Is It Safe to Love Again? (Part 2)
In the previous article, Gary D. Salyer, Ph.D. shares his insights that are contained in his book called Safe to Love Again: How to Release the pain of Past Relationships and Create the Love You Deserve. The foundation of a decades-long career is inspired by Attachment Theory as taught by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman. The book is not only conceptually brilliant, but has hands on, practical application for individuals and couples regardless of relationship status as well as technically savvy enough for therapists to incorporate into their practice. It belongs on the bookshelf of clinicians and could easily be used as a textbook for counselors in training.
What prompted your exploration into attachment theory?
At some point, I realized that basic NLP could take me only so far — which really irked me for a while. I had some of the new code, but not all. The basic model of NLP started by Bandler and Grinder was essentially devised from an objective and subtly ‘avoidant’ stance. As that dawned upon me, I realized that the model was limited by its early objectives. Essentially, Bandler wanted to do away with ‘psychology’ and threw out the baby with the bath water. As brilliant as NLP can be, brilliance is not enough to restore a mind’s ability to create deeply loving, lasting relationships. It takes deep capacity to connect to restore our brain’s original factory settings to love in deeply satisfying and committed ways.
That was where attachment research came into play. It’s the major field that’s all about deep connection. So, it was the logical place to begin as I began to advance upon the transformational techniques and perspectives of NLP. Then, as I traversed more and more deeply into attachment research, I realized that the marriage of the two fields could address a lot of unanswered questions in both fields. Attachment research allowed me to see how a brain not only is supposed to be wired, but how early experience wires the brain for love and all human experience before where NLP typically takes up the task of transformation, i.e., with all those limiting beliefs that come on from age 3 and afterward. In other words, attachment research allowed me to see the original ‘big bang’ moment for everyone’s brains when it comes to love and relationships. It’s like how the Hubble telescope allows us to peer deep into the cosmos to see the early moments of creation itself. If we can see how the brain gets wired in those early years, that’s the level where we want to work if we ever hope to restore a non-secure attachment style.
However, attachment research had its limitations too. I was summarily impressed and unimpressed by it all at the same time. For instance, the book Attached by Levine and Heller is about as paradigmatic as it gets here. The book offers a great summary and is long on description, but oh so short on prescription. The generic advice is typically, “marry a secure love style.” At one point I thought, there aren’t enough single secure love styles to go around because they usually get married and stay that way, and it sure as hell doesn’t seem fair to the secure. In fact, it struck me as ironic and oxymoronic that the authors were asking the secure to be what they patently would never be, and that is co-dependent in the ways they seem to suggest would be a panacea for especially, the anxious.
Moreover, those with avoidant attachment seemed to be getting a message, “you’re screwed.” There wasn’t much in the book beyond tactical remedies that were more makeshift than deeply transformational. Since I had experienced both anxious and avoidant love styles at different points in my life, I knew attachment research needed an upgrade here. If you add in the fact that academic attachment research has never been able to put together childhood attachment and adult attachment in a congruent, deeply and fine-tuned predictive way, that holy grail became my own. I knew if we could answer that question, especially given the stunning insights that Daniel Siegel’s work on early attachment addresses in The Developing Mind, then we would be onto something truly significant.
The key moment for me was when I decided to ask the question; How would I totally restore an anxious or avoidant attachment style to an earned secure style? The Strange Situation was the only baseline reference worthy of being my starting point. Whatever told those babies to be secure or non-secure by age 1 had to be my answer. Then, it was a matter of reconstructing whatever that ‘something’ was.
Strangely, this was exactly where my NLP training had a point of extreme relevance. My mentor stressed Neo-Reichian developmental psychology. Thus, I had been using the six rights that are posited by this group as a primary strategy in all of my client work. Three of those rights are put into play by age one, and each one has a primary reference feeling as my own insights from client work had taught me. Once I realized it could only be feelings welling up from implicit memory that determines an attachment style, and that I have already been using a model focusing on early developmentally derived feelings as my way to transform experience in a non-pathologizing, resourceful way, I realized that my own research and client work had stumbled upon a strategic conjunction between NLP and attachment research. That was the day my theory dawned upon me, in January 2013.