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Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Hakomi puts much importance on the non-ordinary state of consciousness called the “inner child.” Sometimes it is more in alignment with the adult self, other times not (Eisman, 1989).

“The goal of child development is individuation, a sense of the self as a unique and defined being, with mastery of the functional skills necessary to participate in and enjoy life. What the child is developing is his or her own uniqueness. In Hakomi terms, the child is striving to attain its own organicity” (Eisman, 1989, p. 10). As children, to attain individuation, we need unity with our caregivers. “Experiences that support our self-respect and individuation create positive core beliefs. Experiences that violate us create limiting core beliefs” (p. 11).

Experiences evoked in therapy frequently relate to early childhood. Through these experiences, the inner child can express herself. This expression happens spontaneously as a consciousness shift and emerges through an “influence of emotionally charged memories.”

“In remembering the feelings and events of childhood, we remember also the consciousness of childhood,” which is “another non-ordinary state of consciousness” (Ron Kurtz, 1990, p. 131). The child can and often does appear spontaneously in psychotherapy, and the therapist can assist it in emerging (p. 133).

Experiences learned in one state of consciousness might be hard to access from a different state of consciousness. Thus, a child who had early experiences, “was in a much different state of consciousness than the adult” she became. So much so that many adults have “difficulty remembering what they were like” as children. But it was “the child’s experiences that created the core material,” which influences adult present time experiences (p. 132).

Ideally, the individual in a “child state of consciousness” has not lost her connection to the present time situation, and the child she was and the adult she is are both present simultaneously (p. 132). As such, this could provide an opportunity to do some integration by helping a client relive painful experiences, watch them at the same time, understand the history, and combine “the emotional intensity of childhood with the reasoning capabilities of an adult” (p. 132).

The inner child and her experiences built her worldview and self-image, so by making contact and working with that child, you have the option of changing that worldview and self-image. Just by being there with her, by talking to her and explaining things, by being careful, patient, and concerned, just by doing that, you help change the way she feels about herself and the world. And by doing that, you help change the adult as well (Kurtz, 1990).

“Child consciousness may feel like part of an integrated life, or it can appear to limit and sabotage a satisfying adult life” (Morgan, 2015, p. 204). Some people can have child aspects that dominate their “adult self in present time,” and thus, they may seem childish, “too emotional, or overly dependent on others” (p. 205).


References

Eisman, J. (1989). The child state of consciousness and the formation of the self. Hakomi Forum, (7), 10-15.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Hacking the Heat Waves

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Most of us are not at our best in uncomfortably hot weather. We tend to feel more irritable, tired, or restless. And no one would blame us — the heat can be truly unbearable.

Studies have revealed the psychology of how heat can affect our mood, for better or worse. According to Psych Central, heat waves have been found to increase depression and aggression, and humidity lowers concentration and energy (Grohol). With summer on its way, let’s be mindful of ways to be mentally healthy in the heat.

Here are some simple actions we can take to cope with hot weather: 

Notice your feelings.

Take a moment to think about how temperatures affect your mood (Nyamora). Pay attention to how you are feeling. Do not ignore your feelings, especially when it’s hot out.

Catch yourself before you act.

Half the battle is catching yourself when you feel your mood is being affected by the weather. Take a moment to pause and take some deep breaths. If you can stop yourself before acting out and saying or doing something you might regret, you will feel better in the long run.

Practice self care.

Stay hydrated, in air conditioning, and out of the heat as much as possible. 

Plan your day around the heat waves.

If you know the weather is going to be hot, run errands and exercise when it’s cooler.

Remember to be mindful of your needs and attitude all year round, but be especially careful when it’s hot. It takes little effort to ensure you are doing your best to remain healthy and positive, even when nature gets in the way. On the positive side, hot weather can make swimming and indoor activities feel even nicer! It doesn’t take much to make the best of the summer heat.


References

Grohol, John M. “The Psychology of a Heat Wave.” World of Psychology, Psych Central, 8 July 2018, https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-a-heat-wave/.

Nyamora, Cory. “How Does Hot Weather Affect Your Mental Health? – Endurance: A Sports and Psychology Center.” Endurance, Endurance: A Sports and Psychology Center, 14 Aug. 2019, https://www.endurancecenter.org/join-us-at-this-years-5thannual-svpa-student-research-conference/2019/8/14/how-does-hot-weather-affect-your-mental-health.

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Hakomi: Riding the Rapids

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

In Hakomi, there are “four distinct states of consciousness.” First is the “ordinary, everyday, outward-focused consciousness” where most of our lives are lived. Second, where most Hakomi Therapy happens, is mindfulness: inward-focused awareness on present experience where “the vast richness of inner experience is available.” The third state of consciousness is working with intense emotions, “riding the rapids,” and the fourth “is the child” (Barstow, 1985, p. 14).

