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Pam King: We’re made for relationships. It’s knit into our DNA. Knit into our purpose, but relationships are a kaleidoscope of emotions and psychologists. Sue Johnson and Jim Furrow are helping us understand more about the science of relationships, the role that emotions play in healing, conflict, and how our human connectedness is essential to our human thriving.
Sue Johnson: We need to understand how crucial relationships are for us. They are oxygen. We need to help people, value them and learn how to have them,
Jim Furrow: like, if we’re not willing to risk and we’re not willing to preach, we’re not going to necessarily be found.
Sue Johnson: You can’t be a self or by yourself. I think that says it all.
That’s the most basic human interaction. Do you share my reality? Is my reality valid? Do you see what I see? Can you make sense of it? Can you help me make sense of it? It is what I’m feeling. Making sense? Can you share it? Am I alone? And this is the most basic human contact of all.
Pam King: I’m Dr. Pam King, and you’re listening to With And for a podcast that explores the depths of psychological science and spiritual wisdom to offer practical guidance towards spiritual health, wholeness, and thriving on purpose.
We are relational beings. Our thriving or languishing often hinges on relationships. How ironic? Because they definitely do not always come naturally. I know you’ve had that feeling when a key relationship in your life is off the world is just a little heavier, or breath is a little tighter when that relationship is repaired or back on track.
There’s a levity, a lightness to our day. My guest today, psychologist Sue Johnson and Jim Furrow not only explain why this is, but more importantly, they offer practical advice on how to up your relational game. Sue Johnson is the creator of emotionally focused Therapy, which is the gold standard in tested proven interventions for couples and the author of many books, including, hold Me Tight, Jim Furrow is a marriage and family therapist and an internationally renowned trainer of emotionally focused therapy.
If you ever wondered how your earliest relationships shape your current relationships, this episode is for you. We discuss how understanding your attachment style is imperative for the sake of your current and future relationships and your health. They give awesome, practical, but not necessarily easy advice that is actionable for your relationships, and they discuss the ways we can grow and change so that we can engage in and sustain fulfilling in life-giving relationships, whether romantic with our friends, with our children, or even our colleagues.
This interview stirs me at the core and resonates with my deepest convictions about thriving when it comes to fully understanding spiritual health and thriving relationships are not just a means to an end. Relatedness is the purpose of our being, the well as the means to our becoming. In this conversation with Sue Johnson and Jim Furrow, we discuss what it means to be fully alive in all the existential fullness that being human needs, how to bring together the spectrum of emotional realities with our lived experience, the crisis of loneliness we face today, and what we can do about it.
The role of empathy and caring in the healing process, an introduction to attachment science and the role of attachment figures in thriving relationships. And the therapeutic and relational practices that lead to security, A sense of worth, empowerment, competence in life, and thriving.
Sue and Jim, so great to have you both on the show. This is such a joy for me and something I’ve really been looking forward to. Jim is an old, old friend. Initially, my doctoral mentor and subsequently has become a close friend, partner in crime, theologically, methodologically, theoretically, and Sue. I have experienced EFT in the classroom, in the therapy room, in the journal, in my prayers in many places.
So this is very real to me and I’m thrilled to have you both here. Thank you for joining me.
Sue Johnson: You are most welcome. Thank you for inviting me. It’s great pleasure. Thank you.
Pam King: You both have brought to light that although we might experience emotions inside ourselves in individually, that emotions, at least our strongest ones are relationally construed.
Our emotional life has been shaped through relationships since we were infants through our parents. Our emotions probably get most flared and activated through our closest relationships, whether our spouses or partners or our children. So emotions are so much relationally activated and I’m really excited to have you both shed some insight on that.
Sue, from your own perspective, what does thriving mean to you?
Sue Johnson: Oh, that’s a very interesting question. Thriving for me means what Carl Rogers talked about as full existential living where he said, you are present in your experience. You are aware. You are engaged, fully engaged in your experience. You can trust your experience.
You allow it to impact you, and because of that, because you are in touch with yourself, you can make choices and actively create your life with others. Basically, the idea for me is thrive has become fully alive. It isn’t sort of the image that you often get through the media, which is that you are permanently, you know, jolly and happy and ever so together.
I don’t think of it that way because that’s not life. Everyone has to deal with fears around isolation, fears around choices, making choices. In an uncertain world, the world’s uncertain, and every time you choose A, you lose out on B, you know, choices about loss as well as possibility. And he talks about.
We’re all aware that life passes and we all have to deal with the transitory-ness of life, you know, and he talks about needing to make meaning in our world. You know, we have this little life of however many years and in a kind of random, huge universe. So thriving doesn’t mean that you are not caught up in that or distressed sometimes, but it means for me that you basically trust yourself to go through life in an active way, and you can create a coherent reality for yourself that includes others, that includes a safe relationship with others.
So Jim, what do you think?
Jim Furrow: The word that comes to my mind is a fulsome sense of being. Yes. And that that being is not only who I am, but who I am with. Yes. And a part of, and that life is full of engagement and vitality. It may not be full of success and it may not be full of a lot of things that we associate with health.
I mean, it might feel, be with struggle, it may be filled with challenge, but it’s the person who’s able to bring fullness of being into contact with a sense of purpose and meaning and connection.
Sue Johnson: And you know, that’s an interesting question because I think in somehow in psychology and in therapy, we’ve, uh, we seem to sometimes to have got caught in helping people with symptoms and good therapy is helping people with symptoms.
Well, I don’t think so because. Even my clients who come to me with very difficult symptoms, nightmares, flashbacks. They say things like, I’m stuck because I don’t want to feel, I don’t, I don’t know how to feel. I don’t want to feel I’m, I can’t live my life numbed out all the time anymore. Mm-Hmm. Because I have no meaning in my life.
