Head and the Heart: How to Step into Vulnerable & Interdependent Relationships
Liz Deardorff, LCSW is a Family Therapist of Nest Family Services at Deschutes Wilderness Therapy
Brenda Zane is a Sky’s the Limit Fund board member, Founder of Hopestream Community, and podcast host of Hopestream
About the episode:
An incredibly informative conversation about defining co-dependence, enmeshment and interdependence.
– When do we parent from the head versus the heart
– How our attachment needs and trauma responses get in the way of speaking from the heart – How to bravely step into vulnerability with your child
– How heart focus v. head focus allows us to step into healthy interdependence with our child versus rescuing, enabling, and enmenshment: the “fix it” behavior
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Hi Hello, welcome to another Sky’s the Limit Fund’s Speaker Series, I am Brenda Zane, I am the fortunate board member of Sky’s the Limit Fund who gets to interview these amazing people from various wilderness organizations and bring you as much information as we can about wilderness therapy about families about kids who are struggling. So I’m really excited that you’re here today, we are going to have a great session. But I just want to take a quick minute and tell you if you’re not familiar with Sky’s the Limit Fund what we do. We are a funding organization to help families get their young adults and teens into wilderness therapy, when that is required. And it is an expensive form of therapy. But it’s also incredibly effective. And so we work really hard with families to not only get young people into wilderness therapy, but also to then wrap that family with services once the student comes home, so with after care services, like coaching with support from the community. So it’s an incredible piece of the whole puzzle with young adults who are struggling with substance use with mental health. And we’re just so so fortunate to be able to help people in that situation. And we have incredible donors who made that possible. And we just thank our donors so much for the work that you do to allow us to do the work that we do. And today, you are going to hear from Liz Deardorff, and she is the Clinical Director of Nest Family Services at Deschutes wilderness therapy. And she has spent over a decade in wilderness therapy, doing everything from being in the field with kids, young people and adolescence to being a clinical director. So she’s really spanned a lot of roles in that field. So she’s able to speak to lots of different aspects about families, and I’ll let her introduce herself. But today we’re going to be talking about family systems about how you can as a parent start to think more from your heart and less from your head. It’s an area that we go to that can be very tricky. So let’s bring on Liz and we will dive into all kinds of great topics. Hi, welcome. Hi, Brenda. Thanks for having me here. Yes. Don’t you love the magic where you just poof, you show up? We are. It’s great. Yeah. So just a little bit about yourself kind of how you got interested in wilderness therapy, and then also what you’re doing today at Nest Family Services, and then we’ll get into the juicy stuff.
Yeah, not a problem. I yeah, I have been in wilderness I’ve been with new vision wilderness that now does shoots out in Oregon. So I was in Wisconsin, and Oregon. And I stumbled upon it being from the Midwest, we don’t really have much going on for wilderness therapy at all. And so it was a blessing for me that I stumbled on it and I fell in love the power of the woods, being in there getting dirty learning alongside the students. And then also helping them grow was amazing. And I just never left. And my passion kind of just transformed to really wanting to help parents and families reconnect. And so that’s what I do now and what I love to do with parent workshops, and, and being able to do family intensives and parent coaching along the way.
That’s great. Yeah, it is, I think, as parents, we can sometimes get so focused on, you know, I’ve got to get my kids some help. And we want to get them into the right program and get them which is all wonderful. But as you know, there’s so much work to be done at the family level. And so I’m really excited to talk to you about some of these topics about you know, really how can we be speaking from our hearts. We as parents, we often just like, read and read and read and we listen to podcasts, and we try to do so much skill building. And so I’d love to talk about sort of what you see happening with families and some of those dynamics when we’re trying so hard to help our kids.
Yeah, well, so often our heart experiences pop us up into our head. And so what that does is I need to control a situation, I need to try and make sure everyone’s okay, I need to step in where no one else seems to be stepping in. So as parents, we step into our head because we’re able to manage the situation in our head. And when we get into our heart, that’s where grief and sorrow and sadness and fear live. And so oftentimes, we, we pop into our head because it feels safer. And as we start to regulate, it’s and I can speak more to this, as we start to regulate more, and kind of have the ease of like, what I hear a lot from parents, when they get into the wilderness program. They’re like, I feel so much relief, right, that there was so much chaos happening at home. And now we’re in a place and they’re safe right now, at least for now, that we can rest a little bit. And that gives us an opportunity in this program, and kind of doing our family work to drop back into the heart and understand that, and, and go between the two so often.
