“Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame” by Patricia A. DeYoung

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Subtitle: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach

Recommended to me by: Ani Rose Whaleswan

Patricia DeYoung says that although shame feels like a one-person problem, believing “There is something terribly wrong with me,” she defines it as a relational problem: Shame is an experience of our felt sense of self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other. Expecting attunement or regulation, we experience fragmentation instead, and immediately push that intolerable experience out of consciousness.

Shame is healed by right-brain connection, not left-brain reasoning and affirmations.

The book is filled with both lively client stories and technical psychological theory. It’s validating to know that researchers are beginning to understand relational trauma at a neurological level. It’s even better to know that relational therapists are holding this information about shame compassionately in mind while creating a healing space for their clients.

When our clients are able to feel their shame, letting the light and air get at it, we must stay honestly present with them. We have to encourage them to feel this most difficult emotion when what we want to say is: No, you are not ugly or worthless. No, I have never experienced you as selfish or stupid. Of course we would like to convince them that they are worthy, lovable persons. Instead, we must help them push through the language of ugly, stupid and worthless to the even more painful feelings of deep shame, feelings of not mattering at all to anyone, feelings of needing someone and finding no one, and feelings of disintegration and annihilation.

(Italics in original)

There is procedural advice for therapists: how to create a non-shaming environment, how to co-create narratives that include right-brain processing, how to discuss shame directly. Oddly, for a book about right-brain healing, touch is not mentioned anywhere.

Unlike many books that skip over the disorganized attachment style, this book addresses it and its “fearful chaos” directly.

The book also discusses mutual enactment, when client and therapist trigger each other’s deep shame, and yet keep working together with underlying good intentions. The mutually stuck pattern shifts not with dramatic insights, but incrementally, yielding little by little to moments of seeing each other more as whole people rather than just threats.

Highly recommended for therapists and others willing to wade through sections of psychological theory.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Other Wind” by Ursula K Le Guin

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I read this back when it originally came out in 2001. I remembered the overall story arc and the spectacular image of Tehanu at the end, but none of the details at all. It was great to have a visit with Ged and Tenar and Tehanu, but the characters felt oddly distant, not emotionally engaging. It felt like they were moving through their assigned parts in the repair of their world’s storyline, but they didn’t really have a choice. I did like the careful attention to the disposition of a cat.

Oddly, for a book by Le Guin in the 21st century, the main actors are men. Yes, women are involved and consulted and even central to the storyline, but I was left with the sense that they were pushing their way in from the sidelines, and the men were awkwardly surprised to see them.

Recommended if you want a visit with Earthsea.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson

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Subtitle: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Dr. Sue Johnson, creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, applies attachment theory to adult relationships, and everything suddenly makes sense. Attachment relationships provide an anchor and sense of safety in the world. They feel just as essential to our survival as attachment relationships do to children, so it makes sense we fight or flee when they feel threatened.

The seven conversations are:

  1. Recognize Demon Dialogues – look underneath for attachment fears, and see how both people contribute to patterns.
    • Find the Bad Guy – casting blame for distress
    • Protest Polka – one person withdraws, the other makes demands, in a cycle
    • Freeze and Flee – both people withdraw, and the relationship is on its deathbed
  2. Find the Raw Spots – identify triggers for attachment longings and fears.
  3. Revisit a Rocky Moment – talk through a past conversation that didn’t go well, taking into account patterns, raw spots, and deeper emotions.
  4. Hold Me Tight – emotional attunement, accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. Each person tunes into their own emotions and shares what they are most afraid of, and then the attachment longing that is live in that moment. Hopefully the partner turns toward them and fulfills the longing, creating a new bonding experience. The person who usually withdraws goes first.
  5. Forgiving Attachment Injuries – relationship traumas, usually involving some kind of abandonment, need to be healed, not ignored.
    1. The hurt partner speaks their pain as openly and simply as possible.
    2. The injuring partner stays emotionally present and acknowledges the wounded partner’s pain and their part in it.
    3. Emotionally connect around this, start rebuilding trust.
    4. Injuring partner takes ownership and expresses regret and remorse.
    5. Hold Me Tight conversation centered around the attachment injury – what is needed now to bring comfort and closure. Hopefully the injuring partner fulfills this.
    6. Create a narrative that captures the injuring event and how it is being healed.
  6. Bonding Through Sex and Touch – bring emotional connection, communication, and trust to touch and sex.
  7. Keep Your Love Alive – name ways to reconnect when a Demon Dialogue crops up, celebrate the positive moments, discuss attachment needs and issues, make rituals for separation and reunion, create an ongoing story of the living relationship, create a vision for the relationship in the future.

There is more than one gay couple in this book! And one couple of Asian descent. Women and men are individuals, not stereotyped caricatures. The client stories are realistic, practical, and encouraging.

