by Bud Nye, R.N., M.S.
Why facilitate emotional change? From an early age we have all known that we would die: the ultimate emotional issue. Even so, it seems that most of us have usually avoided deeply, emotionally believing and accepting that simple, obvious fact. Now the prospect of near term human extinction (NTHE) related to global heating and ecological collapse forces us actually to face the certainty of death and the meaning we wish to attribute to our lives. For the most part, most of us have “successfully” distracted ourselves from these emotional issues using many highly creative internal and external processes.
Regarding this unfortunate predicament, among Doomers generally I have noticed that many people within support groups seem most interested in pursuing one or more of four main agendas: (1) provide each other, and non-Doomers, with ever more evidence of how bad we find things now, and how much worse they will soon become, (2) express their frustration and anger about all of that, either directly or by implication through insisting or suggesting that “it should not be this way” and “it’s awful”, (3) blame some person or group of people for creating and continuing the self-annihilation trap (thus presumably relieving them individually, for the most part, of any personal responsibility as well as creating a great distraction from the pain of knowing), and (4) lecture or otherwise give advice to others regarding how they might best spend their remaining days, often based on some philosophical or religious ancient wisdom.
So, we seem to have great interest in presenting ever more evidence of our self-annihilation trap, expressing our anger and rage, distracting ourselves, blaming others, and giving each other advice. I wonder: do support groups really want mainly to pursue those four and related agendas while we live our last days essentially in hospice? I, for one, do not. In an Emotion Focused Extinction Support Group (EF ESG), we wish to help people after they find that they have seen enough evidence to understand and accept that, yes, we really do find NTHE a near certainty; and yes, NTHE probably will soon kill us, our children, and our grandchildren. In an EF ESG, we wish to focus on the primary emotions (anxiety, fear, and grief) that usually occur when a person finally grasps the horrific nature of our predicament for us and other species, as well as the related trauma; though we may consider them in passing, we do not wish to focus on secondary, reactive emotions such as reactive anger. We want to live our remaining days in the most rewarding, supportive, loving relationships possible with both human and non-human others.
Even if, for various philosophical, religious, or other reasons a participant feels a deep sense of peace and acceptance regarding the unfolding horrors, they might find learning about attachment theory, emotions in relationships, emotional change, and practicing related skills, helpful in many important ways within their ever-so-important relationships during our few remaining days. Some of us also love the learning process and pushing ourselves a little bit out of our comfort zones in learning about and practicing these things.
Related to all of this, among other things I summarize here a number of concepts that seem especially important to me and relevant for participants in EF ESGs from several books, mainly: Facilitating Emotional Change by Greenberg, Rice, and Elliott (1993), Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors by Susan Johnson (2002), and Counseling & Therapy Skills by David Martin (2011). On one hand, the Tacoma ESG met monthly and quite productively for over two years without benefit of this information. On the other hand, armed with recent scientific knowledge about emotions, love, and relationships, in the Tacoma EF ESG we hope and expect to support one another in still more helpful ways. In my opinion, the section on empathy serves as the most important and most practical section for ESG participants both in and outside of their meetings.
Present ESG status
I think that we probably pursue the above mentioned four common agendas for three main reasons. First, we find it easy to do, especially given that we so often see them modeled by others around us. Second, and perhaps more importantly, for the most part we do not know how to work with the many messy, pesky emotional issues. Emotions, and love, after all, have remained a “mystery” throughout all of human history. Finally, we tend actively to avoid anyone’s primary emotions regarding the situation because we find these threatening or painful feelings too overwhelming. So we avoid or control these feelings in order to prevent or avoid pain.
Indeed, a large percentage of us—especially men!—do not consider emotions worth considering at all, certainly not in any scientific way. Or so that surprisingly common belief goes: we supposedly cannot, or should not, use science to understand ourselves. (Meanwhile, per John Gottman’s research, men experience stronger emotional reactions than women, and their related physiological responses last longer!) We can, supposedly, do much better with only the ancient wisdom found within various philosophies and religions, plus personal opinion. But expressing secondary reactive anger and rage does not help. Instead, this practices these emotions and the thinking that elicits them, thus tending to increase their frequency and intensity. Regarding the ever-so-popular anger, rage, and blaming, consider this quote by James Baldwin in “Notes of a Native Son”: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
We also find ourselves placing a heavy emphasis on various forms of defensive self-justification. In comparison, I see little time and effort expended in learning how to help each other emotionally, including how to help ourselves construct a sense of connection with each other and a sense of peace as the inevitable Great Dying continues to unfold at an ever quickening pace around us at a distance and among us. How do we best help each other with the sometimes overwhelming anxiety, fear, and trauma we have experienced—and will further experience—as well as our grief regarding the many present and coming losses? To me, this seems a critically important question that we might best focus on, discuss, and work to answer so that we might then behave most effectively based on those answers. This short quote by David Mace, April, 1987, in The Journal of American Family Therapy seems right on target to me: ”The hope for a better human future lies not in an endless succession of technological developments, but in a realistic grappling of the fundamental issue of the quality of human relationships.” I think that this holds true whether we have two years, 20 years, or 200 years remaining as a viable species.
Convinced of the near certainty of NTHE, I remain hopeless regarding the horrific outcome of the self-annihilation trap we have as a species constructed. But I also remain hopeful concerning the quality of our human relationships as we die. I remain hopeful that life can remain very much worth living during the many collapse processes now well under way. I also hope that this essay may help some people—people who wish to work with their emotions—to do so much more effectively.
Resistance to using natural science for understanding humans and emotion
I have based this essay largely on current clinical psychology and neuroscience, yet I have felt surprised to learn that a significant percentage of people have an aversion to the scientific study of humans in general as well as for learning about emotion and love. Concerning this, Susan Johnson writes these two paragraphs in her book Love Sense (my comments in brackets [ ]):
“…Two decades ago, love didn’t get much respect as a topic of study. No emotion did. Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, associated feelings with our lower animal nature and thus considered them something to be overcome. What marked us as superior animals was our ability to reason. Cogito ergo sum—’I think, therefore I am,’ he famously proclaimed.” [He proclaimed this with an astounding and insane reversal of the obvious reality that we first exist, and then, to some extent, we may think. We may think when and to the extent that our emotions allow that thinking to occur. He concluded that the brain acted as a kind of antenna by which “the spirit” communed with our bodies—quite similar to much religious thinking historically and today.]
“Emotions were not rational and therefore were suspect. And love was the most irrational and suspect of all, thus not a fit subject for scientists, the supreme rationalists. Scan the subject index of professor Ernest Hilgard’s exhaustive historical review Psychology in America, published in 1993; you won’t find the word love. Young researchers were routinely warned off the topic. I remember being told in graduate school that science does not deal with emotions, soft indefinable, such as emotion, empathy, and love.” [Note the recent date here: 1993.]