Right? And I think just today, we spend so much time in our heads at work. And, you know, as we’re driving and we’re navigating the world that we live in, we’re really required to be in our heads. And then to get into that softer squishier place like you can feel uncomfortable and there’s grief there. And there’s hurt there, especially when it’s related to our kids. So how do you help families do that in a way that they can sort of move forward out of place of being really stuck?
Oh, that is more complex than what we have time to talk about. Right? Number one is, is how do I, how do you start to regulate? And how do you start to drop into? What is it that you’re feeling? And usually, when I see families struggle to drop into that, it’s when they’re oftentimes making phone calls are really kind of, I don’t know, if like checking the weather, and things like that, that are out of our control. So if we’re noticing we’re doing things that are out of our control, how do we recognize that and drop into our emotions, to start to regulate? And so how we can step into our heart is to bring awareness to what’s happening in my heart, am I really scared that they’re not being taken care of, and I really fearful? Is this going to work? Is this program going to work? Am I really angry. And underneath that anger is a lot of hurt and pain from what we experienced? How do we slow down to be able to identify what’s going on inside of us. And then we can regulate that and how we regulate that. They talk about it in a lot of different ways. Like the beauty of taking a walk, and kind of just taking some breaths, being able to manage our nervous system, in that we are doing different things to help slow us down, and then start to become aware of what’s happening inside of us. emote I’ve recently, kind of read emotional agility. And I think Brene Brown has this really awesome book, Atlas of the Heart coming out, which is all about identifying and connecting to what emotions Am I feeling in our culture, we actually don’t connect much to the emotions that we’re feeling. Or we might stick to the six of them, happy, mad, sad, hurt, afraid, ashamed. And that’s kind of what we’re sticking to. And sometimes people I think what she found was like you can only actually connect to, like most people can only identify three emotions. And there’s a whole spans of them. Until when we can start to identify what’s in our heart. I’m really worried I’m really fearful, then we can start to communicate that to our loved ones, and step into that next layer. But we can’t do that if we’re, if we’re noticing ourselves get pulled up constantly up into our head. And we’re critical or concern, or how do I manage or control this or sometimes we shut down and we don’t even want to be in our head. That’s out of our hearts.
Right? Well, it sounds like when and I know this is this is true for so many people is when you when you go there, you have to be pretty vulnerable. And I think that can be something that’s really hard for parents because we feel like we’re supposed to have it all together and we’re We’re supposed to have all the answers and we know how to do it right. And if we’re being vulnerable with our kids, that those two don’t necessarily connect. So how can we do that? Kind of in a brave way? And still have the parental control? Because we still need to have that. But how do you mix those two, the vulnerability in that still needing to have your parental authority?
Oh, great question. There’s a piece of having parental authority does not what do I want to say with this. So being vulnerable is a really hard act. And it’s a brave act. And that when I’m vulnerable, I’m putting this out here for you to hold for you to not throw it back at me to not dismiss it. But to say, I am sharing this with you, because this is a part of me, that is important to communicate to you. And when I communicate this to you, what I want to do is help you see me a bit more, and see what’s happening for me a bit more. And we can do this as caregivers as parents in a very parental way. And what I mean by that is, when you yell at me, and that way, I get really hurt. Because you’re saying that I’m this or that. And that hurts me as a person, that hurts me as mom, that that happened. And you’re directly communicating, when you’re expressing and being vulnerable, that that hurt me not saying you have the power in this, but I am a person in relationship with you. And I’m actually a really important person in relationship with you, because I’m your mother, or your father, or your caretaker of whatever way that I’m actually relying on one family systems that we want to have an order. And in that we have parents and then children and then grandchildren that that I am relying and understanding that in families, we need this hierarchy. And that you saying that to me hurts you doing that makes me so scared for you. And when we’re actually speaking authentically, with our children, about our experiences, that actually helps them realize, oh, wow, that actually, that affected my mom. Right that that actually though, when she said and didn’t dismiss it, I’m not going to try and get bigger and louder. So she hears it, she heard it. And now we can go somewhere with that. Now we can a more authentic conversation. I think sometimes we get into this place of like, well, if I let them know, they hurt me, then they’re winning. And relationships with parent and child is not about negotiation. It’s not about winning. It’s actually about our emotional bond we have together. And so what I’m asking you guys to do when you go vulnerable, it’s saying that I believe in that emotional bond is really important, and way more powerful than who wins this conversation.
