In respect to my advanced training with Diana Fosha and her body of work called AEDP (Accelerated, Experiential, Dynamic, Psychotherapy):
Adaptive Action Tendencies
The idea of looking at ways that people body patterns of actions are ways that people are organized in relationship to our hard wired “adaptive action tendencies.” These are nervous system potentials, based in research on neuro-psychology and attachment theories looking at the survival mechanisms that are quite new and obvious when you watch babies and babies with their caregivers.
We are always in a state of some kind of need as animals – we need safety in order to rest and digest, and if we don’t digest, we don’t metabolize. If we don’t metabolize, then we don’t get nourished. We need to state boundaries so that we can protect ourselves. Anger is an adaptive action that signals the need for a boundary, or is a signal that our boundaries are already being crossed. Animals growl for this reason – they are protecting their lives. I think we are impatient when we have a need that is being frustrated, and this is a distortion of the adaptive action of reaching for what we want, or stating a boundary around what we don’t want. All primary emotions have adaptive actions connected to them. These emotions are signals to create an action that takes care of our survival.
Organizations of Need are Organizations of Living in Relationship
We learn to dismiss our needs, or organize in relationship to them somehow. We convince ourselves out of them, for example. This is an ingested way that we have internalized how other people were in relationship to our needs. Primary caregiver doesn’t give you want you need? Over and over? Better start convincing yourself out of what you need or you are in a constant fight. And constantly fighting with a caregiver who is providing food can be costly to our nervous systems.
When we are taught that our needs aren’t important (or make up that story because of they way they are being ignored), we start to neglect them as they have been neglected. We are made of all that we have learned. The good news is that if we start paying attention to ourselves, we can keep learning.
When adaptive actions are organized so that we don’t reach for what we want or need, ie, if you are someone that doesn’t notice danger because fear (which is the adaptive signal that the body makes in order to distance itself from danger), then there are many problems for the person. You will walk into fire, towards abuse, and even welcome aggression because there is no fear signal. The signal of fear could be then organized as spaciness, because when there was fear in the environment, you did the only thing that made sense around people who weren’t allowing its expression – you distance yourself from it, instead of distancing yourself from whatever is causing you fear. This is a way of being organized – same wires, differently plugged in.
Our adaptive action tendencies are linked to our potential for vitality – for the experience of being alive – that “I have energy!” or “I am so excited about life,” and states of feeling interconnected to others. When we are organized so that these vital actions are not taken but distorted someway (which usually functions to protect the person), our capacity for vitality is compromised.
AEDP helps client’s restore “adaptive action patterns,” borrowed from psycho-physiological research of the attachment strivings that we are wired to have so that we can survive in this world. What we learn is learned in relationship, and therefore, we must re-learn or re-form in a different kind of relationship within a different environment.
How does this relate to people’s relationship to therapy?
Another way we can be compromised is when we want to reach out, but we stop ourselves somehow. I think a lot of people keep themselves from therapy for this very reason. It seems safer to rely on already known self-organization than to risk being hurt or neglected in a relationship that is saying it is there to help. Many of us have been in primary relationships with people that we relied upon for food and shelter, who were the protectors of our lives and survival, and they didn’t help give form to needs and wants in a healthy way. So we learn to just not reach out and rely on compromised forms of self-reliance. If this is speaking to you- I want to say that you are not alone it this. Just this weekend I realized that I went along stressed out and alone in something, as if I was the only one that could take care of what I needed. Later, I walked into a doorway towards someone I love, and they looked at me opened armed and ready to help, wondering where I had been. Meanwhile, I had neglected their needs for help, and we both acted as if we didn’t need any help. I had neglected even questioning that they wanted to help me and therefore didn’t get the sense of ease that real help offers. I had made up that they didn’t need my help, and didn’t even realize that I needed help. I was just going to go along doing something very complicated, alone and compromised.
Two minds, two nervous systems, are usually better than one living within its limitations when things are difficult.
When people around us don’t meet our needs or help in the way we need them too, we all organize ways to start taking care of our needs -sometimes this means by ignoring them, other times linking them to something else, like food or drugs that help to shift the anxiety but don’t really meet the actual need, and we usually need something in relationship to someone else.
We all absolutely need others to survive, yet we dismiss this fact the minute we take on anything as if we are the only one in charge of our lives. We are all in this together, and no one is excluded in this fact. But we live, excluding ourselves from the potential of help, change, and variations from what we know. And we do it often times outside of awareness. It is so pattened that we become experts at ways of organizing that may not meet our needs, but they do something that fuctions to take care of us in some way. Just may not be the only way.
Vital affects that are there to help navigate us through our relationships get swallowed or confused because they were habituated into relationship with our particular environment in a certain way. The information there, signaled through feelings, thoughts, and sensations, gets silenced the more our environment has helped us ignore them through neglect, defensiveness, and any kind of passive aggression or denial. We are hard wired though for vitality, joy, aliveness, feelings of interconnectedness and peace. And, we are organized in relationship to these affects depending on how they were lived in relationship, whether they were encouraged and celebrated, or dismissed and shamefulfilled.
We can see these habituated patterns or organization as inherited shapes from the formative lens, and also as patterns within relationships that have deeply meaningful motives related to what we need/ed to do in order to stay in connection with the people around us.
The way we hold ourselves is connected to what we need and want in order to feel safe, but because of stress, neglect, or lack of empathy, the signals our bodies give that are for reaching for connection or pulling away from something averse gets jumbled. For our own signals to be heard, we need time that we seem not to have in the heat of a moment, or the flicker of distress.
Discovering our Adaptive Action Tendencies
I find this information incredibly fruitful for those of us who feel held back in relationship to intimate partners, or feel like emotions are too much to bear; for people who have trouble with intimacy, or are self-sufficient but yet feel a sense of isolation that is familiar, but perhaps not quite satisfying.
To recover our adaptive actions is to recover the signals our bodies send that orient us in love, relationships, towards feelings of presence and wholeness, and interconnected states of fluidity. When they are working well, they orient us like a compass around things that are needed for survival, and away from places, situations, and people who hurt us or are a threat to our vitality. When they are not working well, we might say “Yes” in situations where there’s actually a silenced “No,” or, act out a “No,” when there is a resounding “YES” within our bodies yet find our arms around ourselves instead of someone we love. We move towards hurt instead of away from it, and we may feel less pleasure and more compressed.
These possibilities are something to be patient and kind with ourselves around, but to ignore them is to live without a palm out (even a cautious one) to what may be new and wonderful.
If you are interested in how your relationships could be different if you took a look at how this is relevant to your way of organizing yourself, please feel free to reach out- I am happy to have a conversation with you. I offer free 15-minute consultations, and if you want to give some attention to yourself, we can set up a therapy session so to do so in your own time.