It’s empty. And that word is starting to echo for me because I’m hearing clients use it more and more. And I think they’re really saying, yes, help me trust my partner more. Yes, help me manage my feelings better, but basically help me come become more alive. And that is, I think that’s important. And it’s sometimes I feel like we’re losing that in a sort of reductionistic thing about I go to the doctor and I want him to just stop the symptom, but that’s not what I want from a therapist or even some kind of guru or spiritual leader, or even if you’re an indigenous person in Canada, from your grandmother, from the leaders in your tribe, I think you want more than that. You want, you want a way to thrive, a way to be alive. And our society tells us very, very funny things about that. Like the way to thrive and be alive is to have lots of possessions and to feel your life full of, you know, you’re supposed to drink the right juice, do the right exercise.
If you’re a woman these days, you’re supposed to be the perfect mother, perfect partner and the CEO of a large company and write about it, telling all the other women that they should be doing it as well, which may and have a podcast. And a podcast and, you know, and and and. Yeah, and I don’t think it’s about that.
Pam King: We honed in on a very cool psychological concept that I think is so transformative: coherence. The binary thinking. We’re also used to hearing in news media so many religious circles and that wreck-it-or-fix-it mentality that is so unhelpful that binary thinking might be replaced by asking, how does all of this cohere?
How might it come together in a new way of making sense? Jim pointed out the relational dynamics of coherence in particular,
Jim Furrow: And Sue, when you’re talking about emptiness and. The conversations that I know that you have with clients, that the idea of coherence becomes a critical piece of being able to bring meaning to things that are difficult to comprehend.
Experiences that are outside the expected, the unwanted. And that’s not just a individual exercise that any one of us can do alone. Right. We, we need to find that coherence with others.
Sue Johnson: Yes, I think so. And if you watch a mother and a child, you know, the mother says, oh, what is it? Yes. Oh, it’s a big bird.
It’s a yes. Oh, it’s a bit scary. Yes. Oh look, it’s got wings. Yes, those are wings. Yes. It’s scary. Yes. Well just stand here and look at it here. And what’s she doing? She’s. Explain reality to this child. He’s helping the child put it together, makes sense of it. And I think it’s an illusion that we ever really don’t need that.
You know, it’s like we think, oh one, once you reach the age of 12, somehow you are, you’re supposed to have it all together and no, I don’t think so. You know, that’s just not the way reality works or the way we work. We need other people and we orientate each other. You know, we help each other make sense of the world and feel safe in it.
Jim Furrow: Yeah. Not as I was, as you were saying that, I was thinking about how often those kind of grounding conversations with another person take place in the context of the unexpected, the unknown, like you were saying with young child who doesn’t know what they’re actually seeing, and especially fear.
Mm-hmm. Right. That. That we as human beings don’t do well. On our own. We don’t do well with fear on our own. Kind of going back to Pam, your point about loneliness and uncertainty and the pandemic and the isolation, I think it gave us an acute awareness of how well we don’t do when we’re all alone.
Pam King: Both Sue and Jim’s approach to psychology and therapy is grounded in attachment theory, how developing human beings arrive into the world built to form a deep attachment bond.
Those attachment figures are most often our parents, of course, but we cultivate these bonds throughout our lives. I asked each one of them about their personal attachment relationships, as well as their thinking about the importance of attachment in the ways we develop personality, how that leads to challenges.
Difficulties and how it also leads to love healing, spiritual and mental health.
Sue Johnson: The research is all clear in, in attachment science and in all kinds of other research that when you have a human being all by themselves, mm-Hmm. And that’s an emotional reality, not just a physical reality. You can be all by yourself in a whole group of people, right?
Mm-Hmm. You have a human being who experiences that are all by themselves, they’re exquisitely vulnerable. And some part of our brain knows that. And, you know, some very basic things like orientating yourself, understanding what’s going on, feeling you have some control. They all, they can all be eroded very easily.
And it strikes me that every single client, I mean obviously we are extra sensitive to this. We are attachment theorists, so we are sensitive to this. So I tune into this, but nevertheless, I don’t think I’ve had a client in the last 20 years. Who hasn’t told on some level that they feel isolated.
Pam King: That’s the thing. And you said the word empty before. Yeah. That you’re hearing that. What a contrast. When I asked you both what is thriving, one of the first words out of your mouth was either fully alive, fullness of being, fulsome of being, yeah, thank you. But the sense of full versus empty is a sharp contrast in the fullness, the vitality you both described as being an interconnected experience, that it is emotionally and relationally engaged and that thriving somehow is this relational component that we can only become fully alive and vital in the context of relationships.
Sue Johnson: Yes.
Pam King: And in my work, I co-authored a book with a former colleague of Jim’s and another student called the Reciprocating Self, and I think of the ends of human development. Our goal, our purpose is to be relational and in relatedness. Yes. And often psychologists pursue relationality as a means to a greater end.
Mm-hmm. But what I read in your work and in my talking to Jim over the years know that being relational is being human. It’s not just a means to an end, it is a purpose.
Sue Johnson: I think our modern world pushes us to question and actually become more aware of what exactly it does mean to be a human being. And I.
You know, things like, okay, what does being relational mean?
Pam King: I wanna get to attachment science. ’cause that has been so much of what EFT is based on. Not only gives it credibility because the outcome science of all the therapy does such wonders for relationships. I’m so interested how this experience or other experiences at home shaped your own attachment styles.
