Saturday, February 24, 2018

Is Unconditional Love Possible?


What we're really asking each other for, and what we should seek instead.


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were loved and accepted exactly as we are? Many times during psychotherapy sessions, my clients have uttered some version of, “I just want to be unconditionally loved! I want someone who can accept me with my flaws and foibles.”

I’m very sympathetic to the desire for a partner who is not prone to fixing and changing us.  As psychologist Harville Hendrix has stated, one purpose of adult relationships is to heal old childhood wounds.  A common wound is not feeling seen and accepted as we are. Love relationships can help heal childhood deficits by allowing us feel welcomed, wanted, and embraced as we are.
Each individual, however, has their own set of vulnerabilities and needs; there is a limit to what others can accept about us. Clinging to a demand that we be unconditionally loved might give us license to be self-centered or destructive. If we have affairs or are emotionally abusive, can we expect our partner to keep tolerating such damaging behavior?
It’s a pleasant fantasy to desire someone always to be there for us, regardless of how obnoxious we might be. Could our plea for unconditional love be a convenient way to use romantic or spiritual language as a way to cling to our narcissism and avoid noticing how we affect others?
What Self Do We Want Others to Love?
Sure, we want to be accepted for who we are. But are we truly being who we really are? Or are we being a self that has been defensively constructed to avoid the vulnerable aspects of who we are? Have we built walls of defenses and mistakenly taken this fabricated self to be our authentic self?  And then proudly insist that people accept and love this distorted, reactive self?
The notion of unconditional love raises tricky questions. Are we expecting our partner to love our nasty, prickly self? Is being angry and critical hiding something deeper that we don’t want to face or feel? Might our aggressive outbursts reflect a defensive pattern whereby we hide more tender parts of ourselves?
Criticism and contempt have been identified by researcher John Gottman as reliable predictors of relationship distress and divorce. If we have a pattern of lashing out in anger when we don’t get our way, we may insist that we want to be accepted for that. But how might you feel if your partner lashed out unpredictably, perhaps when you’re feeling most vulnerable? Even a saint would have difficulty experiencing love during such moments. 
We may hide our true feelings because we don’t want to feel uncomfortably exposed. Consequently, our feelings may come out indirectly. Distancing from what is alive inside us may explain why we feel irritable, moody, or angry sometimes… It takes a quiet inner strength to expose what is vulnerably alive inside us. We can relate to others in a more direct, fulfilling way as we become mindful of what we’re really experiencing and show our true feelings and wants without misdirection, games, or shame about who we really are.
I have found Eugene Gendlin's research-based approach known as Focusing to be especially helpful in uncovering deeper feelings.
Dancing with a Difficult Partner
You want to be loved as you are? That’s understandable. You want to be accepted with your human flaws and limitations? Of course! It’s easier to garner compassion if your partner can trust that you’re making a sincere effort to become more aware of your true feelings and longings.
If you have a challenging partner, you might recognize their tendency to be reactive and critical. Your love might prompt you to explore this together rather than separate, which includes looking at your possible contribution to cycles of conflict. But it would be unrealistic to practice unconditional love in the sense of accepting hurtful behaviors without voicing how they affect you and asserting that it’s not okay to be treated this way. This would be self-neglect, not unconditional love. In some situations, it might be easier to love unconditionally from a distance rather than remain in a partnership that is destructive.
If your partner pleads with you to seek help through couples therapy, you might want to consider it. Perhaps see this as an invitation to uncover and reveal more of who you really are—and to learn how to do so together in a constructive way. It’s difficult to see ourselves and our interactional dynamics clearly without reflections back from a wise, caring guide. I have found the research-based approach of Emotionally Focused Therapy  for couples (developed by Dr. Sue Johnson ) to be particularly beneficial. As the sage Rumi suggested, “Without a guide it will take you two hundred years for a journey of two years.”

Mutuality
Children need our unconditional love. But mature love is nourished through mutuality. Just as our garden needs ample sunshine and watering, we are sustained by respect, understanding, and nurturing.

John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT, is author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships  

If you like this article or know someone who may be interested in it, please feel free to forward it to them.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Love is Within Reach


By Dr. Sue Johnson

Marriage may be on the rise but that doesn’t mean we’re getting any better at relationships. Now research shows that love may be less of a mystery, a frenzy of sex and emotion and instead the result of behavior that we can apply logic to.

As a clinical psychologist and researcher for over 25 years, it’s become clear that two things make or break relationships: the ability to respond emotionally and offer support when it’s needed.
           