Regarding Johnson’s point that “When we cannot connect and we feel alone, deserted, or rejected a special kind of fear, a ‘primal panic’ turns on in our brains…”, where does that primal panic that turns on in our brains come from? It occurs because we exist as animals, not as Cartesian, disconnected, non-physical “spirits”. More specifically, we exist as mammals such that evolution hard-wired our nervous systems to respond in those ways to threats because doing so had survival value, not because “we have forgotten something the ancients taught”, as some might suggest. In my opinion, that cognitive, intellectual, philosophical thinking remains trivial in comparison with the fundamental, biological, neurological realities of our existence that drive us. But many people fell hook, line, and sinker for the false Cartesian mind/body dichotomy (an idea that probably goes much further back in human history than René Descartes), which, in an arrogantly human-centered way, places human consciousness within a godly realm disconnected from Earth and our “merely” biological, ecological origins.
Many people fell for René Descartes’ popular, human supremacist, but insane, philosophical proposition that “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”, or perhaps better “I am thinking, therefore I exist”. Cartesians view the mind as wholly separate from the corporeal body. Descartes largely created the nonexistent, red herring, “mind/body split”, which so many have obsessed over for so long and attempted to resolve. Meanwhile, little evidence suggests that any such a “split” exists. Thinking, the “mind”, and consciousness, occur as functions of physical, biological nerve cells with the complexity of the thinking and degree of consciousness (consciousness occurs on a continuum, not as an all-or-non state) proportional to the complexity of the nerve cell structures and processes. One might think that this would seem obvious: put a bullet through a brain, or otherwise kill or upset the delicate functioning of the nerve cells, and the thinking and consciousness radically change or stop. (Just take a few stiff drinks of alcohol to dramatically experience this.) But this obvious fact does not “take” because thinking simply does not drive our thinking, as so many people with ancient, strongly held, human supremacist beliefs often arrogantly wish to believe and demand. We now know that our mammalian emotions drive our thinking to a much greater extent. But that implies a strongly unwanted lack of human influence and control—a lack of human influence and control that clashes severely with many ancient, human supremacist values and beliefs. Even more than natural science removing Earth from the center of the universe challenged many religious beliefs, science’s removing human consciousness from the center of the universe challenges and threatens many people’s foundational, human supremacist beliefs.
I described Descartes’ ever-so-popular idea as “quite insane” because he got it exactly backward, completely out of touch with biological reality. We first exist as animals, which Earth’s biosphere created, and then, sometimes, we may think—if and when our much older and more powerful emotions allow us to. Our very slow thinking forebrains developed long after our physiology and the extremely fast emotional parts of our nervous systems developed. Our emotions can, and very often do, easily, instantly, and powerfully override our thinking. As just one of many thousands of possible examples of this, this statement probably includes every human reading these words: reading the “right” symbols on a computer screen or on a piece of paper will yank nearly every one of us out of our darling, Cartesian, rational thinking mode within about one tenth of a second. (And we see that drama demonstrated every day on numerous on-line comment sites as so many of us so often and with much glee, emotionally, verbally abuse one another.)
Some people believe something to the effect of “We need to move beyond the models of industrial civilization and draw on ancient wisdom. That means moving beyond scientific method and therapeutic models.” This puzzles me in that never before in human history have we had a powerful, empirically validated science of human emotion and love as we now do with John Bowlby, John Gottman, Susan Johnson and colleague’s attachment theory and related research. Meanwhile, many people advocate moving “beyond” this by going back to the ancient wisdom of philosophy and religion based in profound ignorance of the world—and which have proven dramatically ineffective in preventing us from getting into our self-annihilation trap. Indeed, much of that ancient wisdom drove us directly toward and into the trap with the human supremacist views that it so often advocated, as well as its related in-group/out-group, sectarian violence, often killing millions. To me, ignoring modern psychology and going “back to ancient wisdom” does not make very good sense. All of this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, this one by Jared Diamond in his book The Third Chimpanzee: “The past was a Golden Age, of ignorance, while the present is an Iron Age of willful blindness.”
I expect that most people, by far(!), will once again strongly embrace many religions as the Great Dying unfolds around and including us, and with the same historical sectarian violence and genocides that have occurred continuously throughout all of human history. Meanwhile, in our few remaining days I and the Tacoma Emotion Focused ESG prefer to put our faith in what natural science tells us about attachment theory, emotions, and how best to produce and maintain rewarding human bonding in the face of the gathering massive fear, anxiety, trauma, and grief. Convinced of the near certainty of NTHE, I remain hopeless regarding the horrific outcome of our self-annihilation trap. On the other hand, I also remain hopeful concerning the quality of our human relationships as we die. I remain hopeful that life can remain very much worth living in some of the most humanly rewarding ways during the many collapse processes now well under way.
Different ESGs will, of course, do different things. I expect that soon we will have Buddhist ESGs, Methodist ESGs, and Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic ESGs, among many others. I expect that many ESGs will find themselves grappling with the question about the extent to which they want religion to play a role in their activities, versus science—or their particular version of their particular religion.
Given that we have lost so much control over our lives as a result of our society’s often insane use of science and technology, and given that we have suffered so much in so many critically important, human ways as a result—not to mention the losses of so many other species and Earth’s biosphere—I expect that many people resist accepting the validity of using natural science to learn about ourselves mainly out of fear of further loss of control and still more pain in our lives and relationships. And so many prefer, and will prefer in the future, to throw the natural scientific baby out with the bath water.
As suggested earlier, I think an important philosophical barrier—which relates directly to some deep, powerful, primary emotions—also stops many people from valuing the many contributions that natural science has made to our understanding ourselves. Just as it clashed in the past with a number of religions, perhaps especially Catholicism, what we learn through natural science often clashes severely with many of today’s most deeply cherished, extremely popular, human supremacist, religious and philosophical beliefs, including the ideas that: (1) the universe presumably possesses a human-like consciousness or spirit, (2) human consciousness “taps into” this universal consciousness or spirit, and (3) human consciousness plays an important role in the universe and its alleged consciousness or spirit, at least on Earth. For sure, to the best of our knowledge the energy we study in physics, chemistry and biology permeates the universe in many different storage and transfer modes, and many questions remain unanswered concerning that energy. In contrast with this physical energy, we have no evidence of the presence of any “consciousness” or “spirit”. Certainly, people can believe these and similar ideas, which attribute central and powerful roles and influences to humans, if they find it comforting to do so. But many of the findings of psychology, neuroscience, biology, and ecology tend strongly to fail to support these cherished, human-centered, human supremacist beliefs. Sensing this clash and its failure to support their favored views, many people strongly deny the validity of natural science in studying humans. (For a discussion of the critical role energy plays in our existence, see my essay “What ‘Purpose’ Do I have?” posted at Nature Bats Last here under “Bits from Reese Jones and Bud Nye, and an Idea from Daniel Drumright”: https://guymcpherson.com/2014/07/bits-from-reese-jones-and-bud-nye-and-an-idea-from-daniel-drumright/)
As Descartes proposed several hundred years ago, many of us want to believe that what we humans think and feel play a critical, God-like role in the universe. Meanwhile, much scientific evidence suggests otherwise. The clash between these ideas within a person can produce massive, painful cognitive dissonance. In the face of such cognitive dissonance, most people, most of the time, will resort to any self-justification and rationalization processes necessary to resolve the dissonance. Regarding the nature of cognitive dissonance and how people commonly respond to it, see Mistakes Were Made (but not by ME) by Tavris and Aronson (2007), Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan (2011), and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel prize-winning (in economics) psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2011). Regarding the optimistic nature of many human-centered, human supremacist beliefs, also see Bright-Sided, How Positive Thinking Is UNDERMINING America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2009).
