​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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Brain Science and Couples Therapy

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Written by Anna Cordova, MA, LPC 
Somatic Psychotherapist at NC Center for Resiliency, PLLC
 
If you caught the first in this series of blog posts, you have already learned a little about the importance of sustaining a “couple bubble” in any healthy, long term, and committed relationship. In order to create and sustain this bubble (think of it as a “cocoon” that holds the couple together and protects each partner from outside hindrances), it is important to know a little about the brain, and specifically how your brain responds to conflict, and how it helps you stay connected.
 
The human brain is comprised of many structures that allow us to both survive and thrive, and either help us to create conflict, or peace in our partnerships. Stan Tatkin, author of “Wired for Love” refers to these parts of the brain as our “primitives” and our “ambassadors” respectively. You can also think or our primitives as the warring parts of our brain, and the ambassadors as the loving parts of our brain.
 
The primitive parts of the brain are conflict driven. These areas of the brain (specifically the amygdala, hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, and “dumb” vagus”) are naturally geared to engage in battle, and operate automatically, and without our permission. They are designed to help us pick up threat signals, alert us to danger and react to stress. When couples fight, you can bet they are relying on these areas of the brain.
 
The primitives are defensive and quick to pick up on and perceive danger. For example, the amygdala helps a person notice their partners’ tone of voice, facial expression and word choice. Relying on our primitives means that we are scanning for possible threat, and once we perceive that threat, adrenaline and cortisol rush into the blood stream. These hormones are preparing us for fight, flight or even momentary freeze. This is often where couples remain stuck. Once the threat is perceived, and the body’s defensive mechanisms are primed, many couples find it hard to reconnect and repair.
 
However, when we are safe within the “couple bubble” we can more easily soothe the more primitive parts of the brain, and increase our ability to not only solve conflict, but avoid creating it in the first place. It is within the security of the bubble that we can begin to rely on our “ambassadors,” or the rational, social and civilized part of our brain. It is our ambassadors we must rely on to be in relationship successfully.
 
Our ambassadors include the ventral vagal complex (or smart vagus), the hippocampus, insula and orbitofrontal cortex, as well as the right and left brain. We can rely on these parts of our brain to slow us down, help us stay calm, and prevent overreaction— or even all out “war” with our partner. For example, something as simple as taking a slow deep breath when confronted by conflict stimulates the “smart vagus” which then exerts a calming effect on the entire nervous system. Additionally, the insula helps us to rely on intuition, or so called “gut feelings” and other bodily sensations as we interact with another person. And the right brain is what helps us to use vocal tone, eye contact and physical touch skillfully so as to connect with our partner, rather than avoid.
 
Couples can avoid conflict and sustain their “couple bubble” best when they utilize their ambassadors and put their primitives at ease. Stan Takin suggests that simply identifying moments when you are relying on your “primitives” in action can actually help you to engage your “ambassadors” and keep the peace in your partnership. Next time you are in conflict with your partner, consider making eye contact, having a gentler tone of voice, and using a loving phrase or two. You might be surprised to find peace admit the storm.
 
At NCCR, we are committed to using practices that help clients to regulate their own nervous systems, in order to create and restore coherence. Couples that learn to regulate themselves, and to co-regulate alongside their partner can experience healing both in their relationship and within themselves.
 
Anna Cordova is a body-centered and expressive arts therapist, as well as a registered yoga teacher. Anna has experience working in both private and community based settings, working with children, adolescents, teens, families and couples. Anna has extensive training in the field of trauma work, somatic experiencing, cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT, creative expression and mindfulness. She specializes in mood disorders, relational issues, attachment, eating disorders, trauma and stress related conditions. Anna is committed to the deep work of healing through the body and would be honored to assist you on your self growth journey.
Anna’s direct contact information:
acordova@nccenterforresiliency.com
919-607-1468
 
 

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Turning Down the Volume

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Written by Heather Steele, MS, LCAS, LPCA
Somatic Psychotherapist at NC Center for Resiliency, PLLC

Maybe you’ve had a bad day at work or an argument with your partner. Maybe you’ve become upset after hearing news you where not expecting. What’s the first thing out of your best friend’s mouth when you tell them? “Let’s go grab a drink.” We see this message in television shows, movies, and all over our culture. Alcohol will soothe you and make everything better. Is this really the case? Or are you just repeating the same cycle over and over, never really getting better.
            Alcohol is a depressant on the nervous system so of course if will dampen our heighted state of emotions after an argument and turn down those racing thoughts. When we experience an intense level of emotions and our mind starts racing because we are so overwhelmed we often feel that there is no way out, other then grabbing a beer or ordering a martini. There is another way out and it is called nervous system regulation. This is the key to getting out of the “event, intense emotions, racing thoughts, drink,” cycle. Dr. Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing says, “…we have to learn how to quiet ourselves. This disconnect we have in our body is calling us to reconnect with our bodies with the sensing intelligent knowing body.” Here at NCCR all of our therapists are trained in somatic psychology where clients are able to quite their minds and reconnect with their bodies instead of resorting to alcohol or other methods to cope.
What can be taught in therapy with a somatic psychotherapist is how to regulate your own nervous system. Teaching clients how to quite their minds and listen to their bodies. This ultimately giving a client the power to manage situations, people, or triggers that would normally create heightened emotions and make our minds race. How great would it be to manage things as they come and not feel overwhelmed? I am going to take a guess, pretty amazing!
              
