Our suffering is (a part of) us, and we need to treat it with nonviolence”. "We hold our anger in our two arms like a mother holding her crying baby". "Our mindfulness embraces our emotion, and this alone can calm our anger and ourselves." "When we are calm enough we can look deeply to understand what has brought this anger to be; what is causing our baby's discomfort"... (1999, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching).
Michael Thaden, MS
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Healing Relationships are deeply compassionate, respectful, and personally valuing by their very nature. They allow a true appreciation of the person's unique intrinsic qualities to be seen. Whether the focus of treatment is on developing effective Communication and Intimacy in Couples Therapy, supporting healthy balanced nurturing roles in Family Counseling, or facilitating positive adjustment in Life Role Transitions through Grief, Loss, and Trauma Resolution, Relationship is key. Relationship is what allows us to come to terms with, and integrate what has been overwhelming. It opens a path for balance and resolution of exaggerated defensive patterns, habits, and symptoms.
I rely on Mindfulness Based practices with Individual Therapy, Couples Counseling, and Family Therapy, as this allows a healing spirit of compassion and kindness to support the “mechanics” of what we know contributes to the cultivation of satisfying relationships. I am certainly one of many grateful contemporary Marriage & Family Therapists who utilize the powerful tools made available in the wake of brilliant clinical experience and research over the last several decades. David Burns (1991) has given us “The Five Secrets of Effective Communication”. Susan Heitler (1990) developed a wonderfully valuing, inclusive “win – win” model for working with highly conflicted Couples. Harville Hendrix (1992) provides a list of concise exercises for Getting The Love You Want beginning with the practice of "mirroring" to heal our childhood wounds. And John Gottman (1999) published the fruits of his twenty year relationship studies in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
We are benefactors of various rich healing traditions which encourage a compassionate approach and opening of dialogue with the multiple facets of our intrapersonal, transpersonal, and interpersonal experience. These may be traced to ancient roots in both eastern and western cultures. Modern contributors include Carl Jung’s "Active Imagining" and Archetypal Psychology, Fritz Perls' Gestalt Therapy, Carl Rogers' "person centering" principles of "mirroring" and "unconditional positive regard", Internal Family Systems Therapy (Schwartz, 1995), and The Structural Dissociation Model of Treatment for Chronic Trauma (Van Der Hart, Nijenhuis, & Steele, 2006). Mindfulness Based approaches such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (Linehan, 1993), EMDR Therapy (Shapiro, 1998), and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (Ogden, 2006, Trauma and the Body) utilize this same premise of cultivating present compassionate interactive relationships to resolve the defensive patterns of avoidance, projection, or dissociation from our identified sources of distress and discomfort.
Acknowledging and cultivating a consistent benevolent relationship with our Self is an essential ground for healing and resolution. Mindfulness and Self-compassion are especially accessible and user friendly ways of restoring our true sense of Self. Thich Nhat Hanh is particularly helpful in clarifying how we can come back to our Self and water wholesome seeds with practices of Mindfulness and Self-compassion. He demonstrates how to bring our mind back home to our body and reconnect in the present moment. He explains how our suffering needs to be noticed, held in loving arms, and deeply understood for it to begin healing. The practice of mindfulness develops a kind of increased tolerance for our painful areas, much like that of a mother's instinctual response towards a child's distress. Our suffering needs our genuine interest rather than aversion or running away from it. "Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgement... the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness" (Thich Nhat Hanh, No Mud, No Lotus, 2014, pp. 26-27).
I.F.S. has much in common with other Mindfulness Based psychological approaches and spiritual traditions which emphasize establishing a compassionate relationship with Self. Richard Schwartz refers to "Self" or "Self-energy" as a central healing energy characterized by qualities such as Curiosity, Calmness, Clarity, Courage, Confidence, Creativity, Compassion, and Connectedness. When we make room for our "Self" it opens and strengthens a healing presence which can reach vulnerable injured aspects of our internal system in a safe respectful manner. As we come to be with the various layers and aspects of our internal system it builds trust, compassionate curiosity, and helpful perspective towards extreme exaggerated protective patterns. The burdens we carry in the form of limiting beliefs and painful emotions persisting as legacies of traumatic experience can begin to resolve. Our sense of Self can shift in profound ways as we differentiate from the burdens our parts have taken on and mistakenly identified with as intrinsic to "us". D.W. Winnicott (1965) coined the term "False Self" as an Object Relations phenomenon resulting from the child's adaptation to excessive ruptures in the Primary Maternal Preoccupation we depend on. The need for consistent attunement with our primary caregivers is so essential that the ego resorts to extreme measures of accommodating by becoming what is imagined as necessary to maintain a connection. He becomes what the parent seems to need him to be rather than joyfully welcoming and "mirroring" his authentic being. This sort of early chronic relationship trauma is now being referred to as "Complex Trauma".
Much of what afflicts us as human beings can be understood as various kinds of "mistaken identity" about who we are and loss of connection with our true Self. The problem of being taken over by emotionality, extreme limiting beliefs, and distorted perspectives is what Schwartz refers to as the phenomenon of "Blending". When we identify with our own compelling emotional drama it's like an actor who gets lost in their parts. "Un-blending" of our parts from our Self can occur as we open up curiosity and take a genuine interest in getting to know how and why our parts have become personally invested and identified with various aspects of our experience. When Schwartz begins to work with clients he will invite them to find the part they are interested in working with in or around their body, and focus on it. This is essentially a mindfulness practice of coming back to the present moment in the body which helps our parts to un-blend from our Self. This practice opens up a dyadic relational presence which provides compassionate connection and builds trust in our Self. As our parts realize their power to un-blend, differentiate, and find their true place and connection with us, the healing presence of Self energy allows previously overwhelming aspects of our experience to be appropriately tended to and begin to transform. Relationship with Self becomes a way of welcoming and holding our most tender aspects in the spirit of unconditional loving kindness. "Turning it over" to a higher power in the 12-step tradition can be understood as an "un-blending" step.
Carl Jung referred to the higher Self as the "Self with a capital "S". He developed a therapeutic method called "Active Imagining" which involves opening relationship and dialogue with various aspects of our internal world expressed in dream images, art work, and sand tray play. Donald Kalsched (The Inner World of Trauma, 1996) is a modern Jungian therapist who has noted that Richard Schwartz (Internal Family Systems Therapy, 1995) developed an effective way of accessing and healing traumatized aspects of the personality. The therapeutic attitude of welcoming all parts of our experience is a central feature in I.F.S., Mindfulness practice, and the active imagining of Carl Jung. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to be with, and relate to what seems to be the "source" of our fear, pain, and suffering, clinical expertise in Pain Management and Cognitive Behavioral treatment for Anxiety Disorders continues to support this strategy (Stephen Levine, A Gradual Awakening, 1979, Who Dies, 1982, David Burns, When Panic Attacks, 2006, Peter Levine, Freedom from Pain, 2012).