Right? Because of trying to win the conversation. Just speaking from experience is a entirely losing battle. Always. So I’m wondering, then what gets in the way of us, as parents typically are what do you see in the work that you do? What gets in the way of us being like this? Being in this way and being vulnerable? And, and speaking from our heart? Because it sounds very logical? And it sounds like Well, yes, of course, that would make sense. But what do you see as, as parents what trips us up in that way?
I see so much I see one eye unaware of what’s happening in their emotional world. So know if they just if they just learned more, or if they just got it together or if they just did differently. And so in an avoidance of what’s happening in that, that parents emotional world, and I do a lot of generational work. So I’m looking at how was that parent parented? How was emotions communicated? And And how was how was it that you were seen and felt in your family? Well, was it because I was successful? And so if you’re not being successful, if you’re not getting your job done or, or managing that from your parent, you’re probably going to parent in that way of, we need to make sure that we’re handling things. And so sometimes just not having awareness of what’s happening inside of us gets in the way. Because I don’t know how to do that. And so I do know how to do this. I do know how to lecture I do know how to step into action, but I don’t know how to step into my emotional world. So a lot of stuff that we’re going to be practicing when, when I’m stepping in, is just connect to what emotion is underneath that, what emotion is underneath that thought, what happens there when you feel that emotion that’s underneath that thought? And that’s an easy practice to go, Is this a thought? Or is this a feeling? How do we drop in there? The really big piece is that are our trauma responses as a parent and and when I say trauma, I think that’s a big word that sometimes we can get thrown around a lot. But we can say stress responses, our stress responses of I want to withdraw, I want to run away from this, I’m uncomfortable with this sensation or feeling can get in the way, our anger, which can then translate if our anger translates into demands or criticism or judgments. When it goes when our emotional experience of that anger, frustration goes into more like the shoulds in the Quds in the woods, that you guys hear about going into that place gets in the way. We can also like I don’t want to like rock the boat. I’m not going to communicate when I’m feeling because I don’t want to rock the boat, I’m going to walk on some eggshells. I’m going to not try and make waves, we would call that appeasement in the trauma language. I don’t want to try and make anything or do anything right now. So I’m not going to communicate what’s happening inside of me. And I’ve already mentioned this a couple times control like I, when I feel my emotions, I feel out of control. And so I’m going to go into doing things to control. So those are oftentimes reasons why we stay out of our heart and stay out of what’s going on emotionally for us. And yeah, I can, like I said, I can keep going.
Well, I wonder what I just said, there’s so many different pieces of the puzzle, obviously. But I know that I hear a lot about two things, one being enmeshment. And I’m curious to hear from someone like you what that actually is, because I don’t know that it’s really clear. And then also what kind of this word attachment is also kind of in the realm of trauma, like there’s all this, a lot of talk about attachment. And as parents, you know, where we’re just we’re not therapists unless you are a therapist, but for the most part we’re not. And so I think it can be, in some ways intimidating to start to try and understand what all of these terms mean. So maybe you could talk a little bit about what enmeshment is, because I think that that’s something that so many moms in particular struggle with probably dads too. And then what is attachment? And what are we maybe doing wrong in those areas?
