Stayin’ Alive

I spent the day at a workshop.  Lorrie Brubacher, an awesome therapist and instructor, walked us through the below video…it confirmed and affirmed something that therapists know from sitting with clients. This video encapsulates the day…and a therapist’s work…

Before you watch it, though, do me a favour? Please?

Before you go farther into this blog, remember the last time your spouse (or good friend or son or mother) and you had an argument.

Think back to what annoyed/frustrated/scared you about his/her response…

  • did she poke with her words, sharply accusing and asking pointed questions that you just knew weren’t gonna be satisfied?
  • did he pull away, turning his head, pressing his lips together–and maybe you’re not even sure if he was choosing to listen?
  • did he slam you with harsh words, using cuss words that cut you down and made you retreat?
  • did she dissolve into a puddle, with tears streaming while she silently rocked, maybe while she wrapped her arms around herself, or grabbed a pillow in a protective hug?
  • did he beg for you to respond?

Or maybe a variation of these?

Did your partner (or good friend or son or mother) test your patience, drive you nuts, push your buttons, step on your last nerve?

Did it seem like your partner (or good friend or son or mother) was trying, on purpose, just to make you mad? Did it seem like it was just about making you miserable?

Do you have it now? In your head?  Do you remember now, the last time you argued, what happened?  Can you remember what it tasted and looked and smelled and felt like to have your partner (or good friend or boss or mother) drive you to distraction while you were disagreeing?

OK…get it firm in your head.  Remember the data points…what his body looked like, what she said, what he did with his hands, how her eyes looked?

Go ahead and remember it first.  I’ll wait.


Still waiting.  No rush.  Take your time.


OK…now you’re ready to watch this…

So…imagine the oxygen supply of your spouse (or friend or son or mother) being cut off.  They couldn’t breath…what would they do? How would they feel?

One word. Simply:


We need loving contact like oxygen

Now…put your spouse (or friend or son or mother)’s reaction to the last argument you had through the filter of “attachment panic”.

Johnson and Tronick outline 5 basic strategies that babies, spouses, friends and kids use to regain contact when the connection has broken:

  • Reach
  • Protest/Push
  • Turn Away
  • Melt Down
  • Reconnect

When you see these reactions in the with whom you are fighting, they are distressing to see–and often are responded to by an matching set of “attachment panic” behaviours.

It’s not easy, but once you know how to see these behaviors, you have a choice to give’em the oxygen they need with loving contact.

At 7:54 of the above video, we see Ted helping Jill in her vulnerability by getting in touch with his own distress and owning it, comforting Jill in the present moment.  He gives her a felt sense of “I’m here for you. You matter.  I care.“:

This is the moment of repair that seems to separate love that lasts from love that ends up in divorce court or constant conflict.  Every bond has moments of painful disconnection, but as long as there is a way out of the aloneness, and the connection can be restored, the bond becomes safe again…being open and present with her calms her nervous system.

If you understand the other person’s behaviour in the last fight as a sort of panic of disconnection, what does that do to how you see the conflict? Your partner?

If you understand your behaviour in the last fight as a sort of panic of disconnection, what does that do to how you see yourself?

Does it bring about compassion and understanding? Does it perhaps increase your ability to dialogue about it? Does it make a deep breath possible? Does it move you a little closer to going back to repair, to reaching out your hand to the other to create connection, to say, “I’m here. I’m available. I want to be with you.”

Stayin' alive: When we feel cut off from our loved one, we go into a kind of panic. Quote by Ed Tropic

Those frantic, negative, annoying, frustrating, pushing/pulling, hurtful and trantrum-y behaviours that I asked you to recall at the beginning? They are a part of…

…stayin’ alive.

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