The lack of resolution tacitly suited Brad. By not effectively and actively wanting intimacy, he did not have to confront his anxiety about being criticised or rejected. Indeed he had learned from childhood that confronting an important other with his needs risked a schism in his attachment – a scary and disorganising experience for Brad. The situation came to a head when Lisa began to experience the attractions of men at her workplace.


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