Yes. So enmeshment, I think is is thrown out there a lot. And what enmeshment means is that it’s a entanglement between two people, two or more people. And so when I think about relationships, I usually draw a Venn diagram. And I put mom in one of the circles child and another, or dad or whoever the caregiver is, and in an interdependent relationship, which means that and this is what we want, and encourage our children to get to especially into adulthood is that it is a mutually dependent relationship where I am still myself. And I also need you in my life, that as in any relationship that I do need you Mom, I need you to be curious about who I am as a person and to want to be with me, and also, that child also is curious about their mom and how are they doing? As we grow up and grow older, we want interdependent relationships in our family life, and in our romantic lives and beyond. We want to develop that. And measurement if you think about the Venn diagram So I have me, in one circle I have, have my child in one circle. interdependence is there’s a slight overlap of those circles. And measurement is when those circles are fully overlapped. And I think about it where I don’t know where you begin. And I end, in my personal boundaries, in my experiences in my emotions. And this is where you, If a family is in, in mashed, that you’ll see them that when a child escalates, and maybe starts to have a lot of anger or sadness, or something is coming up, and they’re getting activated, that you see another person in the house, like kind of go with them, and they also get activated. And so in this in measurement is, I feel, and you feel and it’s the same thing. And that doesn’t mean that we have a strong sense of of who I am, as a person is independent from you. And so in measurement is really messy and gucky. And then people say, Ooh, stay away from that, because there isn’t a strong for talking about parental authority, there isn’t a strong parental authority at all with that, you’re just entwined with one another. Right? Versus that interdependence, that is the healthy piece with which we’re working with them to be is you are your own person, I am my own person. And we still need each other. Because we love each other, and we’re important to each other.
Right? That makes a lot of sense. I like your diagram example of, I think that’s easy to remember, and, and then it would be very hard. If you’re in that situation, it would be hard to be able to speak from your heart. Because if you’re speaking from your heart, a lot of times other person’s not going to necessarily agree or there’s going to be some, you know, it’ll it’ll be true, but it might not be what they want to hear. And it sounds like if you’re a mesh like that, then you’re just going to say what they want to hear. Or you’re going to be kind of mimicking each other if you’re so in each other’s back pocket. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s one of the pieces that can happen. For sure that you’re not really communicating in relationship, it just becomes this blog versus a dance.
Yeah, yeah. Well, I know a lot of moms are in that situation and trying to figure out how to get out of it. So that’s, that’s a really good, I’d like the definition. I think it’s something that it could be good to start to work on. And then what about the attachment? Approach? Or, or when we hear that what what is that?
Yeah. So when I think of attachment, I go back to Bowlby, I’m going to throw out a few more therapy words, before I get to the parents. Bowlby where he speaks about how we are all when we are born, we are born with this ability to have attachment. And that that is actually integral with surviving, we actually can bond. And so when I think of attachment, it’s a bond with another human being. And we have when we’re born, we have these attachment receptors in our brain that actually can be bonded. When we’re held by our mother, when we’re looking in their eyes, when our heartbeats are connecting, and getting into the same rhythm. Attachment is being one with another. And that when I can be one with with another that I am, they’re seeing me, they’re holding me, our breath is getting into the same rhythm. I can hear her heart they can hear my heart. When we’re in that connection place. We’re actually creating as babies our attachment receptors are connecting in our brains. And as we grow older, we because we have that attachment need attachment is bond. I need to be belong, I need to be seen. I need to be heard. I need to be important. It becomes part of the social connection with others, that we can then get into this place of of alright, I’m finding my people, they feel held. I feel important. And then I am in that bond. Feeling. Worthy is the word that comes up to me.
Yeah, so is Got a piece that you’re also working on with families, then I know you do family intensives? Which sound really great. Is that something that you’re working on? Or what are you typically doing when you’re working with a family? What’s going on in those conversations? And in those sessions?
