Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Anti-Slavery Campaign Interview Series. Annmarie Early (Part 3)


Annmarie Early received her Master of Science and Ph.D. in Marital and Family Therapy and Master of Arts in Christian Leadership from Fuller Graduate School/Seminary. She is licensed as a Marriage and Family therapist in California and Virginia and is in private practice in Harrisonburg offering individual and couple counseling. Her academic scholarship and clinical practice are informed by affective neuroscience and attachment theory, as well as the importance of embodied, experiential practices in creating change. Annmarie has specialized training in depth psychologies and works with dreams, myth and story in her personal and professional life as a way of listening deeply to the song of the soul. Annmarie is a certified Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) Trainer and Supervisor and continues to offer training, enrichment and supervision from this perspective. Prior to accepting a faculty position at EMU, Annmarie served as Assistant Adjunct professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fuller Graduate School.

Part 3: Attachment Theory and Religious Life

Yago: Annmarie, I would like to end this interview with a section related to Attachment theory and the life and service of religious people. One of the pillars of this blog is the belief that deep within we are all interconnected, and this applies to everything, the good and the bad. This means that the energies of enslavement that keeps perpetuating injustices has no limits and can penetrate any institution, even ecclesiastical. Religious people are human first of all. But we have the constant danger to forget our humanity and to be under the risk of committing grave mistakes exercising our ministry. How attachment theory informs us about our attachment relationship to God? How the working models apply to the way we experience God?

Annmarie: How we see God is influenced by our early childhood relationships and context (KirkpatrickMikulancer and Shaver). We are shaped in all ways by our early relational experiences- including our relationship to the church and to god- either positively or negatively.  There is research (see above) on how different attachment styles choose various kinds of churches based on the experiences they do or don’t provide.  It is a very interesting area of research. 

The bottom line is that the more securely attached we are in the world, the more positive our view of God (Kirkpatrick).  Working on our human relationships helps with our spiritual sense in the world.  Another important finding is that God can function as an attachment figure.  That was true in my own personal story.  One’s relationship to a living god- or I would say a spirituality that is alive and embodied- has the safe haven and secure base qualities that build security.

Yago: In our religious formation we take very seriously the issue of self-awareness. We often used methods like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs. What is the connection between knowing our attachment style and knowing our personality type?

Annmarie: I personally find personality measures very helpful (especially the 16 PF)- the more we self-reflect in helpful, facilitative ways, the greater our ability to own our capacities and limitations. These measures are different than assessing attachment styles however. They can be used in combination, but attachment is addressing an underlying pattern or style of relating that is based on this universal, wired in need for connection.  Maybe I could say it this way, when I go out to speak about attachment theory, people- no matter the context- find it applicable and personally relevant to their lived experience.  When I lecture or use a personality assessment that is based on a theory- it can be a vehicle for insight, but often draws scepticism or lack of fit for at least some who are attempting to apply it.

Yago: Talking about the dangers of roles of a pastor/priest you say that “for as greatest you are, your shadow is cast long behind you”. Specifically for those that we idealize and we put in particular roles, we have to be very mindful and careful. It is a tremendous set-up if we are not careful. Could you expand on this?

Annmarie: We choose our vocation for many different reasons but our unmet attachment needs are certainly one of the often unconscious reasons.  For those in positions of responsibility and leadership, the power of idealization is great and we can believe the projections by others, forgetting the shadow aspects- especially of power- that drive us.  The weight of leadership is a mantle that carries this burden with it.  I would like to see greater emphasis on self-reflective inner work during formational training and ongoing support that addresses the challenges of leadership.  Moreover, we need to cast off institutional patterns of idealization such as the religious leader being perfect or infallible.  It is a set up for the leader and for the congregant.  And, where the power is great, the support for the one in leadership needs to be strong, valuing honesty and engagement. Otherwise, our leaders are being set up for eventual failure and burn out. 

Yago: If we are not healed we can play with God and meaning. Things can become very deceptive. We can exercise powerful violence to people, towards meaning and reality as a whole. What can you elucidate on this?

Carl Jung
Annmarie: Our power to help is matched by our power to harm.  Carl Jung spoke eloquently about the balance of the opposites and that is relevant here.  We must see that we all have the capacity for the greatest atrocities given circumstances that evoke.  When I recognize in me the evil I see in others, I refrain from projecting my “badness” outward and rather own my own inner darkness and companion others in facing theirs.