Sue Johnson: Well, I think, as I understand it, I had a very secure attachment with my father who, who was a relatively uneducated working-class man who ran away to the Navy when he was about 16 and had gone all over the world. But I think he was very bright man. I was his only child. And as was not typical at the time for a working class man, he validated me every second I breathed.
He told me, you can do anything you want. You are my little precious one. He was an amazing attachment figure, and if I did something that he didn’t like or that he thought was dangerous, thought, he’d sit and talk to me about it in calmest. He’d say things like, if you had a little girl and she did that, I wonder what you’d think.
This is the way he brought me out. So he was an amazing attachment figure. My grandmother was always there, always funny, playing the piano, making jokes roaring with laughter holding me, and I think I got a lot of attachment there. My mother was different. She could be a secure attachment one minute and really dangerous the next.
So I, I learned from that too. I learned that, that there are times when you have to protect yourself in relationships, but I think I got a lot of secure attachment from my dad and my grandmother growing up. Yeah. And I think that has a lot to do with how I see men. You know, in that I’m a, an ardent feminist.
That doesn’t come out in my work very much, but I’m an ardent feminist and I’ve worked with lots of people, women who’ve been abused by men. But in general, I have a faith in people. I expect the best from people, and I have a faith in men. I think both women and men we’re pretty distorted in our roles, in our present society.
So, but I think that comes from my father, because my father was totally trustworthy. What you saw was what you got completely. Opened, you know, opened. When I said to him, I want Danny. I want to go to America. He said, you don’t know anyone there. I said, I know you don’t have any money. I said, I know. He said, I see.
I said, there’s just this one chance I can get into grad school. They opening Canada. I can go. If I get into grad school, I’m gonna go. He said, okay. Said, well listen to this as an attachment message. Okay, well, you can do that. You can do that if you want, Sue, you are strong enough and you can do the thing that I taught you to do, which is standing and breathing and looking at the horizon.
If things get tough and you’ll hear my voice and you’ll be fine, and if you’re not fine, I’ll find a way to bring you home to me now, where from my point of view is. The most perfect attachment message an adult could ever give. A very passionate young woman of twenty-two who wants to go off to a whole new world.
And, you know, and of course when I think about it now, must have really cost him to do that. I was leaving, I was leaving him, you know, I was so, I, I got that from my, my parents. I think
Pam King: Dr. Furrow. I’d love to hear a bit about your attachment experiences and, and, and how that motivated you into this work, ’cause I know this comes from a very deep place in you
Jim Furrow: I’m remembering something that our colleague, Bill Schaber talks about, writes about in his own journey into the study of attachment was he found it through loss and that John Bowlby really found attachment of the context of loss by studying orphans.
Sue Johnson: Yes.
Jim Furrow: Making sense and resiliency of the human spirit. The context of, at the absence of what one fundamentally needs. And so like to find then that relationship can be a resource that there’s these resiliency factors of people that show up in our lives in unique ways. You know, as someone who lost a parent and early life, I knew I have my own story of loss and the way in which that, especially in a stage of development where you’re asking the questions of who am I and what’s important, and am I important, right?
I, I needed people in my life who would reflect that and see that, especially with one of those grounding figures in my life’s gone, Pam, to your point that the questions that I had that needed to be answered, and they’re the kind of questions that Sue you were referring earlier. There are the existential questions.
There’s things that matter most and help me know I matter, and I need that reflected in the eyes and the faces and persons who not only believe in me, but also know me,
Pam King: Taking pain, loss, and grief, seriously. Learning how to deal with it. Seeking again, that coherence and meaning. It’s so important to understand the possibilities that can emerge from these experiences.
Sue Johnson: It’s interesting because I work mostly with trauma folks. Trauma survivors. Now what’s interesting is that when I’ve taken them into their emotions and they’re feeling safe with me, and I often end up asking them can they actually see the self that is incredibly vulnerable and hurting and has been hiding away all this time, or very defended all this time.
They actually see that little person who still lives inside them. What is interesting is many times they say no. The last gentleman who was a war vet said, he’s a ghost. I haven’t looked at that. Eleven-year-old self. He is a ghost. I don’t even, I don’t even go there. I don’t even, I don’t even know what he looks like and what I un how I understand that is Bowlby said you do unto yourself as you have been done to.
Right. It’s, I think that’s interesting. When we think of trauma, you do unto yourself as you have been done to and with this vet, he was very intelligent and he went off on a thousand tangents and he basically said, well, therefore I’m crazy. And I said, no, no, no, no. It makes incredible sense. You, you told me all the while you were growing up after you were five years old.
You are invisible. You told me nobody saw you. Your, the men in your family saw what they wanted to see. You were a male child. You were supposed to be a certain way. Your mother saw what she wanted to see. You had to take care of her, hold her soul, never upset her, and nobody saw you. And all through your life until very recently, until you’ve met your present partner, this has been true.
You were invisible and you have managed to keep this vulnerable, small part of you away and shut down and invisible because you didn’t think he mattered to anybody. You didn’t think he was precious or he didn’t matter to. And in fact, you told me he was despicable. You talk about this emotional experience and then I ask you, can you see him?
You say, no, and I don’t want to, but of course, that’s where we’re going in EFT for a drama. We’re going there. Gradually, gradually, gradually, he can see that part of himself when his world fell apart at 11. So it’s interesting just to have some sort of sense of who you are. Coherent sense of self. You need the recognition from another person.
Yes, you matter. Yes, you are important. Yes, you have meaning. Yes, I see you. I see you.
