How to Earn Secure Attachment in Relationships – Dr. Stan Tatkin – HPP 55
Wanting to build a strong and lasting relationship is never an easy undertaking, especially in today’s times. There are a multitude of factors and distractions that can easily affect the integrity of an already fragile relationship. This raises questions and concerns, and the need for us to truly understand what we must do to repair it and make it even stronger.
Throughout the years, couples are constantly facing massive challenges and hurdles to the point that they can barely keep their relationship afloat. Oftentimes, these struggles lead to deeper and darker questions about the stability of the relationship and inevitably causes the once loving union between two individuals to unravel.
In today’s exciting episode, we talk to Dr. Stan Tatkin, a renowned and highly respected couple therapist about the challenges couples face in all aspects in their relationship. Join us as we dive in head first to find out the significant factors that cause relationships to fail and discuss remedies and solutions to avoid it from happening from a scientific viewpoint – all the while discovering possibilities of revitalizing relationships.
Dr. Tatkin’s early origins and how he eventually got involved in psychology – 02:00
“I was in the music business in the early part of my life until around my mid-late twenties, and then I went back to school to do psychology”
PACT, and its uniqueness to approaching relationship therapy – 04:20
“We’re watching and studying people using micro analysis of digital video to study microexpressions and micro movements. Things that the therapist can see that the couple can’t”
Understanding secure functioning and how it plays a role in a relationship – 08:03
“Secure functioning is based on social contract theory, where people are engaged as two separate individuals agreeing to do things for each other that maybe other people in the world would never do unless they got paid a lot of money. In other words, the basics of civilization”
Why relationships face extreme struggles in today’s culture – 08:50
“And so we simply go out and do the same thing, thinking that you know that we are wanting equal relationships of shared power, but in fact, when we get into these relationships, it’s not equal. It’s not collaborative, fully. It’s not fully cooperative and it tends to be one-person oriented”
Defining secure versus insecure functioning and the methodology used in relationship therapy – 12:47
“There’s the intellectual understanding. There’s the actual doing things, which is what we do, and in practice, we put people under stress, they have to be under stress in order for us to see what they can’t do. And then while they’re under stress, we make the changes in real time by staging situations that are hard for them, that’s the only way we can get in”
Respecting differences in values and how it impacts relationships later in life – 17:54
“We can do more together than we could otherwise because of our differences. But on the big ticket items were pointing in the same direction. Otherwise, it’s like a three legged potato sack race, where one person is wanting to go in one direction, the other in the other direction and this couple will simply collapse every time. They’ll perish because they cannot focus together”
The nature of being human – 22:56
“Our nature truly is, and always will be aggressive and more like fickle, moody, impulsive, opportunistic, selfish, self centered, always comparing and contrasting. These are all features, but they’re also bugs in other areas, always aware of what’s missing”
Understanding the automatic brain and how it can affect the couple relationship – 24:57
“Fully unique, fully present, and creating novelty by being present. People have to learn that the only way to override the automatic brain is through being attentive and present, which is hard to maintain for long periods. But you can do it a lot throughout the day”
The fluidity between automation and the individual core guiding principles – 33:20
“There’s more fidelity between automation and what you stand for. So I’m guided by my principles, what I believe is the right way to comfort myself and I expect my partner to do the same—But it informs me what I can and cannot do. It informs us of what we can and cannot do. So it works along with that automation process”
Attachment versus non-attachment, and their significance in relationship mortality 38:46
“Attachment, in the biological sense, has to do with the natural drive of the human primate and that is that we need to have another person upon whom we can depend for our lives in order to relax. The existentialists were right. We’re all gonna die, we don’t know why we’re here, we never will, we don’t know the meaning of life and we’re alone. But we can hold hands and that is an adaptive way to deal with existential concerns and that is relationship, how we use Relationship”
Having a clear, unique and purposeful goal in a relationship – 50:05
“If we’re gonna create a world, and hopefully we’re thinking big enough to create a container that’s large enough to contain us and our growth and complexity, could we imagine a way that we both could join in some way in that dream? Maybe we’re both gonna make a difference in the world but we’ll do it differently. But it’s all energized by our union, by how we regard each other and how we work with each other. We’re able to do amazing things”
How working together can do amazing things despite differences – 54:30
“That takes a certain level of social-emotional complexity to find a way to broker a win-win. And I only can get there by realizing I have to do that to thrive. This is not a luxury, this is a necessity”
people, relationship, attachment, couple, idea, system, person, problem, partner, pact, insecure, life, functioning, brain, purpose, self regulation, world, interests, real, automation
Dr. Will Van Derveer, Keith Kurlander, Dr. Stan Tatkin
Dr. Stan Tatkin 00:00
If we’re going to create a world, could we imagine a way that we both could join in some way in that dream? You know, maybe we’re both going to make a difference in the world, but we’ll do it differently. But it’s all energized by our union by how we regard each other, how we treat each other, and how we work with each other, where we’re able to do amazing things.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:26
Thank you for joining us for the higher practice podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer, with Keith Kurlander. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.