Six fundamental, universal emotions
I confess that for a number of reasons I love rational argument. Unfortunately, much psychology and several decades of Physics Education Research make it clear that the (naïve) idea that rational argument changes, or “educates” people in important ways serves as one of the least rational reasons for arguing rationally! Why? Because it turns out that cognitive reasoning has little to do with motivating us in comparison with other processes. If reasoning does not strongly motivate us, then what does? Our emotions do. The word emotion comes from the Latin word emovere, to move. We talk of getting “moved” by our emotions, we find ourselves “moved” when those we love show their deepest feelings for us. If two people connect, they indeed let their emotions move them into new ways of responding to each other.
We best see emotions as adaptive action tendencies that occur as a result of automatic appraisals we make of situations that involve our basic survival concerns. Critically, emotion expression communicates with others and regulates social interaction. Emotion occurs as a complex combination of three different but related processes: primary sensation and physiology (affect), motivation related to needs and concerns, and thinking in the form of appraisals.
Primary affect signals to us in non-cognitive, physiological ways that differ from how we process cognitive, symbolic information. We do not need to cognitively interpret a clear affect signal; it automatically provides meaning and organizes action within us. Our bodies appraise the signal very quickly and directly. This has great survival value for us because it rapidly influences our behavior without relying on conceptual processing, which takes much more time. For example, if a snake strikes at us, in less than one-tenth of a second we will automatically jump to avoid it with no thinking, appraisal, or choice, involved. (Try this at a zoo sometime with a dangerous snake behind a glass wall. You will find that you cannot not jump when it strikes.) So, our primary affects occur in rapid, non-symbolic ways that guide action without requiring complex inferential processes. They work as an in-wired evolutionarily older method of controlling action, with rapid, often effective results without our knowing the reason. Yet, they also remain tied to the information processing parts of our brain, and from these primary affects come complex emotions.
Emotional experience occurs when we integrate affect and resulting action with our thinking about them. We automatically produce our emotions, but to experience them with some conscious awareness we need to symbolize those feelings in our awareness by attending to them and symbolizing them. So our emotional states occur with different degrees of awareness for us. No longer can we think of cognition and emotion as distinct and separate as many have done in the past. In general, we find much thought steeped in feeling; and thoughts have personally relevant meanings for us only when accompanied by feelings. On the other hand, we find feelings laden with thinking, involving among other processes attention and evaluation. We now see human functioning in a way that transcends the false dichotomy between reason and emotion while keeping a perspective on the difference in nature and function between emotion and cognition. Clearly, we cannot consider thinking as inherently rational, nor emotion inherently irrational. Rather than a model that sees thinking and feeling as a dichotomy, we now have a model in which thinking and feeling encounter each other within a dialectical process (described below) that synthesizes them, integrating knowing and acting into a merged sense of self and situation.
The scientific work of Paul Ekman, discussed in his book Emotions Revealed, 2003, and others, shows that humans experience six fundamental emotions displayed universally among all human cultures world-wide: sadness, anger, enjoyment, fear, disgust, and surprise. We communicate these emotions mainly through facial expressions, but also through other forms of body language as well as tone of voice. Communicating emotions plays a critical survival role for us and many other species. Many other emotions occur as complex blends of these fundamental emotions. (For a scientific introduction to the study of sadness and grief, versus the popular, non-scientific Kübler-Ross model, see The Other Side of Sadness by George Bonanno, 2009. For an introduction to the protective nature of fear, see The Gift of Fear, and Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin De Becker, 1997.)
Importantly, we can experience and display emotions in three different ways: as primary, secondary (reactive), or instrumental emotions. Primary emotions occur at the initial, physiological, gut-level stemming from our immediate surroundings. Primary emotions have importance because they tell us what we really have going on for us inside ourselves. Typical primary emotions include sadness, fear, anger, joy, shame, excitement, and surprise. The key regarding these involves slowing down and making sense of the incoming new meaning that the emotions suggest for us. Our primary emotional responses happen naturally for us for a reason: to provide us with extremely important information!
When most people talk about emotion, they usually refer to secondary, or reactive, emotions, which follow primary emotions. We have most awareness of our secondary, reactive emotions. Whereas primary emotion fires immediately, within about one-fifth of a second, and gives us helpful guidance, secondary emotions occur as a reaction to our primary emotions with a significant time delay from seconds to minutes, hours, or days, based on our thinking—the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences. Typical secondary emotions include anger, frustration, guilt, shame, and defensiveness.
Instrumental emotion involves what we show others but do not feel: emotions we use in an attempt to manipulate and control others. For example, as a high school teacher I sometimes used anger instrumentally. On those occasions I consciously led students to believe that I felt angry when I did not. (I also sometimes felt and expressed secondary, reactive anger—and I felt great concern about that on the few occasions when it happened(!) because of its relatively “out of control” nature.)
Emotional experience and schemes
The concept of cognitive and emotional schemes strike me as a difficult but important idea for participants in an EF ESG to at least begin to understand in order most effectively to help each other. Why? Because emotion schemes mainly produce the emotional states of adults. These non-conscious, self-organized states serve to organize the person for action and they have an influence on cognitive processing. A person automatically and unconsciously produces their emotions, but to consciously experience them, one must symbolize them in awareness. Whether we consciously experience these states then depends on whether we attend to and symbolize them. So, emotional states can occur with differing degrees of awareness. As Greenberg, Rice and Elliot put it in Facilitating Emotional Change, they may occur in these ways: “present but currently out of awareness; present but only partially in awareness; present and experienced but not symbolized verbally; experienced and clearly symbolized; and, finally, experienced, symbolized, and understood fully in terms of perceptions, meanings, and the associated action tendencies, needs, or desires.”