To not feel seen, to not feel like you matter to anybody is it’s excruciating for human beings. And if that happens when you are young, well that’s what we call developmental trauma, basically, you know, and it sets you up, it sets you up to lack resilience in every single arrow that fortune fires at you. It sets you up to feel the arrow more to, to have trouble dealing with the arrow, to not be able to manage your vulnerability. It sets you up. So yeah, this is all about relationships. You know, one safe relationship with a loving other seems to protect us and create resilience, which is fascinating.
On an emotional level, you need at least one person who can turn and say, I see you, you are precious to me. You matter. And yes, Jim, I, I understand if, if then you lose that person, especially at a point in your time when you are not sure about all those things or how to answer those questions. Yes. That is Then there’s an emptiness and some people get stuck in it and other people like you turn around and make creativity.
Jim Furrow: So you said that about the, that sometimes we listen to voices in their head and when we think about attachment figures and we talk about relationship, we often think about the people that we can reach and we can touch and they’re physically present to us. I, I love the way you talk about your father, and it reminds me of what John Bowlby wrote in his book, secure Base, his book for parents, where he recognized that in his own theory of parenting, parenting was not, was not only being available and creating this kind of safe platform that children can grow and develop, but it was the wisdom of parents to know that their children needed adventures and they needed to go out, and they needed to have the freedom to do that, but you needed to know that you were gonna be there when they needed to come home.
Sue Johnson: Right? I think the most important thing you said was, and if you get, if it turns out really, really bad over there in North America, I’ll find a way to bring, we didn’t have any money, right? We were quite poor. I’ll find a way to bring you home. And I, I believed him, you know, I believed if I’d have caught up and said, dad, I, I need to come home.
A right. He’d have found a way to bring me back.
Jim Furrow: Yeah. And just to finish my story, to put one last piece on this, and I think it’s related to attachment theory. So my father passed away suddenly, and when I was 15 and six years later, I was introducing my soon-to-be wife to my family. And my mother had pointed me to, uh, a file of childhood memories that, that it was kept.
And I didn’t realize that my father had kept a journal about poignant moments in my childhood. And I was 15 and probably not interested in doing what my parents were interested in me doing, and including school and pretty much everything. And probably more interested in doing things they’d rather me not doing in the neighborhood and other places.
So us who say my father and I weren’t seeing eye to eye, and then I, he disappeared, but he got the last word. This, the last entry was about months before he passed away. His words were, I know he’s going through a difficult time, but I believe in him and I know he will make it.
And then just to read those words and to know what was in his mind about me. Like in my presentations, we have the people who believe in us and love us and care about us. Mm-hmm. Even through the difficulty and darkness of certain moments in our lives is what gives us fullness in life and gives us the courage to take the risk that we need to, to become the people we possibly have the opportunity to be.
So, and I think of my father that way. I think about other friends. I think about my. There’s just all kinds of reflections of people who helped me see me and the possibilities, the result.
Pam King: Absolutely. I really appreciate you both sharing. Those are treasures of both delight and of sorrow, and loss and of adventure. Thank you for sharing that.
Now, what does it mean to seek out an attachment figure, and how might that cultivate a healing presence in a person’s life? Our ultimate search for relationality and belonging leads us into and through human relationships, into a transcendent reality of attachment and connection to God.
Attachment is through and through about belonging to something that’s more than me, where I’m fully myself and fully connected with another.
Jim Furrow: When we’re talking about attachment relationships, we’re talking about attachment significance. So that they’re, they’re not just any relationship. They’re a relationship that we confide in, put trust in.
Mm-Hmm. And, and a and a crucial element of that, which I think Sue’s captured in some of her work, especially her couples in her program and in writing on, hold me tight, is this basic idea, you know, are you gonna be there for me when I need your most? Mm-Hmm mm-Hmm. And I count on you to be there. And I think it’s just fascinating.
But going back into the nineties, I mean, some of the conversation about attachment and romantic relationships developed in the 1980s, Sue’s critical voice in that as well as others, and helping us see that the kind of bond that happens between a couple is of an attachment nature. That it’s not just kind of like people working out a better deal of bargains between the relationships, but actually that we’re talking about a bond that we rely on.
We gain confidence from, and I think from a Judeo-Christian or even Islam, the monotheistic understanding of a transcendent figure, these faith traditions communicate and are, are in this, scriptures are rich with this kind of language of God as a rock, as a foundation, it’s a shield, as a protector, as a person I turn to as a transcendent person I turn to in time me.
That’s the attachment system. Absolutely. And then what you find in the 1990s, right, is, is this Kirkpatrick and others who, Pehr Grenqvist and others who’ve really pioneered studies of people who turn to the these kind of transcendent realities in their lives and lives, the human benefits. I, Mm-Hmm.
Sue Johnson: I, I, I, I really resonate with that, Jim.
I remember talking to a, a guy once who, who was very rational, atheist, and he said, no, a religious just about the fear of death. And I thought about it. I thought, yeah, okay. But it’s much more than that. It, it’s more about what we’re talking about here. Sure. It’s about fear. Sure. You know, not just fear of death, fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of all the things that we’re afraid of as human beings, but it’s more than that.
It’s about belonging. Why does it move me when I stand at my cottage on this little island and I see two huge humpback whales breaching into the air. I, I, they, they must be full of joy. I can’t, they breach into the air and then they put their tails in there, they dive, and they do it again and again, and.
I, I just, everyone standing there watching them goes, oh, and one lady started to dance. This is as the, this is as powerful as when your whole body thrills. When you listen to the Messiah in a huge cathedral. There’s something much bigger that we belong to, and I think that does give people meaning and grounds them.
And it’s something that I think people, a lot of people in our present society have lost.
Pam King: It’s almost as if we experience awe, but there’s something that resonates in our being. That’s right. Your reflection of the beauty of nature reminds us that we are a part of something more. When we can, especially I think cognitively connect that to a loving God or a loving other presence that is good, then we can experience that sense of secure base.
