Dissonance and the lonely heart

The essence of this post is about intimacy issues and how Transpersonal integrative psychotherapy and the use of the arts works in the area of difficulties relational issues beginning with the self.

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Apr 19, 2017
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Dissonance and the lonely heart

When relational problems are brought into the psychotherapeutic space, a central theme that often arises is dissonance rooted in a fear of getting close to someone, and the pain of isolation. Disclosing and exploring these issues is a sensitive subject. Transpersonal integrative psychotherapy and the use of the arts provides an expansive and safe repository for expressive ways to look into the roots of the self. Primarily, the work is client centred which means that the client’s belief system is brought into the field. This could include spiritual, cultural and religious beliefs and conflicts. Basically, the Transpersonal address the individual yet goes beyond the person through a micro-macrocosm pathway. Some areas of the Transpersonal also align with Jungian Archetypal and mythical concepts. This type of creative exploration taps into what Jung called ‘the collective unconscious,’ though hones into the intricately woven threads of the individual’s material. These areas are best expressed through sand-tray work, with the client immersing their hands in the sand (a Gestalt method) and creating landscapes and sea, represented by the blue at the base of the tray. This application provides a foundation for exploring the client’s internal landscapes. The addition of symbolic and archetypal miniatures further explores the inner and outer world through a tactile and kinaesthetic use of story.

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm writes about the ways that people tend to pursue love, primarily with an expectation to be loved rather than to give love. By uncovering the shadow side of the self and the integrating fragmented parts, these hidden pieces are brought into the light to heal. Through the psychotherapeutic work, coming to a place where a felt sense of being loveable is crucial and heightens the capacity to be loving, genuine and authentic, opening the pathways for an engagement that enriches the quality of love.

Another vital part of these psychotherapeutic approaches involve attachment and this work tends to require longer term psychotherapy to reap the full benefits of attachment deficits, rooted in the earliest stages of development. Attachment Theory draws from John Bowlby’s work with children and Mary Maine’s research into separation and the vital need for mother-infant bonding. Bowlby, through Main discovered that secure attachments formed when the primary caregiver, usually the mother, is imbibed with the capacity to nurture her infant-child, to mirror her love, to hold with gentleness, care and competence and to be empathically attuned. In this respect, the mother is not impinging on her infant with expectations to fulfil a personal vacuum, and neither does she use toxic and shaming tactics. So, whilst the infant takes in the consistent nurturance of the healthy and emotionally stable mother, the infant has absorbed all of the maternal goodness to grow into a securely attached adult. In contrast, erratic and inadequate caregiving, let’s say, in a continuum between mild and severe, produces problematic emotions and behaviours with life-time consequences. These more negative affects can manifest in all kinds of social impairments.

Bowlby fully understood the importance of the reparative therapeutic relationship and this is a key component to replenishing the wilted parts of the self that didn’t get a chance to grow. When social deficits are present, as well as difficulties in bonding and or maintaining relationships in general, Insecure Attachment patterns will inevitably impact interpersonal relations.

The consistent quality of the therapist-client relationship, is intended to build trust in order to repair whatever wounding has occurred. When inadequate caregiving has failed to mirror love to the infant, the impact on the emerging sense of self becomes fragmented. This is why reparative therapeutic interventions is vital when looking at relational issues, and allows for an emerging awareness and greater understanding of the underlying thrust that draws people together. Are you aware of your Attachment patterns? What does that even mean you may wonder? Below is a very basic glossary of various Insecure Attachment styles, though this is a large body of work that requires a more an in-depth look into the intricate details within any given individual.

Insecure Ambivalent: Anxious, clingy and emotionally disturbed when perceived rejection occurs, rooted in inconsistences in parental care, overbearing parent-caregiver and/or not given space to express unique individuality during infancy and childhood.

Insecure Avoidant: Emotional isolation connected with childhood experiences where emotional outbursts were not allowed or accepted. Generally manifests in a lack of real connection with others, with underlying fears of rejection present in the unconscious.

Insecure Dismissive: Appearing unfazed on the surface, suppression of feelings, yet unaware of denial where painful childhood incidences have occurred and this includes idealisation of the parents.

