Saturday, 24 March 2018

Insecurities in Secure Attachment

Since more than thirty years, the attachment theory based on the research of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth belongs to the central concepts of relationship psychology and forms a crucial background theory for psychotherapy. This theory labels three types of insecure attachment and one secure style, which according to several studies around half of the mother-child-relationships can be attributed to. In this article, I want to differentiate the secure attachment style.

Secure attachment is characterized by the ability to keep the needs for closeness and distance in a fluid balance. Neither being alone nor being close triggers fears or tensions. Separation is not experienced as existentially threatening abandonment, and being together does not contain a drive to unresolvable melting.

Elements of Insecurity

Yet there are also secure attachments, which contain elements of insecurity. Probably that is true to all secure attachments, for there are rarely parents who can grant secure attachment to their children on all levels.

There is an interesting variation in the following example: Parents can use the security in attachment as a mental and emotional construction for suppressing their own insecurity in attachment. Security of relationships in the whole family system is held up with ostentation. This is often the case in relationships, which started under insecure circumstances on the outside so the founding of a family was meant to form a nest of security, e.g. during or after war or economic crisis.  People withdraw from an unbearable reality and build up sheltered refuges for regenerating life.

Still there is a price to pay: For the sake of security, individual freedom has to be given up. Freedom is considered as threat for this stability. In this system, people want from the others to be accountable, and this is why they try to behave accountable themselves. To keep up this in itself shaky network of reliable expectations, a lot of subtle pressure and covered manipulation is required.

Members of these systems are not acknowledged and safeguarded against loss of love because of their individuality, but only insofar as they adapt to given expectations. Parents demand from their offspring to give them a safety they did not have themselves – and all this happens on an unconscious level – and the children give in to this role, because they do not have an alternative, and refrain from self-centred aspirations.

Tribal Roots

This structure of sacrificing individuality in favour of the system as a whole is well known from the tribal organization of society. Tribal communities in early human history only could allow a small amount of individuality, as the social frame was closely woven and traded knowledge had to be sacred and unchangeable. In the course of history, new developments emerged, which broke the narrow confinements of tribalism and offered more space for individualities to unfold. Yet the remembrance of the cosiness and security of this early phase was never forgotten, and so it can easily be instrumentalised by different ideologies.

Ideologically Faked Securities

Interesting for the history of Middle Europe is the connection with the presumed security, national socialism and other fascistic movement have promised 90 years ago, a security guaranteed by an accountable racially unified community („Ein Volk“). As a precondition served ethnical purity, “one” blood without strange ingredients, so that any deviations from an unconsciously created consensus of “the people” would be impossible. This context explains the brutality, with which all that should be eradicated that was racially alien. In reality, what was threatened was not the “purity of race” but the safety of a net of prejudices and preoccupations, which was meant to grant inner security. Successfully, anything strange was equated with unpredictability, which was considered the same as dangerous. The efficacy of this ideology is evidently unbroken up to today and still attracts many people.

Subtle Dependencies

It is impossible to erect a functioning tribal community (except in the heads of right-wing national populists), just as there is absolute safety in family attachments. Under the guise of love and communion, often subtle dependencies are created, fuelled by the unconsciousness of parents due to their unfulfilled needs for attachment in childhood. The soul wants to get back from the won children what has been missed long before. The secure attachment, parents offer, serves the purpose of receiving love, which was absent in the beginning. Children cover this deficit and start to suffer themselves from the flaw of love, which can only be perceived on an unconscious level.

Yet the conflicts of emancipation in adolescence can be very grave in such cases. For the parents, the securities are at stake, which they have created via their children, and for the children, their own life is at risk. They want to retrieve their birth right of recognition of their true self.