Despite the pop-psych title and Overuse of Capital Letters, this book is solidly researched and makes a lot of sense. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

Also read Dr. Sue Johnson’s more recent Love Sense, which covers a lot of the same material, with more information about the neurochemistry of attachment. Oddly, she leaves out the disorganized attachment style entirely. There is an extended example of a couple repairing their relationship.

“Your Body Knows the Answer” by David I. Rome

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Subtitle: Using Your Felt Sense to Solve Problems, Effect Change & Liberate Creativity

This is a gentle, step by step introduction to Focusing, with exercises for each section and personal annotated examples of Focusing sessions. David Rome calls his approach Mindful Focusing. He explains how to be with ourselves in a Focusing way without a Companion to hold space for us.

It starts with GAP, Grounded Aware Presence. Settle into the support of your chair, or the ground if you’re standing. Notice the sights and sounds of your environment. Sense into your heart and breathing, right in this moment. I like the quick simplicity of that.

The second exercise is friendly attending, being with whatever comes the way we would be with a shy frightened creature, available, observant, warm, allowing it to approach when it’s ready.

The book continues with gateways to the felt sense (mind, body, emotions), and working with felt senses in the context of specific situations. The second half talks about finding actions steps, deep listening with others, and working with conflicts.

There are a lot of words about how to find a felt sense and how to interact with it. I’m still not sure when I’m in contact with one and when I’m in contact with something different (but what would that be). It seems to be part of Focusing for me to be uncertain if I’m doing it right.

Recommended for people interested in exploring Focusing, especially those already familiar with mindfulness practice.

Available at Powell’s Books (half-price on remainder as of 12-Mar-2016).

“The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk

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Subtitle: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

This book is intense to read. I dipped in and out, wanting to read it, but not wanting to get overwhelmed with the dramatic abuse stories that are included. There is a lot of great research on trauma here, lucidly and understandably presented. I was happy to notice that I already knew about most of it, partly because I took a two day seminar with Bessel van der Kolk a few years ago.

The one treatment that was new to me was Albert Pesso’s and Diane Boyden-Pesso’s psychomotor therapy with “structures”, where one person, the protagonist, places other people from the group in a 3-D representation of their internal landscape. It’s reparative, including ideal parents as well as parents as they actually were. The therapist makes witnessing statements and carefully tracks the physical and emotional reactions of the protagonist, helping them feel safe and seen. Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor Therapy

This book talks about the most extreme effects of trauma. Adults who can’t feel their bodies at all. Kids who act out and get treatment rather than quietly going to school. It also talks about intensive interventions by skilled practitioners. It feels both daunting and tantalizing.

At the same time, it’s reassuring in a sense. If I don’t have all those dramatic symptoms, maybe I’m doing something right all this time.

I had Opinions about some of van der Kolk’s statements. His organization focuses on treating traumatized children, because that gives them the most leverage. On the one hand, yes, that makes sense. On the other hand, way to tell a whole lot of traumatized adults that we don’t matter – again. My sense is that both are equally important, even from a leverage point of view. Those healing children need healing adults around them.

He also thinks research is more important than “deep, subjective resonance.” Yes, research is important, and I’m glad he’s doing it. At the same time, my body says deep subjective resonance is more important for healing.

Recommended as an overview of current scientific thinking on trauma mechanisms and healing.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“I Love You But I Don’t Trust You” by Mira Kirshenbaum

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Subtitle: The Complete Guide to Restoring Trust in Your Relationship

This book really is what it says on the tin. Mira Kirshenbaum is a couple’s therapist who shares both her own and clients’ stories to illustrate the stages of responding to betrayal and rebuilding trust.

  • How to evaluate whether the relationship is worth investing in
  • How to manage the anger which is a natural response to betrayal
  • The need for evidence that the betrayer cares
  • The need for the betrayer to see the situation from the betrayed person’s point of view.
  • Reconnecting with the good aspects of the relationship
  • Discuss root causes without (hearing) blame
  • Discuss needs and how to meet them
  • The (eventual) decision to forgive

The book is compassionate to both sides. Yes, big mistakes happen. They are sometimes not forgivable. The betrayed person naturally feels a strong need to re-establish safety, and may not use the most skilled techniques to achieve that.

There are no “shoulds” about leaving or staying. While the book naturally focuses on relationships that are worth rebuilding, there are also clear call-outs for danger signs, such as people who are power-seeking for its own sake, or people who are suspicious for its own sake, or relationships that don’t have enough good in them to be worth the work.

Small ongoing betrayals such as unreliability are addressed, as well as big betrayals like affairs or squandering shared money. Ongoing power imbalances can also be a source of mistrust. There is an in-depth discussion of differences in being open or hidden causing mistrust.

