Jim explained how “codependency” and “enabling,” commonplace terms in the traditional addiction treatment community, have been dismissive of the biologically, wired-in need for attachment and connection. He said, “Substance abuse turns down the attachment system,” numbing the desire for connection, and reinforcing an addict’s desire for isolation. Quoting Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT, Jim reminded us “emotional dependence is our greatest strength” and that our first instinct from the day we are born is to reach for connection. In working with couples, Jim added how the use of alcohol and drugs creates distance through secrecy and results in feelings of betrayal and abandonment in the relationship. Furthermore, he explained how these painful emotions usually drive couples into entrenched, negative interactional patterns, patterns that reinforce the distance in a vicious, perpetual cycle.
Jim Thomas, Certified EFT Trainer, LMFT, informed attendees how early life trauma history further complicates the work with many of these couples, and how all trauma is relational in nature, since dealing with painful or life threatening experiences in isolation – or with an unresponsive attachment figure – are what make an incident inherently traumatic. For these traumatized individuals, Jim tells us, “Connection is dangerous,” and yet, “It is distance that dysregulates us and closeness that soothes.”
Through the various video clips Jim shared with participants, Jim made clear how important it is to focus on the present process and the primary emotions that arise between partners in the treatment room, and how equally important it is to take a humanistic stance as the therapist, using relentless empathy in validating each individual partner’s human need for connection. He demonstrated how this warm, loving stance with clients helps them access their most vulnerable emotions, revealing them and having them accepted, first by him as a safe attachment and ultimately by their primary attachment figure – their life partner. Jim emphasized how risky this feels, particularly for those individuals who have never experienced secure attachment, yet how rewarding and bonding the experience is, often giving addicted partners the real motivation to stop abusing substances.
Most importantly, Jim showed us that he doesn’t just talk the talk, but he walks the walk. His strong belief in the power of genuineness and vulnerability was made evident by his own willingness to be vulnerable with attendees, sharing personal information about his childhood attachment history and disclosing his own 30-year road to recovery from alcohol abuse. It is this transparency that makes Jim such a powerful and impactful speaker. Moreover, his success comes from combining this transparency with a terrific sense of humor, a wealth of knowledge and experience, and most importantly, an incredible passion for working with couples. As one of the many participants at this year’s spring conference, I believe I can speak for most of us when I say that it was indeed a pleasure having Jim Thomas present his work to those of us in the CPPNJ community, those of us who strive to improve our own work with couples, and who struggle with those most difficult of cases – those with issues of addiction and relational trauma.
by Maria Lorditch, LCSW, EFT Therapist and CPPNJ Faculty Member from CPPNJ Newsletter