How Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) Works

Humans have an innate drive to form secure relationships with others. However, due to your life experiences, you may have developed patterns of relating to others that make relationships difficult. These patterns are based on expectations about how others will treat you. At one time, they were the best way to protect yourself from an unhealthy environment. The problem is that you are still stuck with them, even though they are no longer necessary. In a self-fulfilling loop, these expectations lead you to behave in ways that elicit the very responses you fear. Using Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), I can help you change these feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and experience a more rewarding way of connecting with other people.

Survival Instinct

Your drive to connect with a trusted person is a human survival instinct. Clearly seen in babies, this drive persists into adulthood as the need for a secure bond with another person. Deep in our brains, emotional connection is still interpreted as safety, and isolation or disconnection is interpreted as a threat to survival — a life or death situation!

Unintended Consequences

Disconnection feels so painful and scary that we urgently try to feel better, using whatever strategy we have. Unfortunately, without meaning to, we often deal with disconnection in a way that scares and pushes the other person farther away.

  • One common coping style in moments of distress is to move toward the other person, protesting the disconnection and requesting (or demanding!) connection. Sadly, this pursuit can come across to the other as alarming anger and criticism, rather than an attempt to heal the relationship.
  • Another common coping style is to move away from the other person, trying to avoid painful conflict and not feel your unmet need for connection. This withdrawal can be seen by the other as an alarming lack of love, rather than an attempt to protect the relationship and both of you from further damage.

Vicious Circles

When each person’s response to disconnection inadvertently alarms the other and increases the distance between you, a vicious circle ensues. Like a whirlpool, this circle pulls you both in and is very hard to escape! Some common cycles are:

  1. The more one person protests, the more the other distances – and the more one distances, the more the other protests and pursues.
  2. The more each person feels criticized, the more he or she defends by criticizing back.
  3. The more distant and unapproachable each person appears, the more the other withdraws.

Moving to Safety and Connection

Using EFT, I will help you step out of your negative cycle and make sense of the expectations, emotions, and unmet needs that were driving it. You’ll learn how to express your needs and emotions in a way that feels safe to the other person and helps him or her to respond and come closer to you. A similar process can help you heal your relationship after a betrayal or abandonment (such as an affair), leading to forgiveness and renewed trust.

It’s Not About the Chores (Money, Sex, … )

Confusingly, emotional disconnection may have led to recurring arguments about seemingly unrelated issues such as money, parenting, personality differences, chores, and sex. Underlying and intensifying these disagreements are painful hidden questions: Do I matter to you? Can I reach you? Can I count on you if I need you? Once these fundamental questions are calmed, and you both feel safe and loved, you will find it much easier to resolve those other issues.

Taming the Cycle

This video illustrates how a vicious circle, or cycle, can so easily take hold in your relationship — and how EFT can help you tame that cycle.

Sharon Mead, LMFT – Taming the Cycle

Steps and Stages of EFT

In EFT we follow a roadmap, a research-proven progression of steps and stages that guides couples through the path from disconnection to greater trust, intimacy, and security with each other.  Here is a link to a brief overview of the steps and stages we will go through in EFT.

A Glimpse Inside an EFT Session

Here is a beautiful 15-minute video that gives you a glimpse of how Emotionally Focused Therapy works, and what you might expect in your therapy session:

Silvina Irwin, Ph.D. – Moments of Meaning