Keith Kurlander 00:43
Hello, everyone, we are very excited to share with you a deep and far ranging, such an interesting conversation with Dr. Stan Tatkin, and one of the world’s leading researchers, let’s say a clinical researcher in the way partners, works together in relationships. And I have a personal gratitude to Dr. Tatkin for the deep impact that he’s had on me as a psychiatrist and helping me to understand relationships and how to work with couples more effectively. Dr. Stan Tatkin is a clinician, a researcher, a teacher and developer of the psychobiological approach to couple therapy. The acronym is PACT, P, A, C, T. He has a clinical practice in Calabasas, California, which is next to Malibu and he developed the PACT Institute for the purpose of training other psychotherapists to use this method in their clinical practice. In addition, Dr. Tatkin teaches and supervises Family Medicine residents at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills, California, and he is an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Tatkin is on the board of directors of Lifespan Learning Institute and serves as a member on the relationships first Council, a non profit organization founded by Harville Hendricks and Helen law Kelly hunt. Dr. Tatkin was a primary inpatient group therapist at the John Bradshaw center where among other things he taught mindfulness to patients and staff. He was trained in the past in meditation by Shinsen Young and was an experienced facilitator in Vipassana. He also trained with David Reynolds into Japanese forms of psychotherapy, Morita and Nikon. Dr. Tatkin was clinical director of treader hospitals intensive outpatient drug and alcohol program and is a former president of the California Association of marriage and Family Therapists Ventura County chapter. He is also a veteran member of the Allen N. Schore study group. This is a legendary study group on the neurobiology of relationships out of UCLA. He also trained in the adult attachment interview by way of Mary Main. And Eric has his program through University of California Berkeley. Let’s welcome Dr. Stan Tatkin into our podcast.
Keith Kurlander 03:26
Stan, thanks so much for being on the show.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 03:28
Thank you, Keith. Pleasure being here.
Keith Kurlander 03:31
Yeah, I’m really excited to chat with you. I know Will is also. We’ve both been following your work for a long time. And lots of friends in our community that have trained with you and so, you know, this is a real pleasure to get to pick your brain about couples. So excited to see what comes out of this.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 03:53
Keith Kurlander 03:56
Yeah, well, I always like a kind of a jumping off point a little bit more on the personal side which would be really just finding out a little bit about how you got so interested in relationship work. How did that come about for you?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 04:10
It all started when I was born. I come from a family where relationships were and are really important. But nothing like what I do today. I mean, I was in the music business. I was in the music business in the early part of my life until around my mid late 20s. Then I went back to school to do psychology. I didn’t really get into couples until later in my life. Before that, it was Gestalt, it was group work, it was working with John Bradshaw on doing addiction and so called codependency work. And then teaching you know, I was a teacher for many years at university and then became fascinated with the brain and the nervous system. My mentor at that time, Allan Schore, really sort of introduced me into the developing brain. And so I became fascinated with infant development and social emotional development throughout the lifespan, which morphed into the field of psychobiology, the study of the brain and the body and the developing brain, so that actually led me to do prevention work with infants, mother infants, which I don’t know if you realize it, but in our country, it’s interesting, but you can’t get anybody to come in, you know. Even in even in family medicine, it’s very hard to do work with early prevention, unless hospitals are oriented in the well baby clinic. So that was fascinating, but you know, my sample size is very small. And then I got into adult pair bonding and there we have it. We are today working with adults in primary attachment relationships which are very similar, if not almost identical to the mother baby attachment system.
Keith Kurlander 06:14
That might be a great lead in Stan to just share a little bit about PACT. So for those listeners who don’t know PACT is the psychobiological approach to couples sorry, maybe just share a little bit about the uniqueness from other modalities out there of what really is some of the central stuff PACT.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 06:31
We’re studying the lightning fast interactions between people, we’re looking at the predominance of something called procedural memory, which is sort of cheap memory, subcortical memory that is a fundamentally a recognition system that people operate day in and day out automatically without much consciousness. So we’re, you know, we’re highly automatic creatures operating by memory, mostly memory. And while this has some great, great perks, it has some real downsides, especially when it comes to love relationships because of that automation, lightning fast interaction. And a memory system it goes all the way back to early childhood, what could possibly go wrong, right? And so we’re watching and studying people using micro analysis of digital video to study micro expressions and micro movements, things that the therapist can see that the couple can’t. And then we play back the video to them at key times, so they can see under stress what they’re actually doing, and the effect they’re having on each other. So that’s a big part of what we’re doing. We’re working with implicit systems that are state dependent, and that are causing all sorts of problems in interaction. So it’s a capacity model in that psychobiology looks at the developmental capacities and deficits across the board, genetic, constitutional, environmental, and how good people are with interpersonal stress and how good they are reading their own bodies in another person’s face to be able to get in and out of trouble quickly to be able to co manage distress states to be able to co manage excitement states and less on content areas like money, time, mess, sex or kids. We’re looking at these rapid interactions that are going on between individuals during periods of stress and state change, where they are misinterpreting each other rapidly, because real time is just too fast. So it’s a fascinating area. It’s never, never boring. People are never boring. They’re fascinating. And we’re basically studying the human primate, and its pair bonding experience. That’s what we do. And we teach, you know, it’s harder to call it therapy, the more and more I do this, the more I think of it as training. There is therapy involved, but you know, training, teaching, learning how the mind works, how people work, and how this goes back to anthropology, cultural and biological anthropology, the facts about dealing with the human animal, and that you either understand how to do that or you pay the consequences. And that includes the matter of threat and how easy it is to trigger threat and how people have to learn to get along and that takes a certain ability capacity and also will to do it. So we parlay people’s distress into something we call secure functioning. Secure functioning is Based on social contract theory, where people are engaged as two separate individuals agreeing to do things for each other that maybe other people in the world would never do unless they got paid a lot of money. In other words, the basics of civilization, you know, let’s do this. Let’s not do that. Let’s sit in, let’s get along. Let’s protect each other’s interests. Let’s not scare each other. Let’s not rob each other, let’s be dependable, and we can survive and thrive if we do that. That’s secure functioning, does that answer your question?