Numerous studies, including my own research on how couples successfully repair their love relationships, confirm that the ability to respond to a lover’s emotional signals builds secure and lasting bonds. These studies are part of the revolutionary new science that has, in the last 15 years, outlined the laws and logic of love. This science has progressed to the point where we cannot only help a couple move into satisfaction, but build the kind of secure connection where simply holding a partner’s hand calms your brain and lessens pain, even in the face of the threat of electric shock.

When logic and science show us the way, we can shape and heal romantic bonds. Using an intervention called emotionally focused therapy (EFT), we’ve found that 70 to 73% of couples can completely repair their relationship and 86% can make significant and lasting improvements to their bond. During EFT, we show couples how the habitual way they send out signals to their partner triggers wired-in threat responses, so that neither partner feels safe enough to reach for the other. We then help them identify their emotional needs for belonging and support, and communicate them in a way that pulls their partner close.

A typical couple I see are like Paul and Amy. Paul is a smart, focused man in his mid-forties who has made a fortune with his cutting edge computer company. He walks into my office with his wife, Amy, who has announced that, after 10 years and two kids, she is about to leave him. He tells me, “I can figure anything out, but I just don’t get why she is so angry with me. I do all the tasks and solve the problems around the house. But I never get it right. She is never happy with me. It’s like I have no tools—my head can’t figure this one out.”

I tell him. “You know how to focus and pay attention; you know how to put things together in a way that makes sense. It is just a question of changing the program a little.”  He smiles. Amy looks at me, doubt all over her face. But four months later, she too is smiling. What has Paul learned?

He learned that love is an exquisitely logical survival code designed to keep special others we can depend on close to us and that his intellectual explanations and emotional distancing were danger cues for his lonely wife. He learned to let his wife know when her criticism hurt rather than exiting into logic and distance. Reading the research of Nancy Eisenberger from UCLA helped him grasp how his brain coded rejection from his wife as a threat to survival, responding in the exact same way as to physical pain, cueing his freeze and flee response.

He discovered how to tune into the emotional channel, share his fears of rejection and explicitly ask for the reassurance he needed, and encourage his wife to do that same. We call this a Hold Me Tight conversation and across nine studies it consistently predicted successful relationship repair.

Paul had the usual reservations about asking for caring. He, like the rest of us had been taught that needing loving connection was somehow a weakness or a sign of immaturity. Research shows that those of us who can effectively turn to others for support are the most confident, resistant to stress, most able to risk, explore and reach career goals, and also the ones who have the most positive sense of self.  The new research on mirror neurons fascinated him and persuaded him that it was important to turn towards and look directly into Amy’s face to trigger these neurons in his brain and allow him to directly feel in his body the emotions he saw in her face. This way he could grasp her emotional reality, read her intentions, and move in harmony with her.

He told Amy that he shut down to deal with his sense of bewilderment about how to respond to her and that he needed her support. “And I get that I have to stay in the emotional channel and let you know I am there for you,” he began. “That is what matters in love. I don’t always have to have the answer or solve the problem. Just really being there and helping each other with our emotions is the solution.”


Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Power of Authenticity to Create Intimacy


  Written by:
 John Amodeo, PhD  Author of Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships

We long for acceptance, love, and connection. But oftentimes we don't know how to create it. We may push away the love we long for.

Love and intimacy don't blossom by trying to pull it toward us or manipulating people. Connections thrive as we create a climate that's conducive for them. Love and intimacy have a greater opportunity to grow as we cultivate a climate of authenticity.

Being authentic in relationships is easier said than done. It requires that we tend closely to our actual felt experience. Rather than defend and protect ourselves, it means finding the courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and then show that to a person we want to be close to.

Dr. Eugene Gendlin, whose research led to the innovative approach known as "Focusing," ( see http://www.holisticcounsel.com/focusing/ for more information) found that clients who made the most progress in psychotherapy (despite the orientation of the therapist) were those who were contacting and speaking from their actual felt experience. They paused, stammered, and groped for words or images to describe their deeper experience rather than just talking from their heads. Things shifted and opened up as they stayed with their authentic experience from moment to moment.

Apply this principle to relationships: When we share what we're experiencing with each other, intimacy is more likely to arise. Dr. Sue Johnson, the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT), invites couples to contact and share what they're really feeling and wanting -- and she helps clients find the words to convey this. Through the power of such authenticity, conflict often yields to deeper connections.

