Sometimes I try too hard and react too hastily.
Three possibilities can save the day and prevent further injury or escalation.
- By good fortune, my misperception may be interrupted as in my first example below.
- I may check in to clarify before reacting, as in my second example.
- I may reach out to a colleague for perspective and support as in the final example.
The examples I am about to share, while not named, are representative of a broad range of diverse social locations, differing races, genders, religions, faiths, left- and right-leaning, even though not specified below.
(Client stories I recount have been read by these couples and they have given me permission to share them.)
First example: An interrupted misperception
During a recent escalating moment in couple therapy, I felt one partner was getting fed up with me and the process I was attempting to facilitate. After telling his story of being in tremendous physical pain in their rapid-fire demand/defend pattern, he asked, “But what happens if I don’t recover?”
His wife swiftly jumped in with, “I have a good answer for that,” and proceeded to give a powerfully loving, vivid account of how she’d stick with him forever, even if he was wheelchair bound for life!
His immediate response was, “I’ll give her credit for that…” And I nearly made the mistake of stepping in to catch what I misunderstood as a minimizing response. Thankfully he got ahead of me and added, “…that touches my biggest fear! I thought you’d discard me!” What had previously been a flurry of nonresponse and sarcastic replies suddenly became a touching, tearful moment.
It was the most transformative moment in many, many sessions. She cracked opened wide his most vulnerable fear – and in that moment her love got in and he felt for the first time she truly loves and cares for him. They joked lovingly to consolidate the moment. “You won’t just have me put down?” he asked repeatedly. Each time she responded with adamant assurances that she absolutely would not discard him, that he was definitely the one she wanted to be with for life and would find him every support possible, regardless of the degree of his physical needs!
I humbly recognized how I could have lost the moment if I had responded too quickly to his “giving her credit” comment that triggered me, because I misinterpreted it. Thankfully, I stayed out of the way and their speedy responses from the deepest places in their hearts took over in a healing way! Within seconds I was celebrating with them, repeating this this profound experience of connection which they had spontaneously created.
Second example: Clarify before Reacting
In session with another couple, I had struggled with several incidents of one partner being playful, joking, “messing with you” as they said. In spite of their saying they were doing this to show their love and care ,it came across as insults and teasing. I did my best to slow down the fast talking, to “catch the bullets,” as we call the intervention in EFT of catching aggression with a respectful reframe to both partners. I tried to reframe this teasing as best attempts to reach their partner.
Then the recipient of the jabs stepped in to say, “When I was a child…” and their partner smiled broadly and shook their head, a gesture that appeared sarcastic and dismissive. I interrupted to catch the sting of this gesture, saying, “I noticed as she began to talk about her childhood, you smiled broadly and shook your head and I wonder what message you are wanting to send?”
I was astounded by his response, because it had been easy for me to misinterpret is as sarcasm. I was most grateful I interrupted to invite him to clarify! “I was shaking my head at myself,” he said. “Oh my god – I forgot – she’s told me about her childhood, and I forgot…I didn’t think of the fact I could be retraumatizing her with my teasing! I am so sorry I forgot all about that. I could be retraumatizing her!”
An amazing doorway was opened for deeper connection! What a poignant reminder for EFT therapists of the power in the couple’s bond. We are merely process consultants, making it possible for the tender messages encased in protective, guarded responses to be discovered, shared and then to integrate the powerful healing in these core messages.
Third example: Reaching out for perspective and support
As a trainer I have invested my heart and soul into being inclusive and wanting everyone to feel safe and valued in spite of differences across cultures, races, religions, and the myriad differences in social location and intersectionalities of power and advantage. Disappointment and humility coalesce as I face the fact that I cannot do this. I reached out to a colleague to discuss my discovery that one person’s inclusion feels to another to be marginalization. My colleague shared their perspective and their similar experiences. Perhaps we all get caught up in dualistic thinking of right and wrong, us and them, either/or, responsibility lies in the individual or in the collective. Our conversation left me with humility and reality. I can get too caught up in wanting everyone to feel included and validated. I can become focused on responding to every cry, to dissonant tones, and clashing colors.
The humility and reminders from my clients and from the conversation with my colleague friend is to connect, to listen, to invite open conversation, and to embody new ways of seeing and new tempos of listening. If we misperceive or disagree, we can be gifts to each other.