This idea of different levels of processing and awareness suggests that we cannot separate emotions from thinking, and that, rather than focusing on whether emotion and thinking occur independently, it proves much more important to focus on how different aspects of emotion involve thinking and how non-conscious schemes complexly integrate information from different sources to form feelings. Thus we always find our thoughts steeped in feelings and we can separate affect and thinking only for theoretical purposes or only in extreme cases of lived experiences, such as when affect becomes chemically or electrically stimulated. Important regarding the prospect of NTHE, personal meaning, then, depends essentially on affect.
Affect thus serves as a core part of the human self, establishes links between self and environment, and organizes self-experience. In this sense emotions ultimately serve as the meeting place of mind, body, environment, culture, and behavior. “They can bring together in conscious experience various physiological and hormonal changes, appraisals of the self and situation, memories, cultural rules, and characteristic expressions and behaviors.” Awareness of the complex interactions of feeling and action tendencies has crucial importance for emotional change because they give us information about our reactions to situations related to our biological and social survival and well-being. Again, no longer can we think of cognition and emotion as distinct and separate. In general we find much thought steeped in feeling, and thoughts only have personally relevant meanings for us when accompanied by feelings. On the other hand, we find feelings containing much cognition, among other processes including allocation of attention and automatic evaluation.
Now we can look at human functioning in a way that transcends the old, false dichotomy between reason and emotion while retaining a perspective on the difference in nature and function between emotion and cognition. Clearly, cognition does not occur in an inherently rational way, nor does emotion occur in an inherently irrational way. Instead, we find the two processes intertwined in complex ways that enhance human functioning. As Daniel Kahneman observes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, we need to utilize both our rapid action emotion processes and our slower cognitive knowing processes to guide adaptive action in complex interpersonal environments. Instead of a model that dichotomizes thinking and feeling, we now have a model in which thinking and feeling encounter each other and through a non-conscious dialectical process, discussed below, their synthesis occurs. This integrates knowing and acting into a unified sense of self and situation.
A theory of knowledge (epistemology) and emotional change theory
This essay rests on a dialectical constructivist theory of knowledge. With this dialectical constructivist theory of knowledge we see people engaged in exploration processes in the world and within themselves. This exploration often leads to their encountering “opposites” and contradictions, which in turn leads to their constructing new views of the world and themselves in it. People integrate perceived opposites through a dialectic process. (“Dialectical” means integrating apparent opposites.) We see people continually engaged in a process of non-consciously constructing their reality by synthesizing two different, perhaps contradictory sources of experience. Within our brains, opposing parts, when brought together, automatically and non-consciously produce transformation. New and surprising changes occur automatically within a person—without any external direction, instruction, or interpretation as a result of this non-conscious, dialectical synthesis. Again, this occurs automatically.
As in life in general, in ESG meetings this dialectical constructive process involves each participant individually constructing meaning from two sources: their immediate experience and their previously constructed cognitive views of what they expect of that experience. In this process, contradictions between one’s concepts or explanations about how things supposedly “are”, or “ought to be”, and one’s immediate experience of the actual reality that exists outside of one’s head, or a contradiction between two strongly held beliefs within one’s thinking, (Leon Festinger’s “cognitive dissonance”) constitute a source of great emotional distress. With all of this, self-referenced conceptual thinking processes provide explanations, while emotion schemes provide immediate reactions to experiences in the world. The dialectical synthesis of these different and sometimes contradictory sources of experience, synthesis of what people often refer to as thoughts and emotion, or the “head” and the “heart”, ultimately determines our holistic lived experience.
From a dialectical constructivist view we do not claim that experience occurs simply as a given in purely descriptive ways. That leaves unexplained the constructive process by which we bring forth into conscious experience and symbolize “what is”. Also this view does not fall into the deterministic trap of presupposing the existence of alleged psychic contents that determine existence, as some dynamic approaches do. Instead, it assumes only the operation of a set of processes that can generate any internal realities. This view results in each person respecting every other person as the expert on the contents of their own experience. A dialectical constructivist position also does not assume that behavior occurs lawfully governed either by stimuli or by thought alone, as do some behavioral and cognitive approaches but, instead, that the dialectical synthesis of concept and experience determines behavior.
In this view, therefore, a dialectical process of synthesizing, or actively exploring contradictions between concepts and experience, and constructing new meaning through a process of differentiating and integrating experience, produce helpful exploration and change. This does justice both to the reality of immediate subjective emotionally based experience and to the active constructive cognitive processes by which people create meaning from immediate experience. Becoming aware thus occurs neither as a purely passive process of simply perceiving sense experience nor as a purely constructive one of radically constructing inner reality by imposing categories on experience to create meaning. Instead, we see experience as simultaneously discovered and created in a dialectical way. The dialectic occurs between the immediately sensed and the conceptually mediated, between people’s emerging experience and their previously constructed views. Thought and emotion both play a role in experience, and the dialectical interplay between two systems—one a conceptual, reasoning system, the other the rapid, adaptive-reaction emotion system—ultimately generate experience and behavior.
Much more often than not, it seems, both “experts” and people more generally want to lecture others, to explain to others how the world and people work in various ways. They seek a forum but, contrary to popular belief, telling people things does little to “impart knowledge”. That holds true for this essay. Only when we find a person proactively working to construct their knowledge and skills about a topic do we find language, including essays, books, lectures, telling, videos, and so on, helpful at all. Telling has little equivalency with teaching. We simply cannot “pour” knowledge into other’s heads. People must work to construct their knowledge. When, and only when, they do this work, language can help greatly.
As described above, conscious, controlled processing acts to create meaning by attending to and symbolizing what occurs both internally and externally. Constructing personal meaning then involves a process of continuously synthesizing information from a variety of different sources and consciously symbolizing these to form subjective reality. This occurs as a dialectically constructive process that requires simultaneously attending to embodied felt experience and to constructing a particular symbolic representation of it. This non-conscious dialectical process of symbolizing experience in awareness leads to constructing new views of self and reality. Here, language plays an important role in creating our emotional experience. Our verbal description—the stories we tell ourselves and others about our experiences—influence our feelings. “Our linguistic description influences our experience while experience influences and constrains our possible descriptions.”
In this view, we replace the idea of a structural, unitary self with a conscious, cognitive synthesizing function that draws on a variety of sources of information in constructing experience and can construct a variety of different “selves” at different times or even at the same time. So instead of having a single self concept and meaning for one’s life, we see people as constantly engaging in actively representing themselves to others and themselves in images and narratives. In this way people construct views and meanings of themselves in an ongoing way.
