Identifying habitual patterns and individual Attachment styles presents an opportunity to take action in your own life or in your approach with couples therapy clients who struggle with shame, past trauma, or Attachment adaptations that inhibit connection and satisfaction in their relationships.
Change Your Life by Changing Your Brain
Our brains can change. Our brains are resilient, trainable, and reorganize according to the direction of our focus, attention, environment, and experiences. Known as neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to develop new connections and neuropathways opens a channel to heal trauma, reframe emotional responses, and opens the door for conflict resolution between partners and individuals who otherwise remain on the treadmill of anger, shame, and blame.
Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D. explains it like this:
“Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain and the nervous system, in all species, to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment.
This includes the ability for the brain to change and transform encoded negative emotional experiences that can shift meanings about self, relationships, and worldview and rewire emotion, sensation, and behavior toward positive resiliency.”
By combining specific therapeutic interventions and somatic exercises, individuals can actually rewrite their emotional history (as far as our brains are concerned). The brain does not neurologically recognize the difference between a true memory and one you create – new neuropathways develop regardless.
While neuroplasticity cannot change past experiences, it can change how you react – both internally and externally and reshape your emotions around a specific event or relationship. The ability to employ neuroplasticity spans your lifetime. It’s never too late to heal.
Engendering Safety and Secure Attachment
Linda Graham, therapist and author, discusses one method of managing traumatic experiences by vividly creating an alternate scenario in an exercise called Wished for Outcome and feeling the emotions that accompany safety and Secure Attachment. In doing this, your brain begins to promote the new neural pathways of safety and Secure Attachment. By bouncing back and forth between the original outcome and this new imagined and ideal outcome, it actually rewires the negative memory, empowering a new perspective or response.
Of course, this does not happen immediately. Rebuilding a brain takes time and diligence.
Neuroplasticity in Couples Therapy
What does neuroplasticity mean for couples therapy? Stephen Porges, the developer of the Polyvagal Theory, states that couples bond with the intention of creating safety. Most successful relationships come down to our natural human need for safety and our ability to create that space within our relationship. The ability to identify our instinctual responses to conflict, perceived neurologically as threat, and declaring our relationship as an unconditional safe zone allows us the space to do this type of work.
In an ideal scenario, our partner can be the safety net that allows us to resolve past trauma and move toward Secure Attachment. Stephen Porges also states that we can develop the ability to effectively self-regulate by regularly practicing co-regulation with our partner.
Are You Interested in Learning More?
To discover therapy resources, exercises, live events, or ongoing trainings that help therapists and individuals develop Secure Attachment and greater connection in their adult relationships, join our discussion on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or visit DianePooleHeller.com for a complete list of programs and events.