In the previous entry we covered some of the basics on heightening. This time I’m giving some examples of heightening language and the small interventions that help heighten experience in the moment.
Norm has been aggressively pursuing his wife for a more active sex life and justifying it by saying his desire level is just normal and that it shows how much he loves her. Eventually he began to realize how emotionally threatened she felt and acknowledged his part in their conflict cycle, (timing is promising…), but he wasn’t fully engaged emotionally so I asked her about the threatened feeling.
She offered the image of being pushed to the edge of a cliff by him. I asked him to feel the impact of her words “emotionally threatened by him” for a moment (slowing down) and he said it wasn’t what he wanted her to feel, looking slightly wide-eyed (entry point). Then I asked him to let himself imagine her at the edge of that high jagged cliff, feeling threatened by him (using her image and bringing it into the moment).
At first he just said, ‘you know, I feel bad’. I said, ‘I get that it feels bad, but it sounds like more, like knowing you’re scaring her is especially gut-wrenching’ (heightening and blocking an early exit). ‘Yeah’, he said, ‘who would want to be that kind of husband?’
‘Exactly’, I said, ‘it would be like pushing her to the very edge of that cliff over and over again, and not knowing how scary it is for her. It must fly in the face of wanting to be her safe, reliable partner (seeding attachment wish). How is it to sit with the feeling that you’re seen as an emotional threat to your own wife?’ (more evoking, emphasizing present moment and heightening). ‘Like I must be a selfish oaf who’s just been making it all about me, but it’s not the way I see myself. I think of myself as a good guy!’
‘No wonder it feels so painful to you’ I said Like a selfish oaf who’s pushing his wife to the edge of that jagged cliff over and over again. How is it to hear these words back from me?’ (more evoking and bringing back to the present). ‘Well it doesn’t feel good!’ ‘I bet’, I say, ‘but stay with the feeling please (block the exit) and notice what’s going on inside (focus on internal experience). Let yourself go there if you can’ (be persistent).
‘Well, you know’…, he says immediately. I interrupt (blocking the exit), ‘Can you let yourself sit quietly and notice what’s happening in your body right now? (ask about somatic experience to slow down), this is new for you so take a minute to let yourself feel it’ (slow it down). He sits quietly for about half a minute before saying, ‘I feel all this tension in my chest, like a clamping pressure.’ ‘Okay, I say, ‘thanks for staying with it. And the clamping pressure, does it have a message?’ (slowing down). ‘Yeah, I feel bad about myself, I don’t like myself right now.’
‘Yes, I wonder if this is the part you don’t let yourself feel when you’ve seen her pull back from you (empathic conjecture). And as I sit here with you now (emphasize presence) I’m guessing some of your pursuit comes from you losing a sort of contact with her – the sex closeness – that’s meant so much to you, so you keep putting on pressure as the way to keep her close’ (empathic conjecture).
He replies, ‘I do sometimes worry we’ve lost our sexual buzz for good – what if we can’t get back there? That doesn’t feel like a good way to be together’ ‘I hear you, Norm, but this time it also sounds a little different, like you’re talking about being scared of losing a part of what makes your partner so important to you (heighten fear and use attachment language). From the place of heightened primary emotion and newly accessed vulnerability I ask him to share his fears with her (enactment) and she is able this time to hear a partner who misses her, in a much less demanding and threatening way. Soon we can return to his complaints and worries about the lack of a vibrant sex life.
You can read in this example than Norm wasn’t unwilling to talk from his primary, vulnerable emotions nearly as he just needed help in the form of attunement, slowing down, blocking exits, persistence, evoking and some empathic conjecture. In the end, he was able to give his partner a much less threatening and more accessible message about her importance to him – not a bad outcome for the piece of work they did together.
Jeff Hickey, Director, Chicago Center for EFT