Couples may enter my office complaining that they're having a communication problem. Although there is often truth in this, more fundamentally, they are usually having a self-awareness problem. They are in touch with their anger, their blame, and their perceptions about their partner (they're selfish, insensitive, or bad), but they're not connected to the tender feelings and longings beneath their criticisms and accusations. And they're not skilled at communicating their authentic experience in a sensitive, respectful way.

Blaming and analyzing others pushes them away. It doesn’t create the safety necessary for deep communication. It covers up what they're actually experiencing, which is usually something more vulnerable, such as sadness, fear, or shame -- or a longing to connect in a deeper way. Finding the courage to contact and convey this deeper experience, perhaps with the help of a couples therapist when necessary, is a key to resolving conflicts and creating a climate for a richer, more vibrant intimacy.

There are layers to our authentic experience. Being authentic means taking the elevator down inside ourselves and noticing whatever we happen to be experiencing right now. It may change from moment to moment.
For example, we might be authentically feeling anger. As we stay gently present with that rather than act it out, it might shift into something else. We might notice sadness beneath the anger, or an unmet need for kindness and closeness. If we can be patient with ourselves -- allowing the time necessary to uncover what most authentically lives within us -- we can then share that, which might invite our partner toward us and create a richer, more fulfilling intimacy.

Feel free to forward this to anyone you think might be interested

Friday, August 4, 2017

How to Listen to Pain

--by Jill Suttie, syndicated from Greater Good, Feb 25, 2016 interview with Brené Brown

Why do we feel shame and how does shame change us?




Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It's the fear that we're not good enough. --Brené Brown

According to Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston, shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It’s an emotion that affects all of us and profoundly shapes the way we interact in the world. But, depending on how we deal with it, shame can either shut us down or lead us to a new sense of bravery and authenticity.

Jill Suttie: Why do you think it’s important to study shame and vulnerability?

Brené Brown: Because they are such a big part of our emotional landscape and daily experience. For shame, it’s about shining a light in some dark corners and normalizing some universal experiences that by definition make us feel very alone.

As for vulnerability, a lot of people believe that vulnerability is the centre of dark and difficult emotions that we don’t want to feel; so they guard against it. The truth is that vulnerability is the centre of all emotions. We’re emotional beings, and to understand our emotions is going to require a bit of uncertainty and risk

JS: What do you mean by vulnerability being at the centre of all emotion?

BB: Based on the research, I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. When we feel dark emotions—when we feel grief or shame or fear, scarcity, disappointment—we feel risk and uncertainty, and we feel emotionally exposed and raw. But vulnerability is also the birthplace of love, joy, belonging, trust, intimacy, creativity, and all of the good things. If we’re practicing a guarded heart life, we’re pushing away the things we’re most desperate for.

JS: Can you talk about the difference between shame and guilt?

BB: The easiest way to separate shame from guilt is to say shame is “I’m bad” and guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behaviour. An easy parenting example would be saying, “You’re stupid” versus “You’re a great kid that made a bad decision.” It’s very hard to get out from underneath shame because, if that’s who you are, what is the potential for change?

JS: Why should we engage with shame in the way you describe in your book when it’s so painful? What’s the benefit to that?

BB: Shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Those are not authentic responses. So, dealing with shame while maintaining authenticity and cultivating more courage, connection, and compassion in your relationships is what’s needed. It’s a tall order. But one of the by products of being able to move through shame constructively is that people who come out the other side by default feel braver, more connected and compassionate.

JS: Do you have advice for people who grew up in families where emotions were ignored or downplayed?

BB: I’m a big believer in therapy. I could not have done this work without a really great therapist. I don’t think we can do this work alone, because we were never meant to. It’s not how we’re wired. We’re wired for connection, from mirror neurons on down, and in the absence of connection, there’s suffering. So, I think just starting small conversations with people we trust and care about and being honest about wanting to learn more and do more about our shame is a good step. It’s all about being in connection while we’re in this learning process.

JS: What do you hope people will most take away from your work?
BB: I hope more than anything that it starts a conversation. I hope my work helps people feel less alone and gives them the permission and the language to talk about the most important parts of being human—both the hard parts and the most beautiful parts.



Brene Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston.

Her TED talk on the power of vulnerability is the fourth most popular talk of all time and has been viewed by over 23 million people, while her books are all bestsellers, including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and her latest book, Rising Strong.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How can I stay motivated to deepen sexuality and intimacy


This blog was written by Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity.