And it even connects to that idea of cohesive meaning of that my life is part of this beauty.
Sue Johnson: That’s right. That the, I am part of this,
Pam King: I matter, I’m part of this.
Sue Johnson: Yeah. I’m not just a sort of object. I’m not just a consumer. I’m not just a, a vote. I’m not just a, the way I dress. I’m on this other level. I’m a human being trying to figure out how to be a human being.
Jim Furrow: Well, and I think that’s, again, going back to what we’ve been saying about the importance of relationship is, is that there’s an aspect of transcendence to that. That it’s more than me, uh, but I, uh, I belong to something that is more than me. And how that in itself animates invigorates and it creates. I was just loving your, your, when we were talking about the mother and the baby, it’s like that mother is calling that child into being Mm-Hmm mm-Hmm.
Right. That child already exists, but there’s ways that that child doesn’t know, right. Doesn’t have language and doesn’t have understanding, but has another, who has them in mind and the way that they hold them in mind creates their being.
Pam King: Yeah. Well, I mean, even physiologically, as the baby’s brain is firing, the brain is being forged, those connections are being made. There is a physiological invitation to being through those interactions and a young one.
Sue Johnson: It’s so interesting, guys. We’ll have a huge issue of depression in, in all the, all the safe, well-fed societies in the world. Isn’t that interesting? Right. A huge issue with isolation and depression. That’s fascinating.
But, you know, and my sense is. It’s because we’re losing connection with each other and we’re losing this sense of being part of something bigger. And why wouldn’t we, we be losing that. Our society, our consumer society basically tells us, you are it, you are enough. No you’re not. You are not designed to be a single little, incredibly important thing floating through space.
Your worth comes from your connection with others and your awareness of what it is to be human and to be in the world. And, and we look into the eyes of others to see who we are. It it, why wouldn’t we? I mean, the only people who don’t look into the eyes of others to see who we are, are psychopaths. Who they know, who they are, the most important person in the world.
They’re the only ones that matters. And we say we’re, they’re mentally ill and dangerous. Yeah. They also become incredibly powerful politicians and, but whatever. But you know. But they are, they think they’re enough. But no, we’re not enough. But I think our society doesn’t want to hear that, doesn’t want to hear about how interdependent, we’re doesn’t want to hear that.
If we want to thrive, we have to put people first and we have to create community. And people need connection with others like they need oxygen. And if you create a world where that connection isn’t very available or it all happens on a screen, you are going to have huge problems. You are gonna have huge problems with depression, anxiety, suicide, emptiness.
People are going to make terrible choices.
Jim Furrow: I think going back to one of the things that’s attractive or compelling about attachment theory is that John Balby gives counterpoint to a lot of. Psychoanalysis and his own journey to stand against some things really was taking a stand for interdependence and this idea of effective dependence.
Or I think you, you used the language constructive dependence or
Sue Johnson: Constructive dependency.
Jim Furrow: Yeah.
Sue Johnson: The more connected you are with others, the more yourself you can be, the more you are yourself and the more autonomous you can be. Whereas out there in the world, it’s something about, oh no, you’ll lose yourself.
They’ll take you over. Constructive dependency makes you stronger. That’s the way we are wired. That’s biology and attachment. The genius of attachment science is that it connects biology. What’s going on within you with your social world, with your interactions with other people. If you just think about that, that is genius.
Wow. That’s a big connection.
Pam King: Well, I’d love to pick up on that. You, Jim said, “one of my favorite words in your writing, Sue, is the word bond.” I love this word. It’s very compelling and, and I think you are mentioning that we lack these bonds at a broader social level. Yes. But the research that you’ve done. And that others have done. And then the practical clinical work that you do, Sue Jim, that you do, and the whole flock of therapists trained at EFT is help people, yes.
Create bonds, effective bonds, bonds that lead to this kind of good constructive dependency. And I really think in quarantine we have, it’s been a catalyst for relational bad habits and we have so much to learn from, hold me tight conversations. And I know our listeners are feeling the need to repair or build deep in relationships, and they’re all interested in romantic relationships.
So I’d love, I’d love to hear you both talk about how people can actually build muscles to be in relationships and how they relate. How do we forge that bond?
Sue Johnson: Oh, that’s pretty huge. Um, I mean, I think. Love and bonding is about attention. And if you don’t give attention to the other person in your relationship, which means if you don’t take the time, make it important enough and focus down and spend time, then whatever connection you have naturally erodes.
And I think in our society, we’re told a lot of other things should come first. Exercise programs, your job, getting ahead in life, making more money. You know, for women trying to be the perfect mother and the perfect wife and and a CEO, you know, and very few people talk about, well how do you keep the connection with your partner?
How do you do that? You know? And if you listen to Happy couples, for example, in my relationship, even if when I was working until one in the morning on, I would come down and work right when my husband would go to sleep. We always ended our day together with just lying on the bed and talking and holding each other.
Often it was about talking about something difficult that happened. So it was a hold me tight conversation that we talk about in our work, which is basically where you are open, accessible, responsive, and engaged. Are you there for me? You’re there emotionally. You’re there. Are you there? For me, is the basic question in relationships.
Well, in those talks we experienced, yes, this person is there for me. You know, every day we, we had a ritual. It’s more than date night, which can be kind of just going through the motions. It’s accepting that if something matters to you, you have to give it attention. It has to be a priority. And in this case, it’s about dancing with the other person.
It’s about engaging with the other person. And what we know from, hold me tight conversations is the more open and responsive you are to each other, the more that bond grows. But they share fears, vulnerabilities, and needs. John Bowlby said, emotions are all about communicating to you and to other people what it is you need.