I winced at the section title, “Sleeping in a Nazi’s bed.” As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I am emphatically not a fan of metaphorical Nazis. But the author meant real Nazis! Her mother was a German Jew who survived the Holocaust, and brought her safely out of Germany afterward. When she went back to Germany to visit as a young adult, a sudden illness caused her to accept the hospitality of kind strangers who were admittedly Nazis during the war. She talks about how trust can make sense, even though we have reason to be mistrustful.

Sadly, all the couples in this book are heterosexual, and there’s no indication they’re anything other than white. And it was published in 2012! On the positive side, the men and women are depicted as having a variety of frailties and strengths, and a variety of relationships together.

Recommended for a better understanding of trust, betrayal, and relationship dynamics.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Voices” by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Recommended to me by: adrian-turtle on dreamwidth.

This sequel to Gifts is much more comfortable to read. Rather than being about households polarized and divided by their powers, it is about a harshly occupied city where the people are known for “having peace in their bones.”

The city-dwellers are people of color, and the invaders are white. In the 17-year seige, many mixed-race children of rape have been born, including the protagonist, Memer. She seems to accept her mixed heritage matter-of-factly, while hating the invaders for their killing, destruction, and ongoing oppression.

It is reassuring to read about alternatives to retaliation and violence even with such apparently evil invaders. Sometimes annexation is a victory, or at least better than other available options.

A woman wants to take a risk and a man (caringly) tells her she shouldn’t. She takes the risk anyway – and nothing bad happens! I hadn’t realized how deeply I had internalized the moralistic unhappy ending that keeps women shut up in their houses, until I paused reading at the argument because I didn’t want to read about the woman being hurt for daring to be out in the world. I’m so glad that’s not how it went, this time.

Gender is relatively fluid in this book. Women and girls change their hairstyle and clothes, and easily pass as men or boys. Perhaps it is a skill learned out of necessity, or perhaps the invaders see so few women, in such limited circumstances, that they cannot recognize them in other environments.

And, it is lovely to see the main characters from Gifts again, grown into kind, powerful adults.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Gifts” by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Recommended to me by: Referenced in The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture blog post.

This is not a comfortable book to read. At first it feels irritatingly simplistic and aimed at young readers, but with not enough happening. Then it feels irritatingly complex with not enough answers to hard questions.

What if the best we can do with destructiveness inside us is do nothing, hold still, for a really long time. What if we lose what really matters to us. What if the people around us are doing the best they can with their destructiveness and lack of resources. What if, eventually, there is less destructiveness and we have more options than we thought.

In her essay, Nora Samaran uses “Gifts” as an example of needing to look at something backwards, violence vs. nurturance. “Gifts” doesn’t talk directly about nurturance, although the two young people at its center are shown to be attuned to each other, and there is some gruffly attuned parenting as well.

An uneasy, thought-provoking read, with layers.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“In Quest of the Mythical Mate” by Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson

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Subtitle: A Developmental Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment in Couples Therapy

Recommended to me by: Robyn Posin

This is a carefully crafted book about effective, compassionate couples therapy, including a clear theoretical framework and practical suggestions for diagnosis and treatment. I’m guessing the title was created by a marketing department, because it doesn’t fit the book at all (to my relief).

Their framework is that relationships go through stages just as children do. The stages are named symbiotic (we are so alike), differentiating (how do we work out differences), practicing (turning outward independently), and rapprochement (turning back toward the relationship). The members of a couple can be at different stages, for example symbiotic-differentiating, or symbiotic-practicing. All the stages are important and valuable. The symbiotic stage is expected and helps create a strong foundation for the relationship.

Diagnosis is made through talking with the couple, questionnaires about problems and goals, and through a “paper exercise” – giving a couple a blank piece of paper and telling them, “This represents something very important to each of you. You have 5 minutes to work out who will get to hold it.”

There are a lot of case histories, including one lesbian couple and one couple with a woman of Japanese ancestry. I would have liked to see more diversity, although I suppose this isn’t bad for a book from the 80’s.

The therapists are perceptive, compassionate, and direct. They name inappropriate behavior, and teach their clients healthier alternatives.

Recommended for people interested in couple dynamics and effective therapy.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Crash Course” by Diane Poole Heller, PhD

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Subtitle: A self-healing guide to auto accident trauma & recovery

Recommended to me by: watching Diane Poole Heller’s teaching videos

This is a practical, easy to follow introduction to Somatic Experiencing as it applies to car crashes, with lots of vignettes and gentle exercises. It focuses on bringing in resources and supporting the body to resolve and release trauma. The tone is reassuring and friendly, and normalizes the symptoms and reactions that can result from a car crash.

For example, when did you first realize you were safe? What help did you receive, or what help do you want to bring in now? Even though we can’t change the original event, imagining different scenarios allows the body to release and complete reactions.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.