…THE ONES THAT GIVE SURE ANSWERS…

I was wandering around the Web. At one point, while strolling around a social media site that was created to link people in the professional sphere1, I wondered what content was the most clicked on, the most viewed posts, and the ones that receive the most praise.

Staying in the area I am involved with my community of EFT – Emotionally Focused Therapy – therapists, I noticed a pattern made up of a few characteristics:

The posts that create the most engagement:

  1. have “catchy” titles that draw attention.

“If you want to get out of depression, stop doing these 3 things now!”

  1. are explicitly aimed at a specific niche of users:

“10 things you need to know before dating a narcissist”

“The 5 characteristics of a borderline person”

“4 things to do right away to stop procrastinating”

“Take this test to find out if your relationship is toxic”

  1. They almost always contain an implicit “promise”:

Avoid a certain situation, solve a problem, get out of an uncomfortable moment, etc.

  1. They are often the ones that give safe answers.

“How do you create a borderline disorder?”

“How do you create a narcissistic disorder?”

“What are the diagnostic criteria?”

“How do you resolve procrastination?”

But also, “How is it not resolved because it is good?”

Leaving aside the first three characteristics, let’s focus on the last one.

The most clicked and shared posts are often the ones that give confident answers

And it makes sense that they are, since our Sapiens brains love certainty at least as much as they distrust the unknown.

Exploring the forest of the human soul every day, as therapists and beyond, we now know that resistance to uncertainty is a physiological phenomenon, something that pertains to the basic principles of survival.

When faced with the unknown, our brains need to “disambiguate,” as Lisa Feldmann Barrett2, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, puts it.

Literally, our brains need to remove ambiguity.

For here it is that by their very nature, certainties remove us from doubt, if only for a few moments, just long enough to read a post…

Predictability keeps us calm. It makes us serene.

Yet, again as therapists, we also know how working with psychology and being with people means moving through the “forest of the human soul.” A forest in which we find directions, guidelines and answers, yes, but which asks us, above all, for the ability to accept that no matter how precise, no answer can ever be definitive.

No categorization can ever be clear-cut.

In this sense, the DSM 5 had also already expressed itself, moving toward greater dimensional fluidity.

Less sharp boundaries, blurred edges, categories, and symptoms that merge and sometimes overlap. (Not on everything of course)

Therefore, in our wonderful forest of the human soul, humanistic models on the one hand are very fascinating; on the other hand, very difficult to handle.

The human brain loves sure answers.

It is crazy about certainty.

It is very comfortable with the principle of cause and effect.

Finding a certain cause to attribute our hang-ups to makes us feel a little safer: we may still be hurting, but at least we know what (or who!) to blame.

If X happened, it is Y’s fault.

In relationship dynamics, on the other hand, we know that it is very difficult to find a cause-and-effect correlation.

Indeed, working with couples and individuals means accepting that there are many variables. Among people, there are patterns that go on and are self-feeding from the dawn of time. Often from the onset of the relationship itself, or even from before.

It is really difficult, if not impossible, to trace back to the beginning of a quarrel, or a rift, partly because other dynamics also come into play in human bonds. Dynamics that pertain to the history of individuals, their relational histories, and personal histories related to identity, self-perception, and experienced bonds.

As EFT therapists, and as human beings serving the emotional well-being of our clients, we are therefore asked to train two very important skills:

  • tolerance of uncertainty;
  • flexibility.

“Training,” just as we do with muscles, one movement after another, from one repetition to the next….

The first skill is to tolerate uncertainty, that same uncertainty that can frighten us as therapists, and our clients, by welcoming emotions with as much openness as possible. With a great deal of curiosity, which, as Mira Jacobson says “Curiosity can be healing in difficult situations in that I can open myself up to discover all that I can.”

Also because, there is a downside…

When faced with absolute certainties, the human brain on the one hand feels calmer, but on the other hand it can get into a self-judging loop. In reading that the solution to our problem:

A) exists

B) seems super easy

C) X people have succeeded

… he may ask himself “why can’t I? If all those people have succeeded, how come I can’t?”

The next immediate question might then be, “Is there something wrong with me?”

But more on this in the near future….

The second skill to be trained is flexibility: the fluidity and “softness” that will help us follow even the uncertainties that frighten our patients and ourselves, to tune in with the compass and the lenses of the attachment and love model. It allows us to change our plans in session, to not remain static and strain our clients down roads that are desynchronized with their emotions at that moment. But it allows us to turn, follow and discover other paths, always within the EFT map.

These two skills do not require innate talents or special predispositions.

They are movements we can learn and they are dances we can learn to dance, guided in our exploration of the world by a very special compass.

Aided, in our view of others, and of ourselves, by the extraordinary “lenses” of attachment.

Lulled by emotion: “the music that colors our world” and that “literally, moves and motivates us3.”

Thanks to these movements, thanks to the music of emotion, and thanks to the lenses of attachment, we will also find it easier to guide our clients to the first step out of the cycles that cause them to suffer.

And, as Sue Johnson teaches us, this first step happens by recognizing the demon dialogues.

More on this in the next article…

  1. literally! ↩︎
  2. Lisa Feldman Barrett is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, where she is the director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory and the author of numerous scientific articles as well as the essay “How emotions are made“, 2017. ︎ ↩︎
  3. Sue Johnson, Leanne T. Campbell – “Guide to Individual Therapy Focused on Emotions“, Italian ed. edited by Andrea Pagani and Giulia Altera, Franco Angeli, 2023 ︎ ↩︎