Right? That’s what they’re all about. They’re about communication. So it’s about being emotionally connected. Whatever way works for you. In doing that, we need to learn how to be human. Mm-Hmm. We know we need to learn how to value relationships and connect, and we need to learn that we are acceptable as human beings, and we can, we can take the risk of sharing with others.
So what is a bond and, and how we get people to have bonds. I mean, we know how to do it with couples in a room where they, they haven’t been able to bond or they’ve lost their bond. We do it in a very systematic way. But I think it’s a bigger question as to society. The, the World Health Organization says that loneliness and depression are gonna be the main problems for the next century.
Loneliness and depression, not cholera or smallpox, or even covid, loneliness and depression. Mm-Hmm. This is an emotional disorder. This is a relational disorder. We need to understand how crucial relationships are for us. They are oxygen. We need to help people, value them and learn how to have them. You know, I think another thing about people of faith is that they, that if they’re very lucky, they go to something called a church.
What is a church? A church is somewhere where people go regularly. They value it. They know that they share things in common with the other people who go, they live in more or less the same universe and they sing together. That is of synchrony, like tango. You breathe together. Mm-Hmm. You breathe out together, you make noise, you sing together, you listen to the same stories.
You have someone tell you away, perhaps in the sermon, perhaps some to get insight. And when the service is over, you all come out and shake hands.
Jim Furrow: And can I just throw something else? I mean, I think one of the things that said about communities, religious communities, sometimes these kind of environments.
Couples can too, right? I mean Mm-Hmm. One of the things that they just get habituated into a set of practices and routines in their relationship. Yeah. And it hollows out the intimacy in their relationships. So when we were talking about thriving earlier, I think one of the things that is really a heartbeat in our work and emotionally focused therapy is calling individuals into opportunities to share a vulnerability with one another.
Sue Johnson: Yes. Thank you, Jim. That’s, that’s the core of the matter.
Jim Furrow: Mm-Hmm. And that’s where growth is. I think like if we’re not willing to risk and we’re not willing to reach, we’re not going to necessarily be found. Right. And, or find something new or like what we sometimes like to say is belonging can lead to becoming And like that, trusting that’s inherently, it’s not just consistency, it’s not just doing the same thing in the same way.
Together to see more of who each of you are together.
Sue Johnson: There’s lots of things in our society that sort of are anti this valuing of bonding and anti teaching us how to bond and take the time to bond. What does John Cassioppo say? He’s a alone in his research. He says, we have changed deep relationships from an essential to an incidental Mm-Hmm.
We treat connection with our partners and with our community and with people that we could be connected with as incidentals, not as essentials.
Jim Furrow: I think it goes back to what you said about attention, where we put our focus, right? Just even how your brain works. Uh, emotions, connection, follow perception. So where, where are your eyes directed?
Where? Is your face, what are you looking for? Are you looking for likes or are you looking for someone who likes you? Right. I mean, it’s, it’s like someone who can meet you and reach you and, and I think it is, it’s Systematic in a way. I think that’s the thing that’s really Concerning, is there’s just an evolution of distance.
Yes. Yeah. And then it makes it, it makes human contact much more difficult. And also these are things that are developed, they’re developed in relationship and a parent-child relationship. They’re developed in a community. And when we break essential practices, we break essential development that’s necessary not only for a child to develop, but a community to develop.
And we lose our fabric of trust and connectedness. And then we have alienation, isolation,
Sue Johnson: Depression, anxiety.
Pam King: And that just spirals.
Sue Johnson: Of course we do. If you take a being and you go against its basic nature, what if you take a fish outta water? What do you get? You get a crazy looking animal that’s flopping around all over the place that can’t breathe.
I think that’s a very good description of much of Western societies actually, and I ask myself when I, I watch families out eating meals together and nobody’s talking. They’re all staring at their phones or they aren’t talking unless they see a message on their phone, and then instantly they’re caught on their phone.
I think to myself, how on earth will they create real deep bonds with their partners when they grow up? How on earth will they know how to look into their child’s face and ask themselves, oh, what’s happening here? Oh, she’s scared. Oh, I can talk to her in a soft voice and then she won’t be scared. How will they know that if all they do is look at games and, and you know, cartoons?
And for me it’s as huge as worrying about climate change. We’re destroying our environment. We’re also not looking at what human beings need to be human and our, and the context of our relationships and. I don’t know how we changed that.
Pam King: Amidst all the talk of relationships, there remains this very felt reality of loneliness. Surgeon General Lavec Murthy has for several years now been seeking to raise awareness about the detriment and damage, the existential havoc that loneliness can wreak in our lives and our society. Whether that’s the result of technology, political fracture, a growing sense of cynicism and mistrust in one another, or any other number of factors that introduce distance between us.
We need to address isolation, loneliness, and the threat of lost connection. Sue and Jim talk about the cultural and psychological factors that open us up to be more vulnerable. How to validate the most difficult kinds of emotions that come along with loneliness, including fear and depression, and they talk about the role.
Of empathy and caring in the healing process.
One of the most compelling and paradoxical things about EFT to me is this issue of fear. That fear can drive us from each other, but you enable couples to access fear and to use it as an asset. We can find each other through vulnerability,
Sue Johnson: and I think before people will do that, they have to be in a context that says that vulnerability is okay and acceptable.
And it’s specific. It’s not this huge weakness or this thing that’s gonna take you over and annihilate you, put you in pain forever. It’s very specific. Like the client that I show a lot right now when I’m teaching, she came to me with about six diagnoses. I said, well, which one really fits for you? And she said, well, I’m depressed.
