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Letter from the President – Tribute to Barbara Lynch

CTAMFT President

Dorothy Timmermann, LMFT, CTAMFT Board President

As we head into the summer months, I am reminded that as New Englanders we experience seasonal transitions that vary greatly and offer opportunities for us to appreciate the changes that occur both in our physical surroundings as well as in our emotional space. So as the grass is growing and the plants flowering all around us, many will also experience the mood lifting experience of more sunshine and perhaps some well deserved time off. Seasonal transitions can also be difficult for people, like any other transition. For some, the summer heat will feel oppressive and the pollen in the air can be quite bothersome. Perhaps summer days will leave some feeling lonely and conjure memories that may include the loss of loved ones. These possibilities and others are all our collective realities.

I’d like to take a moment to send a heartfelt wish for as much peace and joy among our community as is possible over the coming months. Your Board of Directors will take a two-month break after our June 8th meeting. While work will continue through the summer, our structure supports the decreased commitments and finds it is helpful in reenergizing everyone. We look forward to regrouping in September and encourage members to reach out over the summer and find out ways to get more involved with our professional association. Please contact us anytime at ctamft@snet.net.

The Board of Directors would also like to thank Southern Connecticut State University for so graciously hosting our last Networking Breakfast and Meeting. We had a wonderful turnout of students, faculty and community members; and appreciated the opportunity to dialogue in a very personal manner.

Please now spend a moment hearing the thoughts of fellow members as we reflect together on the loss of a great woman and wonderful contributor to our community. Barbara, you will be forever in the hearts of many.

(from the Monday morning supervision group)

Barbara Lynch

Barbara Lynch

Barbara, our mentor, supervisor, colleague and friend. Her death leaves a real void not only in our Monday morning schedules but also in our personal and professional lives. It is hard to imagine our world without her in it, even though we had been preparing for her exit for a long time. Barbara was open to talking about her death in our groups and she taught us so much about saying goodbye, closure and tying up loose ends.

We started our journey as a group in 2005 at Southern Connecticut State University and in 2009 with the increased need for oxygen tanks Barbara moved the group to her home. Much of what we have learned in these groups is embedded in some form within each one of us.

Barbara had strong opinions and was never shy about voicing what she believed. Underneath these strong opinions she also held a strong safety net beneath each one of us, sometimes pushing us to take a new step, sometimes challenging our view of cases. Always planting a seed and allowing us to grow at our own pace. Barbara was always systemic in her thinking and her statements and questions always had a well thought out strategic intervention. She was always thinking one step ahead. Barbara strived to be an artist in everything she did and indeed she was an artist to us, we were always thirsty for her words, point of view and intervention.

We would like to share some of what we learned from Barbara in these Monday morning groups:

Thank you Barbara for teaching us:
1) The power is in the system and that the change needs to come from the system. For always emphasizing that the symptom has a positive function in that system and that we either normalize, maximize or minimize these symptoms to help the system with change. To see that all behavior has a purpose and that these behaviors are ACTS of LOVE. To support the healthiest part of the system first. Stabilize the larger system first. When feeling stuck as a therapist expand the system, bring in more family members. As therapist hold the negative for the system so that system can take on the positive.

2) All about how clients recreate their family of origin (FOO) and that the roles we take on in our families as children, are the roles we take forward in our relationships and families. And how important sibling positions were in shaping these roles. That differentiation from FOO or rather the lack of it creates many issues in relationships.

3) So many things about the correct stance to take as a couples therapist. Avoid being triangulated at all times, always work in the best interest of the relationship help couples clarify their relationship and to assist couples to find the purpose of their relationship. Dig deeper, do not accept their first answer of what brings couples to therapy, keep asking: “What else?” In a healthy relationship you can see your partners’ flaws and love them with these flaws. All exit signs need to be closed in a relationship. Unconditional commitment means that each partner can see their part in their patterns. What are the meta-rules (the rules about the rules) in a relationship. An important part of a relationship is having selective amnesia. First thing to assess is hierarchy. It takes real skill as a therapist to control the emotional tone of the session.

Thank you Barbara for these reminders about life:

We always have what we want.
There are no coincidences in life.
Things always balance out. Be thankful when they balance out in a way that we can handle.
There has to be a no to every yes.
Awareness alone is not enough to make change happen.
It is always both. It is not this or that, it is this AND that.
Sometimes doing nothing is doing something.
There can be no growth without pain and suffering.
To be mentally clean ourselves so that our work as professionals is clean too.
To carve out personal space in life and in your relationship.
Hold onto good habits especially when life is challenging.
Find and always have something that allows the expression of creativity.