Attachment theory plays a crucial role in working with human emotion. For a brief summary of Attachment Theory, see my two essays titled “A Proposed Model For Near Term Human Extinction Support Group (ESG) Functioning” (https://guymcpherson.com/2014/12/a-proposed-model-for-near-term-human-extinction-support-group-esg-functioning/), and “Integrating Attachment Theory With ESGs” (https://guymcpherson.com/2015/02/integrating-attachment-theory-with-esgs/). For a very brief introduction here, Susan Johnson, an originator of Emotion Focused Therapy, briefly describes attachment as follows. Note how it relates directly to the prospect of NTHE in a number of ways:
What is attachment? In a nutshell:
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh,” he whispered,
“Nothing, said Piglet,” taking Pooh’s paw.
“I just wanted to be sure of you.”
An attachment moment occurs when one human being reaches out to another and says ‘Are you there? Do I matter to you? Do you value me? Do you respond to me if I need you?’ If the answer is no, we become absolutely jumbled because we are wired by evolution to respond with alarm. Isolation is inherently traumatizing. That’s why we call isolation in our criminal system cruel and unusual punishment. The Celtic people had a very dark view of life. They saw life as the fact that in life you stand in a dark, narrow passageway with your back against the wall while a dragon comes for you. There is no way out, and you will lose the fight. That’s given. We all die. So what is the point then? The only question in these old stories is how well you fight.
To those of us who see the power of intimate bonds, in couples and in families, there is a second question: the question of whether you fight alone. If another stands beside you when you face overwhelming terror and helplessness in the dark while the dragon comes for you, shadows are not so terrifying. If there is someone standing beside you that makes ALL the difference in the world! You can deal with the darkness better, the fight is worth fighting, and the dragon doesn’t look so big. Sometimes the fight can even be a thing of joy as, together, you defy the dragon. We all know it is better not to be alone in the dark and that connection with others makes us stronger.
With all healthy humans, attachment occurs as an innate and primary motivating force. This means that seeking and maintaining contact with significant others proves essential for human beings across the life span. In attachment theory, we see sustained connection as a survival imperative produced by the process of evolution. Dependency, which our culture unfortunately often interprets as some kind of pathology, actually occurs as an innate part of existing as a human. It does not occur as a childhood trait that we need to outgrow. Secure dependence occurs as a sign of health and complements autonomy and self-confidence, which we can best see as two sides of the same coin, not as dichotomies. Paradoxically, the more securely connected we become with significant others, including Earth’s biosphere and other species, the more separate and different we can become. In this model, health means maintaining a sense of interdependency as opposed to “self-sufficiency”—and this certainly holds true regarding our dependency on the biosphere.
Contact with attachment figures occurs as an innate survival mechanism, and attachment offers a safe haven. In these processes the presence of one or more positive attachment figures provides comfort and security while a perceived inaccessibility of secure attachment figures creates distress. Thus, nearness to a loved one serves as a natural antidote to anxiety and vulnerability. This seems especially relevant when we consider the high probability of near term human extinction. When relationships, including our relationships with Earth, offer a sense of security, people can reach out to others and deal with conflict and stress in positive ways, and these relationships tend to have more stability and feel more satisfying. When we have a safe haven and secure base, we have much more strength. Susan Johnson: “This sense of connection and closeness makes us stronger. It gives us more confidence. It makes us more secure in ourselves. In fact when we know that we have someone else to go to we sort of take it inside and we kind of internalize it and we hold onto that person inside and it helps us in our everyday life.” The issue of a safe haven and secure base comes up especially when we have any kind of uncertainty or threat inside ourselves, in our relationships, or in our world. (Consider here global heating with abrupt climate change, ecological and nuclear collapse processes and their related prospect of NTHE!) These uncertainties and threats turn on our needs for other people!
The building blocks of secure bonds include emotional accessibility and responsiveness. Meanwhile, we can have an attachment figure physically present while they remain emotionally absent. (Unfortunately, this happens with the relationship between most rich Americans today and the biosphere. It seems that most people experience little or no understanding of the biosphere that produced them and supports them, and little or no emotional connection with it.) Emotional engagement and trust in the presence of this engagement when needed proves crucial. Our strongest emotions arise in attachment relationships and emotions seem to have the most impact in them. Emotions tell us our motivations and needs as well as communicating these to others. They serve as the music in the attachment dance.
Fear and uncertainty—certainly activated by the prospect of NTHE!—activate attachment needs. When traumatic events, the negative aspects of everyday life, such as illness, or any assault on the security of attachment bonds threaten a person, powerful emotions arise. These experiences activate compelling needs for comfort and connection and activate attachment behaviors, such as seeking the closeness of an attachment figure. A sense of connection with one or more loved ones serves as a primary inbuilt emotional regulation device in humans, just as in chimpanzees, gorillas, and numerous other animals. This suggests the importance of support groups during this final phase of human existence on Earth.
The process of separation distress occurs in predictable ways. If attachment behaviors, such as making a request for attention and reassurance, fail to produce comforting responsiveness and contact from attachment figures, a typical process of angry protest, clinging, depression, and despair occurs. This will end, eventually, in detachment from the relationship. Depression occurs as a natural response to a loss of connection. In secure relationships, we recognize and accept protest when inaccessibility occurs, and we see separation distress as the underlying plot in the drama of distress in significant relationships.
Attachment serves as a behavioral control system designed to promote physical proximity to an attachment figure and achieve the emotional goal of “felt security” when an individual feels threatened, vulnerable, or distressed. Nearness to a caregiver works as an innate affect regulation device that soothes the nervous system. Evolution designed emotion deeply and automatically into us to tell us what we need and we now have evidence that attachment processes such as emotional attunement between a child and attachment figures, affect the physical development of the neural structures that govern emotion. If a child or adult experiences fear, but has confidence in the presence and responsiveness of another, they will expect relief and support. Fear, and the need to escape and protect the self, then does not feel so overwhelming, and they will deal with the fear cues effectively. (This holds especially true for traumatic experiences such as rape or warfare.) If distress occurs, created by the attachment relationship itself, a securely attached person has previously experienced interactive repair and, again, they will manage the distress in effective ways. Individuals with different attachment styles experience and deal with emotions differently. Securely attached people tend to openly acknowledge distress and turn to others for support in ways that elicit responsiveness.
Anxious, preoccupied partners always feel afraid of losing attachment figures, so they tend to have strong reactivity to affective cues and to amplify negative emotions by attending to them excessively. (This correlates with John Gottman’s negative sentiment override discussed below.) These people easily become anxious and angry, become absorbed in these emotions, and express them in an exaggerated manner. This style tends to both confirm the anxious partner’s fears and drive others away.