How can I stay motivated to deepen sexuality and intimacy between us, if my partner isn’t onboard with me? -- Gabriella, 44

Often in a relationship, there is one person who drives the closeness, intimacy, and connection (the pursuer). And another partner who tends to sustain distance, aim for space, and emphasize autonomy (the distancer).

This is typical in any relationship. The fact that one person wants more closeness than the other is not unusual. Gabriella feels like she’s the only one in the partnership who cares about their intimate connection, and her partner does not value it. If she feels alone, this can lead to a ladder of escalating negative emotions: Rejection > Ashamed for wanting connection > Questioning self worth > Feel unloved, etc.

If there is a solid foundation in the relationship, this type of conversation is one I recommend for many of my pursuer partner clients: “I totally understand that you’re on a different page than me right now. We don’t feel the same way. But I do need to know that you care about me, that you have empathy for what I’m going through, and that I’m not being dismissed. I don’t need you to want what I want, but I do need that you care about what I want, and you value that I what it.”

If you want more intimacy with your partner, but you seem to be on different pages, these questions may help generate a conversation like the one above:

What is going on for you right now? What is holding you back?
What can we do to change this together?
Is there anything you need from me so we can proceed in a direction that gives both of us what we are looking for?
What is going on for you sexually?

You want to try to understand if the reasons have to do with the relationship, with you, or if they are really the struggles of your partner, which he or she needs to take responsibility for him or herself.


Ganga Daryanani, RSW

Ganga@holisticcounsel.com

416 769 6810

www.Holisticcounsel.com

www.TorontoCounselling.blogspot.com

If you think this blog may be of interest to someone, please feel free to forward.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We bicker all the time… What should I do?

By Ester Perel who is a sex and relationship therapist, best-selling author of Mating in Captivity and a consultant for the hit Showtime  series The Affair

“We bicker all the time, she’s so critical of me and I don’t feel like I am doing anything right. What should I do?” – Anthony, Boston



Anthony’s question is powerful because it is so common.
I think of bickering as low intensity chronic warfare. Ongoing criticism can lead to the demise of the relationship. And if we criticize as a way of asking to be loved, well then we will often produce precisely the opposite effect of what we seek: to be loved and to feel good about ourselves. If we spend much of our time feeling lousy, unloved, devalued, inadequate and inept, we are on the wrong side of the tracks. So what can we do to reset this negative pattern?

Pay Attention to What’s Working
When our relationship is in distress, we tend to overlook the good and overemphasize the bad.
To counter this, try keeping a daily list of everything that your partner does that is positive, everything that you appreciate, everything that you can be thankful for. Do this for ten days in a row.
Each note can be as simple as: “Made me a cup of tea” or “Locked door on way out”. Instead of elevating the annoying, elevate the minute details of your partner’s generosity and thoughtfulness.
Focus on what is working. Pay attention.
The ratio of appreciation is crucial to a good relationship. Take the log one step further and make a big deal every time the other person does something positive.
This will kick you out of a defeating cycle of negativity. And will motivate your partner towards acts of kindness.

Let Yourself Be Vulnerable
What’s important to understand about criticism is that it sits on top of a mountain of disappointments of unmet needs and unfulfilled longings.
Every criticism often holds a veiled wish. When your partner says to you, “You’re never around”, what they may actually mean is “I’m lonely, I miss you when you’re not here.”
When Anthony’s partner tells him he never brings her along when he goes hiking, what she is also trying to tell him is “I wish we would go hiking together”.
I recommend that Anthony and his partner both say what they want and not what the other did not do.  
Often I suggest this to couples and they complain, “But I already did exactly that and I got nothing”. Try again.
It is tempting to launch into anger instead of experiencing the vulnerability of putting yourself out there, asking for something and waiting for the possibility that you won’t get it.
For many, anger is easier to express than hurt. Anger can feel like a confidence booster and an analgesic. Yet the more we communicate through anger, the more anger we get in return, creating a negative cycle of escalations.

Reflect & Take Responsibility
If you have ever done any breathing exercises, or yoga classes, you may have noticed that there is a space at the end of each inhale and exhale. A moment to pause. Similarly, economists and psychologists often encourage this moment of pause before making a large purchase.
Instead of shifting into instantaneous blame, take a moment to shift from reaction to reflection.
Why am I angry?  What do I want?  Instead of going for the jugular, take responsibility for what you feel and state it.
When couples come to therapy and they are in escalating cycles – things change when each person begins to take responsibility. This is true for both Anthony and his partner.