Insecure Disorganised: Limited capacity to self-regulate, projected onto others of deeply imbedded fear, extreme emotional turmoil and in some cases, paranoia. A consequence of a frightening and/or frightened parent; often associated with unresolved trauma in the parents’ in background.

Where the client is experiencing dissociative states, with underlying indications of sexual abuse and other traumatic-shock-related issues, the sensitivity of this therapeutic work will often involve the suppression of bodily feeling states. Impact on intimacy in relationships covers a wide range of issues and if these issues are connected with sexuality or torture then the ability to feel in the body is integral to the psychotherapeutic work. It will most likely require a longer-term duration. Ruella Frank’s somatic and developmental approach uses Gestalt, a method that centres on sensation and feelings in the body. Her beautifully crafted psychotherapy work exposes bodily awareness through the use of breath and looking at the ways in which tension and postural stance are causes of stress reactions that begin in infancy yet still stored in the body. Gestalt is another integrative application that I use in my practice, especially in areas of soothing, though it should be noted that Frank is a very experienced specialist in somatic-developmental psychotherapy.

Creativity and imagination are essential for self-exploration. Creative expression in therapy taps into the unconscious and encourages self-discovery that help to break through the chains of constricted thought patterns. Poetry, or example, lends itself to a more fluid, evocative language, and I always encourage creative journaling in this respect. Frida kahlo’s illustrated diary is full of evocative images and sensuous poetry that supported her particular journey fraught with physical disability, trauma and pain, both physical and emotional. She writes intimately about her relationship with her lover Diego Rivera. Each of them successful artists, they lived in Mexico during the 1940s and 50s. Kahlo pours out her heart through devotional poetry. In this excerpt she writes,

“… my body is filled with you for days and days. You are

the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightening. the

dampness of your armpits…” (Kahlo, early 1940s: p.213)

Kahlo uses her diary as a container where she transcribes the wild fires burning within, translating these affects into images and words. Kahlo exemplifies the power of the creative spirit, and immense courage in coping, and transcending her personal tragedies and internal conflicts. Ultimately, the complex themes she recorded in each unique page reflects the larger body art she exhibited that became her signature.

In my practice, whatever awakens a person and whatever brings juice and aliveness to their being is the heart of my work. The areas of self-esteem and expectations also come into play, as well as exploring emotional states and the behaviours of the individual. Questions raised such as what themes get acted out when attraction and desire arise, and a multitude of factors, enter into the complexities surrounding social and/or romantic relations, including jealousy, envy and comparison, cultural and religious differences. Other areas concern realistic ideals, or holding on obsessively to a delusional fantasy. Aside from working therapeutically on a deeper level, sometimes I integrate Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and role play as I have found these interventions to be very effective for problem solving strategies. Whilst a sense of self and sense of the other emerge, the capacity to create a more fulfilling internal and external environment shifts into greater potential for joyful relating and resonance with the heart.

Deborah Shaer


Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment, London: Pelican.

Fromm, E. (1957). The Art of Loving, London: Thorsons, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Gerhardt, S. (2015). 2nd Ed. Why Love Matters: how affection shapes a baby’s brain, New York: Routledge

Frank, R. (2001). Body of Awareness: a somatic and developmental approach to psychotherapy, Massachusetts: Gestalt Press.

Jung, C.G. (1968). 2nd Ed. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Oxon: Routledge.

Kahlo, F, (1995). The Diary of Frida Kahlo: an intimate self-portrait, Essay and commentaries by Sarah M. Lowe, New York: Abrams, in association with Mexico: La Vaca Independiente S.A. de C.V.

Main, M. (1999). Epilogue. Attachment theory: Eighteen with suggestions for future studies. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of Attachment Theory, Research and Clinical Applications. New York: Guildford Press.

Wallen, D.J. 2007, Attachment in Psychology, New York: The Guilford Press.

Go to the profile of Deborah Shaer

Deborah Shaer

I'm an Arts Psychotherapeutic Counsellor for Adolescents. I'm also in the second year of my MA as a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist. Currently, I am working in primary and secondary schools. I work with individuals and in groups, using mindfulness guided meditation and creative self-expression. Combining cognitive strategies for problem-solving with the arts and counselling has been a very effective approach with the young people I've worked with. My background is diverse. I used to live in Los Angeles working in the music and film industry, then I travelled and worked in internationally diverse cultures doing community work.

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