​Understanding Attachment Style in Partnership

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Written by Anna Cordova, MA, LPC 
Somatic Psychotherapist at NC Center for Resiliency, PLLC
 
Much is said in popular psychology about the importance of “attachment” styles. You may have heard of them before in the context of mother- child or parent- child relationships. They are used to described essentially how secure (or not) a person’s relationship is and was with their caregivers.
 
So what does this have to do with relationship? In a nutshell, the safety and security (or lack thereof) we experience as a child informs what we bring to mature adult relationships. If we felt emotionally safe and secure as kids, and knew that our needs would be met, we are more likely to bring emotional security to our adult relationships as well. On the flip side, if we were expected to meet our caregivers’ needs, to grow up quickly, or to manage the emotional world of our caregivers, we may develop a different style of relating, often described as “insecure.”
 
The terms typically used to describe attachment relationships are: securely attached, insecurely avoidant and insecurely ambivalent (among other similar terms). Truthfully, most of us are a mixture of all of these attachment styles, and although it is great to be “securely attached”— none of these styles is better or worse than another. Just different!
 
Stan Tatkin, couple therapist and founder of Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT), uses lighter terms that take some of the pathology out of attachment styles. The terms he substitutes are: anchor, island and wave. Here’s a brief summary of the different attachment styles as described by Stan:
 
People who are islands tend to:

  • like to be alone, enjoy their own space
  • have been raised to be self-sufficient and tend to avoid people
  • learn early on not to depend on people
  • often feel crowded in intimate relationships
  • like to be in a world of their own
  • self-soothe and self-stimulate
  • do not turn to others for soothing or stimulation
  • find it hard to shift from being alone to interacting
  • under express their thoughts and feelings
  • process a lot internally

 
People who are waves tend to:
 

  • feel a great deal with their emotions
  • have strong attachments in childhood, but they were inconsistent
  • have helped soothe a parent or both parents who were overwhelmed
  • have felt rejected or turned away by one or both parents
  • focus on external regulation- asking others to help them soothe them
  • find it hard to shift from interacting to being alone
  • over -express and like to talk about all the details
  • stay in close physical contact to others
  • often think they are “too much” and nobody can tolerate them

 
People who are anchors tend to:
 

  • come from a family where there was an emphasis on relationship
  • have experienced justice, fairness and sensitivity in their family
  • love to collaborate and work with others
  • read faces, voices and deal with difficult people well

 
Reading those characteristics, there is likely one style that you identify with most, and you likely see your partner in one of them. Understanding attachment style, both your own and your partner’s, can help you each learn how to be a “competent manager” of one another. For example, if I know my partner is an island, I’ll find it easier to understand if he needs to process more internally, or needs more space in the relationship. If I know my partner is a wave, I will be aware that they need help from the outside (i.e. soothing and reassurance from me!) to regulate themselves. If partners can truly be experts on each other, how they are wired, and have each others’ backs, then varying attachment styles need not be a problem. The goal is not to change your partner, but rather to accept that each person enters into relationship with their own unique history, style of relating and ways of understanding the world.
 
Additionally, the longer we are in a relationship where we are not forced to change, but accepted for who we are (warts and all!) we can begin to develop security in relationship. Spend enough time in a secure relationship, and you can become an anchor. That relationship need not be with your partner, it could be with a therapist, or a close friend.
 
Be an expert on your partner. Discover who you are, and be unapologetically you. Don’t try to change your partner. Do try and change your attitude and behaviors towards your partner. This creates security in the relationship, which can help islands and waves begin to develop anchor characteristics too.
 
At the NC Center for Resiliency, one of our primary goals is to help couples create a mutual sense of security in their relationships. We believe this can be done by helping partners learn to deeply know and understand each other, accept all aspects of one another, and over time, develop the capacity to be secure functioning, both in relationship, and in the world. 


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Finding our Window of Tolerance through Somatic Experiencing

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​Written by Mary Lorenz, SEP, RYT, NCLMBT
                        & Guest Blogger for NCCR

One of our primary goals at the NC Center for Resiliency, is helping people to find coherence, or a place of optimal physiological and psychological functioning. One way of understanding this is through the work of mindfulness based psychotherapist Dr. Dan Siegel.
 
Dr. Dan Siegel coined a term he calls the “Window of Tolerance.” It describes the zone that we are most comfortable in, the zone in which we function our best. People tend to leave their Window of Tolerance when they experience too much, or too little stimulation or input. Signs that one is over the top may be: feeling constantly on guard, wanting to lash out at others, or ourselves, experiencing feelings of anxiety or sleeplessness. Signs of being below one’s optimal zone may include feeling numb, frozen, or empty. During the course of any day, people naturally flow within this Window of Tolerance, having moments of activity and rest. When we step outside our Window of Tolerance, and can’t find our way back, there are things we can do to help.
 
Touch and movement based methods for supporting and restoring resilience (expansion of window of tolerance) and self-regulation (and movement into and out of window of tolerance).
 