Keith Kurlander 10:36
Yes, it did. Thank you.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 10:38
Thanks, Stan. Yeah, that actually leads into our next question we had for you which is just from a kind of a 30,000 foot view on our culture. How would you say why we struggle so much in this culture with secure functioning and why insecure functioning is so prevalent?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 11:02
I think it just has to do, well culture is a good word for it, it has to do with a lineage, say cultural lineage, or a stylistic lineage where there’s an emphasis on the self over relationship. Now, there’s always an emphasis on the self, to be human is to be selfish and self centered, but in family cultures, and some more than others, emphasize relationships more strongly. And those systems tend to be more fair and more just and more sensitive more of the time. Because their relationships are the most important thing. I want to hold our relationship together over my desire for you to perform well. I want you to do well, but never at the cost of our relationship. And so these systems are, you know, often have a lot more contact maintenance, a lot more proximity seeking in them. There’s a lot more on honesty and sharing of the real self in these families. And there’s an emphasis on repair. I know in my family of origin, certainly not perfect. I was screwed up in a variety of ways. But in my family of origin, one thing that was true is that if anybody was unhappy with the other if there was a breach in any of the relationships, it was unbearable. And it would bring all of us to the table to fix things to say, you know, I’m sorry, I, you know, I did that I was wrong. And that included my parents, so, the systems are organized in a particular way, depending on the ethos or the ethic of the family system. And because we’re automatic people are just doing this automatically, as it was done for them. Insecure models, which are overly pro self are too unfair and too unjust and too insensitive, too much of the time and like Ivan Bowser Minneonage, a brilliant frontier and founding member of family systems studied is that these injustices in invisible loyalties and families that became unfair would simply turn out children that would bill society for these injustices basically become society’s problems that we could think of insecurity as not just insensitive parenting, but unfair, unjust parenting. And so we simply go out and do the same thing, thinking that you know we are wanting equal relationships of shared power but in fact, when we get into these relationships, it’s not equal. It’s not collaborative, fully, it’s not fully cooperative. And it tends to be one person oriented. And that will always run into trouble because people will complain of, you know, this is unfair, they’ll become resentful, they’ll build memory. And these experiences actually activate a threat system that becomes biological and accumulates. So we can predict that these relationships will begin to break down. Because it’s hard to have fun. It’s hard to be sexual, it’s hard to enjoy life if your home environment is threatening and isn’t safe or secure. So there you have it. And this is I think, just a human issue. It’s not really an attachment or personality issue. It’s a human being issue.
Keith Kurlander 14:41
If we dissect a secure versus insecure a little further, I’ve seen so many couples over the years. I mean, my first question here is when couples sit down with you do they know where they land on that spectrum generally or is it more of a lot of education to even to help them figure that out?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 15:02
It’s education. But, I know the two of you gentlemen know this well because you teach and right and correct and in the whole business of teaching, disseminating information, getting people to understand ideas, it’s harder than it seems. Getting people to understand an idea, a big idea, like secure functioning. A big idea, like having a shared vision or a shared purpose. You know, in a relationship, like all unions must have at some point, you know, there’s a sigil, a flag, a song, a motto, a reason that we’re all on board, you know, we’re all aiming in the same direction. That’s the easiest way to govern, right? Everyone is on the same page. Yet partners time in time out won’t do that. They don’t come up with their reason for being other than love which is insufficient. It has to be purpose centered. And so getting these ideas across is a little like looking at a menu and going that’s really nice and then throwing up the food. There’s a mismatch here between getting ideas across and then people really wanting tools. And the problem with tools, we know that you can have all these tools if you don’t know where to hang them when your state is such that you’re on fire or there’s urgency or there’s distress, you go right to what you do, automatically. You do what you know, and what you know is what you’ve experienced. And so we have this repetition of people, you know, acting and reacting in a loop, so to speak, in these systems that are acting and reacting to themselves. And it’s very hard to educate over that. I think it just takes time because we live in a culture that doesn’t emphasize relationships. It emphasizes autonomy. Do it yourself, you know. You be you, I be me, you go get therapy and fix yourself. And then we have the other problem, and that is in human nature whenever we’re in a system and we’re unhappy, we think, Okay, why am I unhappy? Oh, yeah, it’s you. We’re always thinking and imagining and sort of organizing around why we’re in distress and pointing it outward. And so people will blame each other based on misunderstanding. So, it’s not an easy task. There’s the intellectual understanding. There’s the actual doing things, which is what we do in practice, we put people under stress, they have to be under stress in order for us to see what they can’t do. And then while they’re under stress, we make the changes in real time by staging situations that are hard for them. That’s the only way we can get in, and that they’re likely to remember the next time they’re in that state of mind. So there’s a combination of practicing putting people under extreme stress, making their partner their worst nightmare in play, and then working with them in real time while they’re in that threat state. And then there’s trying to get people to think on their own. And to come up with a big idea that they share, which will allow them to do this on themselves in an improv situation which is life, life is improv. And if I don’t have the idea, the purpose the, the meaning, the reason for behaving in this way, if a culture isn’t set in the couple, then I will do what I always do. We’re limited. We always operate within our idea of what this is. And that idea has to change in order for us to change our behavior. We have to, you know, if we went to a different culture and it was no longer acceptable to behave in this or that way, if we didn’t want to be outliers, we’d have to fall in line. And then we do, we start thinking, Oh, I can’t do that, because that would be unacceptable. Or I do do that because that is what is considered polite in this culture. That’s how we manage ourselves, right? Because we want to fit in. So in parting that in a partnership in a couple, what is your creation? What is your culture? What do you stand for? It is, to me, a wonderful thing and important, and a very difficult thing to get across and to get people to own.
