Otherwise Known as Love
Written by Tamara Blum, MSW, LCSW
In her book on case examples from her psychotherapy practice, Deborah Luepnitz (2002) paraphrases Arthur Schopenhauer’s fable on the dilemma of intimacy:
A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter’s day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of comingling, and again begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing. (p.2)
This push-pull of seeking warmth and connection and the inevitable frictions that come with closeness is found to one degree or another in all human relationships. The desire is to manage the human condition of mortality by creating a life of shared meaning with a loved one. And so in all of us there are drives for emotional and physical intimacy. All too easily a relationship can become derailed by fear. Some of the ways this fear has shown up in my practice is “Will you leave me?” “Am I more important than your work?” “Do you love me enough to
fill in the blank
with: control your anger? Care about the things that are important to me? Get well?”
In order to understand adult love relationships, we need to start with understanding love from a child’s perspective. In a nutshell, Bowlby (1969) was the first to advocate for the emotional lives of children, that children have needs beyond the physical, needs for emotional attunement, empathy, warmth, and predictable loving responses from mothers (appropriate now to expand this to fathers as well). Bowlby termed this secure attachment
- that the infant experienced the mother as a secure base
and safe haven
It took psychological researchers until the mid-1980’s to begin to apply Bowlby’s work to adult love relationships. In treating adult couples, Susan Johnson (2008) refers to what Schopenhauer’s porcupines were doing as a couple’s dance
. The aim is to look to a couple’s attachment histories and patterns of interactions within the relationship in order to help each person lean into the relationship, or preserve the safety of the relationship from an attachment perspective. So that when the question of, “Will you be there for me when I need you?” arises in the relationship, there is security in the answer.
In addition to countering negative, destructive, reactive cycles within the relationship, Johnson (2002) highlights other goals of couples therapy, specific to trauma survivors:
a sense of safe emotional connectedness through easier communication.
an ability to respond to each other in a way that is cohesive, not divided, especially during intrusive symptoms such as flashbacks.
share the impact of the trauma with each other.
use the relationship as a source of comfort.
be a comfort to each other when attachment needs arise.
offer acceptance and reassurance to each other, directly countering the trauma experience. (p. 161)
One avenue towards greater self-understanding of your specific role in the “dance” you do with your partner is to take a closer look at the core beliefs, or schemas, underlying your thoughts and behaviors. Young (2003) defines schemas as core beliefs based on unmet emotional needs, usually leftover from our childhoods. Young, Klosko, and Weishaar (2003) lay out these needs:
1. Secure attachments to others (includes safety, stability, nurturance, and acceptance)
2. Autonomy, competence, and sense of identity
3. Freedom to express valid needs and emotions
4. Spontaneity and play
5. Realistic limits and self-control (p. 10)
So schemas, which arise from the unmet needs listed above, often lead to maladaptive coping responses-
what may have been adaptive at the time of the injury or unmet need usually does not serve us well in our adult love relationships. For example, someone living with core beliefs based on a Mistrust/Abuse Schema learned (adaptively) as a child that it was safer to be self-reliant than to trust the Adult Attachment Figure, the perpetrator (in this schema) of abuse. That child, now grown, may avoid becoming vulnerable and trusting their life partner; they may become a keeper of secrets; they may choose any one of a number of barriers to intimacy- self-protective behavior that no longer serves either self-interest or the interest of the relationship.
So what is a well-intentioned but struggling person to do about all of this? There are many pathways to healing ourselves and our relationships. It can be helpful to identify your core beliefs and to trace each core belief back to its origins in order to heal it, using imagery or Internal Family Systems. Traditional therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be helpful too, but evidence suggests more effective therapies are ones that tap into our affective experience, as in the case of CBT-Enhanced (Dancyger & Fornari, 2009). We hold our memories emotionally, not cognitively, so if we are to find healing on a deep level, it is the emotional/affective part of the brain we need to be engaging.
With practice, the hope is to work towards the skill of mentalization-
that is to step out of the heated interaction or hot emotion, and just notice what is happening within yourself, remembering the core belief that is being activated, and choosing a new, healthier, more empowered, more compassionate (to Self and others) response. This is taking a healthy risk towards greater intimacy within your relationships and a happier, more peaceful experience of living.