Every soul wants to set free. Adolescents, who break out of the guidelines of their families, pay a service to themselves and to their parents to check the concepts of love and to define them anew. As long as love is mixed with dependency, there are inner forces, which surface in conflicts. When these tensions can be resolved in a constructive way, dependent attachments can be transformed into free flowing relationships. Thus, a deeper wisdom is revealed, that safety can only be found in inner freedom.

Further recommendations:
A Start With a Welcome
Developmental Trauma 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

A Start With a Welcome

When we invite and welcome friends, we see it as our duty as hosts to accept the people who come as they are and enjoy them as such. When children come to this world, we are enchanted and mesmerized (in case we are connected to ourselves). We do not even consider that this tiny being could be different as to how her/she is, in his/her perfect charm.

Whenever we set off with something new, it needs this warm welcome. We need the feeling that we get a place where we can feel safe and which can serve as a base for expanding into the new realm. We need encouragement and assertion that the new project is good and appropriate for us and that we are on the right path.

Even more so, this need is active at our earliest start, at the moment of conception. New life

is created, and as scientists have found out, the fertilized egg cell celebrates by releasing billions of zinc atoms to create radiant light. This is as if nature performs a firework to transmit the message of this terrific beginning to the whole world.

Yet not all future parents are excited about the new life that is coming into their lives, out of different reasons. So in these cases, a proper welcome is disturbed. As we know from prenatal therapy, the tiny beings feel how their closest environment reacts to their appearance – full of joy and excitement, or full of worries or even fright. Rejecting pregnancy, as much as it might be understandable from the actual circumstances of the parent’s lives, casts a lasting shadow over the young being, which he/she will carry on as a burden throughout life.

Especially in this fragile beginning, new life is reliant on safe and trustworthy surroundings for its survival. Yet this survival is in question, when there are doubts or fears in the parents concerning the existence of the child, equal in the mother, the father or both. Even rejection from the parents of the parents or other close persons can trigger fears of survival in the child. For it is totally dependent on goodwill and being wanted by its close environment. It does not have any power over its own fate, no capabilities of communicating its anguish and no means to cope with the fears of annihilation.

According to research in prenatal psychology, there are especially two moments in which such a traumatization can happen: Right at conception, when the fear of pregnancy is inherent in the sexuality of the parents, and a few weeks later, when the mother notices her pregnancy. Of course, subsequent attempts for abortion additionally inflict the growing life in a disastrous way.

A secure attachment to both mother and father is crucial for the wellbeing of the child. When the parents question the pregnancy, the parental attachment is severely compromised and the existence of the child is overshadowed from its very beginning creating feelings of unsettlement. This blueprint of unsecure attachment can exacerbate and complicate all future relationships. It can form a basic attitude towards life (not to belong to this world, having no place), connected with a strong longing for some magical place in fantasy, where happiness could eventually be found. Fears, doubts and longings are projected onto parents, partners in relationships and friends, who are declared as responsible for covering the enormous needs for security and safety, and usually they will be overstrained by these demands and will react accordingly. When little needs in daily life do not get fulfilled immediately, emotional dramas full of despair can be triggered.

Putative Welcome

Some parents tell their offspring how much they were wanted and welcomed. This can be good for the children and enhance their feelings of safety in life. Yet what does it mean when the children cannot accept or believe the message in the depth of their soul and still feel unsafe in their world? Every well-meaning parent also possesses subconscious motivations and impulses, usually without noticing. Children have a sense for these levels and the ambiguities resulting from them.  Yet they cannot understand what is going on. It often happens that the fears of the parents are suppressed by their feelings of obligation. It also can happen that children are glutted by unconscious expectations of the parents. There are strong urges in the subconsciousness of the parents to use the new life for its purposes. Unresolved inner conflicts, unlived endeavors, unattained goals and ideals easily get delegated onto the child. This tiny being is a rather blank page offering itself for the projections coming from the subconsciousness of the parents.

