Mutual Injury: The Challenge of Symmetry

Patricia Hart, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist

PACT Level 3 Therapist, PACT Ambassador


We have all encountered that moment of impasse with our couples (and probably with our own relationships) when each partner feels like the injured party. The other is perceived as dangerous, and neither partner wants to or feels able to make a reparative move. Witnessing the struggle that ensues feels like watching a race to the bottom.

These moments remind me of my pothole theory of marriage:

The sun is shining, a soft breeze is in the air, and life is good. You and your partner walk down a winding road. Suddenly, a pothole appears. Before you can stop, you and your partner descend into a large dirty hole. How did it happen? Does it matter? The only important task is to help each other out as fast as possible so you can resume your enjoyment of the gorgeous day together.

If only life – and relationship – were so easy.

Couples locked in the grip of mutual recrimination are dysregulated....

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Self-Regulation and the PACT Therapist

By Carolyn Sharp, LICSW
PACT Level III Therapist
http://www.carolynsharp.com/

After laughing with Marty about the wonderful date they had, Peter adds, “Of course we had to go to the restaurant you wanted.” With that slight emphasis on going to Marty’s restaurant pick, they go from shared laughter to bulging eyes and hostile voices, following each other out of connection and into attack. All it takes is one wrong comment to spin into the dynamic this high-arousal and high-conflict couple came to address. My heart rate increases and my throat tightens as my mind imagines the session going out of control. With my own arousal rising, I’m in danger of losing my capacity to be helpful.

Christina and Sam stare listlessly at the floor during extended pauses after my questions and comments. Their passivity and disconnection are in charge here, and neither partner makes a move toward closeness or engagement. I...

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Applying the Three PACT Domains

by Mary Ackerman, MIC, BASS (Cllg); CARE Counselling Hong Kong, PACT Level II practitioner
Website: carecounsellinghk.com

Philippe and Grace, who have been married for twelve years, are clients in my clinical practice in Hong Kong. He is French Swiss and works in finance, and she is Korean American and works as an auctioneer. They have three daughters. They sought therapy after Grace found out that Philippe had been paying for prostitutes on his overseas travel. He admitted to fathering a child in the Philippines.

When I asked why they had come to therapy, both said, “To save our marriage.”

As I worked with them, I found it helpful to observe the influence of the three domains of PACT: attachment theory, arousal regulation, and neuroscience. An overwhelming sense of anger and fear ran through each session, and these domains helped me understand this challenging couple so I could develop an effective treatment approach.

First, their attachment styles were key....

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The Secure Family Asana

by Lon Rankin, LPCC, PACT faculty, Santa Fe, NM
Website: LonRankin.com
Email: [email protected]

Every species of mammal uses the limbic system—the social, emotional, relational part of the brain—to create strong bonds that provide safety and a felt sense of security. Adult-child bonding is especially crucial for the development of the complex human brain and nervous system, and the development of an internal felt sense of security in the world—both real and perceived. When parents are too often inattentive of their child’s emotional needs, this bonding does not happen optimally, and the injury of insecurity can prevail.

Memories, especially negative ones, are extremely powerful in influencing our perception of the world and our behaviors. Our subjective experience is colored by our past. All experiences, at any age, involving fear and threat are “velcroed” into the memory system in the interest of self-protection, but memories from...

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Accelerating Development with PACT

by Jeff Pincus, LCSW, PACT faculty, Boulder, CO
Website: CouplesTherapyBoulder.com
Email: [email protected]

Emotional development doesn’t happen in isolation. The entire field of psychotherapy rests upon the premise that one human being can help another to move beyond vestigial strategies developed in the context of the distant past and to live life in a way that is less encumbered by personal history. We consider this to be emotional or psychological growth. Part of the blessing of being human is that this process can be ongoing as we learn, grow, and continue to develop across our entire lifespan.

As a PACT therapist, PACT trainer, and husband who continues to put PACT principles to the test in my own marriage, I have been awed by the acceleration of development and maturation that occurs within a committed partnership when both parties co-create a foundation of secure functioning. This is the bedrock that PACT helps couples stand upon, and that supports a resurgence...