Keith Kurlander 19:48
I’m really glad you said a few words multiple times, which was actually the second part of my question. You said meaning and purpose and then sharing vision and the second part of this question was, if we and this is, this transcends just the content that people are always fighting about more into individual meaning and purpose and values. And what role do you feel does value, a symbiosis and values? Or differences in values plays insecure attachment between a couple and how they navigate that? And are there just certain value systems that just are never going to get along? And that’s just the value clash? Or like what have you seen over the years around this?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 20:35
Well, there’s something like, you know, deal breakers, right? Deal breakers. I want a baby. I always wanted a baby. You never wanted a baby. And now we look at each other and we stare into the abyss that is the end of our relationship and one of us says, let’s buy a house. This is the attachment system, you know, at its best or worst, and we’re going to do it anyway even though there’s a massive delay here. We’re pointing in different directions. Our value systems are different. I believe in monogamy you believe in polyamory. These aren’t religions. But I have to be able to defend why that’s a good idea for me and you. Work can’t work in a secure functioning relationship, you have to defend why the other is good for you and me. Right? So, to the degree that we’re able to persuade each other as it’s a good idea to think this way it either makes a difference with whether we should continue or not continue. So, to me, secure functioning, I don’t I don’t really care what people decide as long as their decision is sincere. It’s not through bending reality because they’re afraid of loss. It’s not compliant, which is going to cause trouble. That they can agree that this is the best way that this value serves a personal good in a mutual good. I’m on board, no looking back, no resentment, let’s do it. But that’s unfortunately not what most people do. They kick the can down the road, they sweep it under the rug and they have two fundamental different sets of values that ordinarily might not cause any problem because Viva la de France, right? But when it comes to governing, it’s a massive problem because they’re adjudicating according to what they believe should happen in a relationship. And that’s a recipe for lots and lots of trouble. So it’s a matter of whether we can align our values and our purpose, to where it’s good enough, good enough meaning we can flourish together, right? We can do more together than we put otherwise because of our differences. But the big ticket items, we’re pointing in the same direction. Otherwise, it’s like a three legged potato sack race, where one person is wanting to go in one direction and the other in the other direction and this couple will simply collapse every time. They’ll perish because they cannot focus together. So value is a very personal thing. And it’s a value, values are personal to the couple. And they could be criminals. As long as they’re treating each other well, it’s fine. If they’re treating each other really well and secure functioning, they’ll likely be nicer people anyway. So it’s that they have to agree and be absolutely on board and be able to defend it under challenge. Otherwise it’s not real. Right? So if I have a value, let’s say of monogamy, and I can’t explain why I’m not going to be monogamous because our principles and ideas are for when we don’t feel like it, which is a lot of the Time, it’s when I don’t like it. When I don’t like you, I do it anyway, because I believe this is how we do things. See? And this is the mistake that people make. They’re planning for all the good times when the good times are mixed in to various degrees with a lot of not great times. What counts is what are you going to do when you’re scared? What are you going to do when you’re mad? What are you going to do when you don’t like me? What do you do when there’s a shiny object out there and you’re midlife and you want to go there? You know? How safe are we now? So that’s where I hopefully answered the question.
Keith Kurlander 24:37
Yeah, thank you.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 24:38
I really dig that way of talking about it that you know, we’re only as safe as we are under threat and how we behave under threat.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 24:51
Yeah. I mean, people are, you know, you go to the worst horrible criminal on the planet and meet them at a good moment they’re very nice. You just don’t want to be there in the next five minutes when their state changes. So everything matters when the rubber hits the road. And that is, you know, this is where I love, you’ve all Harare’s work particularly in Sapien that our nature truly is and always will be aggressive and warlike, fickle, Moody, impulsive, opportunistic, selfish, self centered, always comparing and contrasting. These are all features, but they’re also bugs in other areas, always aware of what’s missing, which is good when you’re hunting and gathering. Terrible when you’re lamenting your life and everybody else has a new car that you want. You know, this is the nature of being human. The only thing that keeps us civilized are our agreements and our ideas that unify us because homosapiens, if nothing else are really good at making you shut up, for better or worse, and so better make up something good that holds you together, because you’re going to need it you know, when you feel like being, you know, your base self. And so that’s the idea of principles here. They’re self governing. And the reason we would do it is because it makes us feel like we’re better people. It moves us towards complexity. We’re wiser. We rise above something because we can, because we choose to, but that takes effort, Will and a certain kind of awareness that that exists above and beyond what is natural and what is natural for us is to ruin our relationships all the time.
