Craig Tunnell has been a senior facilitator of the Hoffman Process since 1992 and works in both teaching the Process and training teachers nationally and internationally. He is the director of Teacher Training for the Hoffman Process and has a private practice working with individuals and couples in Sydney. Personal growth has been Craig’s active passion for the over 30 years and he feels inspired to be able to help people discover and live from their own unique, essential selves. Apart from his counseling training Craig has also studied essence psychology, trauma work, somatic experiencing, breath work and more. He also runs Love Code relationship workshops, which equip people to create and sustain deep and fulfilling, intimate relationships.
Here Craig explores how early childhood patterns play out in our most important relationships and how to navigate our way back to effective communication, healing and intimacy.
In the Hoffman Process we learn that we had to adopt protective behaviours in order to survive a childhood environment that may have felt threatening, painful or lacking in attunement. Over time these protective behaviours become ingrained and habitual even though our ‘unsafe’ childhood is well behind us. We find ourselves compulsively pleasing, shutting down, withdrawing or lashing out and one of the areas in life where this is most destructive, is in our intimate relationships.
Intimate relationships ask for us to let down our guard and share our deeper feelings and needs. Without this our relationships aren’t really intimate. But as we let down our guards our deeply held fears and vulnerabilities are much more exposed. Will I be rejected or hurt by this person? Would they love the real me if I show that? Are my needs too much? Can I trust them with my vulnerability? Will I lose myself if I surrender to the other?
In my working with couples I observe how these sensitive areas are so easily touched in relationships and how quickly we fly into protection mode in reaction to that.
Here is a typical scenario:
A partner says something to us that feels rejecting – perhaps not taking up our bid for connection. Our feelings of hurt and inadequacy get triggered and most of us we have very little capacity to ‘be with’ these uncomfortable feelings. So, as we’ve always done in the past, we fly into our protective behaviours. We might become critical and emotionally withdrawn. And as we switch into that protective mode, our partner registers our cold ‘wall like’ behaviour and that in turn triggers their vulnerable feelings. They might feel unsafe and hurt, but with little capacity to sit with and acknowledge their own feelings, they too jump into their protective behaviours. They might become defensive and self-righteous towards you and suddenly you have two peoples’ protective behaviours banging up against each other. Things can really escalate here and there is often a feeling of impasse – that no matter how much we talk, we are not getting anywhere.
When we relate from our protection, we tend to trigger the protection of the other. This ‘meeting of two hard walls’ leads us to a place of either conflict or distance or perhaps a combination of both of these. We end up losing our loving connection with our partner. We may feel ‘right’ but we also feel isolated. We are ‘against’ not ‘with’ our beloved and it’s ultimately bewildering, painful and a very hard place to find your way out of. I’ve observed that the health of the relationship suffers in couples that spend long periods of time in this dynamic. Resentment, criticism and lack of generosity begin to prevail and over time this leads to an avoidance of intimacy and sexuality.
In the Love Code Workshop we give maps and practices to navigate our way through this inevitable tough territory of relationship. Firstly, we recognise and accept that we have protection. We once needed it to survive and there’s nothing wrong with it, but we don’t want it becoming our predominant relationship style. If we can ‘own’ with our partner that we have become defensive it’s very different than simply operating out of our defensiveness towards them. Suddenly we are not using this against our partner but allowing them to see and understand our inner process. In sharing this we begin to ‘disarm’ and usually our partner begins to soften their defences as they feel our ownership of our patterns and different emotional tone. As protection tends to close doors in relationships, vulnerability tends to open them. Amazingly, as we share our differences and upsets in this more open way, an intimacy begins to develop. We help each other to grow and move into more fulfilling ways to relate.
The Love Code workshop helps us build the capacity to be with our uncomfortable feelings while in the presence of our partner. We build a sense of safety in our relationship as we learn communication pathways to get through difficult moments. We have had very little education or healthy modelling on how to ‘do’ relationships and in the Love Code workshop we decode these mysteries and learn the building blocks of how to create a healthy loving relationship.
For more information on Craig’s work, visit Craig’s website www.craigtunnell.com.au