Yeah, so the beauty of attachment and, and you could hear from some of my examples, there is the eye contact. It’s the rhythm of the heart and the breath. It’s actually an experience. And so we can’t tell someone to attach to us, we actually have to experience attachment. And so how, how we experience attachment, is by saying, and having your child tell you something that they’re experiencing in your life. And you go, wow, that is so important. Thank you for sharing that with me. Can you show me that? Can you do that with me. And we’re saying, I want to, I want to connect with you. And I want to be with you. And through this experience, we can, we can firm up our attachment. So we experience attachment by being seen, heard and felt, when I talk to a lot of my parents about is, is we’re trying to feel felt, I want someone to feel me and connect with me. And that I can be seen and valued. And when we can experiencing experience that it’s so profound, that I feel loved. And I feel I’m worthy of being loved. And we need that’s the experience of attachment. So when we do intensives, we try and experience attachment all the time, we try to experience being seen and being felt all the time. And that can happen in showing and experiencing what it’s like to do this really hardcore thing that I learned, or it can be having these really heartfelt Heart to Heart conversations together. Of wow, I didn’t know you were going through that. And I want to be with you in that I don’t want you to be alone in that. That is how we strengthen our attachment bones, or repair them. So a lot of times, students coming into our program, or families that there’s ruptures and attachment. They don’t care about me. They don’t want to hear from me. And that’s crushing for a parent to hear. Of course, I want to hear from you. Of course they care about you. Why do you think that you’re in a wilderness program right now? Of course, I want to do that. And I’m like, Yeah, of course you do. Of course you care about them, and how you’re caring about them is trying to get them in a safe place, or, or do this or do that for them. But that’s up here again, that’s up in in mind, right? That’s up in the head, right? So, so it’s up top and and when you say it must be really painful that it seems that I don’t care about you. It’s not saying I don’t care about you. It’s not when we validate it’s not about agreeing to what they’re saying. It’s about meeting them, where their emotions are. It’s about feeling and being with them in that moment. I can I can try and step into that with you. So you’re not alone in that. Even if that’s not my intention, I didn’t mean to do that. I can experience that with you. And that can actually heal broken attachments that we’ve had, where we call it misses, I was just watching a cartoon movie Mitchell’s versus the machines. And all I could see in this movie wasn’t like, Oh, that was a missing attachment. That was a missing attunement, that like, Oh, this is painful to watch. And, and this teen in this movie was doing such an awesome job of like, he just doesn’t get it and care. Anyway, I think someday I might just have to do a whole like, this is attachment. And this is you know, I’ll train that with parents.
Yes, yes. It’s so I think what’s what stuck in my mind when you were just talking was the difference of saying, if your child says, you know, can’t believe you sent me to wilderness or I can’t believe you’re doing this, you don’t care. You don’t love me. And I think the natural response that comes back is of course I care if you know and we defend, defend, defend and you are doing this and you were doing that and I had to do this and then you know, versus then what you said was it must I’m gonna probably mess it up. You have to correct me. It must feel really bad. Add to feel like I don’t care about you. You said it much more eloquently than I did. But basically, you were, you’re saying back to them. Wow. I’m sorry that you feel that way instead of just coming at it from a very defensive standpoint is that I feel like I would
I would even I, the only part I would take out is that not that I’m sorry that you feel that way? Because that’s the only reason I would take that out is because I’m just going to see you is like, Whoa, that must that stinks. That you feel that way that’s tough that you feel that way. I’m sorry, kind of puts you in it, versus meeting them where they are. Because a lot of times when I hear that, I’m sorry, you feel that way. It’s actually can sound invalidating. Like, I can’t feel this way. That’s not okay to feel this way. And we just want to meet where they’re feeling. But other than that you’d agree.
And then what would be the next so you say that, you know, it must feel really hard to feel that way? And they say, yeah, it does. Like you can’t believe you sent me out here. Do you just keep
telling me why it’s so hard out here. Tell me why it’s so hard to be here. And then you’re gonna get to some meat? Well, they don’t. It’s where the heart comes in. They’re not taking care of me or I’m away from you. And I miss you. Yeah, we can all man, what I hear so often is we can do this work at home. That is a longing for connection and attachment. We’re talking about, I want to be with you. That’s their attachment reach. We talk about it. I’m training EFT, which is an Emotionally Focused Therapy, which focuses on if I have an emotion, and I’m going to reach towards you, as a person, I love to hold me in this. And why can’t we do this at home? You can give all the reasons you didn’t go to therapy, you refused therapy, you want to go you’re smoking pot, whatever it was like I hear it all that like that. But that doesn’t mean if I defended that and dismissed that. That’s another rupture and attachment. Right? Why shouldn’t we have done this at home? It’s really hard to do this on your own, that I’m not here with you every single day, isn’t it? That’s a different way to communicate, than trying to give reasons for which is staying up in the head. Yeah, it’s being.