Vanessa Curran, MA- Research Coordinator
Vanessa Curran is the Research Coordinator for Castlewood Treatment Centers in St. Louis Missouri. She obtained both her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and her Master of Arts Degree in Counseling from Webster University. Vanessa has published a research study on the topic of eating disorders and sexual identity. Since joining Castlewood Treatment Center in 2009, Vanessa has worked in Direct Care, Anxiety Services, and now as the research coordinator. “In my current position, I work to integrate evidence-based testing with treatment planning and program improvement,” said Vanessa. Vanessa shared that she “loves working at Castlewood because Castlewood is the only facility that I have worked at where every single person cares about their job, the clients and their co-workers. Vanessa shared “I have always wanted to work with those who struggle with eating disorders. I found it interesting and have always understood this particular area of disorders; I have a special place in my heart for those who suffer from eating disorders.”
Vanessa works directly with the Castlewood research committee which includes Nancy Albus, LPC, Nicole Siegfried, Ph.D, Heidi Strickler, LCSW, CEDS, & Alex Solaro, B.A. Castlewood currently incorporates the use of eleven different psychological inventories and assessments into our treatment process. Vanessa shared “the main focus of our research program at this time is on incorporating these psychological assessments with clients throughout their stay.” “Our goal is to align our standards of excellence closer with our accrediting bodies, by using evidence based assessments to inform our treatment and treatment plans. We will also utilize this data to evaluate our program and treatment outcomes,” said Vanessa. Click here to continue reading...
Serves: 8; Serving Size: 1 sandwich (2 pieces bread, 3-4 pieces bacon, 2 tbsp Mayo, 1 lettuce leaf)
2 ¼-to ½ inch thick slices of Sourdough
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3-4 pieces applewood-smoked thick-cut bacon, cooked
1 ripe medium tomato, sliced
Salt and Pepper
1.Spread one side of each pieces of bread with mayonnaise.
2.Stack one piece with bacon, tomato slices and leaf lettuce.
3.Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4.Top with second slice of bread.
Castlewood Hosted Events:
This two day workshop features Dr. Jim Gerber, Ms. Nancy Albus, Dr. Nicole Siegfried, Ms. Katie Thompson, Ms. Erin McGinty, Ms. Laura Wood and many other Castlewood staff members. This advanced training in the treatment of eating disorders includes focus on trauma, intimacy, anxiety disorders, body image and expressive therapies.
Additional Trainings & Conferences:
July 22nd-24th- ATCPCC- Santa Barbara- Castlewood Staff to attend
October 10th-12th- NEDA Annual Conference- Castlewood Staff to attend- STOP BY OUR BOOTH!
October 24th-25th- EDCT Annual Conference- Dr. Jim Geber & Dr. Nicole Siegfried to lecture- STOP BY OUR BOOTH!
October 24th-27th- IFS Annual Conference- Katie Thompson & Erin McGinty to lecture
Guest Post by CC
Coming into Castlewood last year, I was so very lost not only in life but within myself. I did not let anyone get close to me, help me, and I refused to even let my therapist get into my life. I was adopted at a young age and I knew no boundaries. I did not know how to let anyone get close to me, and when I did I would push them away with the belief they would run and rescue me, it never happened. At Castlewood I had a hard time accepting and asking for help. To me asking for help showed a sign of weakness, when I did ask and receive help I would be okay with it for one moment, then push the person that helped me away with everything I had in me. After three months of being there and really starting to do my work and accepting the help from my therapist, I found out that asking for help was not a sign of weakness but a sign of being strong.
I had to return back to Castlewood in the winter of 2012 for a little more help and to complete what I was learning the first time I got there. I had a new therapist. I did not know how I was going to do with it because change is not my specialty, but with amazement I did fairly well. I continued with the help and I even had a great reunion with my old therapist. I saw her for who she was and it was a healthy therapeutic relationship. Our therapeutic relationship had been a bit rocky during my previous admission. I did everything I could do to push her away because I thought she would leave, hurt, and abandon me, but to my surprise she supported me 100% never left, was always there. I would look at her as if she was my birth mom that had hurt me, but it was all in my head so my only "protection" was to push her away so I would not be hurt. I was one of the worst client to get close to people then out of fear push people away. But I was healed from that.
Right now as I type this, tears of joy flow because I am not that person anymore, I have a wonderful relationship now with not only my adopted family, but with my birth family. I have set boundaries, I open up about what bothers me, and I protect the little girl within. I would advise anyone that suffers from pushing people away and getting close to them to accept the help for what its worth, because there is light at the end of the tunnel. I found my light, and I could not be happier with life. I am in recovery, I start college on August 19th for Child development. I also am a mommy to my beautiful children that I thought I could never get close to, but now we are very close. I can honestly say Castlewood saved my life, I would never of learned boundaries and healthy relationships if it wasn't for Castlewood, but I had to accept the help. Thank you Castlewood for everything.