There are numerous experiments in mindfulness, including “verbal and nonverbal probes, taking over, slowing down, acknowledgments, referencing the neutral, physicalizing, and others” (Lavie, 2015, p. 179). Sometimes an experiment in mindfulness can touch a client so deeply that she finds herself “riding the rapids of spontaneous emotional release” (p. 192).

When safety and support have been established, a client might have “a spontaneous emotional release” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 125). Emotional release, once it begins, can become an almost organic need, which, if uninterrupted, can flow to completion.

“In Hakomi, we don’t push through resistance, we process feelings when they arise spontaneously, without forcing them in any way. When an emotional release is seen as central and the therapist deliberately promotes it, the resistance to emotions is thought of as a negative part of the client. A struggle often ensues in which the therapist and one part of the client attempt to experience and express feelings, while another part of the client habitually fights back. The effect is often conflicting for the client, with feelings of guilt and failure on one side and natural resistance to being forced on the other. The part that doesn’t want to feel or express has a story too. We listen to it. When a way is found to accommodate both expression and control, the work with emotions is more integrated, less overwhelming, and meets with little resistance” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 125).

Throughout the therapeutic process, clinicians continually and carefully track for the indicators that a client’s emotions are at hand and ready for release. At these times, we assist their release of emotions and don’t provoke them or exhaust their defenses whatsoever. We assist in managing the flow of feelings as they occur “by making them as safe as possible,” allowing them to “take their own course,” and by avoiding confrontation and being less directive and less insistent, we avoid triggering the defenses. In supporting the spontaneity “of emotional release, especially the tensions and postures,” a “client habitually uses to manage strong” emotions, the process becomes easier and safer for a client to go into (p. 125-126). This approach helps bring mindfulness into the ways one organizes their experience. Hakomi therapists attempt to help clients realize “that their feelings are okay and that” it can be safe and satisfying to express those feelings (p. 126).

The “spontaneous expression of strong emotions” is “a specific state of consciousness” that is characterized by intensity, present-time experience, physical spontaneity, and limited ability for thought or reason (p. 126). Lots of energy is released. These intense feelings generally come in waves with insight and memories in between the crests. Feelings of rage, profound grief of loss, and deep sobbing can seem overwhelming and uncontrollable even though much effort can be expended to control them. However, if one attempts to control them, they get more painful. When the feelings are accepted as okay and even natural, when they are expressed more freely “and allowed to run their course,” then they aren’t just bearable, they can be comforting (p. 126).


References

Barstow, C. (1985). An Overview of the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. Hakomi Forum, 3, 8-18. http://www.hakomiinstitute.com/Forum/Issue2/Overview.pdf

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Lavie, S. (2015). Experiments in Mindfulness. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 178-193). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Teletherapy

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Artwork by Syuzann

By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Although concern for one’s physical well-being is increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of mental health persists. Social distancing and self-isolation, for many, is the last thing they need for their mental well-being, however necessary it is. Although face-to-face counseling is out of the question, for now, many therapists are turning to teletherapy to continue counseling.

Regardless of preference, this method of therapy prevents the risk of spreading the virus that is present in in-person therapy sessions. Meeting with patients new and old has been made more accessible with teletherapy, eliminating the need to drive to therapy, and allowing for more flexible scheduling. Some are also seeking out help with teletherapy due to the privacy that it offers (Robitzski).

Whatever the reason may be, this widespread expansion of therapy to online communication has increased interest in speaking with mental health professionals. As more therapists become more easily accessible, reaching out to mental health professionals becomes less intimidating to newcomers.

Teletherapy has been shown to work as a decent substitute for meeting in an office. However, some still find the lack of communication via body language, the technical difficulties that come with speaking remotely, and inabilities to find private spaces at home to talk, outweigh the good that comes with teletherapy during the pandemic.

The rise of teletherapy during quarantine has saved many from facing this sudden social isolation completely alone, allowing crucial access to mental health and wellness services. The differences between teletherapy as opposed to face-to-face therapy in an office are a detriment or a benefit depending on who you talk to. In the end, however, your choice of therapy options is entirely yours.


References

Robitzski, Dan. “The Pandemic Is Forcing Teletherapy to Go Mainstream.” Futurism, Neoscope, 16 Apr. 2020, futurism.com/neoscope/
pandemic-forcing-teletherapy-mainstream
.