Keith Kurlander 26:47
And I am guessing, I’d like to take what we’re talking about into the frame of neuroscience and you’ve talked about state based memory, procedural memory, and cheap memory. I think this audience would love to hear you talk a little more about the process of automating our partners from a science perspective. And it seems to me that when I’ve seen in your writing, talking about what it costs to do certain things in functioning that this idea of principles, of agreements is probably a very costly energetic phenomenon in the brain.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 27:36
The idea of principles and agreements are costly, in the same way that novelty is. So, automation is simply a function of the brain’s ability to conserve energy, right? If nothing else, we’re built to conserve energy, which is why we only take in so much data at any given time from the outside world, our senses are gated to the thalamus. You know, there’s only so much we hear, smell, taste. There’s only so much awareness that we have consciously of subcortical processes. Most of everything we’re doing is decided before we are even aware of doing it by sub cortical processing, right? Picking up a glass of water was likely decided seconds, maybe two minutes before, we didn’t know that. And so the question of free will starts to come about here again. So the automation allows us to move about and to do new things because the brain loves novelty, but novelty is expensive. Just like crunching numbers and figuring out a problem. A puzzle is energy expending, right? And we need a break from it. So that’s a necessary thing. So automation is nature’s way of allowing us to, you know, comb our hair, talk in the phone, drive the same route, and get there somehow or to just move about in our house and think we know our partner without ever really looking at them again for another 10 years, I mean, not really being present in attention, because that takes effort. And so until automation, while making life easier, it creates a huge problem with error rate. And the error rate is something we could actually see, as we slow video down and go frame by frame. There are constant errors that we’re making in communication at any given time thinking we understand each other and when we don’t, errors in appraisal and perception. That’s happening all the time. It’s happening more and more, the more automated we are, because we’re lazy, the brain takes shortcuts and we think we know what the other person’s talking about, we think clearly when we’re not. And so it causes all these troubles. So you could say that setting up principles and setting up guardrails for a purpose is energy expending. But it’s there to make life easy. Because in actuality, the automatic brain and the rapid lightning speeds which we interact and make all these errors, without realizing it causes much more stress and much more interpersonal stress, which is toxic. What we don’t understand is interpersonal stress is the kind that we’re experiencing all the time at home. And that system is pumping out neurochemicals and hormones that are cytotoxic. And it’s causing wear and tear. So, if you think about it, the purpose of a couple system is to make itself as easy as possible. And so to have order organization, purpose principles, for people to be self governing for people to know where the guardrails are, for people to hold each other in check is actually more energy conserving. So yeah, you have to put something in in order to override our automation because our automation is simply going to be what we learned nothing more. And we’re dealing with another person in real time. And yet we’re not. And so that’s how we go to war. What do you mean by that? Why do you look that way? Why don’t you just turn away from me? Why don’t you just do that to me? Okay? I mean, the nonsense I hear day in and day out. And it’s funny in some ways, and it’s tragic, of how much we’re misunderstanding each other at any given time and how much we’re operating only in our own silos or in our own heads without ever really working with somebody in real time is astonishing. It’s astonishing, and ever more so in families because their family and they don’t think they have to make any more effort. We’re family, I get to do whatever I want. So, yes, it does take an effort to grow up. It does take an effort to know more about one’s self, it does take an effort to look at one’s errors and learn from them and build something accordingly. That makes a correction. It does take effort. But that I think, is the untapped capacity of the human being, to be better to learn, to forge, and do new ways of working together based on failures, right? Not just creating more and more failure, and then moving on and doing it all over again. So, yes, energy expending, but for the purpose of becoming better more, and not simply to do what most people are doing. And that is looking for novelty outside of the orbit of their relationship, and never learning how to be in that orbit; fully themselves, fully unique, fully present, and creating novelty by being present. People have to learn that the only way to override the automatic brain is through being attentive and present, which is hard to maintain for long periods. But you can do it a lot throughout the day, right? It’s the only way, otherwise we’re carrying a picture of the other in her head. It’s a representation of them. It’s not the real person. So one way people can test this out as a science experiment is to spend 5 or 10 minutes just gazing into each other’s eyes and use the other person’s face as the object of meditation. And you’re noticing change, change, change whenever there’s a change in the skin color, blood flow, tightness of the skin from you know, the strided muscles underneath. Pupils dilating, you know, constricting and dilating, you know, all of these changes are exciting, which is why we love TV shows where somebody is in close up, brain loves her face and close up. So people can start to go god, it’s like I haven’t looked at you in a long time. And it’s like I’m discovering you. That’s because just being determined to be present and attentive for these little bits
Keith Kurlander 34:17
Where I go with this is, well, there’s obviously great discussions we could have from the concepts of presence and consciousness and the eastern traditions and I’m really curious what you would say about it sounds like you’re saying that the more securely attached people are, the healthier the relationship is. It sounds like there’s more fluidity between the automatic subcortical structures into more of the executive center functioning, like there’s more fluidity versus rigidity of really resulting and defaulting more and more to the more subcortical structures Is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 34:58
Yes, there’s more fidelity between automation and what you stand for. So I’m guided by my principles, what I believe is the right way to comfort myself and I expect my partner to do the same. I know when I fall out of that, and then that gives me to go back and say, I’m sorry, that was wrong. But it informs me what I can and cannot do. It informs us of what we can and cannot do. So it works along with that automation process. But it is thoughtful in that I’m not alone. I work with another person. And together, that is additive, not subtractive. In other words, we’re investing in each other. And as such, how we function is of both of our interests. And so we’re tied together or wagons are tied together. Therefore, we can easily change this to thinking as we’re in each other’s care instead of just our own. So I have to retool my thinking to think, as a two person system. I can’t just do whatever I want, I can do what I want, I just have to do it in such a way that includes my partner’s interests. That’s not hard to do. But if I come from an insecure background, that right away seems like a rip off to me. That seems like a trap, I’m going to get used, I’m going to get taken advantage of. So the insecure model is basically a memory of what happens when I depend on somebody. And because I remember this didn’t go so well for me. And there are things I got to watch out for. My behavior changes to a certain degree where I behave in ways that are threatening to my partner. Ways that I can’t really predict. And if I’ve picked somebody who’s like me, which is highly likely, they’re going to do the same, and this is the opposite. This is instead of understanding each other and accepting each other as is, we’re now becoming more and more embattled for our lives. Because we’re not understanding here, right? We’re not taking time to understand what we’re doing. And accepting the idea that all people are burdensome, disappointing, difficult, annoying pain in the ass, including ourselves. So what? Now what? Right? So there’s a whole orientation here towards collaboration and cooperation. And here’s the amazing thing, guys is that throughout human history, there are just so many examples of people who hated each other for centuries and now they’re best friends. People who hated another race, and now they’re best friends. People who worked, who fought each other in wars and now they’re best friends. People who couldn’t get along and now they found a way to where they’re thriving. How did they do that? They’re different people. They’re still the same people. But they found a reason to be interdependent. We’re not enemies, we have the same thing. We have the same interests here. There’s so many examples of this. And if they can do it, everybody can. If cop car-partners who are put together, they don’t choose each other, it’s not like a dating app. And they don’t necessarily come from great backgrounds. They’re put together and they become so close because of their interdependence that they have to face a hostile world. They’re so close that their marriages suffer because there’s secure functioning. That says something about what people can do when they realize they have to. One of the things about this COVID experience is that it introduces something that’s always been there, which is an existential threat, you know, unseen fear like what was written about after 911. And it should give people a better understanding of what’s always there, and why we get together and we use our relationships as comfort and solace. Because the world’s unkind and indifferent. But still, people still find a way to use it and still be unhappy that their partner won’t have sex with them every night, but, you know, so go figure, but we do know that when when people have to do it, they perish or they find a way of working together and getting along. And it has nothing to do with personality or attachment styles, it has to do with reality. They have to do this.
