I wrote MenAlive to offer specific tools that were easy to learn and use, scientifically sound, and effective in preventing and treating stress that harms us all. The emerging field of Energy Healing offers many different approaches. After reviewing the field, I chose to offer four: Earthing, Heart Coherence, Attachment Love, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). If you’d like to learn about the other tools described in the book, send me an e-mail: Jed@MenAlive.com and put “Energy Tools” in the subject line.
When I first met Sue Johnson she had just completed a tremendous amount of research on Attachment Love and was releasing her new book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love to the public. The conference was held in Los Angeles and triggered old memories of growing up there. Like Johnson, my early experiences were colored by the pain and suffering I saw in my family. My parents rarely fought, but I can still picture my father’s angry eyes and my mother’s shaming whispers to her friends about my father’s inability to make a good living. Many therapists go into the field to try and understand their own parents, what happened to them, and what is happening to so many families today.
As I developed my therapy skills, it became evident to me that a lot of the problems people come to therapy to address have to do with their relationships with loved ones—a spouse, a parent, a child. It is clear that couples work is helpful, but working with them had been difficult and not always successful. Dealing with two people, two sets of hot emotions, and escalating fights, is not for the faint of heart.
Sue Johnson had similar experience, but has found answers that are changing the way we see ourselves, our relationships, and how we can help ourselves and others. Couples therapy is in the midst of a revolution. The key element in this revolution is the development of a new science of love and love relationships. As baseball legend Yogi Berra told us, “If you don’t know where you are going, you wind up somewhere else.” Without a clear model of love and the process of connection and disconnection, it is difficult to know how we can heal our past and have the kinds of loving relationships we want in the present.
The most recent scientific studies on love offer surprising understandings. They tell us that the nature of our emotional attachment with our partner is the foundation for the kind of love we truly long to have—a love that is secure, intimate, and gets better as time goes on.
In their book, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help you Find—and Keep—Love, Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller tell us that “dependency is not a bad word.” They go on describe the key findings from the new science of love:
- Your attachment needs are legitimate.
- You shouldn’t feel bad for depending on the person you are closest to—it is part of your genetic makeup.
- A relationship, from an attachment perspective, should make you feel more self-confident and give you peace of mind. If it doesn’t, this is a wake-up call!
This certainly wasn’t what I learned in graduate school when I was studying Freudian theory and being taught t psychotherapy for individuals and couples. I was taught that maturity means being independent and self-sufficient. If I felt afraid or needed to be held and comforted, I felt I was acting like a baby. I was sure if I didn’t “act like a man,” I’d have no chance to find a woman who would want me or to hang on to one once I found her.
I now understand that my desire for nurture and connection had been based on science, not sentimentality. It was one of those life-changing “ah, ha” moments. My whole life I had been putting myself down whenever I felt I needed love, touch, and nurture. I told myself, and others told me, that if I acted “needy,” I wasn’t a real man.
- “Quit acting like a child.”
- “Don’t look so defeated.”
These were some of the words that would cut me to the core and enveloped me in shame. I learned early on, as did most men, to keep my feelings locked inside and show the world that I could “take it” like a man without flinching or showing any weakness. It was truly an experience of emotional freedom to realize there wasn’t something wrong with me. The real problem isn’t our desire for emotional nurturing and intimacy, it is a culture that denies our real needs and teaches people that to be “normal” is to be distant and independent.
Activating Attachment Love In Your Own Life
In her book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love Johnson tells us how to understand the true nature of love and how we can all express it more fully in our relationships. In Dr. Johnson’s program the key to a lifetime of good sex and love is “emotional responsiveness.” The basis of Dr. Johnson’s approach is to teach people the secrets contained in the phrase “How ARE you really?”
- A is for Accessibility: Can I reach you?
This means staying open to your partner even when you have doubts and feel insecure. It often means being willing to struggle to make sense of your emotions so these emotions are not so overwhelming. You can then step back from disconnection and can tune in to your lover’s attachment cues.
- R is for Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
This means tuning in to your partner and showing that his or her emotions, especially attachment needs and fears, have an impact on you. It means accepting and placing a priority on the emotional signals your partner conveys and sending clear signals of comfort and caring when your partner needs them. Sensitive responsiveness always touches us emotionally and calms us on a physical level.
- E is for Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close?
The dictionary defines engaged as being absorbed, attracted, pulled, captivated, pledged, involved. Emotional engagement here means the very special kind of attention that we give only to a loved one. We gaze at them longer, touch them more. Partners often talk of this as being emotionally present.