It can also occur that parents who tell their children how much they were looking forward to their arrival, unconsciously want to compensate for their own unsecure prenatal attachment. By doing so, they want to reaffirm their own safety, of which they lacked in their early phases of life. Maybe they want to tell their children that they are trying to accept them in the way they would have needed to be accepted by their own parents. Maybe they want to be especially good parents as they could not experience these qualities in their childhood. There are lots of variations about how to incorporate children into one’s own unconscious life agenda and to thus exploit them for one’s own purposes.

Unconditional Giving

From the start of their lives, children need unconditional love and acceptance from their parents for thriving well from a sound fundament: We welcome you as you are, and we wish that you can grow and develop in a way appropriate to your disposition and being, and we promise to support you as good as we can. This is the message, which grants trust and security, as a basis for further physical and emotional growth.

Free of ambitions, expectations, projections – this is how the welcome for new life should be ideally, and this is a high claim. For it means that parents have to relinquish their own egos as radically as possible. They should be aware of their claims. They should be attentive to all their unconscious tendencies to burden their child with their own plans, and they should give up these impulses. Thus a great beginning of life can be launched.

This attitude includes the further program for raising children – or for cooperating in the grow process of their offspring. This program consists in unconditional service, in giving without counterinsurance, in presence with and for the little ones. Children reciprocate anything they receive, but often not in the form expected by the parents. In the view of the whole, everything comes into balance, but only when the attitude of the parents they have to develop for themselves, is appropriate. The genuine remuneration for being a parent lies in the incomparable joy offered by the new unique being by its very existence, which is nothing but an immense ongoing present.

This is what Khalil Gibran shares with his famous poem:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Further recommendations:
Insecurities in Secure Attachment
Breathwork and Developmental Trauma

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Emotional Blackmail

US Psychologist Susan Forward has coined the term „emotional blackmail“ for describing a pattern of dysfunctional relationships, in which one person tries to control the behaviour of the other person by addressing fears and producing guilt feelings and thus enforce his/her own will onto the other person.

Emotional blackmail can happen in any kind of relationship: between lovers, parents and children, friends, relatives, but also in a working environment. Although it looks as if the blackmailer would be the bad guy, emotional blackmail only works when the victim plays his/her role. Both sides are controlled by emotional schemes created in early childhood, which shape the respective patterns of behaviour, so usually the blackmailer does not notice how he acts, rather he thinks he has no alternative and is right. Equally, the victim thinks that she has no other chance as to give in to the pressure to avoid worse things to happen.

Four Types of Emotional Blackmail

The punisher:
He tells the victim exactly what he wants and which consequences the other person has to face when she does not comply. He can play his role aggressively or by silently withdrawing. Yet his anger is directly pointing at the victim when his demands are not fulfilled.
The self-punisher:
She directs her threats towards herself and tells the victim what she will do to herself when she does not get what she wants.
The sufferer: He has a talent in finger-pointing and addressing guilt feelings in the victim. He requires the victim to find out what he needs. He assumes that the other always has to take care of him so that his needs can be met.
The tantalizer: She presents tests to the partner and promises wonderful rewards when he passes.

All types share the strategy to work with conditional phrases for enforcing their needs: When you do not A, B will happen. Or: Only when you do A, B can be avoided and C will happen. Conditions narrow the activity space of the other person, who then only has the option of accepting or rejecting.

Six Typical Phases of Emotional Blackmail

1. Demand
A partner in a relationship shares a wish to the other person and strives with all means for getting what he wants. Thus, the wish becomes a demand. Often the wish is presented in a way that it should also be in the interest of the partner and that it is indispensable for the development of the relationship.

2. Resistance
The other partner reacts with resistance as he feels overpowered or disrespected.

3. Pressure
The blackmailing partner increases the pressure e.g. by bringing the issue up again and again and by insisting on the fulfillment of the demand. Devaluations can be used like: You are so egotistic. Unconsciously, the intention is to produce guilt feelings in the partner, which could motivate him to do what the blackmailer wants. Another strategy consists in comparing the partner with other people who would act according to the demands of the blackmailer or who hold the same standards and values. Thus, the partner should get a feeling of being wrong.