Keith Kurlander 39:52
I went through a phase you know, this was interesting that you mentioned you know, the unseen fears that are arising right now and of course, we’re facing more existential threat and facing mortality a little bit more in our face as a culture. There was a phase in my relationship where we started facing the fear of one of us dying. And what I’m really curious about that is this whole question of attachment in the western psychology lens, and then this concept of non attachment in the eastern philosophical lens, and they’re not necessarily speaking to the same concept at all but what I’m curious about is when we come across facing mortality in a relationship and how does that reconcile with attachment from you know, first the western psychology end, and this is where I think some of the non attachment concepts can come in that we can work with this, but I’m just curious your thoughts on this?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 40:56
Yeah, it’s an unfortunate word game. Because words are not our friends, sometimes. Attachment can have lots of different meanings that all words can have very different meanings to different people. Again, if you’ve been teaching, you know, one person’s great words, another person’s don’t you ever say that again. Now, how dare you say that when we’ve been traumatized. So, you know, words have very particular meaning. But attachment, in the biological sense, has to do with the natural drive of the human primate, and of primates in general. And that is that we need to have another person upon whom we can depend for our lives in order to relax. So the existentialists were right, in that we’re all gonna die. We don’t know why we’re here. We never will. We don’t know the meaning of life, and we’re alone. You know, we’re surrounded by people, but because we’ve never lived outside of our heads and we never will, we are actually alone. The idea of being on the same page is a myth. We never are, we approximate each other, but we can hold hands and that is an adaptive way to deal with the existential concerns. And that is relationships, right? How we use relationships. So, attachment is love, attachment is safety and security attachment is a bomb and an antidepressant and anxiolytic for our existential angst, plus, it seems to be a sort of in our wiring that we need to bond and attach. Attachment in the Buddhist sense, in mindfulness in working with feelings and thoughts that are rising and fading and body sensations is creating an observation, an observing mind that is dispassionately watching, observing, while maintaining equanimity or a non fighting attitude relaxing into it. As Steven Levine, let’s say you know walking into the fiery barn, instead of trying to get away from it. So, it is relaxing into life and letting go of the things that we grab on to, that causes us to suffer. So being non attached, is a practice of being alive and in building out features of the brain of the mind, that are able to self regulate, right? Self regulation is partly in the front of the brain, partly in the back. Being able to observe oneself reparent oneself even though nobody would say that, but the fact that we’re observing, you know, pain, pain, sadness, is what fani talks about in terms of reflective function. We’re providing the reflective function, by noting, by observing these thoughts and feelings rising and letting go. But that gives rise to a feeling of love as well loving kindness meditation. So, there is a problem here language wise, with non attachment as being something one works on in oneself spiritually and to rise above and to be able to work with one’s own mind, as like all minds, but then also not denying the need that we need people that it is about love. Right? It is about love and attachment. So we have two different words or two different meanings. And if conflated or mixed up can be really confusing. I think that’s how I see it as being distinctly different.
Keith Kurlander 44:51
Well Yeah, I’ve, I think, maybe a decade ago is when I realized those were not the same things. And it was a big revelation for me when I was, you know, it was probably more than a decade ago to my 20s where I was so focused on the concept of non attachment. And, you know, I was spiritually bypassing the biological need to attach. Right? And then recognizing actually, these aren’t even the same concepts at all. One is a biological experience, essentially. And the other is a spiritual or cognitive experience.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 45:29
Yeah, it is. I mean, I found mindfulness practice. I mean, I don’t know what saved my life for a variety of people and mentors and who knows all the things but mindfulness practice certainly was one of them in terms of dealing with physical pain and dealing with emotional pain and being able to watch myself be able to, you know, just to sit and discipline myself, you know, that went a long way towards self regulation. But a lot of attachment in this I got into trouble with some of my colleagues who are, whose branding is mindfulness, on panels when I suggested that therapists should not when doing therapy, practice mindfulness, or insight meditation, because it is an auto regulatory function done that way. In other words, I am not truly engaged in interacting. I am self soothing and self stimulating, which is read on the outside as not present or still face. Right? It’s actually scary to look at, you know, you’re upset with me and I’m just kind of like, yeah, you know, not reacting. So the people have to watch out to not to separate, sitting down and meditating to learn how to better self regulate, as opposed as a hideout to auto regulate, you know, kind of chosen monastery life because I can’t tolerate interaction with individuals. Get close. And so that’s what I was trying to make a distinction and I got a whole lot of trouble for that, you know, for making the distinction between autoregulation and self regulation, so it can be used anything can be used our own strategies of self care, some of them are pro social, some of them aren’t. Autoregulation by definition is not pro social. It’s not anti social, it’s just not pro social. And so self regulation is because it’s preparing me. It’s a necessary condition for me to interactively regulate with you without that I can’t but even better is for us to use each other and meditate with each other face to face, eye to eye. There’s so many other meditations one can do with another person as well. So many cool things. But here’s the thing and my meditation teacher, I love and adore. I Learned this and I found it just by watching him. There’s nothing harder on the planet than another person. And we try as we might to meditate and to work with this as soon as we go live with someone, all bets are off.