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Intro to Sand Tray Therapy

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

While psychotherapy can be daunting for many prospective clients, sand tray can make psychotherapy more accessible for child, adolescent, and adult clients, and for “individuals, couples and families” (Homeyer & Sweeney, 2011).

Sand tray therapy (also referred to as sandplay therapy) assists one in constructing her own microcosm with colored sand and small toys. The scenes created act as a mirror of her own life and give her a chance at resolving conflicts, removing obstacles, and gaining self-acceptance. Through creative self-expression, someone in therapy can manifest in the sand things they might otherwise be unable to articulate or acknowledge in traditional talk therapy (Good Therapy).

There are different types of sand tray therapy, including the “traditional Lowenfeld approach and Jungian sandplay to Gestalt methods and cognitive-behavioral approaches” (Homeyer & Sweeney, 2011, p. 7).

In working with child clients, either individually or within a family, it’s important to realize that they don’t communicate in the same ways adults do. Children don’t “have the cognitive or verbal maturity to communicate in counseling” in the same ways that adults do (p.1). Children don’t have the intellectual or developmental sophistication to engage in adult, talk-based therapies. Many children and adolescents cannot verbalize their emotional states, especially if they have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect (Good Therapy).

There are numerous benefits to doing sand tray therapy, including:

  1. How it offers “expression to nonverbalized emotional issues” (Homeyer & Sweeney, 2011, p.8). Sand tray offers an easy way of expression for someone unable or unwilling to express themselves verbally.
  2. How the “very tactile experience of touching” and playing with the sand is therapeutic itself (p.8).
  3. In allowing a client to direct the process, it creates a needed therapeutic distance for them by assisting them in being more detached from their trauma without being numb.
  4. In family therapy, sand tray therapy is inclusive.
  5. It creates appropriate boundaries in a therapeutic relationship, which assists a client in feeling safer and avoiding becoming re-traumatized.
  6. Sand tray therapy can be very effective in overcoming a client’s resistance. Children don’t generally self-refer. Because of sand tray therapy’s nonthreatening and engaging characteristics and because “play is the natural medium of communication for children,” even if a child client has been compelled to attend therapy by an adult, they are still generally open to treatment because of being allowed to express themselves through play.
  7. Sand tray therapy offers a helpful communication medium for clients of all ages who have poor verbal skills, including those with “English as a second language” (p.10). “Sandtray allows for expression of deep and personal issues in a common, symbolic language” (p.10). When individuals in relationships are unable to express their needs, sand tray offers a way to express those needs without being dependent on words.
  8. Sand tray is an effective way to assist a client in having more of an “internal locus of control” (p. 11).
  9. Sand tray is a way to access unconscious material in the client.
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Social Distancing and Mental Health

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Social distancing, the practice of avoiding large groups and close contact with others to protect the spread of disease to vulnerable groups, has become a commonly used phrase during the COVID-19 pandemic. With so much extra time spent at home, some may find themselves anxious and/or restless. While we may miss a lot from being out and about or adhering to our typical daily routines, being at home does not need to be so painfully dull.

First and foremost, electrical lighting has been shown to disrupt one’s natural rhythms, as opposed to natural light (Heid). Stepping out into the sunlight, even in the backyard, helps regulate one’s mood, energy, appetite, and sleep schedule by alerting the body it is no longer time to be groggy and asleep. In addition to meditation, spending time in greenery relaxes one’s mind and restores a sense of focus (Heid).

Additionally, distracting oneself with artistic activities or calling friends, as well as sticking to a temporary at-home routine reduces anxiety and establishes some degree of normalcy during these times (Ao). Personal connections do not need to suffer due to social distancing; checking up on friends is not a bad idea when considering they are likely just as restless as you!

Keeping up with one’s wellness and mindfulness aids immensely in making this situation at least a little bit more bearable. Taking extra measures to ensure you are getting proper amounts of sunlight, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, keeping busy, and keeping track of basic needs is crucial even when stuck at home for extended periods of time. Social distancing does not have to take away from social needs as well. Contacting friends and family members from home regularly is a healthy habit to pick up right now. And, of course, stay safe, and wash your hands!


References

Ao, Bethany. “Social Distancing Can Strain Mental Health. Here’s How You Can Protect Yourself.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC, 23 Mar. 2020, www.inquirer.com/health/
coronavirus/coronavirus-
mental-health-social-distancing-20200319.html
.