I’ve always been depressed and I have depression. Somewhere along, I can’t remember exactly where, about session six or seven, we go into what she means by that abstract label depression. We go into her embodied experience of depression, you know, when does it happen? How’s it feel? What’s your body? Do what you say to yourself.
What do you do then? And what comes up for her? I think it’s gonna be fear because she’s a trauma survivor. That’s not what comes up. What comes up for her is loss. Jim talking about what comes up for her is deep sadness. And when I talk to her about it, she says, oh, when I say depression, what I mean is I’m heartbroken.
I said, yes, you are heartbroken. And then we do, and we talk about it and we stay with it. And I validate it. We make sense of it. And then I have her close her eyes and imagine talking to her partner who she never lets in right? Who? She says, yes, he loves me, he’s safe, but I never really let him close to me, especially when I’m vulnerable.
I have her close her eyes. And imagine just telling her how completely heartbroken she’s at. What happened to her as a child and how her family treats her and how she sees herself now. She’s heartbroken. So when the vulnerability becomes specific and makes sense and is accepted, then people have words for it.
They can tolerate it and they start to be able to share it. Hmm. And when they do that, they pull their partner towards them. They evoke empathy and caring. And that is. That’s the only solution to human emotional pain that there, that really exists is the empathy and caring of another. That, and that is true in religion too.
It’s the empathy and caring of a of a God figure. Right? That’s about bonding. It’s about sharing vulnerability.
Jim Furrow: Yeah. Can I just add that I think one of the things that, you know, I appreciate you pointing to kind of paradoxical role of fear as both the thing that can organize the blocks in a relationship.
And it’s also the key that opens the door to it. But part of that key is having someone walk with you in your theater. As I’ve heard Sue say, no one goes to vulnerability alone. Yes. Right. We go together. And so much of that change process with Sue’s describing and the work with her client is the presence of a wiser other who is alongside making sense of.
Fear. Fear in a way that someone can evict things in a deep way rather than be trapped by it or organized to stay away from it in all these different ways that we, you know, become self-protective, which actually works against our capacity.
Sue Johnson: Yeah. Our protection becomes a prison prison basically. Um, but, you know, we protect ourselves in very poisonous ways.
We get addicted, we shut down ourselves, we shut out others, and then we can’t grow. But, you know, when somebody is able to tolerate their vulnerability and feel, have it accepted and make sense of it, and then they can share it, they’ll, they tell you what their fears are. They, they all say the same thing.
They say, if I feel this, never mind share it. If I share it, I’m gonna be rejected and abandoned. But if I feel it even I’m gonna. I’m gonna go crazy. Gonna go crazy. And when they start to actually pinpoint that vulnerability, it’s not this huge morass of whirling blackness, it’s heartbreak. They have someone saying, yes, of course, yes.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? That is what you lived with all your young life. And there were no ways out. Were there except to numb out, and then you felt empty. But it was better than feeling all that pain, right? And then they can tolerate it and look at it and name it, and then they can share it with another person.
And that changes everything. It’s a natural way to grow.
Pam King: I wanna say thank you. EFT therapists out there are offering something we can do. I’m, I’m even thinking of the Hold Me Tight workbook. The books you’ve written, uh, the online program that you’ve developed are great tools that people can use to re-forge the relational muscles that we’re beginning to lose and your admonition to just show up.
Jim Furrow: And something you said, Sue, that I think just bears at least more emphasis is, Pam. Your question was about what can a lonely person do to improve their lonely condition? And that’s itself a bit paradoxical because I’m by myself without resources. And what I appreciate you saying, sir, is that we all. Can identify with loneliness.
It’s, there’s not necessarily a stigma. I think there often is when somebody feels lonely that they’re doing something wrong. Yes. Rather than it’s actually something that they need that they don’t have. Mm-Hmm. And so being able to recognize that, right. Our longing goes along with our theater and to listen to our own and to find those safe.
Places where we might begin to belong is the path way forward.
Sue Johnson: Belonging needs to be coming and that says it all for me.
Pam King: Jim Sue, I wanna say thank you.
Jim Furrow: Oh, thank you.
Sue Johnson: Thank you so much. It’s been really lovely.
Pam King: Sue Johnson and Jim Furrows vision of relational thriving Grounded in the psychological science of attachment opens up a world of living fully alive, drawing together the kaleidoscope of human experience and emotion into coherence and transcendence.
And we find so much of this meaning in and with and through and for human relationships. The key takeaways that I will carry with me from this conversation are the following. Being fully alive means finding coherence and connection with others. Finding meaning in human and spiritual relationships.
Relational bonding is built into our genetic code. We’re built for connection and made for relationships, and we have to work at it. Relationships are powerful. They are capable of bringing sorrow and joy to the extent that they’re able to break us down. They’re even more able to build us back up. And bring us to healing.
Longing for relationships is natural and normal. While loneliness can be so frightening, it does not need to be stigmatized, but it does need to be worked through. Often healing comes through the very wounds we’re hurting with. We heal when we open up in vulnerability, when we seek transcendence and connection with others, and ultimately with a loving and caring God
WIth & For is a production of the Thrive Center at Fuller Theological Seminary. This episode featured Sue Johnson and Jim Furrow this season. New episodes drop every Monday for more information. Visit our website thethrivecenter.org, where you’ll find all sorts of resources to support your pursuit of wholeness and a life of thriving on purpose.
I am so grateful to the staff and fellows of the Thrive Center and our With & For podcast team. Jill Westbrook is our senior director and producer Lauren kim is our operations manager. Wren Jurgensen is our social media graphic designer. Evan Rosa is our consulting producer. And special thanks to the team at Fuller Studio and the Fuller School of Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy.
