Risky Buisness

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.


Via~Wikimedia Commons

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?

A Time to Remember ...

A Blessing for Grief, by John O'Donohue.


When you lose someone you love,

Your life becomes strange,

The ground beneath you becomes fragile,

Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;

And some dead echo drags your voice down

Where words have no confidence

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;

And though this loss has wounded others too,

No one knows what has been taken from you

When the silence of absence deepens.


Flickers of guilt kindle regret

For all that was left unsaid or undone.


There are days when you wake up happy;

Again inside the fullness of life,

Until the moment breaks

And you are thrown back

Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,

You are able to function well

Until in the middle of work or encounter,

Suddenly with no warning,

You are ambushed by grief.


It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until that coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.


Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed;

And when the work of grief is done,

The wound of loss will heal

And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time.


Has there been a loss,  physical or symbolic that you'd like to take time to remember today? Reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 which reminds us that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens... even grief. There is no rush and in your season of grief, take time to love yourself well and honor the memory of the loss that you've experienced. Hold on to the hope that " sorrow will remain faithful to itself, more than you, it  knows it's way  and when the work of grief is done, the wound of loss will heal".


The Mystery of The Wisteria

A friend who lives in Brooklyn has a beautiful garden in her backyard that she has tirelessly labored over. The garden initially wasn't much of a garden but it has resulted in a multitude of visual delights. Pictured below is her Wisteria in "full effect".



Lately, I have been learning a lot from The Wisteria (which I will be sharing later in this post). So, I found it serendipitous when I came across this photo from my friend's garden and  I had to share some wise observations from the gardener herself on the complexity of this plant. 


She asked:


do you know about wisteria? It's one of those phenomenal plants

-- such a confluence of opposites:


So beautiful, but so invasive and destructive to all other species

in it's way. So sweet, but so delicate. One hard rain and she's wiped out.

Bloom time only lasts 3-5 days and you can't really cut the flowers for

arrangements successfully unless you are hard core = have a glass

refrigerated display case! And, here's an interesting fun fact… she

grows wild, along the B/Q trains out here in my hood (in Brooklyn). The whole area smells amazing this week while she is in full bloom!

 I love the juxtaposition with this plant. She's so complex, similar to the individual psyche. There are days when we may feel frail and weak, where the slightest wind can throw us. Yet there are other days when we feel strong and anchored, able to handle the toughest elements. Similar to The Wisteria, she can withstand the tough elements that are NYC and even bloom next to a subway for goodness sakes! However, she only blooms for under a week and then she is "wiped out". I find that sometimes we too, can experience days with seamless ease, where we give off a fragrant scent to all who we encounter and then there are other days where we are "wiped out". We can be destructive to the same people we want to bless. Why is this? A mentor recently shared with me that she feels that the climate of our culture makes no room for sadness or days when we are not quite ourselves. We often hear statements like: "get over it", "pull yourself up by your bootstraps", "toughen up". There is this push to "get over" what feels troublesome as soon as possible. So, how can we address the times when we feel longing, sadness or loneliness?


The answer may be related to The Wisteria. Recently I read in Mark Buchanan's The Rest Of God about the restlessness we can experience even amidst rest. Buchanan makes the point that Sabbath is for our rest but it is also an excellent opportunity to point our restlessness heavenward. Buchanan remarks that God grants us rest and peace but not enough to fully satisfy, just enough to keep us in the race. In the lapses in space where we are sad, longing or restless we can learn from The Wisteria.

  "Like a Wisteria plant, our restlessness needs to be trained to go in a certain direction, or else it follows a path of least resistance. When we recognize that our loneliness, our hunger, our weariness, our disappointment- that these are not final verdicts but only rumors of things unseen, it changes their meaning. It empties them of their power to defeat us. It fills them with an energy to spur us toward deeper hope."- Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God


Can you make space for the "restless" times, the sad or lonely times? Instead of seeing these moments as alien invaders and wanting so desperately for them to go away, maybe we can greet these parts of ourselves and without destructive reactions train these parts to lean in a certain direction. Like The Wisteria, we too can posses beauty and destructiveness. It all depends where we lean.


Where do you tend to lean?


" lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight"- Proverbs 3:5-6