The awareness and expression of both positive and negative emotions become blunted and masked in those with avoidant styles. This does not neutralize the emotions, however, and arousal remains high. Indeed, the evidence shows that it takes hard work to suppress primary emotions, and the suppression does not offer an escape from emotional pain. These people express their primary emotions through body processes, such as tension and pain, hostility, and avoidance, such as obsession with external tasks and problem-solving. They inhibit their emotions and do not use them as a source of information about needs and desires. They then do not express emotion at key moments in ways that send clear signals to a partner. Susan Johnson: “Avoidant individuals avoid emotional engagement precisely at the moment when they or their partners experience vulnerability and need, often leaving their partners feeling abandoned and rejected.”
Regarding all of this, and related especially to global heating, collapse and the prospect of NTHE, Susan Johnson makes these relevant remarks: “Insecure models predispose people to selectively attend to and defensively distort information. The partner’s behavior is usually interpreted in the interests of safety. This is, of course, even more pronounced in the case of trauma survivors who have been abused in close relationships. …As experts on emotion suggest, intense fear exercises such tight control over information processing that it typically eliminates all parts of the perceptual field that do not offer an escape route. Intense, chronic fear reduces working memory, increases superficial processing of information, generates extensive cognitive bias, and preempts all other processing. …Secure working models seem to promote cognitive exploration and flexibility. …In contrast, insecure individuals respond more negatively to uncertainty and have a high need for closure. Avoidant persons especially tend to dismiss the significance of new information and to lack curiosity.”
“A sense of security with a loved one facilitates engagement with and the effective processing of emotional responses. It also allows emotions to be expressed so as to clarify a person’s goals and needs and foster supportive connections to others.” The four big A.R.E. (accessible, responsive, engaged) attachment questions include:
Are you there for me?
Can I count on you? Can I depend on you?
Do I matter to you? Do I matter to you to the point that you would turn to me no matter what? Will you turn to me no matter what, and will you put me first just for that moment?
Will you respond to me when I need you? Will you come when I call?
Emotional presence serves as the key here, and when people fight, the fundamental basis for the fight usually revolves around these questions.
Clearly, empathy plays a critical role in both attachment and emotional change. As the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty their heart.” But how does one actually do this? Most people find it extremely difficult to listen with empathy. And how and why does it help?
Wired into our brains through evolution as mirror neurons, empathy lies at the heart of interpersonal connection and engagement from birth throughout our lives. As a cornerstone of attachment, it creates the safety needed to foster emotional engagement within interpersonal processes. Empathy promotes engagement in ESGs in these six ways:
- Reaffirming and clarifying other people’s experiences
- Modeling acceptance of another person’s experiences
- Slowing down the often too fast exchanges, enabling people to process their experience
- Organizing different aspects of a person’s experience into a whole
- Comforting a person in response to a difficult emotional experience, and
- Helping a person explore the meaning of important and often powerful experiences
Dealing with emotional issues often involves some extremely painful memories, and most people find it much easier, and seductive, to talk in unemotional, cognitive terms. Regarding abrupt climate change, ecological collapse and NTHE, a person might say something like “It’s not fair that my children will have to experience the coming suffering!” On one level, one can see this as an accurate statement of fact about simple justice. But it remains fundamentally a feeling message. Our job, as sensitive listeners, involves bringing the related feelings to life in a way that leaves the speaker with a sense that you understand, on an emotional level, what they meant. You might say something like “Help me if I have this wrong, but I sense that you feel not just angry, but sad, and maybe even afraid, about their likely suffering, and your own.” In doing this, you have to do two things: you have to understand what they meant based on the subtle cues, and you need to find words to let them know that you understood. The purpose of empathy involves helping another person face their experience, to face what they feel and think in that moment but cannot quite see clearly. Meanwhile, people with an external focus may find it difficult to focus internally, and this might include both the speaker and the listener.
A person’s empathic responses strengthen another’s ability to “make sense” of their experience. The relaxed feelings of safety created also free up the speaker’s energy to focus on processing instead of on anxious defense. Together, ESG participants explore and “discover” each other’s individual and shared experience. Ideally, all participants immerse themselves in another’s world and use this experience as a reference point, facilitating their own ability to attune to and resonate with the other’s experiences. Importantly, as suggested, we signal that shared experience through facial expression, words, tone of voice, body language, and so on.
To effectively use empathy, a participant enters another person’s internal frame of reference, listening to that other person. They experience empathic understanding and communicate this to the other person. In this process, one continually attempts to understand and respond to another person’s perception of inner and outer reality at that moment without imposing some external view of reality, least of all the listener’s own views. Importantly, this works as a continuing process of actively responding in an ongoing manner, as opposed to listening for long periods of time and then providing a single summary type of understanding. This ongoing responsiveness creates and conveys deep involvement and moment-by-moment support for further exploration of hidden emotions.
Throughout this process, the participant neither agrees nor disagrees with the other person’s view but simply tries to sense it and accurately demonstrate that one has heard and understands it. They attend to the intended message that the other person attempts to communicate, listening for what they say with their words, tone of voice and body language, not for what they do not say, nor for some conclusion or picture that they can draw about the other person from what the speaker says. The intention involves understanding, not offering the other person insight or interpretation into something of which they have no awareness, nor offering some kind of advice. The listener thus engages in an active effort to understand the other person’s experience, and not in a passive listening way.
Empathic understanding does not work only as a process of setting up good rapport or engaging in a friendly listening process, though it does do this. Many approaches do this and mislabel that process “empathic”. Rather, in listening with “evocative empathy”, as David Martin terms it, one actually tries to get a feeling of what the other person says, take it in, and “taste” what the other person experiences in that moment. The listener then communicates this understanding and asks the other person to check against their experience. The speaker then corrects and extends the listener’s perceptions, and the cycle starts again with the listener continuing to try to get the feel of what the other person says. The listener keeps the level of inference about what the other person says low, although they do out of necessity selectively attend to that which seems most alive and poignant in the speaker’s expression.
Perhaps the most difficult barrier for most people in listening with empathy, but especially for men, involves not trying to solve any problems, not offering suggestions, not giving advice, and not making clever interpretations of what the other person said, which point to things the speaker may not realize. Most of us find it difficult not to do these things because we do them so often, based on automatic habit. Because of our unconscious habits we have no awareness of doing them. Most people will need practice with feedback from others in order to stop doing these things, instead replacing them with empathic listening processes. Empathy involves only focusing on listening to what the other person says, including, critically, noticing the feelings they express, and then frequently communicating to the other person, almost on a moment-by-moment basis through body language and words, that you have heard and understood them.
We have two main kinds of empathy: Empathic Understanding and Empathic Exploration. The first conveys that one has fully grasped the other person’s emotional meaning. The other pushes for further exploration of emotional issues. Empathic Understanding serves as the most important way for ESGs to create an emotionally safe, accepting climate. This communicates to participants that others value them and helps them fully experience and accept themselves. They accept their own feelings, trust their experience, and feel confirmed in their own existence.
