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Do We Find Ourselves in the Arms of Another… Or in the Depth of Ourself?

find your self

Are you seeking counseling or therapy for yourself, your relationship or for business growth? Maybe you’re looking for help with communication, addiction or trauma. Perhaps you’re like many who call my office wondering do I work on my imperfect relationship first? Or do I start with my imperfect self? Now more than ever I’ve been exploring this somewhat complicated question as to where to begin: Do we find ourselves in the arms of another? Or in the depth of ourself? The answer is Yes and Yes! Read on!

In the early 2000’s I sat in shock and awe as I watched Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, bring a new theory of therapy to the psychological world. A therapy based on attachment theory and on the importance of co-emotional regulation as the foundation for forming secure attachment bonds for both parent and child and in adult love relationships.

I was newly recovering from the failure of a twenty-five-year marriage that left me questioning the foundations of my own theory of psychological development. A theory that I thought was based on an individual path of growth formed primarily by listening to the guidance of one’s unconscious.

We Find Ourselves in the Arms of Another and in the Depth of Ourself

This was the first time I had heard the phrase “we find ourselves in the arms of another.” This idea developed by Dr. Johnson was formed from the attachment theory of John Bowlby. Bowlby was a British psychiatrist who became interested in how the bond between the child and the primary parent relationship formed an internal working model of “self” that becomes the base for security or insecurity for the rest of one’s life.

In the 1950’s Bowlby studied orphans who were rescued during the world war. He found that these children would become ill, or even die, if they were not held and emotionally nurtured, regardless of their being fed and having their physical needs cared for.

Bowlby began to study the interaction between infants and their mothers cross-culturally. He found that the children whose mothers were able to be responsive to their infant’s emotional cries and needs for play developed a kind of internal security that allowed them to ask for what they needed and co-operate with their parents in a healthy way. Children who were insecure tended to emotionally act out or to withdraw into themselves when they needed their parents’ help.

Back in 1760, a Spanish bishop writing to his superiors in Rome noted that children in foundling homes, though they were sheltered and fed, regularly “die from sadness”. In the 1930s and 1940s, in the halls of American hospitals, orphan children, deprived only of touch and emotional contact, died in droves.

Children and Attachment

A colleague of Bowlby’s, Mary Ainsworth, conducted what has become a famous and fascinating experiment called the Strange Situation.  In this experiment Ainsworth observed how children reacted when they were separated from their mothers.

The children of mothers inconsistent in how they responded to their needs began to emotionally melt down. And then resisted being comforted by mother when she returned. The child whose mother was unresponsive to his emotional needs would turn inward when the mother left the room. And upon mom’s return would act like an independent adult that didn’t need anyone else’s assistance. Upon the mother’s return, this child would ignore her as if her leaving the room was nothing to him.

The child whose mother was emotionally responsive would cry when mother left the room. But tended to re-organize emotionally. When the mother returned, there was crying as an expression of gratitude that she was back. And then this child was able to be easily comforted by mother.

These patterns of emotional relationship with the mother were called anxious, avoidant, and secure attachment styles by Ainsworth.

Do You Pursue or Withdraw?

Sue Johnson observed hundreds of hours of interaction between life partners. There was a pattern of how couples emotionally related to each other. She found a typical pattern of one partner emotionally pursuing anxiously for love and attention. And another shutting down and withdrawing in response to pursuit. Johnsen correlated these patterns with the mother child patterns observed by Ainsworth in the Strange Situation experiment. She concluded that the way infants relate to their parents creates a kind of hard neurological wiring. That wiring is carried into the adult love relationship.

Adults who did not have parents who mirrored their emotions struggle with emotional intelligence. Especially in their love relationships. They have difficulty expressing authentic emotions because their emotions were not validated growing up.

This is the kind of talk we typically see with parents that are emotionally connected with their children. Phrases like “Oh honey you look so sad.” “Did that boo-boo hurt you?”  “Wasn’t that clown funny?” These are ways that parents help children to accept their own emotional state of being. This talk kids that parents are there to support them and their feelings.

I watched Johnson unpack her therapeutic method, Emotionally Focused Therapy. And I realized why as a bottle-fed latchkey kid I didn’t learn how to express my emotions after a hard day. As a result I developed an avoidant attachment style. That resulted in me, as a married adult, withdrawing from my partner’s emotions over and over again. Until she burned out and exited the relationship.