Yago: The pastor/priest not always can meet the needs of the parishioners. Could you talk about the demanding role of a pastor/priest in the middle of endless expectations of the people? What happen then? What are the dangers?

Annmarie: What comes to me as I reflect on this is to say again that “boundaries provide safety”- a safety for others and for self, both external and within.  Again, if our drive to help is based on unmet attachment needs, we will feel driven to serve beyond our capacity.  Our leaders need to find the wise, implicit voice of caring that knows that love is sometimes in giving and at other times in restraint. 

Also, knowing what really addresses the “Will you be there for me when I really need you?” attachment question is critical.  If you don’t know what meets the ‘true’ need inside, it creates what I call restitutive giving- a kind of patching the wound that doesn’t truly satisfy and actually creates more need that then needs to be filled.  If we can go to the heart of the matter and meet the real need, we don’t have to expend excess energy.

Yago: A pastor/priest lacking “secure base” can fall in all kind of addictions like alcoholism, workaholism, pornography on the internet… What kind of mechanism a Pastor has when he lacks “secure base”? What is the connection between lack of secure base and addiction?

Annmarie: Allan Schore is the one who talks about attachment as emotion regulation.  If we don’t have secure internal working models and/or security in our current relationships, we fill that hole with something that helps us to regulate.  All of the things you mention above are emotion regulators.
I believe that the strong interest in mindfulness and meditation is addressing this deficit.  There are many practices that soothe anxiety or activate a shut down place. I like Richard Davidson’s- the originator of Affective Neuroscience- new book abouThe Emotional Life of the Brain.  It is a fun read about how our deficits and strengths impact us and he discusses his research when he put the Dalai Lama’s monks in the fMRI and how their brains are different!  We need to do this in related ways as well.

Yago: During the last years tremendous happenings related to child sexual abuse by clergy have been reported. What is the connection between attachment theory and our sexual lives. How our sexuality can be deformed to the extreme of acting in a pure mechanistic way towards another person?

Annmarie: Our sexuality is just another aspect of our embodied selves. Again, there is a lot of research (Mikulancer and Shaver) on adult attachment and the different patterns of engagement based on security and insecurity.  We are sexual, embodied beings and sexuality is one of our inner regulators. My trainer, Dr. Sue Johnson talks a lot about healthy sexuality in her popular book, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations fora Lifetime of Love.”  My area of clinical expertise is in couples therapy- Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) and empirically validated, evidence based treatment for treatment of couple distress. Sexuality that is not functional in some way is a symptom of insecure attachment. In couples therapy, we work with the distress cycle of pursue/criticize, defend/withdraw and help couples overcome the sense of dangerousness that activates distress and create bonding experiences. We create encounter experiences in session that help people to articulate their emotional felt senses in a vulnerable, engaged way directly in moment, to their partner.  Our wired in attachment longings do the rest and create repair where once distress was active. 

We need to create more spaces that allow people to be honest and engaged and speak their fears and longings. 

Yago: What do you mean by activating the “shame system”?

Annmarie: When we feel shame we hide or avoid. The spaces that I mention above override the hiding response and provide a space of honest engagement and truth telling. I think the original pattern for AA gives us the recipe- you can find a group almost anywhere in the world, you only have to give your first name, you speak truthfully what has you trapped and your inability to overcome it on your own, you will be accepted no matter what, given someone to walk with you no matter what.  Whether they realized it or not, it is the perfect attachment script- truly being there when needed.

Yago: Carl Jung would say that we have a male and female inside of us. The key to living whole, your true purpose for being here is to deal with your shadow, the part of yourself that you don’t like and that you have to integrate. The other gender is your teacher and your guide. What are the consequences to the call to celibacy…. Where are the ways that we cut off our connectedness, to the opposite gender, to the earth?

Annmarie: Oh, I’m not sure I am qualified to address this.  There are so many issues involved in the call to celibacy.  What I can say is that it is difficult in our current cultural context to find ways to engage meaningfully if one is not partnered in some way. Our social lives are organized based on the nuclear family and that has enormous consequences for society.  Rodney Clapp wrote a book in the 90’s – Families at the Crossroads- that speaks to the problems of the nuclear family arrangement and our need to broaden our social networks. We need more than our immediate family to be stable and we need to better incorporate those on the fringes- the widow and orphan- not just for their sake but for ours. I believe that people can live deeply meaningful lives while celibate and even work with the other gendered aspect of the self.  What is not tenable is to do it alone outside of a safe haven and secure base social network. 

