9. Developmental Energy Reasserts - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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9. Developmental Energy Reasserts

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Out of Dev Chrysalis Intimacy/Relationship

Out of the Developmental Chrysalis in Intimacy and Relationship Therapy
by Ronald Mah

Developmental energy that is denied or diverted will seek to reassert itself.  Compulsive or behavior that is resistant to change may be developmental energy reasserting itself, rather than a person just being immature, difficult, or stubborn.  This is as relevant for adults as it is for children.  An individual in a couple or family that had developmental energy suppressed may unconsciously or semi-consciously express with behaviors seeking its fulfillment.  The different types of insecure attachment, for example leave the fundamental needs for security and nurturing unconsciously activating both healthy and unhealthy behavior.  Neither the individual nor his or her partner or any other associate may know the behavior comes from developmental deprivation of some sort.  The incomprehensible behavior, which can be off-putting, disrespectful, or experienced as unreasonable is often attributed as the person not caring, loving, or being respectful.  A first step to compassionate but firm boundary setting and eventual change may be identifying, understanding, and accepting the behavior as coming from undeniable developmental energy.

Vlad wanted to know where, when, how, and with who Collyn was just about all the time.  He called her on her cell phone at her work to the point that her supervisor had to reprimand her about taking time from her work.  So, he sent her e-mails and text messages several times a day- sometimes, a few times an hour.  If Collyn did not respond to his e-mails or text messages, Vlad would get upset and become more persistent.  When Collyn told him that some of his messages did not ask anything or asked about things that could wait til the evening, Vlad insisted that he just wanted to know that she got the message, which he could know by her texting back.  Vlad could agree to boundaries about the timing and frequency of calls, messages, or texts, but would always come up with exceptions that did not pass muster in the light of day.  Collyn was getting worn down by his "neediness."  The calls, messages, and texting when she was at work was paralleled at home and in just about every other area of their lives.  It seemed that Vlad was insatiable about needing attention.  Vlad had tried individual therapy in his twenties when he became very depressed over two consecutive failed relationships.  His therapist worked primarily from a cognitive behavioral perspective, helping Vlad identify his thoughts and rationalizations that lead to his poor choices and behaviors in his relationships and his emotional distress.  Vlad remembers the therapy as being helpful, but also noted that it was towards the end of the therapy that he met Collyn.  Shortly after they began dating, Vlad's depression lifted and he terminated therapy.  

Ironically in a sense, it was in couple therapy that Vlad began the personal work that uncovered his attachment insecurities.  The therapist having noted Vlad's behavior as resembling anxious or insecure attachment style asked him about his childhood attachment experiences with his parents.  Vlad recalled that his parents had a lot of what he called "cold conflict" throughout his childhood.  It was not "hot conflict" with a lot of yelling and arguments.  It was just always… "chilly" between them.  His father had a high-pressure and high status job that took him out of the house for long hours and often away for a week or more at a time.  When he was home, Vlad's dad worked on his reports and job research.  He left the parental duties to Vlad's mother as was customary from his family and cultural background.  "Distant or unavailable" barely were adequate to describe his "ice-berg of a father" according to Vlad.  Unfortunately for Vlad, his mother did not compensate consistently or adequately with maternal attention either.  Vlad and his older sister Alexi were pretty much left on their own to fend for themselves.  Vlad's one year younger brother Nicky (short for Nikita) was autistic and highly reactive.  Vlad's mother had more than she could handle dealing with Nicky's needs.  Vlad and his sister could count on scraps of attention or none at all interspersed with intense emotional purging sessions with his mother as she turned to them for support unavailable from Vlad's father.  When his mother was so emotionally distraught and drained, Vlad learned to submerge his own developmental needs for validation and nurturing.  Vlad's father modeled stoic denial of emotional nurturance and relationship intimacy that he tried to emulate.

In every subsequent intimate relationship outside of his family, Vlad's underlying developmental energy or need for another person to be available (emotional proximity) and to be nurturing would arise.  In friendships or at school and later at work, social and cultural conventions muted some of his intensity.  Limitations intrinsic to school or work often required Vlad to "suck it up" which he could manage more or less because of his father's stoic modeling.  Without a doubt, fawning behavior would have adversely affected his work relationships and career opportunities.  Vlad had to make do with what he could get.  He did so reasonably well, as he had developed many socially acceptable mechanisms to be generally liked and accepted, especially among male counterparts.  However, there was emotional- primarily, depression and anxiety consequences of his settling for less than he desired or needed.  In romantic intimate relationships, including those prior to Collyn however his developmental deprivation of attachment needs reasserted itself most intensely.  As Collyn complained, no matter how much she attended to and reassured him, it was never enough.  What should have been enough for the current situation or relationship was inadequate because of Vlad's residual development poverty.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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