Finding Emotional Attunement and Connection

I have remarried and have formed what is called an earned secure attachment. From the beginning of our relationship, my wife Paula and I made emotional connection the primary foundation of our relationship. By moving toward Paula, rather than withdrawing, when she is upset, she’s reassured that I’m not abandoning her. She knows I’m emotionally moved by the emotion she is expressing. This moving toward emotion rather than avoiding it is what creates what Johnson calls a safe Haven in our relationship.

The more responsive we are to our partner, the more she will stay emotionally regulated. As a result of this emotional regulation her fear that the relationship is at risk will be decreased. This simple idea is the foundation of all of the new research underneath of the theory of emotional intelligence.

We now know that attuning to the emotions of each other is the deepest way that we create trust and responsiveness in our relationships. This is true in love relationships, as it is also true in relationships with friends and work colleagues.

Healthy View of Self, Relationships, Families and Organizations

Thousands of studies have been conducted in the last 20 years which have proven that emotional connection forms the foundation for emotional intelligence. Emotional connection critical for forming a healthy view of self and for healthy relationships in marriages, families and organizations. Hence, the idea that we find ourselves in the arms of another is a truth that has reshaped the individual psychology formed by Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner.

After 25 years of practicing individual psychotherapy, motivated by the theories of Jung and Freud, I decided to dive deep into attachment theory, and Sue Johnson’s emotionally focused therapy and specialize in treating couples who had broken emotional bonds.

What I have learned by working with couples for nearly 20 years is how emotional communication does indeed form the foundation for every secure love relationship. This foundation gets passed on to children and it has a profound effect on every individual’s relationship with friends and colleagues.

I have come to believe that secure attachment does indeed affect one’s view of self, view of others and capacity to effectively cooperate with others. So true to the saying, we do indeed find ourselves in the arms of another. We find our capacity to bond and work with others as we learn how to express our own emotions in a productive way and validate that we hear and understand and care about the emotions of others.

Human Maturation and Development

But this is not the end of the story of human maturation and development. Our capacity to connect with the world of others across cultures, sexual identities and religious affiliations requires a kind of intuition and relationship with life itself. One that exceeds the boundaries of our relationships with our spouses, parents, siblings, friends and work relationships.

Ever expanding networks of relationships on a global scale requires each of us to not be afraid of our differences. Instead to learn to cooperate and care for those who don’t share our personal identities and religious views about what creates transformative wholeness.

The difficulty we have in accepting the differences in others is an issue that reaches to the core of our own insecurity with ourselves. That which is due to what Carl Jung called a lack of individuation. It was Carl Jung’s view that the work of individuation could not happen until the second half of life. Only when the individual had mastered the foundations of forming relationships and career goals.

“Of all those who ever consulted me who were in the second half of life, no one was ever cured who did not achieve a spiritual outlook on life.”  ~. CARL JUNG

Consistent with Erickson’s hierarchy of needs, physiological, safety and security and love and belonging precede the development of higher level self-esteem and self-actualization.

The Wisdom of the Unconscious

Both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud believed that higher level self-esteem and self actualization was the work that the individual needed. And that work would be done by listening to the wisdom of the unconscious. Freud believed that higher level self-esteem and self-actualization was the work that the individual needed to do by listening to the wisdom of the unconscious.

Jung and Freud shared this idea. About 80% of what motivates us as human beings is outside of our conscious awareness. When we become conscious of what is unconscious inside of us we find a pathway for discovering those parts of ourselves we are disconnected from. We cannot change anything we are unconscious of.

A Spiritual Dimension

Carl Jung added a spiritual dimension to Freud’s theory. He suggested that there is a divine center in each of us. That in addition to our unconscious material there is a source of guidance for the highest levels of self-actualization and transformation. Jung believed that humans have the capacity to see the interrelationships of all human beings and of all living things. This is a higher order of love and compassion for the whole of creation. It exceeds the capacity to love from our human relationships alone. Jung called this form of psychotherapy depth psychology.

So in answer to the question “do we find ourselves in the arms of another? Or in the depth of ourself?  I’ve invested in the growth and transformation of my clients for more than three decades. And I conclude this. We find ourselves in the arms of another. And we find ourselves in the depth of ourself. That is the journey. A journey that will lead us to discovering a world where every living creature can sing its own song.

Hi, I’m Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. I’m highly trained and experienced in working with individuals and couples to find their peak potential in themselves and in relationship. Along with my wife Paula, I’ve co-authored Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. Let me know how I can help you live into your peak potential.

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