Empathic Exploration facilitates engagement in productive exploration. It stimulates deeper experiencing and facilitates symbolizing new aspects of experience not previously in awareness. This guides the participant to focus on as yet unclear edges of their experience and helps differentiate their experience into greater clarity as well as integrating new levels of meanings.
With Empathic Exploration, participants enter into a process of attending to and symbolizing their own and other’s previously unknown experiences. This process has inherently helpful effects. Out of this internally focused process, markers of affective problems will arise that will afford group participants with further opportunities for empathic intervention.
Every human individual has a tendency toward growth and development, but growth and development require a “good enough” relational environment for realization. One of the critical goals of an EF ESG involves providing an environment that will evoke and support participant’s growth and development. Safety works as the evolutionarily most ideal environment for facilitating growth because it promotes exploration, and exploration increases the probability of discovering and generating variation and novelty. Exploration works in evolutionarily adaptive ways enhancing survival and growth. An ESG that provides optimal safety for exploration will thereby facilitate psychological and emotional growth. A warm, empathic, nonjudgmental environment best provides the needed psychological, emotional safety.
In addition to promoting exploration and growth by providing safety, ESG participants can help maximize these processes by focusing their responses on the novel edges of other’s exploratory efforts. This both recognizes and confirms the developmental thrust in a participant as it emerges and helps them focus on their own inner emerging experience and on what they as an individual find novel or interesting. A participant’s role in focusing on development possibilities of others works like that of a parent encouraging a child to take a first step. If a group member encourages more than another participant finds developmentally possible, like walking too early, damage will occur. On the other hand, if a group member prevents the developmental potential from actualizing within another when ready, like discouraging a child from taking a first step, damage will also occur. We need attunement to and matching of a person’s developmental capacity along with facilitating their taking an appropriate step. All participant’s roles thus involve providing safety, remaining attuned to, and matching other’s developmental possibilities as everyone struggles toward growth. An important aspect of matching involves acknowledging the risk of change and the pain involved in another person’s struggle to overcome their difficulties. For these reasons, in recognizing the fear of change it helps people to feel more confident and secure in themselves, and strengthens their ability to change and grow, to make supporting, empathic responses like “It seems to me as though it may feel really scary for you to speak up and risk others seeing you. Does it?” It always works best to make our empathic guesses in a highly tentative way, remaining completely open for the speaker to correct us.
Soft start-up and positive sentiment override
The work of John Gottman and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle over a period of 40 years with over 2,000 couples strongly supports the work of Susan Johnson, and vice versa. From a cognitive and skills learning perspective (versus empathy-supported, non-conscious emotional change, which occurs automatically), in meetings and in their lives more generally ESG participants can find two of Gottman’s principles of great practical use. We can implement these principles immediately in most of our daily interactions with others: soft start-up and positive sentiment override.
Soft start-up. Within the behavioral possibilities, relationships usually have two “attractors” or “basins of attraction” called “influenced steady states”. (This does not always happen, and more than two attractors can sometimes occur.) One of these attractors has a positive, bonding nature, and the other one negative, tending to push people apart. Both of these basins of attraction usually exist in a relationship in a fairly stable way over time (but they can and do change over time). Each of these steady states has its own basin of attraction such that our communication situations work like two valleys that lie next to each other with a ridge (the “separatrix”) between them, one valley or basin positive in nature, and the other one negative. If people begin interacting slightly on one side of the ridge within one basin of attraction, then, over time, the sequence of their interactions will tend to approach that basin’s positive or negative attractor. It works kind of like a marble rolling around inside a bowl approaching the lowest energy stable steady state at the bottom of the bowl. Start the marble rolling near the rim within a positive basin and it will probably get ever closer to the positive attractor over time; start it near the rim in the negative basin, sitting next to the positive one, and it will probably get ever closer to the negative attractor over time. (This does not always occur, just usually; and repairs or dampening can occur that may move the process from one basin into the other one.)
Notice the important and ever-so-practical implications of this in our day-to-day lives. It implies that the eventual trend a conversation follows over time depends strongly on the initial conditions: where the communication “marble” starts rolling from; on which side of the ridge it begins. Does it begin rolling on the positive or negative side of the ridge that separates the basins of attraction?
So, how one starts a conversation has a critical influence on how it unfolds. Do you start in a harsh, negative way from the other person’s perspective? Or do you start softly and gently in the positive basin from the other person’s perspective? I have noticed in blog comments, interactions among friends, and in ESG and other meetings that some people tend habitually to start harshly, whether they consciously intend that or not. Obviously, people quite often consciously intend a harsh start-up, for example by giving someone “the finger”, or exclaiming “You moron!” When someone does this, a high probability exists that the subsequent interactions will tend, over time, to remain in the negative valley and progress ever closer toward the negative attractor, just like the marble approaching the bottom of the bowl over time. On the other hand, if people begin their communication in the positive basin with a soft start-up, then over time the interactions will tend to progress toward the positive attractor in that basin.
To me, this seems an extremely important, simple, yet powerful principle to know and practice: We can all pretty easily learn to begin our conversations, give feedback, respond to requests, and so on, very softly, very gently, in ways that other people will much more often perceive as lying within the positive basin of attraction, not in the negative one. Given its basis, resting on a huge amount of observational evidence and strong scientific theory related to it, not just a hypothesis, I do not think that one can overstate the importance of this simple, easily learned habit in our relationships, whether communicating in writing, talking on the telephone, or in our face-to-face interactions.
Related to both soft start-up and NTHE, a brief Susan Johnson quote: “Anxiety and threat automatically call up the need for comfort and prime us to find security in another. If someone is there at a vulnerable moment, we begin to bond, and every risk we face together thereafter strengthens the sense of connection.”
Positive sentiment override. What does “positive sentiment override” refer to? Positive sentiment override occurs when a person interprets another person’s negative or neutral behaviors, including emotional expressions, in a positive way. Negative sentiment override, on the other hand, occurs when a person interprets another person’s positive or neutral behaviors and emotions in a negative way. Negative sentiment override looks like someone who has “a chip on their shoulder”—they display a hypervigilance toward receiving any slight or hurt, or even a neutral cue. So, when a person A develops negative sentiment override with respect to another person, B, no matter what the other person B says or does, whether neutral, positive, or negative, person A will attribute negative motives to person B. Gottman discovered that the overall nature of the sentiment override that occurs within a relationship discriminates happy from unhappy relationships.
Gottman also discovered that: (1) essentially all relationships involve significant amounts of negativity and hostility, (2) this negativity does not predict unhappy, unstable relationships, as most people had previously thought, and (3) the nature of the engagement process, largely negative sentiment override, produces effects toxic for the relationship in a long-term way. Emotion-based positive or negative sentiment override largely determines one’s response to an exchange, and anxiously or avoidantly attached people will much more often interpret an exchange through a lens of negative sentiment override. (Viewed from an attachment theory perspective, positive sentiment override will occur much more often in people who have a securely attached history and consider themselves securely attached in their relationship. Negative sentiment override will happen more often in those anxiously or avoidantly attached.)