I’m your host, Dr. Pam King. Thank you for listening.
We’re made for relationships. It’s knit into our DNA, knit into our purpose. But relationships are a kaleidoscope of emotions. And psychologists Sue Johnson & Jim Furrow are helping us understand more about the science of relationships, the role that emotions play in healing conflict, and how our human connectedness impacts human thriving.
- What it means to be fully alive, in all the existential fullness that being human means
- How to bring together the spectrum of emotional realities with our lived experience
- The crisis of loneliness we face today, and what we can do about it
- The role of empathy and caring in the healing process
- An introduction to attachment science, the role of attachment figures in thriving relationships
- And the therapeutic and relational practices that lead to security, a sense of worth, empowerment, and competence in life.
- Learn more about Emotionally Focused Therapy (including ways to find a therapist)
- Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
- We’re made for relationships.
- “We need to understand how crucial relationships are for us. They are oxygen. We need to help people value them and learn how to have them.”
- “If we're not willing to risk and we're not willing to reach, we're not going to necessarily be found.”
- “You can't be a self or by yourself. I think that says it all. That's the most basic human interaction. Do you share my reality? Is my reality valid? Do you see what I see? Can you make sense of it? Can you help me make sense of it? Is what I'm feeling making sense? Can you share it? Am I alone? I mean, this is the most basic human contact of all.”
- The purpose of our being and our means to becoming.
- Episode Summary
- Pam King welcomes Sue Johnson and Jim Furrow.
- What is thriving meant to you?
- “Full existential living… fully alive.”
- Carl Rogers
- “Trust yourself to go through life in an active way.”
- “Fulsome being… not only who I am, but who I’m with.”
- Purpose, meaning, and connection
- Therapy is not only about reducing thriving to the treatment of symptoms.
- Coherence vs Binary Thinking: “How does all of this cohere in a new way of making sense?”
- Mother and Child: Explaining reality and needing other people to do so
- Unexpected, unknown, and fear
- Attachment figures
- Fullness vs. Emptiness
- The relational isn’t just a means to an end. It’s our purpose.
- Sue’s relationship with her father: “He was an amazing attachment figure.”
- “I’m an ardent feminist.”
- Understanding attachment through loss and grief
- Sue Johnson on working with trauma survivors
- John Bowlby: “You do unto yourself as you’ve been done to.”
- “Just to have some sort of sense of who you are, coherent sense of self, you need the recognition from another person. Yes, you matter. Yes, you're important. Yes, you have meaning. Yes, I see you. … to not feel seen, to not feel like you matter to anybody is, it's excruciating for human beings.”
- “One safe relationship with a loving other. seems to protect us and create resilience.”
- Jim’s loss of his father: “I know he's going through a difficult time, but I believe in him and I know he will make it.”
- The power of attachment
- Fully oneself, fully connected with another
- Attachment to God: foundation, protector, shield, transcendent
- Spirituality and experience of attachment through the beauty and transcendence of nature
- “My life is part of this beauty.”
- Animate, invigorate, create.
- “Your worth comes from your connection to others.”
- “But no, we're not enough. But I think our society doesn't want to hear that. It doesn't want to hear about how interdependent we are. Doesn't want to hear that if we want to thrive, we have to put people first and we have to create community.”
- Interdependence and affective dependence
- How to forge relational bonds.
- “Love and bonding is about attention and if you don't give attention to the other person in your relationship, which means if you don't take the time, make it important enough and focus down and spend time, then whatever connection you have naturally erodes.”
- ARE—Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged
- “It’s more than date night… it’s about engaging with the other person.”
- “Loneliness and depression are going to be the main problems for the next century.”
- Relationship-driven church communities
- “One of the things that is a heartbeat in our work in emotionally focused therapy is calling individuals into opportunities to share vulnerably with one another.”
- John Cacioppo (loneliness researcher): we have changed deep relationships from an essential to an incidental.
- Vulnerability and loneliness
- Depressed or heartbroken?
- The impact of smartphone technology on relationships
- Empathy and caring in the healing process
- “When the vulnerability becomes specific and makes sense and is accepted, then people have words for it, they can tolerate it, and they start to be able to share it. And when they do that, they pull their partner towards them. They evoke empathy and caring. That’s the only solution to human emotional pain that there really exists—s the empathy and caring of another. That is true in religion too. It's the empathy and caring of a God figure. That's about bonding. It's about sharing vulnerability.”
- “No one goes through vulnerability alone.”
- Belonging leads to becoming
- Pam King’s key takeaways:
- Being fully alive means finding coherence and connection with others. finding meaning in human and spiritual relationships.
- Relational bonding is built in to our genetic code. We're built for connection and made for relationships and we have to work at it.
- Relationships are powerful. They are capable of bringing sorrow and joy. To the extent that they're able to break us down, they're even more able to build us back up and bring us to healing.
- Longing for relationships is natural and normal. While loneliness can be so frightening, it does not need to be stigmatized. But it does need to be worked through.
- Often healing comes through the very wounds we're hurting with. We heal when we open up in vulnerability, when we seek transcendence and connection with others, and ultimately with a loving and caring God
Created for Community (Part 1): How We Moved Away From our Village
Humans thrive within community, but our modern age encourages poor relational habits. Think about the nature of your relationships with the help of the practice in this post.
A Practice: Love and Closeness and How They Fortify our Minds, Bodies, and Relationships
Love is necessary for wholeness. Read how you can get closer to those you care about.
A Practice: Examine the Presence, Absence, and Quality of Your Relationships
This practice can help you examine the presence, absence, and quality of the relationships in your life.
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