Barbara Lynch

Barbara Lynch, SCSU

Dear Barbara:
A teacher is a very special person
Who uses his or her creativity
And loving, inquiring mind
To develop the rare talent
Of encouraging others to think, to dream, to learn, to try, to do.
Beverley Conklin

Teachers are like flowers:
They spread their beauty
Throughout the world.
Their love of learning
Touches the heart of their students,
Who then carry that sense of wonder
With them wherever they may go.
Teachers, with their words of wisdom,
Awaken the spirit within us all
And lead us down the roads of life.
Deanna Beisser

Thank you Barbara for always role modeling the essence of what you taught and touching our lives as therapists, supervisors, teachers, students, parents, and most importantly in being a genuine human.

With much love and respect,
Monday supervision group.

It’s Not What You Think

CTAMFT has had the pleasure of receiving the following article and would like to share it with our membership. Please enjoy and feel free to comment – start the discussion, share your insights. What do you think?

The Essential Ingredients for Peace in the Heart and Home
By Charlette Mikulka, LCSW

Mmm, I bet some anise seed, grated orange rind and minced dates would make this bread delicious. I’ll add some wheat germ to the flour for nourishment and if I use buttermilk instead of water, the texture might be even better. I just have to make sure to preheat the oven and not let the family bang around the kitchen and I can’t go wrong.

Unfortunately, no one ever told her about the sugar and yeast. So it may be with knowing what it takes to master relationships and life. In the thousands of hours with our parents and siblings, we may have rarely, if ever, witnessed or experienced the essential sugar and yeast. If our parents never received sugar and yeast, they wouldn’t have known they existed or how to use them. They would feel baffled when their children ended up having so many difficulties in their lives. “Where did we go wrong?”

Here are the essential ingredients for thriving. They are all forms of social and emotional, not cognitive, intelligence. How many of us can say we experienced or witnessed our parents behaving in these ways more times than not?

  • Showing interest in every family member’s hurts, fears, longings and emotional needs
  • Expressing emotions and needs in ways that are non-threatening to family members
  • Responding to every family member in ways that provide deep reassurance and soothing
  • Managing one’s own emotions so as to sustain a general sense of well-being
  • Retaining or regaining one’s composure when a family member is upset and behaves poorly or insensitively
  • Repairing emotional injuries caused to a family member either inadvertently or in anger

My experience has taught me that the vast majority of us have not been blessed with such security-enhancing relationships. If these ways of relating weren’t lived, they weren’t wired into our brains. The only way we would be able to practice them in our own adult family would be if we actively and consciously worked at developing them and letting go of the habits that had been established during our formative years.

Most people don’t realize that deprivation of these skills and experiences is the most likely source of the physical, psychological, behavioral and relationship problems that are so prevalent. We could have the perfect house and body, impressive talents, stimulating activities, high achievement at school or work and dozens of friends. But if our childhood relationship with a parent, our parents’ relationship with each other or our adult relationship with our own partner is precarious, painful or empty, our lives are likely to fall flat.

As we walk down the aisle, we have feelings of love, hope and possibly trepidation. We also have abstract concepts such as love, patience, loyalty and forgiveness. At the same time we have, but are blind to, potent, unconscious, emotion-saturated memories that will be running the show. These are the memories of how we, our parents and siblings dealt with strong emotions in daily life. They include the gut-level beliefs we learned about our self and what we can expect from relationships. This is the instruction manual that will have us repeating the past with our new family, despite our lofty goals and even heart-felt intentions.

As much as we would like to believe that we are in charge of our lives and making conscious decisions, the reality is quite the opposite. Family life, especially, is fueled by compelling underground energies and lessons. The last several decades have produced abundant scientific and clinical evidence that human beings are driven by unconscious childhood attachment bond memories and our survival-motivated, anxiety-prone nervous system.

It isn’t even the content of our conversations that has the strongest impact on our feelings of security and happiness in family life. Whether we are five or fifty-five, our biology speaks louder than words. We human beings are tremendously reactive to others’ non-verbal signals, particularly those people whose approval and responsiveness mean the most to us. A vast amount of that communication transpires at lightning speed without our consciously processing it.

The architecture of our brain, especially our limbic and autonomic nervous systems, was predominantly shaped by how adults and other significant people (e.g. siblings, classmates) behaved when as children we felt vulnerable and in need. These implicit, procedural memories are automatic, just like riding a bike; they kick in without thinking. So the less we experienced empathy and physical soothing, the more our nervous system registered threat and became wired to anticipate threat in significant relationships.

Our unconscious mind is powerfully attuned to the behaviors of whoever we depend upon the most for our social, emotional and biological needs to be met. The major player, but not necessarily only one, is our partner. His or her posture, physiological quirks, gestures, facial expressions and tone and speed of voice can signal safety, comfort and kindness or danger, judgment and insensitivity. Additionally, our children and authority figures can unknowingly trigger emotional reactions and dramas reminiscent of when we were young and vulnerable.