Heid, Markham. “You Asked: Is It Bad to Be Inside All Day?” Time, 27 Apr. 2016, time.com/4306455/stress-relief-nature

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Hakomi: Deepening

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Once a client gets into a state of mindfulness through accessing, the objective is to stabilize and deepen that mindful state and utilize it for accessing core material. Building an alliance, relaxing control, and increasing feelings of safety will assist the client in retrieving material generally outside their awareness. The therapist and client are both involved in a conscious dialogue, as well as an unconscious one (Fisher, 2002; Kurtz, 1990).

To deepen the experience requires asking more precise questions. For example, if an answer to a question in the form of a probe was, ‘My face tingles,’ then a deepening question might be, ‘Which side of your face tingles more?’ Please note that the therapist does not necessarily need to know the answer to this question as it is simply a technique for deepening and stabilizing a state of mindfulness. It’s a useful way to make contact and two or three of these types of questions might be enough for a client to be able to go deeper with their experience (Kurtz, 1990).

A client often tends to go back and forth between mindfulness and ordinary consciousness. To avoid that, ask the client to stay with their present experience and avoid opening their eyes. With deepening, a client might initially only be mindful of trivialities, like about sensations in their body. It’s important to ask deepening questions about those sensations so that the client can get to the feelings underlying those sensations. “The overall shift in the course of deepening is from (1) thoughts and ideas, to (2) images, sensations and tensions, to (3) feelings, and finally to (4) whole memories, experiences and insights” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 122). Overall, the shift is from local tensions, sensations, and feelings to more whole-body experiences (Kurtz, 1990).

As the therapist works with a client, it’s valuable for them to ask what the missing experience is for the client. For example, what emotional needs did they not get met as a child? The missing experience is generally a variation of “being loved, accepted, heard and seen, valued, or acknowledged. By arranging for the missing experience to occur in therapy, the beliefs surrounding it are clarified, explored and challenged” (Fisher, 2002, p. 62). While someone often longs for this experience, they can still be very resistant to it (Fisher, 2002).

Sometimes clients won’t be able to stay in a state of mindfulness because they may be too tense, nervous or anxious. Then it’s important to talk about safety issues and find ways of reducing the tension. If that doesn’t work, then the client may need something else entirely, such as bodywork, a vacation, dietary changes, etc. before they are ready for Hakomi (Kurtz, 1990).

In deepening, there are four basic steps: (1) Contacting experience; (2) Adding mindfulness; (3) Immersion in the experience (for example, if a client feels sad then we want them to feel that sadness fully and attentively); and (4) Studying the subtle aspects of the experience or letting the experience elicit other related experiences. (Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015).

The therapist uses “contact to focus, mindfulness to recognize, and immersion to stabilize.” These Hakomi techniques can help a client study their experiences and, therefore, gain clarity “to access their organizational core” (Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015, p. 177). When one gets to the core, then the accessing and deepening is done and they can move to the next stage of Hakomi: processing (Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015).


References

Fisher, R. (2002). Experiential Psychotherapy with Couples: A Guide for the Creative Pragmatist. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen.

Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015). Accessing and Deepening. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 295-299). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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Managing Anxiety Amid a Pandemic

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

It’s only natural for people to be on edge when news of a pandemic hits. While, for many, this can call for an increase in sanitary measures and caution, focusing excessively on anything is never a good thing. Widespread media coverage can easily cause fear and stress in anyone, so it is important to maintain levelheadedness. There are many ways to combat anxiety amid an outbreak.

First, ensure you are mindful of your exposure to the news. The media tends to bring about an increased amount of fear and negativity. Stay informed on the situation, but make sure you are consuming trusted news sources without bingeing on every single news report. Too much news exposure can make the threat appear worse than it is instead of containing it (Degges-White).

When too much focus is placed on the future, our present selves suffer. Especially if you have kids, managing your own anxiety can help immensely in reducing their fears. Children can easily pick up on signs of distress. Normalizing their fears and reassuring them that you can handle the issue can help ease their fears (Moukaddam). Educating your children on hygiene, proper preventative measures, and the spread of germs is crucial during these times.

Getting news of disease outbreaks is never a pleasant experience. Issues like these are not always the most straightforward situations to handle. Controlling your media intake and reassuring yourself and your family is imperative to handling stress and anxiety. Above all else, stay calm and take care of yourself!


References

Degges-White, Suzanne. “COVID-19 Anxiety: Control Your Controllables.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Mar. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/ie/blog/lifetime-connections/202003/covid-19-anxiety-control-your-controllables.

Moukaddam, Nidal. “Fears, Outbreaks, and Pandemics: Lessons Learned.” Psychiatric Times, 15 Nov. 2019, www.psychiatrictimes.com/anxiety/fears-outbreaks-and-pandemics-lessons-learned.