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Working Bottom Up in PACT

 

by Karen Berry, PhD, PACT faculty, New York, NY
Email:  [email protected]

Bottom-up interventions are the bread and butter of PACT. These interventions can be simple to execute, yet powerful in their effect. For example, the therapist can ask partners to face one another, with the therapeutic intention of using eye gazing to reduce their allostatic load. Compared with habitual long, slow, top-down conversations, bottom-up interventions more readily empower the couple to use their neurological systems to affect change in the relationship.

All clinicians have seen how a couple can become reactive and operated out of conditioned responses from childhood. Their brains can register threat in nano seconds. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) moves at lightning speed in response to facial gestures, dangerous words and phrases, jerky gestures, tone and prosody, as well as general body language. PACT therapists watch moment-to-moment shifts of the ANS, implicit expressions...

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Red Sky in the Morning, Sailors Take Warning

by Elaine Tuccio, LCSW, PACT faculty, Austin, TX
Email: [email protected]

One of the most common complaints made by couples who come to therapy is that they feel they do not know how to communicate well with one another. The words “we have problems communicating,” or something along those lines, are often preceded or followed by a deep sigh—the signal of long-held misery and defeat.

The PACT therapist using the Partner Attachment Inventory (PAI) can obtain enough information within the first session to help a couple see that their problems are not simply communication. In fact, where couples tend to falter most is in reading signs and signals—the nonverbal cadence on which primary attachment relationships are built. Life’s forces have caused drift in their relationships. A mix of financial stress, betrayal, conflicting priorities of career and family, and addictions have thrown them into survival mode. As a result of early unmet developmental...

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Secure Enough to Be Spontaneous

by Hans Jorg Stahlschmidt, Ph.D., PACT faculty, Berkeley CA,
Website: www.stahlschmidt-therapy.com
Email: [email protected]thepactinstitute.com

Burnout is common among psychotherapists. Countless articles and books deal with reasons for and prevention of burnout. However, some instances of burnout are nearly impossible to prevent, given dysfunctional institutional settings, demanding and taxing work hours, and a difficult and acting out clientele. Many commentators have opined that psychotherapists may lack sufficient self-care to counter the ongoing stress of dealing with the psychological pain and trauma of their patients, especially in the context of isolation characteristic of this profession.

For me, becoming a PACT therapist has proven to be the best burnout prevention. This approach requires a strong therapeutic frame and a complex set of skills that is rooted in a defined conceptual foundation. It also allows a freedom I have not experienced in other therapeutic approaches. This is the...

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Betrayal Causes Trauma

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT

In matters of betrayal—lying, cheating, stealing—the breach of the attachment system is acute and often long lasting and can be understood neurologically as a trauma-related problem.

Franklin and Zeynep, a couple in their early 40s with two young children, came to therapy because of a discovered set of sexual affairs. Franklin, an American-born academician, was found to have an affair with one of his students. Zeynep, a Turkish-born emergency room nurse, discovered the affair after accidentally viewing Franklin's phone text messages. The texts were explicitly sexual and contained incontrovertible evidence of Franklin's deceptions and betrayals. Although Franklin was contrite and desperately wanted to be let back into the relationship, he had great difficulty dealing with Zeynep’s unrelenting preoccupation with his affair. She wanted to know details. Fearful of making matters worse, he refused to give details. Zeynep would wake up in the...

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On Being Found

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

A study by Nagasawa and his colleagues in Japan (2009) some years ago involving dogs and their owners found that if a dog looked into its owner’s eyes by finding the gaze first, the owner’s oxytocin levels went up. (I suspect dopamine might also be increased). However, if the owner’s gaze found the dog’s eyes first, no increase in oxytocin resulted. This finding has continued to “dog” me as I thought about infant attachment studies and adult romantic relationships. What is it about a dog, a baby, or a lover finding our eyes that leads to an increase in dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, or other neurochemicals related to the reward system?

During early infancy, when the newborn’s gaze is largely undirected, the catching of the mother’s gaze by the infant leads to a dopaminergic rush—a reward that is evident in the mother’s subsequent inviting vocal tone and facial expression. This...

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