The use of sound can bring us back into our Window of Tolerance, whether we are over the top, or below our optimal zone. This exercise uses the sound of Vu or Vooo. This sound, much like an internal foghorn, is created on the exhale. Allow your inhale to enter your lungs without an extra effort. On the exhale create the sound, imagining that it is going down your torso into your feet and out into the ground. Do this a few times, resting in between so that you may take note of your body’s response. If making a sound feels like too much, try blowing bubbles, singing or whistling!
 
Here are some additional things to try when you are feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, over the top of your Window of Tolerance:
 
This self hug exercise from Dr. Peter Levine helps you feel your physical boundaries, because awareness of boundaries can help to bring us back into our Window of Tolerance.

  • Place one hand under the opposite arm, and then place the other hand over the upper part of the other arm; you are giving yourself a hug.
  • Pay attention to your body.
  • Let yourself settle into the position; allow yourself to feel supported by it. Allow yourself to feel contained.
  • Watch and see if anything shifts with your breathing, bodily sensations, and how you feel in space.
  • See if you can sit with it a while and let it shift your perceptions of yourself and the world somewhat before coming out of it.

 
Another way to feel our physical boundaries is through conscious muscle engagement. Try this exercise. In a seated position, place your hands along the outside of your thigh. Inhale and on an exhale, gently press the legs out into the resistance offer by your hands. Do this a few times and see how this feels, both physically and emotionally.
The same exercise can be done standing. Imagine your feet and legs, grounded and pressing out to the sides as you exhale. This is an isometric contraction and your legs will not actually move.
 
Things to try when feeling listless, frozen, under your Window of Tolerance:
 
Self touch: Rub your hands together, enough to create a tiny bit of warmth. Then place your hands on the opposite arm (upper or lower) and press/squeeze and release. Do this a few times. Rest and notice any changes in your body or mind. Rub the hands together again, and this time place your hands on your legs (upper or lower). Press and release, allowing your hands to move up and down the entire leg. Again, rest and notice any changes that occur after this exercise.
 
Invite tiny movement:
Starting at the head gently and slowly make tiny movements of the head and neck. If this movement shifts into the spine, let it. Feel what happens as you allow your body to make tiny movements. Be curious about the arms and legs. Allow movement to expand outward from the spine into these areas of the body. Rest and notice how you feel afterwards.
 
All of our therapists at the NC Center for Resiliency are trained in these somatic methods and more, to help you find your own Window of Tolerance, and help you learn to recognize when you are above or below this optimal zone, as a way of enhancing your ability to self regulate and calm and soothe yourself.
 
Mary Lorenz, SEP, RYT, NCLMBT #8363  is a bodyworker and somatic educator in Chapel Hill, NC. Her work is informed by Somatic Experiencing® and her background is in bodywork and movement. She is committed to providing a safe, open, and non-judgmental atmosphere where each client can feel at ease.

​http://www.nctheramassage.com/


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What is Somatic Psychotherapy?

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Written by Kimberly Jeffs, LPCS, SEP
and Co-Owner of NC Center for Resiliency, PLLC

Somatic psychotherapists believe that the body has its own innate intelligence to heal. The primary goal of somatic therapy is to assist people in understanding the language of their own body so that they can reach an optimal state of psychological and relational functioning.
Somatic psychotherapy can help create balance in the autonomic nervous system, restoring physiological coherence. Physiological coherence is akin to what athletes call “the zone” or what meditators call a “zen” state. In the coherent state the body is at its optimal range of functioning: neurotransmitters are firing properly, hormone and immune systems are functioning in a normal range, the digestive system is operating properly, and we are able to experience and perceive our current environment in a more pleasant way. We know that experiences of safety, danger, and life threat are woven into personal narratives and become beyond conscious control. Somatic psychotherapy addresses the underlying traumatic stress that is stored in the autonomic nervous system.
Psychobiology is a branch of psychology that studies the interactions between biology and behavior, especially as it is exhibited in the nervous system. A somatic (psychobiological) approach differs from traditional talk therapy in that it recognizes that emotion and cognition effect a person’s physiology. A somatic psychotherapist may address diet, nutrition, exercise, and social engagement. Somatic psychotherapy may include touch work, teaching somatic mindfulness skills, and incorporating movement and sensations in the therapeutic process.
Somatic psychotherapy is best suited for people who:

  • have gained a great deal of insight but struggle with what next steps to take;
  • are not interested in talk therapy;
  • have plateaued with traditional therapies; OR
  • may not have emotionally rich language or insight to describe in words how they are impacted by the struggles in their lives.

Through focusing on the next steps from insight, clients are able to address emotions and utilize the body’s sensations, impulses, and behaviors to allow the mind and body to heal. The somatic approach can be used for a wide array of both mental and physical health conditions.
Who offers this style of therapy locally?
NC Center for Resiliency, PLLC is a mental health organization that is focused on the restoration of resiliency and coherence in the mind and body through the use of psychobiological therapy approaches. The center offers counseling, research and high-level collaboration with contract integrative medical practitioners. All therapists at NCCR are trained in traditional talk therapy as well as various forms of somatic practices, which are incorporated into their core specialties.

Resources:
Levine, Peter. Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body. 2005
Levine, Peter. In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. 2010


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