And what what response do you see from kids when parents do if they can do that? Because I’m sure the kids are used to the defensive and you were doing this and you know, all the things that we do wrong. But what do you see when is when a parent does start to shift that and use some of this language and root and not just speak it? But they actually mean it? What what happens with the kids? Does it freak them out a little bit is I’m sure they’re probably like,
it can. Sometimes it feels inauthentic to them. You’re just doing what the therapist said. And so I’ve had that before. And then I’m like, see if you can do it in your own words, mom, share, share with them what in your own words, what’s going on for you? And then they do and then they’re like, Oh, this is scary. I don’t think I like this. So sometimes they do some behaviors to try and get away from it because they start to feel connected. But most of the time, most of the time, it’s not that it’s I feel I feel seen to feel connected. You get it usually. There’s a crying moment and then this beautiful embrace. Because we’re feeling and not only do are we speaking from the heart, we have our hearts come closer and be like with one another. It’s this gorgeous moment of you’re taking attunement to this next level of of love and healing that happens.
Yeah. Wow. It’s so incredible to have some of those and I know we talked a little bit about skills and you know how relationships really are kind of Trump’s skills and are more important. However, I have to say. Just hearing some of this and thinking about how I could work that into my conversations is so powerful when you think about Just how you’re approaching something, how you’re approaching the words. So how do you find that balance between I’m going to learn, learn, learn, I’m going to read all the things, I’m going to listen to all the podcasts, and I’m going to go to all the things and then putting it into practice, like, how do we find the balance there?
Yeah, that some, some of the pieces is, is finding the balance is practicing what you’re learning. If you’re learning about connecting to emotions, then take some time after you listen to that podcast or read that book, to really be practicing. Okay, what’s coming up for me every day? How do I understand this, and then share it, the best things that we can do and how we learn. And really integrate what we’re learning is by sharing it with others, the more and more I talk about emotions and being vulnerable, the better I am at being emotional and vulnerable. So I I’m building, and I’m deepening as, as I’m sharing that this is important that I become more emotional and vulnerable, and can in part do that, and so practicing, and I know that sounds a little silly. And so I it’s not just getting the knowledge, it’s really practicing and break them down to little practices. It’s doing a daily journal about your emotions, it’s sharing with your partner about what it was like when this happened in in your relationship. And maybe that’s your attachment reach that you’re doing. I want to connect with you by sharing this part of me. And what that really scary about that. So practicing and making sure that you’re doing it in little doses, because we can’t get it all right. Right away.
Right? Yeah. Well, and I like the fact that there’s places like Deschutes, and in all the programs that you have, that you can do this with somebody, because I do think it’s really hard to just listen to a podcast and then do it, I think you need a translator like you to help us figure those things out. And to be that kind of Switzerland, between maybe, you know, family members who are not at peace with each other yet to do that, and then we can go and try it on our own. But I do think it’s incredibly helpful to have somebody be there and, and just help us through because it’s so emotional. It’s so you know, it’s complicated. And so I appreciate your knowledge and expertise in that because you can see how it would just really kind of break down a lot of those walls that have been building up and building up and building up and building up and then all of a sudden, all we do is we fight and we don’t communicate. And just some some skills like this can just really help. So thanks for sharing those with us.
Yeah, I think one of the best part is really remembering that we’re all human. And when we can communicate on a human level, we’re putting all our knowledge into action. Communicating.
Yes, thank you, Liz so much. It’s been great to talk we could go on and on and on. But we will wrap it up and we will make sure that in the information we can point people to you and we just appreciate the shoes being part of sky’s the limit fun. We can get kiddos there who are needing some help needing people like you and so we love having you as partners and appreciate all that you guys do.
Yeah, it’s our honor. Thank you so much for having me on today.
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