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How to Overcome Social Isolation

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

The winter months can be difficult to get through for many people. It’s typically cold, and there are not many hours of daylight. We may not want to go outside and are more likely to isolate ourselves, which can negatively affect our mood.

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety and depression that I have seen is social isolation. There are many reasons we may isolate ourselves. We might feel like it will take too much effort and that we don’t have enough energy to be around others. We might not want to burden other people with our emotions, or maybe we have developed some social anxiety and don’t feel comfortable interacting with others. Whatever the reason, social isolation is not a helpful strategy to combat a depressed mood or anxiety.

Healthy isolation, also known as solitude, is not the same as purposeful social isolation. Sometimes we need time alone to help reset and clear our minds, or we seek solitude as part of a spiritual experience. We may also need time alone to collect our thoughts and gain clarity about our feelings and what is happening in our lives.

Social isolation, on the other hand, is defined as being alone without any social interactions and can come from feelings of shame and depression. Social anxiety or fears of abandonment can also lead someone to isolate themselves from others. If I person has not developed deep, personal relationships with other people, they are more likely to experience social isolation.

Sometimes isolation is out of our hands, but it can also be something we create for ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. To have more health and happiness, it is important to find a good balance of solitude and time socializing.

If social isolation is affecting your mood and your life negatively, here are some guidelines for climbing out of it.

  1. When you are invited to do something with family or friends, make your best effort to accept the invitation and follow through with your plans. Try not to cancel the plans once you have agreed to go out with them. 
  2. Figure out how many times a week is feasible for you to make plans with a friend or family member, and make it a weekly goal to see them. Once a week is a fairly reasonable goal for most people.
  3. Try joining a weekly activity where you will meet other people with similar interests. This could include a sports league, a class, such as a fitness class or art class, or a Meetup group.
  4. Get out of the house once a day to take a walk or do errands, and try to interact with at least one person while out. Dogs are also great companions and can help you interact with others.
  5. Join a support group and attend meetings once a week. This could include a social skills group or a social anxiety group.
  6. Work with your therapist on what feelings come up for you when you feel like isolating yourself. They can also help you replace your need for isolation with a healthy coping strategy, which could also combat your anxiety and depression.

References

Good Therapy (n.d.). (20 August 2018). Isolation. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/isolation.

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What is Your Attachment Style?

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Attachment plays a prominent role in the way we as individuals form relationships throughout life. This especially affects the way we perceive conflict and get our needs met. There are four styles of attachment, each unique in many ways: secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful. Discovering your own style of attachment is a useful way to develop and strengthen relationships.

Unsure what attachment style you possess? These descriptions may help you identify and learn about your own attachment style. 

Those with secure attachment styles, for starters, are both comfortable with being alone and affectionate at different times (Manson). This is the most common type and is beneficial for family, friends, and significant others. 

Those who are anxiously attached, however, tend to seek out emotional bonds and cling to their partner. Their fears are often affirmed by their partner’s independent actions, such as spending extra time with friends (Firestone). 

Avoidant individuals, however, are far more comfortable with independence and display noncommittal patterns (Firestone). People with this style of attachment may avoid showing emotional reactions when confronted. 

Lastly, the fearful type (otherwise known as “anxious-avoidant”) is closely linked to the latter two types. Individuals with this type of attachment are apprehensive toward intimacy and do not easily trust people who attempt to bond with them (Manson).

Although these attachment styles form at a very young age, they are still capable of changing. While the initial base is formed by one’s relationship with their parents and their home situation as a child, the function or lack of function in future relationships influence attachment styles considerably. 

Avoidant attachment types are formed when only partial care is given at a young age (e.g. being fed often, but not held often) and anxious attachment types are formed by uncertain levels of love and care (Manson). Fearful types can arise from a complete lack of care during infancy (Firestone). 

When the negative aspects of these types are not properly addressed, toxic relationships easily form. However, an avoidant or anxiously attached person may find themselves feeling more secure when presented with a long-term healthy relationship (Manson). The opposite can happen for a securely attached person when faced with severely difficult obstacles in life, such as death or divorce.

While maintaining healthy relationships may prove challenging for those who have struggled in the past, positive bonds are absolutely possible when proper care is given to those who need it. 

With increased awareness of one’s own attachment style, can come the ability to identify what needs to stay or change in a relationship to enhance the well-being of each partner. However pained one’s past may be, there are always patient and caring people willing to help their companion bond. Relationships are an essential piece of one’s wellness.


References

“Laughter Therapy as Stress Relief.” SkillsYouNeed, SkillsYouNeed.com, 2019, http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/therapeutic-laughter.html.

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