Sue Johnson's book "Hold Me Tight", is a practical guide to truly understanding Emotionally Focused Therapy ("EFT"). EFT is a highly effective form of couples therapy based on attachment theory (please go back and read my previous post for a more in depth understanding). One aspect of EFT that I would like us to explore more in depth this week, is the risk involved in engaging in this new way of thinking and relating to your partner.
Johnson astutely recognizes that in order for EFT to work, couples need to courageously express and explore when primal feelings come up- when they feel wounded by their partner. Sometimes even a mundane exchange can trigger feelings that surprise both partners. These feelings can catch partners off guard because they are so sudden. These feelings are typically related to attachment needs and they feel primal... because they are! In the moment, it's counter-intuitive to slow down reactions times and take stock of what feelings arise and why. It's even less intuitive to express those feelings to your partner.
In these moments everything within us screams for self-protection. Often, couples will withdraw or become more demanding. Practicing the principles of EFT can be best illustrated by imagininga burning building, where most people are running away from the fire, EFT encourages individuals to run into the fire and assure their partner, they are there. It takes a brave and willing soul to do so.
Why assume risk at this level of emotional vulnerability? Well, the results have proven to be nothing short of miraculous. Embittered couples report falling in love with each other again and understanding each other in ways they never had. Johnson describes the moments in which the opportunity for reconnection arises as follows: "If you take that leap of faith and respond with such a bid for reconnection, you have to hope your partner will, too, instead of saying something hurtful like, "Well, you're being asinine and difficult." That's the tricky part about relationships: To change the dance, both people have to change their steps."- Sue Johnson http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200812/hold-me-tight?page=2
Authentic emotional expression can feel so risky and our culture offers no help. Often times, culture shames softer emotions such as, sadness or fear, labeling them as "weaker". No wonder we exercise caution when expressing ourselves in this way. Often, we mask our hurt with anger. Although anger is a real and raw emotion, it's a secondary emotion. Anger is usually a clue to something else bubbling under the surface. Anger can feel safer than fear or sadness and be our "go to" reaction.
Below, Johnson describes the emotional climate culture can have on our emotional needs which makes expressing these needs all the more risky:
"Although our culture has framed dependency as a bad thing, a weakness, it is not. Being attached to someone provides our greatest sense of security and safety. It means depending on a partner to respond when you call, to know that you matter to him or her, that you are cherished, and that he will respond to your emotional needs.
The most basic tenet of attachment theory is that isolation—not just physical isolation but emotional isolation—is traumatizing for human beings. The brain actually codes it as danger. Gloria Steinem once said a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. That's nonsense." -Sue Johnson http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200812/hold-me-tight
There are so many wonderful Christian books on love and relationships that have been written, such as The Marriage Builder by Dr. Larry Crabb, Love and Respect by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs and many more. I've noticed from the Christian lens, that there is always an undertone of risk involved when discussing how to make relationships work. EFT is no exception. This technique involves risk too. I think this is God's fingerprint on humanity. Successful relationships involve risk- and there is no escaping that principle.
"In a secure relationship, excitement comes not from trying to resurrect the novel moments of infatuated passion but from the risk involved in staying open in the moment-to-moment, here-and-now experience of physical and emotional connection. "- Sue Johnson (emphasis mine)
For today's reflection read this verse in Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:7. Call to mind some relationships that are worth fearlessly, risking for. How can you respond to someone in this way today?