4. Threats
When resistance persists in the sense of not complying with the demand, consequences are depicted as threats. Drastically is described what would happen, when the wish, which has become a demand, is not fulfilled.

5. Subjection
Some partners react with giving in at this point. Yet they unconsciously stay in resentment. They decline their will-power for the sake of peace in the relationship. But this harmony is shaky.

6. Repetition
The blackmailing partner is content and happy, and the other partner is glad about the harmony, although an underlying unpleasant feeling remains. The blackmailer has learned a way to pursue his aims. The partner has understood how he can put an end to the pattern of demand, pressure and threat quickly: By subjection and resignation. In this way, the doors are open for repeating the pattern.

The Emotional Atmosphere

Everyone has encountered states of fear, obligation and guilt. We all know many different kinds of fear, which all have to do with relationship in the core. As infants, we were dependent on other people to take care of us. So we developed fears, which should warn us for risking these crucial relationships. From there, the sense of obligation emerged, which has its constructive sides in taking responsibility for people around us when needed. But in its unconscious form, obligation feels like pressure and burden. Guilt feelings remind us of mistakes we made and of situations we would like to revert. They all have to do with hurting someone and risking a relationship.

In general, we have learned to deal with these feelings, yet in the case of emotional blackmail, these feelings get instrumentalized for a power struggle in the relationship. Blackmailers increase the energetic load and pressure by becoming louder, quicker and more intense, trying to overpower the victim, which tends to comply in any way just to return to a normal atmosphere of communication. The victim reacts, dominated by a FOG of feelings: Fear, Obligation and Guilt. This reaction becomes automatic like holding the ears when someone starts to scream. The victim has little chance to reflect and just can react – and this is the key to effective emotional blackmail.

Although it looks like a well-planned process, most blackmailers produce this fog of fear, obligation and guilt without being aware of it.

How to activate fears:
Act the way I want it, and I will not leave you, I will not scream at you, I will not devaluate you; but if you do not give in, you will have to bear the consequences.

How to address feelings of obligation:

•    A good daughter should spend time with her mother.
•    I am working day and night for this family, so I can expect at least that you are present, when I come home.
•    The boss is always right, so obey. 

An example for the dynamics of guilt-feelings:
1.    I tell a friend that I cannot go to the cinema tonight with her.
2.    She is upset.
3.    I feel terrible and am convinced that it is my fault that she is upset. I feel as if I were a bad person.
4.    I cancel my other appointment se we can go to the cinema together. She feels better, and I feel better because she feels better.

Stopping Emotional Blackmail

The victim of blackmail has to resolve the fog of fear, obligation and guilt. These feelings have emerged in the course of infancy as survival strategies; in grown-up life, they lead to the trap of blackmail. When fears are replaced by the power of self-assertion, when feelings of diffuse obligation become conscious responsibility and guilt-feelings are turned into self-acceptance, the blackmailer has no more chance. Either he quits his strategy, or the victim quits the relationship.

Literature: Susan Forward, Donna Frazier: Emotional Blackmail. When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. Morrow Paperback, 1998

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The First Breath and the Immune Reaction

After the first breath, the lungs changes stronger as any other organ. Before birth, the lungs do not have any function; this is similar between humans and mice. Though they are trained by various movements of muscles, which the unborn performs, they are filled by liquid and get their blood supply directly from the placenta, while the vascular system bypasses this organ. In the first breath, which is often connected with a strong scream, the liquid gets absorbed by the body. The lungs unfold and are fully supplied with blood from now on. In the next three weeks, the lungs develop to become what their task is for the rest of the life is: the central breathing organ. By the sudden stretching of the lungs and by the first scream, certain mediators get released, among them a cytokine, interleukin 33, which then exerts a strong influence on other immune cells.

