A major goal of Neurodynamic Couples Therapy is to help partners complete the metabolizing of troublesome emotions, which they have already been nonconsciously attempting to accomplish through their conflicts. Some forms of therapy purport that this metabolizing can be done nonverbally, but we believe that it takes the translation of right-brain experiences into words in order to adequately and fully create the understanding of self and the other that is necessary for genuine empathy.
Couples have been using lots of words before they get to our offices to try to communicate what needs to be metabolized, but the attachment of these words to historical wounds, losses and traumas has remained hidden in their right brains. Utilizing curiosity, we begin with the exact words that partners have been compulsively repeating with each other to search for a deeper, more thorough meaning that has been nonconsciously “trapped.” What we are curious about is their expression of their pain. We are helping them find their own accurate words to sufficiently convey to themselves and to their partner the most visceral description they can of life-long pain. Only then is “emotional dwelling” (Stolorow & Atwood, 2018) possible.
I will illustrate with a case I have written about before. The husband’s major complaint when entering treatment was “I can’t talk to her.” Initially, this statement made no sense to me, and I told him so. As the therapy progressed, I began to experience his wife’s nonconscious role in aiding his ability to feel “I can’t talk to [whoever].” She was in fact difficult to talk to. She could be emotionally explosive and impatient.
Persistent curiosity over many sessions finally yielded the historical source of his words. He was the seventh of nine children. Relaying a particular memory, he described how his father, upon returning from work, lined all the children up by age–strangely always starting with the oldest(!)–to tell him about their day. Frequently, his father would run out of patience before reaching the youngest children, and my client would lose his turn to “talk.” In another memory, my client waited on the steps outside his parents’ bedroom to talk with his father about being scared to go to his room, only to be told “Go to bed!” when his father opened the door and saw him.
Curiosity had led to all three of us in my office simultaneously feeling the deep sorrow, resentment, rejection, loneliness, and even deeper anger around the words, “I can’t talk to HIM!” With the increased empathy his wife gained through the unfolding of historical feelings by her husband, she became curious herself about her role in perpetuating this experience and discovered what was at the bottom of her need to relive being perceived as “difficult to talk to.”
Curiosity is open and non-judgmental. It changes our perceptions of couples’ behaviors and words as nonsensical and destructive to the relationship into an understanding of their perfect role in healing.
Next post: “There’s nothing wrong with you.”