Keith Kurlander 48:12
Well, bets are off. Yes.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 48:18
It’s just so hard. You pour so hard. Yeah.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 48:23
But a joy. Yeah. That’s the interesting thing. One of the techniques we use in PACT is outside meditation. You know, it’s the constant. It’s a Japanese form of Zen Meditation called Morita, a therapy in Japan. And you pay attention to every detail on the outside while relaxing your body and accepting everything as is so you’re not preoccupied internally, your sensorium is completely alert. And your attention is on the face, in the body in the eyes of the other person and you’re scanning and watching and what I discovered is not only does it allow the therapists to not to deal with self consciousness and performance issues, because you’re too busy watching and paying attention relaxing, relaxing your muscles. But also, it turns out that it increases empathy. And this has been tested out, by the way, by who’s the actor, the famous actor who’s retired now? Alan Alda. Check out “Think Big” or “Big Think”. Lovely man. And he’s actually paid for research on this. That if you pay close attention to a person as a practice, your empathy scores go up. And when you stop doing it, they go down. So what I found is a sort of a side effect of paying so much close attention to these little micro movements and expressions, is my feeling of love for people went way up. And I thought that it’s a really interesting side effect of this. I still don’t appreciate people cutting me off on the freeway or stepping in front of the line in front of me. It’s not that I love you know everything.
Keith Kurlander 50:17
If I see you on the road I won’t cut you off.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 50:22
But it’s a very interesting discovery that just by paying really close attention. And remember, you have to relax your body because otherwise your blood pressure goes up if you’re not paying attention, right? But just relaxing, constantly relaxing your muscles and then just pay attention. People become really interesting and lovely. Who would have thunk? That just that practice? You know, and so I like when partners do that. You should try it. Try spending some time, we can’t go to Starbucks right now but you know, when out and about you start studying people, you start paying attention, sure locking them. And suddenly, something starts to change inside.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 51:11
Thank you. I keep going back to something you said, I have a question for you about this issue of talking about getting on the same page and having a mutual stand that a couple that two members of a couple take together. And what’s coming up for me is the question of when one member of The couple has a really strong ambition or mission or purpose. They have a sense of what they want to accomplish in the world, what they’re going to work on in the world. And are you suggesting that a couple has their own version of that, or?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 51:55
Yeah, they can. Because remember, it’s their creation. You and I are going to create our world because nobody else cares. And the people who created our world are dead or different, or it’s their world. So if we’re going to create a world. And hopefully we’re thinking big enough to create a container that’s large enough to contain us and our growth, complexity. Could we imagine a way that we both could join in some way in that dream? You know, maybe we’re both gonna make a difference in the world, but we’ll do it differently. But we do it differently, but it’s all energized by our union by how we regard each other, how we treat each other and how we work with each other, where we’re able to do amazing things. And the reason we’re able to do amazing things and this goes back to infancy is that the insecure baby cannot develop because too many resources are being used to stabilize their sense of safety and security at moment by moment, and they’re preoccupied so to speak. So they’re more clumsy, they’re not able to hold themselves up as well as they should for their age. Their animals that they choose and are a little toothy and aggressive. And so we know the effect of insecure functioning in a relationship. That it drains resources, it prevents development from moving forward. It creates more fear and anxiety throughout the day. It makes people more aggressive, and not as nice. So when people find a way to lead together, right, you and I will be the leaders, you and I govern each other and everybody else, we’re in charge of everything. Therefore we have a duty to each other because if we’re not okay, we can’t serve everybody. We can’t do all these other things that we want to do. Therefore we know where the center of the universe is. And that is we serve each other first. Otherwise, we are of no use to anybody and we can’t create. We can’t do these things. The central idea holds water when you think of what are the other existential concerns that aren’t part of the existentialists, and that is, when we don’t know that our primary attachment relationship exists tomorrow, we don’t do well. We have an earlier, shorter lifespan, we get sick. We’re not as focused. We can’t sleep well. Right, because that is an existential concern for human beings. When you and I are working great humming along and we’re in each other’s care. We serve each other, so we can do all these things. When we’re radically loyal to each other, and we’re pointing in the same direction and we’re constantly working together on the problem, not each other. Right? We work on problems together, then we can do amazing things and have nothing to do with codependency or enmeshment. Nothing. It’s the opposite is true autonomy.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 55:25
Well, it seems like leadership requires. I mean, if you’re going to accomplish something more than just your own personal satisfaction, then you’ve got to find the win win.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 55:35
