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The Secure Family Asana

by Lon Rankin, LPCC, PACT faculty, Santa Fe, NM
Website: LonRankin.com
Email: Lon@ThePACTInstitute.com

Every species of mammal uses the limbic system—the social, emotional, relational part of the brain—to create strong bonds that provide safety and a felt sense of security. Adult-child bonding is especially crucial for the development of the complex human brain and nervous system, and the development of an internal felt sense of security in the world—both real and perceived. When parents are too often inattentive of their child’s emotional needs, this bonding does not happen optimally, and the injury of insecurity can prevail.

Memories, especially negative ones, are extremely powerful in influencing our perception of the world and our behaviors. Our subjective experience is colored by our past. All experiences, at any age, involving fear and threat are “velcroed” into the memory system in the interest of self-protection, but memories from childhood have particular potency. Children do not survive very long without parental attention and protection, and times of parental inattention, misattunement, and neglect are perceived as profoundly threatening. These memories become deeply wired into the brain and imprinted in the mind. (This is the basis for the value of inner child work in modern psychotherapy.) Many of the patients we work with are reacting from these often implicit and unconscious, velcroed threat memories and their activation, without proper awareness and attention from their partner.

PACT therapists understand the workings of this internal safety and security system, and the importance of this area in our work with couples. As PACT therapists, we motivate movement from projected, negative, internalized relational blueprints toward secure functioning within the primary partnership. In moving couples in this direction, we understand the importance of partners “holding each other in mind,” especially in these places of old injury. We ask them to take on the mantle of the attending parent in these areas of distress by holding their partner and their partner’s history in mind.

Toward this end, I often do the following exercise with my patients. My wife’s passion for yoga helped me envision this practice, so I affectionately call it the Secure Family Asana. (Āsana is a Sanskrit term to describe yoga postures that can promote change.)

At an appropriate place in a couple’s treatment, I invite them to sit face to face and interactively regulate each other. I have both partners imagine their arms around both their own inner child and their partner’s inner child (see Figure 1). I ask the couple to imagine being attentive parents to the places of childhood insecurity, and for this to be mutual, face to face and eye to eye.

Figure 1

 PACT Asana jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using this imagery and practicing it externally can promote the replacement of insecure blueprints within the procedural memory system. An internalized felt sense of comforting safety can then enhance secure functioning within the couple in times of distress, rather than the repetition of injury from the original memory patterns.

As PACT therapists, we know that secure functioning is characterized by a balance of valuing both self and the relationship. Therefore, we encourage couples to tend their own historical and present-time hurts, as well as be there for their partner’s hurts. Two strong, secure, internalized partners regulate these past injuries and their repetitive projected activations together. Old hurts are securely attended to in a mutual manner, rather than being allowed to take over and threaten the partnership.

This Secure Family Asana exercise embodies the tending of self and other, in both past and present. It encourages the healing of old hurts, and the growth of an internalized reparative family system. Couples can practice it to powerfully support their movement toward secure functioning.

Copyright Lon Rankin

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10 Comments

  1. Allison Howe says:

    Lon, What a beautiful exercise. You have presented the impact of past threat memories in such a sensitive way. I intend to use your exercise with my couples. Thank you! Allison Howe

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  2. Lon Rankin says:

    Glad you like it, Allison! Keep us posted with what you discover using it.

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  3. A lovely and a very finely tuned article, its speaks to the sweetness and the power of PACT as a therapeutic approach to mend childhood wounds and some deficits, it being a method for secure functioning toward ourselves and significant other(s).

    warmly,
    Elaine

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  4. michaelmdow says:

    This is great, Lon! I love the image here. When you have couples do this exercise, other than the powerful imagery and overall view, do you give any more instruction than to “sit facing each other and interactively regulate each other”? Guess I’m wondering if the “asana” here is essentially just to face each other while visualizing “the inner children”, or if you also move into having couples dialogue as well, and then if you coach them back into the “asana” when you see them slipping into non-interactive regulation, etc.

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  5. Lon Rankin says:

    Thanks for your response Elaine! Glad you liked it.

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  6. Lon Rankin says:

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the response. I thought I responded to this a week ago, but it looks like it didn’t post, so my apologies for the slow reply.

    I’m finding that this exercise, imagery, and held internal felt sense can be used in so many ways. Initially, I do guide them to grasp the concept and to experience it, there in my office. The guidance and instructions vary per couple and per situation, but usually takes a similar form in introducing them to the feeling of how it feels to hold, and be held, in these places of old injury. They usually report that they’ve never experienced anything like it, and that they find it comforting and relaxing. Often there are tears.

    And, yes, I do then occasionally draw on this in subsequent sessions as a reminder of how they can revert internally to those insecure, neglected patterns, and how there is another option that they can access. Usually, what actually happens is that when they are operating insecurely and non-collaboratively, having previously had this taste of something better, I ask them about what’s getting in the way of this secure orientation NOT happening. Then we work with that.

    So basically, once they’ve had this taste of security, it can be used as a comparison point that I can continue to use to help them work through their insecure patterns, and as a very real inner experience of mutual attending on their way towards more secure functioning.

    Thanks for the excellent clarifying question, Michael!

    Everyone: Any other ideas about how this might be used?

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  7. Tim Hogan says:

    Lon,
    I have not met you yet but just love this exercise. I sometimes ask couples to choose a stuffed animal to represent their inner child and have it with them in the session, but this adds more depth and dimension, as well as an option for the couples who don’t go for the whole stuffed animal thing. Thanks! Very helpful!

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  8. lonkrankin says:

    Thanks, Tim! I look forward to meeting you.

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    • Lon–I really like your blog. I especially like how you integrated the inner child work which I have traditionally done with individual patients, and brought it into the couple session. Very creative and powerful. I look forward to seeing you in June.

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      • lonkrankin says:

        Thanks for the kind words, Carole, so glad this fits for you. It does for me as well.

        As we help our couples move from insecure one-person systems to secure two-person systems there are so many creative possibilities. One of the things I love about the PACT model.

        See you in June!
        Lon

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