In the maternal body, the lungs still are free of microbes. Yet after that, the lungs need a well working immune defense, for with every breath noxious substances and bacteria stream into the lungs. This immune system gets activated with the first breath in a chain reaction. IL33 is released and activates IL2-cells, special white blood cells, which invade the lungs. This leads to the activation of the most important immune cells in the breath ways, the alveola-macrophages.

The IL2-cells are important for keeping up a balance: on the one hand, pollutants should be rejected, on the other hand, over-reactions should be avoided. The IL2-cells reduce the activity of the immune system, which has the disadvantage as bacteria have a better chance to spread in the body.
The first breath can work more or less well. Labor plays and important role, but also the shock in temperature is an important trigger factor. Not all babies have the same preconditions for the kick-off of the lungs, Cesarean babies are disadvantaged.

This is the translation of a radio broadcast featuring the research work of Silvia Knapp from the Medical University of Vienna, from March 3rd, 2017 with the title: “The first breath and the immune system”, transcribed and translated by me.


Also this context demonstrates the negative consequences of Cesarean birth for the health of the babies. It is an artificial disruption of a process, which has its inner natural logics, here presented in the connection of the development of the immune system of the lungs. When this process cannot take place, important components are missing, which the child has to build up by itself in a different way later on in life.

The article seduces to enforce a well-known prejudice in one point: The stronger the scream of a baby after birth, the better for its health and robustness. On my enquiry about this point, I got this answer from the ORF redactor: “Mrs Ronzheimer has reported about the actual research project of Silvia Knapp. As far as she knows, the first breath and the scream connected with it is crucial for the development of the immune system of the lungs. According to Silvia Knapp, the immune system also develops normally in the case of a Cesarean birth, which is not under ideal conditions, and not as well as in the case of natural birth. Whether the scream is decisive, cannot be confirmed by Mrs Ronzheimer – the theme is the first breath, which is naturally deeper with a scream.”

Or course, a scream requires a deeper breath. Yet many experts on birth have the opinion that the scream is caused by an abrupt transection of the umbilical cord. Babies, whose cord stays attached up to the end of pulsation, usually start to breath slowly and gently, without a scream. Thus they do not suffer from the placenta trauma, which could be the emotional cause of the scream in the other case.

See the lecture of Susanna Hinnawi on "Lotus Birth" at the Global Inspiration Conference on August 5, 2017 in Hirschwang/Austria and the workshop on "Healing the Placenta Trauma" facillitated by Wilfried Ehrmann at the same event.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Coherent Breathing - Aligning Breath and Heart

Coherent breathing intends to promote the optimal cooperation of the nervous system with all major physical functions via breathing. By using the appropriate breathing frequency in a regular rhythm and with relaxed exhalation, heart rate variability improves consistently and measurably. This informs about the state of the autonomic nervous system and a good level of variability indicates a strong parasympathicus.

With the help of polyvagal theory, this book highlights the connections between the nervous system and emotional and social functioning. Awareness of relaxed breathing plays a key role for our well---being and for resolving inner issues in psychotherapy and coaching.

In this book, various other techniques and methods of breathing are compared with coherent breathing. It is argued that the latter can claim the position of a method of meta-breathing, as it can be combined with all the other approaches in breathwork and at the same time can serve as a role model for optimal breathing in daily life.

When we are looking for a way to more equanimity, joy of life and motivation, coherent breathing can provide a competent answer. Its theory is based on research on the physiology of breathing, circulation, nervous system and brain. It is easy and simple to learn and to apply in daily life.
The method has proven its value as supportive practice with many forms of mental disorders as well as with trauma healing. Furthermore, it helps effectively with sleeping disorders, panic attacks and states of anxiety.

Sportive people use coherent breathing for improving their endurance performance, and meditators faster access a state of inner peace and awareness with this method.

The book can be ordered as hardcopy, paperback or e-book.