*Peter Levine interview with Lee Peper, CMO, Foundations Recovery Network, at the 2016 Innovations in Behavioral Health Care Conference.

Heather is a psychotherapist at NCCR and specializes in the treatment of substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, anxiety, trauma, depression and eating disorders.  Heather has extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing and experiential therapies including imagery re-patterning and Somatic Experiencing.  A significant past experience for Heather was working for the United States Navy and Marine Corps as a treatment care professional in an intensive outpatient program where she learned a lot about how trauma manifests in the body and how it can effect the people they love. Heather has a great passion for working in the field of addictions and mental health and assists clients in creating a deeper understanding of themselves through a psycho biological approach utilizing mindfulness practices, somatic experiencing and cognitive behavioral therapy.  Heather will work very hard to help you meet your goals.

Heather’s direct contact information:
484-682-9281
hsteele@nccenterforresiliency.com


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The Couple Bubble: Creating a Mutually Interdependent Marriage or Partnership                                                                               

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Written by Anna Cordova, MA, LPC 
Somatic Psychotherapist at NC Center for Resiliency, PLLC

Do you want to learn how to listen to your partner better? Engage in less conflict? Love your partner better, and feel more loved in return? As it turns out, this ideal can and does exist, even outside of romantic comedies or sappy notions of love as infatuation.
 
According to the research of Stan Tatkin, PSY-D, author of Wired for Love and developer of a Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT), building a secure and mutually beneficial romantic relationship boils down to an understanding of neuroscience, attachment theory and human arousal. This blog post is the first in a series of three that will help you understand how each of these components can help you shift your relationship paradigm and learn to create a secure and lasting bond with your partner, in which both your own needs— and the needs of your partner— are met, and you together set the stage for lasting love.
 
Each of us, whether we like it or not, are “wired for love.” We have a biological drive to “pair bond”— which in prehistoric times, was for the purpose of procreation and survival. Later, couples began to form arranged marriages, primarily to bolster their economic and social status. In the eighteenth century, couples were more likely to choose each other based on an idea of romantic love- and the focus began to be more on individual needs rather than survival. More recently, the idea that the self is autonomous has come into question. Humans are intrinsically relational and interdependent, (Tatkin, Wired for Love, p. XIII) therefore, marriage should be seen as a “conscious partnership” in which the relationship is less about individuals having their needs met, and more about making the relationship itself primary.
 
When couples make an agreement to make their relationship primary, they are making an agreement to put the relationship before anything and everything else. Tatkin refers to this
concept as the “couple bubble.” Creating this couple bubble allows partners to feel safe and secure, so even when life gets challenging, both partners have a secure foundation in each other. This has a calming effect on our brains, so we are better able to regulate our moods and emotion. The couple bubble should not be confused with co-dependency, in which the relationship is driven by insecurity and fear. Within the couple bubble, mutuality, encouragement and support trump autonomy, guilt or shame.
 
In his book Wired for Love, Stan Tatkin has defined the couple bubble as being based on a series of agreements, such as:
 
“I will never leave you or frighten you.”
 
“I will relieve your distress, even when I’m the one causing it.”
 
“You will be the first to hear about anything.”
 
These agreements are consciously held – like a pact. Above all, you are saying to each other: “We come first.”
 
It is important to know that what makes you feel safe and secure may not be the same for your parter. Part of creating the couple bubble will include helping your partner to discover this for him or herself. Look for more on how to understand this in yourself and your partner in upcoming blog posts. Here at the NC Center for Resiliency, we are focused on helping both couples and individuals improve their understanding of their own neurochemistry, attachment style, and physiological patterns and responses to improve and enhance their relationships, their sense of self, and even face life’s challenges with greater ease.

Anna Cordova is a body-centered and expressive arts therapist, as well as a registered yoga teacher. Anna has experience working in both private and community based settings, working with children, adolescents, teens, families and couples. Anna has extensive training in the field of trauma work, somatic experiencing, cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT, creative expression and mindfulness. She specializes in mood disorders, relational issues, attachment, eating disorders, trauma and stress related conditions. Anna is committed to the deep work of healing through the body and would be honored to assist you on your self growth journey.
Anna’s direct contact information:
acordova@nccenterforresiliency.com
919-607-1468


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