Whenever we feel threatened, our stress response provides us with three knee-jerk possibilities: fight, flight or freeze. Fight could be excessive or loud talking, expressing of intense emotion, whining, clinging, complaining, criticizing, blaming or attacking. Flight could be withdrawing and compulsively investing in other relationships. The other relationships might be with a lover, a child, the internet, hobbies, work, travel, alcohol, drugs or needy people and vulnerable animals. Freeze could be shutting down, zoning out, appeasing or submitting. Having a family member who flees or freezes can be just as distressing as having one who fights.

The good news, also coming from the latest neuroscience research, is that we can train our mind and brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, to become conscious of our inner world and our interactions with others. Just like strengthening muscles, we can access and increase our innate capacity for calm, equanimity, mental clarity, open-mindedness, acceptance, non-judgment and compassion. Increasing numbers of researchers, psychotherapists, physicians and educators are recognizing the enormous physical, psychological and social benefits derived from cultivating this state of being called mindfulness.

During mindfulness meditation we learn to observe the flow of thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations. We reduce our absorption of the thoughts we’ve accepted as authoritative truths. Our disturbing thoughts are, after all, predominantly the misguided lessons and beliefs of a childhood without sufficient adult nurturance and guidance. Our greatest wisdom arises during mindfulness from the integration of our heart, gut, and both brain hemispheres. The left brain provides language as well as adult reason and perspective. The right brain’s strengths are emotion and body awareness, holistic perspective, imagery, intuition and creativity.

We can bring this mindful, inquisitive attention to the present moments within our daily life, especially when we are interacting with those with whom we are interdependent. We can recognize how we get trapped in a negative cycle with each other and discover what elicits the best in each other. We also can mindfully savor what’s right about the world we live in so that the beauty and joy we experience provides a cushion for the challenges of life.

What makes intimate relationships especially difficult is that nature has designed us to be drawn to the very partner who is most likely, eventually, to trigger our deepest wounds and insecurities. Partners will feel the other is the perpetrator and they are the innocent victim. Making it safe for the lamb hidden within each lion to emerge is the challenge that many couples would consider ridiculous or impossible. Each partner will instead feel tempted and entitled to cling to familiar defenses acquired or witnessed in childhood, thereby keeping the relationship clenched tightly in an undermining stranglehold.

The only way out of this Chinese finger trap is to do what is counter-intuitive, to utilize with our partner faculties that are undeveloped and behaviors that are out of our comfort zone. We may have access to these faculties and behaviors with everyone but our mate, the one person who our unconscious has anointed as the heir apparent and reminder of our childhood attachment bond emotional legacy.

To meet this heroic challenge requires sustained consciousness, effort and risk as we relinquish the safety net of our favorite defenses. We gradually replace those self-defeating behaviors with reflection to discover and then share our deepest fears, sensitivities, vulnerabilities and needs. We rely more on the tenderness of our lips, eyes, arms, hands and heart. As our defenses dissolve away, so do many of the symptoms with which we struggled for years. We become the loving caregiver we always longed for and elicit the same from our mate. We create the marriage our parents never had nor imagined.

Nature, in its wisdom, provides us with the incentive to grow into true love, which involves extending ourselves for the well-being of another. As we find the commitment, courage, open-mindedness, understanding, tolerance and compassion necessary to provide our loved ones with the essentials they require to thrive, we evolve into full emotional and spiritual maturity. The more we meet our loved ones’ most essential needs, the easier and sweeter life becomes.

Whatever investment we make in becoming a more whole and emotionally mature person will benefit us, our children and our community, as well as our partner. We are all inextricably joined, whether we realize it or not. When it comes to our intimate relationships, what goes around comes around. Mistreating or neglecting any family member is equivalent to poisoning our own water supply. We are all drinking from the same emotional well.

Any social or physical organism is unhealthy to the degree that parts of it remain vulnerable and unattended. The security of a couple, family or world is in proportion to the security of its most vulnerable member. So, when we choose to walk the tightrope of emotional risk-taking with our partner, paradoxically, we build a more secure home-base for both of us, as well as greater security for those around us.

Charlette Mikulka has been with her husband for forty years, practiced social work for thirty-five and been a parent for twenty-five. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a full-time private psychotherapy practice serving individuals, couples and families. She is a member of the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (www.iceeft.com) and the EMDR International Association (www.emdria.org) Charlette is the author of “Peace in the Heart and Home: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Creating a Better Life for You and Your Loved One”. www.peaceintheheartandhome.com

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