True Connection: Using Your Attachment Love Tool
Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, is an internationally known author, poet, scholar, and peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. His view of love is not based on scientific study, but he offers simple practices that fit well with what Sue Johnson and other attachment clinicians and researchers have found.
In a wonderful little book, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart, he offers a simple, yet powerful process for expressing the emotional heart connection that can help us express our true love for our partner. “In Buddism we talk about mantras,” says Hahn. “A mantra is a magic formula that, once it is uttered, can entirely change a situation, our mind, our body, or a person. But this magic formula must be spoken in a state of concentration, that is to say, a state in which body and mind are absolutely in a state of unity.” He offers three love mantras that we can use every day.
- Mantra #1: Being present for your loved one.
When you are thinking about your loved one or when you are in their presence you say this simple phrase: “Dear one, I am really here for you.” When say this simple phrase when I think of Carlin, I can feel my heart open to her. It makes us both feel wonderful. Even when she’s not physically present this works. “Dear one, I am really here for you.” Of course we can say these little mantra’s out loud in our own words. I’ve often said with deep feeling when I see Carlin is hurting, “Hey, babe, I’m really here for you” and give her a hug.
- Mantra #2: Recognizing the presence of the other.
When you are really present for a loved one, you have the ability to recognize and “see” your partner in all their beauty. One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is to recognize and appreciate who they really are. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To love is to be; to be loved is to be recognized by the other.”
When we are loved, we wish the other to recognize our presence. You must do whatever is necessary to be able to do this. Take a deep breath in and release it. Do this several times. Then say the second mantra: “Dear one, I know that you are here, and it makes me very happy.” Again, we can put this in our own words. I’ve often looked at Carlin with tears in my eyes and told her, “I’m so glad to be married to you. Having you in my life makes me feel warm and safe.”
- Mantra #3: Being there when someone is suffering.
We’ve all experienced how good it feels when someone is there for us when we’re in physical or emotional pain. We also know how awful it is when we’re hurting and our partner is not there for us. I know I’m not a very good patient. When I’m sick in body, mind, or spirit, I often get irritable and angry. It isn’t easy for Carlin to be there for me when I’m like that, but that’s when I need her the most.
“When you are living mindfully,” says Hahn, “you know what is happening in your situation in the present moment. Therefore it is easy for you to notice when the person you love is suffering.” At such a time you go to him or her, with your body and mind unified, with concentration, and you offer the third mantra. “Dear one, I know that you are suffering, that is why I am here for you.” Recently Carlin found out that she had a small breast tumor that was found early and removed. During the months of testing, preparing, and having the surgery, I repeated this mantra many times.
I’ve expanded on these mantras and use a simple set of Attachment-Love practices that allows us to connect deeply with our needs for love and support in our intimate relationships. If you have a love partner you can use it deepen your connection. If you don’t have one, you can imagine the kind of person you would like to be in love with, or to remember a time when you felt intimate and close to another person. This tool draws on what I’ve learned in my own love life, as well as what I’ve learned from Sue Johnson, Thich Nhat Hahn, and others.
- Accept that we are deeply dependent on the love of our partner.
Close your eyes and take in a number of deep breaths. Slowly let them out. Allow yourself to feel your emotional need for your loved one. Say to yourself, “I know you love me and I need your love and support.” Remember a time when you were deeply and completely loved. If you don’t remember ever having felt loved so completely, imagine what it would feel like.
- Remember that our partner is deeply dependent on our love.
Take in and release a few deep breaths. Remember that your partner needs your love and support. Say to yourself, “I love you deeply and know how much you need my love and support. Remember a time when you allowed yourself to be totally open and loving with your partner. If you don’t remember ever having been so completely loving, imagine what it would feel like.
- Allow your partner to respond to you when you are hurting.
Take in a few deep breaths and release them. Remember that we often need our partner the most when we are hurting inside. Recall a time when you were feeling scared, hurt, or wounded and your partner responded with warmth and support. If you don’t remember ever allowing a partner to see your hurts and offer support, imagine what it would feel like.
- Allow yourself to respond to your partner when she or he is hurting.
Take a number of deep breaths and let them out. Remember that your partner may need you the most when they are hurting, but their hurt may come across as irritability, anger, or some other emotion that may cause you to become more distant. Recall a time when you were totally there for your partner when they were hurting or if you haven’t had that experience, imagine what it would feel like.
The Attachment Love Tool is simple and effective, but it isn’t easy to use. Many of us don’t have a lot of experience being emotionally supportive to our partner. We often feel inept and so don’t reach out to them. We may also have a difficult time allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to our partner.