Remember, seek professional help at the early signs of relationship difficulties.  Waiting too long is never worth it, because you get stuck in negative patterns of interaction that become increasingly automatic, rigidly entrenched and more and more difficult to change.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Monogamy?



According to Dr. Sue Johnson, author of:"Hold me Tight " and" Love Sense": Monogamy is getting a bad rap these days. We're told that we should all grow up and accept that it's impossible and that we're just naturally promiscuous. Monogamy is more and more portrayed as a state of deprivation, where deadening familiarity robs us of magic and thrills in the bedroom and beyond, and cheating is viewed as inevitable.

But most of us (about 75% of us, according to several different studies) do not cheat on our partners. And, even though, until recently, we had no map or any kind of scientific understanding of love to guide us, more than half of us manage to stay together for a lifetime.

Rigorous survey data from the University of Chicago also shows that long-term committed couples are the happiest, most satisfied, have more sex and report that their sex lives are more thrilling. Here are five reasons, why monogamy — especially now that bonding science shows us how to shape and hold onto love — is no dysfunctional delusion. It is simply the best way to be.

1. It's in our nature to hold onto and protect the bond with a chosen mate.

We are mammals who must collaborate closely over time to rear extremely vulnerable young. A clear preference to mate, stay close to, groom, care for and protect one partner is the norm in such mammals. This does not mean that recreational sex never occurs; it means that it's an occasional side show, a deviation from an adaptive norm, not a better option.

2. Love is an ancient survival code designed to keep a trusted loved one close.

We now know that this need for safe haven connection with an irreplaceable other is our most compelling drive, one that has shaped our chemistry and our nervous system. Sex in mammals is a bonding behavior. We mate face to face, touch and caress, and we are flooded with the bonding hormone, oxytocin, when we “make love.”

Oxytocin turns off fear, turns on reward hormones and moves us into calm contentment. No wonder we long for love. When usually monogamous mammals like prairie voles are given drugs to block oxytocin, they are more likely to stray; when given extra oxytocin they practically groom their mate into the ground.

3. The cost of infidelity is high.

Partners are generally unable and unwilling to share the one they love. Sam, like most partners tells me, “I don’t even know why I did it. It wasn’t like I was consumed with lust for my secretary or was hankering after a different partner. I had lost my connection with my wife, Kim. Nothing seemed to work between us. I was depressed and lonely. Taking my secretary out for coffee was comforting and it felt good that she liked me. I told myself that Kim wouldn’t find out and that it wouldn’t really change anything. The whole thing just seemed very separate from my family.”

Sam denied and compartmentalized, but he was wrong about Kim’s response. She felt traumatized and betrayed. Since we have such a deep need for a secure bond with a lover we can count on, it is natural and inevitable that Kim experiences Sam’s affair as a significant threat. She asked Sam to move out. With help, this couple were able to move into forgiveness. So yes, you can reconcile after an affair, but often the damage is irrevocable.

4. A secure bond with all its mental and physical health benefits requires focused attention and timely emotional responsiveness.

This is hard to pull off if you are investing in more than relationship at a time. Amy tells her husband Jacques, “I want to come first. You don’t even have time and energy for me, let alone a mistress. You ask me to accept this and adapt, but we spend all our time setting rules and fighting over who gets your attention and when. I can’t count on you to be there for me. You have to leave.”


5. Most arguments against monogamy stress the “sex with the same person becomes a bore” mantra.

One study out of my research center shows that when couples become more open and emotionally connected, their sex life improves. Recreational sex — sex without emotional engagement — is way overrated. It's like a dance without music. Flat. One dimensional.

The partners who report being the most open to one night stands and short term sexual relationships are usually into avoidant bonding strategies. They tend to be phobic about depending on or being vulnerable to others. In bed they focus on performance and “hot” sensation.

Ironically, studies report that these same people enjoy sex less and have less frequent sex than more involved bonded partners. The evidence is, securely attached, fully engaged lovers, are happier and more caring.

They also have better sex lives; they are more open to exploring their sexual needs, they communicate better in bed, and can co-operate and solve sexual problems together. They dance in a more attuned and responsive way, in bed and out of it.

The idea that passion has a "Best-before" date and is incompatible with long term love was trendy before the new science of love came on line. Now it’s out of date. The take home message is: be monogamous and shape a joyful, secure bond with your partner. Don’t worry, you’re not missing a thing. If you learn to make sense of love, you can fall in love again and again with the same precious lover. You can have lasting, caring, intimate connection AND the time of your life in bed. This is delight, not deprivation.