Susan Johnson quotes
To end, I have decided to include a few relevant, thought provoking quotes from Susan Johnson:
- The mystery of love. “We really cannot afford for love to be a mystery as it was before. …the author says ‘Love is a mysterious mixture of sex and sentiment that nobody can understand.’ I’m going to suggest to you that if that’s really true, that it’s a mysterious mixture of sex and sentiment that nobody can understand, then we are really in real trouble as individuals and as a society because we count on our love relationships now, in North America, in a way that probably no human society has ever done before. …most people functionally live in a community of two. We live a long way away from our extended family, we spend more and more time working, and less and less time really building those interactions that were just part of life until the last little while. …So it seems to me that we really cannot afford to have love as a mystery.”
- The science of love. “What the science of love tells us now is that this desire to connect on an intimate level with another human being is the most basic motivating force in humans, more basic than, for example, the sex instinct, sometimes even more basic than reaching and searching for food. I’m talking about love as a survival imperative. I’m talking about love as a wired in, primary need that is all about how emotionally accessible and responsive you are to each other. It’s all about this emotional, what Harry Harlow called, contact comfort that you get when you actually reach for another human being and you know you matter to them and they respond to you. What we are talking about right now has the most enormous impact on mental and physical health. We’re not talking about love as ‘the spice of life’ or ‘the icing on the cake’. We’re talking about love as oxygen. We’re talking about love as something that people really need.”
- Emotional isolation. “Emotional isolation is much worse for your health than smoking or lack of exercise. What we know is that our brains are wired for connection, and when we are emotionally isolated all kinds of things start to go wrong with our bodies. For example the recent research says you are twice as likely to suffer from stroke or a heart attack if you feel emotionally isolated and not connected to the important people in your life. …if people with wounds get into a particularly nasty fight with their partner, their wounds take significantly longer to heal. …We are not wired to face the dragons of our life alone. We really are not. We do not do it well. There’s an old saying: ‘Suffering is a given. Suffering alone is intolerable.’”
- Skills and insight. “You can teach people skills; that will sometimes help. You can teach people insight; that can sometimes help. But the real issue is that this is an issue of whether people can find their way back into this emotional connection that they long for.”
- Attachment injuries. “Our brains are wired so that when we feel a sense of threat we instinctively reach for our partner. At those moments things get really black-and-white. If I have a dragon coming toward me and I reach for you, you are either there or you are not. My brain is not very good at doing ‘maybe’. …These wounds can happen in a moment. They happen when we really need each other and somehow we miss each other: a miscarriage; the death of a parent; a fear of a child being sick or injured; medical diagnoses; when somehow we just don’t know how to respond to the other in the moment. These can be tipping points in the relationship. These can take a viable, okay relationship and move into the zone where people get stuck in the Demon Dialogs and they start to move toward divorce [or other separation].”
- Bonding, collapse, and NTHE. “Anxiety and threat automatically call up the need for comfort and prime us to find security in another. If someone is there at a vulnerable moment, we begin to bond, and every risk we face together thereafter strengthens the sense of connection.”
The Tacoma Emotion Focused ESG
The Tacoma Emotion Focused ESG (previously the Tacoma ESG) has met monthly for over two years providing social and emotional support for those who understand the implications of what we see happening in the world regarding ecological and economic collapse. Very easy to manage, the group works informally, with rotating meeting facilitation, and balanced power among all participants. If anyone would like a copy of our most recent Agenda, recently revised to emphasize the focus on emotions and attachment theory, as a template for help in starting a similar group I will feel glad to send you a copy if you will send me an email request at email@example.com .
Recommended reading (alphabetic list)
- Counseling & Therapy Skills, 3rd. Ed., David Martin, 2011. Here, classic and contemporary research findings reinforce clear descriptions of the skills and applications involved in competently helping others. Includes a DVD with about five hours of excerpts from 10 therapy sessions.
- DVD: “Creating Relationships that Last: A Conversation with Dr. Sue Johnson”, 1 hr, 33 min., $25, ICEEFT, http://www.iceeft.com/index.php/hold-me-tight/dvds/creating-relationships-that-last-detail. A “must see” in my opinion. See other ICEEFT material as well, and many YouTube videos of Susan Johnson.
- Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors, Strengthening Attachment Bonds, Susan Johnson, 2002. Think about it: both the prospect of and unfolding realities of NTHE have an equivalency with trauma. Here, combining attachment theory, trauma research, and emotionally focused therapy techniques, Johnson guides people in modifying the interactional patterns that maintain traumatic stress while promoting positive, healing relationships among survivors and those they relate with.
- Facilitating Emotional Change, The Moment-by-Moment Process, Greenberg, Rice, and Elliot, 1993. This dense but quite understandable book provides both a firm theoretical foundation for facilitating emotional change as well as a detailed, very practical handbook for implementing the theory. The handbook develops six basic principles and six specific tasks. Required reading for anyone who wants to develop a serious understating of the power of a focus on emotion, as well as the methods.
- Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationships, Sue Johnson, 2011. Well written and quite an emotional read at times. Will help you understand why relationship problems feel so serious, and the deeper feelings underneath that keep people wanting each other while often driving each other away. Contains a set of love relationship tools that will help people have a long term relationship with passion, love and eroticism. Strongly supports John Gottman’s work.
- Love Sense, The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, Dr. Sue Johnson, 2013. This book combines wonderful insight, practical wisdom, and the latest science regarding relationships, plus the passion of a psychologist intent on making the world safer for the intimacy we all long for.
- Principia Amoris, The New Science of Love, John Gottman, 2015. Provides a fascinating overview of John Gottman’s many breakthrough discoveries over his decades of research into couple relationships at the University of Washington. Armed with science and logic, he delves into the supposedly unquantifiable realm of love and emerges with the knowledge that we can not only understand relationships, but predict them as well. Strongly supports Susan Johnson and colleague’s work.
- The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, Creating Connection, 2nd ed, Susan M. Johnson, 2004. This textbook provides one of the best documented, most substantive, and well-researched approaches to couple therapy, EFT. It offers a broad, profound, socially relevant relational theory with a coherent set of interventions and a road map to the process of relationship change. Like Facilitating Emotional Change, required reading for anyone who wants to develop a serious understating of the power of a focus on emotion, as well as the methods. Strongly supports John Gottman and colleague’s work.
- Transition Companion: Use an Open Agenda, p. 122; Working Groups, p. 128.
- Transition Handbook: Meetings, p. 164; Open Space, p. 168; Fishbowl, p. 173; World Café, p. 184; Talk & Listen, p. 154.
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