What to Say That Fits the Frame

As I have written about before, the goal of Neurodynamic Couples Therapy is the metabolizing of emotions that leads to integration.  We believe that this process is a naturally healing function of partner relationships.  So, whatever the therapist says during treatment should be in service of fostering the metabolizing process.

We want our clients to be triggered and activated–that starts the metabolizing.  Our job is to engage with partners in their activated state to help them invite childhood wounds, losses, and traumas into our conversations through the feelings of the moment.  All behaviors are explored as attempts to express legitimate historical feelings, even the most dysregulated ones.  A client who is yelling at a partner throughout a session might be saying, “No one was ever listening to me!”  The therapist would further the conversation with questions like “Who wasn’t listening? What were you wanting them to hear?”, etc.

All feelings are approached with intense curiosity, with the assumption that every one of them is attempting to get metabolized.  Continual focused interest and questioning by the therapist transforms activated partners into a safer state of mind as they are given “permission” to explore their own words and their meanings.  Let’s say one partner is vehemently describing the other as “a monster”.  The therapeutic response might be, “I don’t know what you mean by monster.  Could you explain that?”  As the other partner is protesting that he’s not a monster, the therapist might say, “You’re absolutely right, but we need to help your partner put his own words to what he is feeling.  I suspect he has something very important to say about what happened to him in his life long before he knew you.”

A couple who is persistently focusing on the ways they have felt victimized by each other is demonstrating how understandably frightened they are to explore their childhood traumas.  Painful childhood feelings that have been stuck in their right brains do not come out “neatly”.  Their “messiness” is often demonstrated in the shame that partners are tossing back and forth in their present complaints.  The attuned and patient therapist welcomes the messiness and consistently reminds the couple that they are helping each other get painful historical feelings into the metabolizing pipeline the only way they can.  Emotional messiness is necessary to access unmetabolized wounds and traumas, and helping a couple tolerate and then understand each other’s particular form of messiness is a critical part of the process.

Appreciating each other’s part in this normal process, in which no one gets characterized as “wrong”, begins to shift a couple’s perspective from blame to gratitude.  For example, a partner who has been insisting, “She’s terrifying me!” accepts the therapist’s reframe, “She’s helping me feel terrified.”  As appreciation for each other’s role as a mutual metabolizer develops, couples are able to wonder on their own which old feelings their brains are attempting to access, leading to mutual healing.

Next post:  The “wondering” spouse

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