Yago: What attachment theory can tell us towards a celibate life? How a celibate person can deal with the human need of bonding and belonging?

Annmarie: We need to be meaningfully connected- that is just the way we are wired. Jim Coan’s research (Why we hold hands) discusses that our baseline is social not individual.  This has enormous consequences for those who live alone or live in situations where their basic attachment needs are not being met.  We all need to know that we have someone who is safe and secure that will be there when we need them.  Apart from that, there are all kinds of creative ways to structure our social communities.  I’d like to see greater creativity in reworking some of the current structures that shape us.  I wonder what a true village would look like if birthed among us. 

Yago: Richard Rohr in his last book "Immortal Diamond" says that the emergence of our True Self is actually the big disclosure of the secret ("God's secret, in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden" - Colossians 2:3). He says that, "Such risky self-disclosure is what I mean by intimacy, and intimacy is the way that love is transmitted." Now, how a celibate person can develop an intimate relationship with a person of the opposite sex when still exercising his/her role as a pastor/priest?

Annmarie: Carefully, I imagine. Again, if our structures facilitated this better it wouldn’t be such a challenge.  I would be delighted to see some creative thinking about how to enrich our daily lives, living less isolated and disconnected. Maybe the depression and negative regulatory behaviours would radically decrease if we had more natural ways to be in relationship to others within the pattern of our daily life.  Rich living requires structures that facilitate natural contact.

Yago: You say that it is very important to know our attachment style. This will help us in any kind of relationship in our families, schools, places of work and churches. What is the connection between a conflict and attachment injuries?

Sue Johnson
Annmarie: I believe that all conflict is birthed out of attachment injuries- moments in time that turn a situation from safe to dangerous or mark a situation that has been dangerous as dangerous (Sue Johnson).  Most likely, these injuries happened in a moment of time that if not looked for will be missed.  The consequence is that we misidentify the precipitating incident and consequently miss the way to the heart of the matter.  Conflict then builds upon conflict and the implicit memory of the injury can’t be healed.  Dr. Johnson has done research on how to heal an attachment injury- what needs to be present for the injury to be repaired- in dyads.  I think that this protocol can be applied to other conflict situations which is what we tried to point toward in our article on “The neuroscience of emotion.”

Yago: Finally, you argue that the way we live, we are no longer a village people, to live in nuclear families is unhealthy, it is not sustainable. So it is at all levels that we need to think how we do. Why not to be a pastor/priest in a community that is more village like must be a much healthier existence. Life used to be much more interconnected than it is now. This applies to our religious communities. How do you envision a “religious village community”?

Annmarie: I pointed toward this vision in my response above, and I feel very strongly that this is where we need to move for us to be both healthier and create contexts of peace.  In order to embody most richly and deeply what it means to be human, our contexts have to better facilitate connected living. This vision requires that we give up something- most significantly our autonomy. I know that I feel challenged by this and somewhat resistant. But, even people at the city planning level are addressing these issues because we know something has to change. I believe, however, that it needs to be birthed from the grassroots. We/ I need to capture the vision for what it means to live well in this time and place.  I need to struggle with my own need for autonomy and imagine into a more connected way of living.  We need to understand the power of the land to be our teacher and the importance of staying connected for our well-being and survival. Encounter transforms. Embodied living transforms. Being there when needed transforms. Even for me, my resistant grip is softened when I see the potentials for natural engagement that facilitate honest encounter. It is based on the rhythm of rupture and repair not the untenable utopian vision of perfection.

It honors the natural wired in attachment needs that are universal in us all and harnesses our most basic capacities.  Conflict is not something to be avoided in this space, but an expected result of real living and something to be engaged.  A space where perfection is rejected and the messiness of dirt and earth, conflict and bonding, is weaved in to the fabric of the ordinary. It is in that space, that new transformative potentials are birthed and a new way of being is created.

Yago: Annmarie, thanks a lot for your wonderful contribution to this blog. We have explored liminal spaces in conflict transformation and religious life.