Complementing Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy with Mindful Self-Compassion Training, A Three-Part Series
I personally feel tremendous gratitude for what MSC has offered me as a couples therapist. Anyone who practices couples therapy knows that it isn’t for the faint of heart. It is rewarding, but challenging work, and no matter how well trained we are, there are those awful moments when we realize that we are terribly, painfully stuck with a couple. One route through the stuck places is to stay within the EFT model and to slow down and get curious about where we are and what’s at play at a process level. This is where I start when I’m stuck and I believe it’s a valid and helpful approach. Often, however, I also draw on MSC.
First, I endeavor to hold myself in self-compassion. It’s really difficult to feel completely, horrifyingly, intractably stuck when you are supposed to be the one who knows how to help. It’s quite soothing when I can pause, breathe, and say to myself, “This is a moment of suffering. Everyone suffers. May I offer myself the kindness that I need right now.”
Second, I ask myself the question: would self-compassion training be helpful to this couple? There is a common denominator to the times when the answer seems to me to be yes: shame. I have found that for some people who carry significant levels of shame, it is very difficult to move through the EFT process due to the freezing and/or rage that so often accompanies unprocessed shame. This comes up frequently with trauma survivors. MSC offers a safe way to begin healing the shame so that the person can slow down the experience enough to explore it with their partner during EFT sessions. MSC directly tackles the shame-based belief, “I’m broken/imperfect/defective and therefore unloveable” by bringing the experience into awareness (mindfulness), normalizing the imperfection/shame (common humanity), and inviting the participant to practice receiving love as they feel the shame (self-kindness). As the grip of shame loosens it’s chokehold and the individual can begin to breathe, EFT can continue the healing process through thoughtfully choreographed in-session experiences with the individual’s partner.
My sense is that that our struggles with feeling loveable are at the heart of so much of human suffering, whether it shows up as anxiety, depression, or relationship distress. Complementing EFT with MSC means approaching this state of “un-love” simultaneously through two powerful neurobiological doors—the interpersonal and the intrapersonal. For me, there is no greater reward as a healer than to guide someone from the tight, airless desperation of “un-love” into the calming, fertile embrace of love. I see EFT and MSC as two maps leading to this same precious destination.