By Tulsi van de Graaff
How safe and connected do you feel to those close to you? Do you feel insecure and threatened or supported and cared for in your relationship with your partner, your loved ones or your work mates? If something is amiss, it might go deeper than you've realised.
I'm a relationship counsellor (amongst other roles) and I recently attended some further training in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) which is an incredible approach to supporting couples find connection. This approach was developed by Sue Johnson. One of the key aspects that stands out to me in relation to EFT is the importance of us as human beings finding safety in the couple bond and in other close relationships. The need for safety also applies to our workplace, where we engage in important and significant relationships every day.
You might have heard about attachment theory – how your early experiences as a child influence and impact on your relationships and the way you engage in the world as an adult. In an ideal world, as a child you would have experienced love, security and a feeling that when you reached out you were responded to and supported. Unfortunately, for many this is not the experience and in adulthood we continue to look and long for safety and security often to heal or manage those childhood wounds.
EFT highlights that the same kind of attachment needs we have as children we also have in relation to our close relationships. We need safety and comfort in the couple bond and our bond with close others and if we don't have this, it can connect us to our deepest fears and cause us to have intense reactions. These reactions can cause more disconnection in relationships even though the underlying longing is understandably to feel safer and connected.
Thinking about your own close relationships, how safe do you feel in the connection?
- Do you feel you can turn to your partner or your close loved ones?
- Will they come when you call?
If you notice yourself reacting, feeling angry, tetchy, unsettled or hurt, the deeper experience may be that your attachment needs in relation to the bond are not being met and you have not found a place of safety.
If this is the case, it makes sense that you might be reacting, that you may feel anxious, may withdraw, may criticise or attack. It can be difficult to know how to find a way back to the other person or to know how to manage those challenging emotions.
In relation to couples, there is often some tension around how close and distant each person wants to be. There is no right or wrong but understanding the underlying emotions and fears that exist inside of you, is an important step to creating understanding and connection again. In other relationships, personal and at work, you still might have those attachment needs and fears triggered particularly in circumstances where the nature of the engagement feels unsafe or threatening.
It can be hard to build safety without assistance and support particularly where the experience is intense. However, some steps that can help are:
- Check in with how you are feeling. Notice where you feel it in your body and the circumstances where you feel most challenged or threatened.
- Think about how your own experience as a child influences how safe or unsafe you feel in your personal and work relationships now. Developing self-awareness can help you to find a way to understand what you bring to relationships and the impact of the interaction with another.
- Bring gentle self-compassion and acceptance to your experience.
- Do your best to be clear about what feels okay and not okay for you.
- Work on communicating clearly and with gentleness when things don't feel right or comfortable for you and where appropriate, the reasons for this so those close around you understand a little more.
- Seek the support from trusted people, a coach, counsellor or other professional.