In my post last week I talked about my frustration at hearing EFT masters talk about validation repeatedly as the sole antidote to escalated clients. I just want to pull my hair out when I see this advice on the listserve. I feel like I can validate until the cows come home, but it rarely de-escalates my most escalated clients.
In George Faller’s training, when I watched him validate, I thought ohhhhhhh. Ok. I realized I have not actually been validating.
He said that most therapists don’t validate because they don’t want to sound blaming or shaming to the other partner. He said most therapists are really doing more empathic reflection than they are validation.
This resonated with me. An example of how I validate is:
Client (yelling): He doesn’t ever, ever help with the kids. He’s just playing video games! He’s so lazy, he’s just like his father, I knew it. All his family thinks he’s lazy! He’s just a giant child.
Me (thinking I’m validating but actually just empathically reflecting with the attachment frame): It’s so frustrating to not have him with you! You so need his help, you want him to be by your side, and it’s so hard to not have him close during these times.
* then I quickly move away from yelling partner towards listening partner*
(to listening partner) I don’t think it probably looks like her needing her help in those moments, help me understand, what do those moments look like to you?
This isn’t all terrible work. I’m trying to reframe those bullets as need and longing. But now I’m seeing my intervention here differently. Number one, I’m misattuned from the client. She’s angry! And instead I’m reflecting her longing. Number two, why am I transitioning here to the other partner? Mostly because I’m scared the yelling partner is just going to do more damage if I let them keep talking. I’m also desperately wanting to reframe the yelling as need for help, so the listening partner can make some sense of what’s happening in this chaos.
Watching George validate, I created my own formula in my head for what I saw him doing to help me remember (he may disagree with this, this was just my own integration). I saw it as:
Bold Attunement + Slowness + Attachment frame = Validation
To me, this means really getting in there and validating without as much fear that the other partner will think I’m seeing them as the bad guy, and to really validate the client’s secondary emotion and experience. In the example above this part might sound like:
“Mary! Of course! You’re so angry and frustrated! You have no idea how to get this to change, but you are drowning all by yourself in this! No wonder you’re angry at him, you have no idea why he’s not responding to your cries for help, and nothing is connecting. Am I getting that right?”
And I would say this with more affect, making my voice sound more urgent to match hers.
Instead of anxiously transitioning to the other partner, I pause here. Before, I would move away from the escalated partner so quickly. Even if I had reflected her experience relatively well, I was immediately moving away from her. Now I try to stay and pause, and see if I really am de-escalating her with my validation. If I’ve validated really well, I should see a pretty immediate calming down. Then my focus would be on creating a clear enactment so she can actually share her experience with her partner, which she is desperate to do.
Even in bold validation, I am still keeping the attachment alive. I just moved it from the attachment of longing for a partner, to the more attuned message of being so desperate and panicked to not be able to get the message of need across to her partner.
She knows her moves push him away. She knows no matter what she does, she pushes him further away. Her panic and anger is about why on earth he isn’t hearing her, and doesn’t seem to care about her need. Before this training, I would have wanted her to enact something of her longing and need for him and link that to the action tendency. Something like, “I need your help so much, when I feel like you’re not with me, I fire up and get loud,” but that would have been misattuned to how she feels in the moment.
When you think about it, maybe one level of panic is because she doesn’t feel his help, or him with her. But I think her main panic in this moment is not being able to understand why he isn’t responding to her direct request for help.
When I’m ready to distill and have her enact to her partner, I think it would be closer to her alive, present-moment experience to have her enact, “I am so angry, so totally confused why I can’t get you to understand my need. I am drowning, and when I see you look oblivious to my needs, I resort to just screaming at you because I have no idea what else to do to get my need across to you.”
Her sharing that is giving her a clearer channel for her anger in the moment. In that enactment, we’re shifting one step to the right from the bullets and criticism, to the clearer message of anger, confusion, and helplessness.
Then I can tango and explore with the listening partner, (and likely hear that for him, it doesn’t look like her need for help in that moment, it looks like her anger at another of his failures). But with the bold validation above, now I’m not leaving the primary client I was tracking with in her messy anguish. Instead, I’m helping her organize her anger and desperation before figuring out what her partner sees instead of her need.
November, 2018 Highly Escalated Couples Training by George Faller, Nashville, TN