Yeah. And it’s not hard. It really isn’t. I mean, it takes more effort to, yeah, you gotta make it right for the other person. If I were alone, I wouldn’t have to do any of that. But then you sort of balanced that out because then if you’re really alone, you also don’t have any energy. And you’re flying without a net. So, yeah, but it doesn’t take a lot for me to bargain with you and say, How about this? I know you don’t like doing this thing with me. And I know you’d rather have needles in your eyes. But how about if I do this, this thing you love? And I’ll do it just before, No, just after. And I’ll throw in a Ginsu knife. I’ll throw in all these other things. But you can’t complain. Are we? Deal? Yeah, deal. We move. And, that’s how we get each other to do things that maybe the other doesn’t want to do. But that takes a certain level of social emotional complexity, to find a way to broker Win win. And I only can get there by realizing I have to do that to thrive. This is not a this is not a luxury, this is a necessity, that different separate people have gotten along and have moved mountains by bargaining, by negotiating not compromising, by making it good. I mean, when you think about how this country was formed. You have these different colonies with all these different commerce issues and different interests and almost different religions. How do you get them on board? How do you do that? Did you think about that? What they had to do the politicking to go and say, if you join us against the British, which just means if you lose, you’re dead, you know? And we’ll all do this and you get to keep this and we’ll add this to you and imagine the effort to get everyone to see the same thing that to come on board when they all have different interests. That should be some kind of lesson of what’s possible. When people put the effort out to make it good for me and good for you. It is entirely possible. Insecures, don’t care, though. That’s the problem. I shouldn’t have to do that.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 57:55
It’s almost like if you don’t have an existential threat that’s clear and present you have no motivation to cooperate. So thank the universe for these existential threats that are real and present.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 58:10
What’s kind of happening now in our government, you know, like why the bifurcation? Why tribalism? Why such a split? During a time of crisis? What’s at foot here? What’s going on? Well, again, it’s leadership in meaning. And it’s harder now to get all these different factions on board with a vision. Everyone has their separate vision now, and that’s when things begin to fall apart. great leadership is being able to create a common vision that people can get excited about, and believe in. Otherwise, it’s Might is right, it’s dictatorship. So it’s an interesting area here since I’m dealing with the micro. I’m dealing with the smallest unit, two people that’s frustrating in itself is just two people. What is your excuse? You know, as opposed to hundreds of millions of people but it is an interesting thing about human beings of what we’re capable of under certain conditions.
Keith Kurlander 59:19
Yeah, it also seems like it cycles throughout history of coming together and moving apart and it’s the same as couples, right? There’s a coming together moving apart, trying to find some homeostasis over time.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 59:36
It is in itself, that’s if in another lifetime I want to study that. As I get older, I’m much more interested in history than I was when I was younger. History and anthropology.
Keith Kurlander 59:51
Well, as we wrap up, Stan, first off, tell us a little bit about for the beginner which book would you point them to, assuming that you’ve got a lot of good books for the beginner where would you go?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 60:04
“Wired for Love” was my second book and was the most popular. We do through sounds true is my latest book. I think it’s grown much since then since it’s more comprehensive. So I recommend “We Do”. There’s also people who like audio. I’ve had the pleasure of doing two books direct to audio, where the book is actually written live as you go record it on “Your Brain on Love” was the most popular one of those. So any of those will do. And if people are interested in learning more, it’s a therapist because we trained therapists around the world or interested in couples retreats. Right now we’re doing them online. We’ve had all of Hansel, you know, internationally in here nationally, to go to thepactinstitute.com, the-P-A-C-T institute.com, and there we have an email campaign where people can get seven days of learning how to fight well together, exercises, and loads of resources that are there in writing, and listening and watching. And that’s what I would recommend.
Keith Kurlander 61:18
Great. One way we like to end this sometimes, and I think it’s really fitting for your work, which is the question in your case would be if you had a billboard that could have a paragraph on it, that every single human being could see about relationships, what would you say in that paragraph?
Dr. Stan Tatkin 61:37
In the end, all we really care about is our relationships. Attend to them now as if they may not exist in another half hour because that’s always a possibility. So our relationships are the most important thing to us. We know this with end of life stories. People are proudest, happiest about the relationships they’ve maintained, created. People who have failed in that area are the most tragic and their stories. So I wouldn’t wait. It seems morbid. I know this is longer than the paragraph sorry, it seems morbid to look at your partner and wonder whether they’ll be there tonight. The reason to do it is to again, break through that idea that everything is always here no matter what. It could be gone in a flash. Have you said everything you want to say? Have you really enjoyed your child? Have you really enjoyed your partner fully, to where you wouldn’t regret if you lost them suddenly?
Keith Kurlander 62:40
That’s great. I got some chills when you were speaking about that. And yeah, what a powerful message of you know, go after it right now, because that’s all you’ve got.
Dr. Stan Tatkin 62:50
Yeah, we don’t know life is just too unpredictable. And we’re here too easily lulled in this idea that we’re saved.
Keith Kurlander 62:58
Right. Well, thank you. So much for Thank you Your wisdom and being on this show. Thank you, Stan.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 63:09
Well, such a deep and fascinating exploration of the neurobiology of relationship and the dynamics that arise between couples with Dr. Stan Tatkin and we’re so grateful. And if you want to find out more about Dr. Tatkin and what he’s up to, the best place to go is his website, which is thepactinstitute.com that’s T, H, E, P, A, C, T, I, N, S, T, I, T, U, T, E dot com. And if you would like to stay up to date with us, receive the occasional video or piece of updates in our areas of interest integrative mental health, you can join our community at email.psychiatryinstitute.com and we look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of The Higher Practice Podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.