Dr. Sue Johnson, a leading innovator in the fields of couple therapy and adult attachment and primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT). She had been called “the best couple therapist in the world,” Her books for the public include the best-sellers, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love”, which is a self-help version of the groundbreaking research on how to enhance, repair, and keep their most precious relationships. In her 2014 book, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, she proposed understanding that romantic love is based on an attachment bond.


I’m sad to share that this is one of Sue’s last recorded conversations as she died from cancer in Victoria, British Columbia, on 23 April 2024, at the age of 76. She really shows her power in our talk. Sue wanted others to understand what works and how the power and significance of emotion in peoples’ lives is critical for healing and our health and well being in general.

483: Attachment, Emotions, & Bonding

Dr. Sue Johnson

The million-dollar question is how do we cultivate and strengthen love—with our child or our partner?

Dr. Sue Johnson, innovator in attachment and developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy has the answers.

Find out why marriages fail, how to talk to your child, how to give your child a secure attachment and even hear the story of Sue losing it with her son!

Attachment, Emotions, & Bonding - Dr. Sue Johnson [483]

Read the Transcript 🡮

*This is an auto-generated transcript*

[00:00:00] Dr Sue Johnson: I found people the most fascinating, fascinating thing of all, and dramas between people the most fascinating thing of all. I spent my childhood watching them, and I spent my childhood knowing on some deep level that the conversation wasn't the conversation.

[00:00:22] Hunter: You're listening to the Mindful Parenting Podcast, episode number 483. Today, we're talking about attachment, emotions, and bonding with Dr. Sue Johnson.

Welcome to the Mindful Parenting Podcast. Here it's about becoming a less irritable, more joyful parent. At Mindful Parenting, we know that you cannot give what you do not have, and when you have calm and peace within, then you can give it to your children. I'm your host, Hunter Clarkfields. I help smart, thoughtful parents stay calm so they can have strong, connected relationships with their children.

I've been practicing mindfulness for over 25 years, I'm the creator of the Mindful Parenting course, and I'm the author of the international bestseller, Raising Good Humans, and now, Raising Good Humans Every Day, 50 Simple Ways to Rest Pause, Stay Present, and Connect with Your Kids. Hi, welcome back to the Mindful Parenting podcast, of course, always so glad you are here.

Listen, if you've ever gotten any value from this podcast, please do me a favor and just help the show grow by telling one friend about it. This allows me to keep making the podcast, allows my team to be making the podcast. When you share it, you make a big difference. So please just tell one friend about it, and I hugely appreciate it.

In just a moment, you're going to hear my powerful conversation with Dr. Sue Johnson, a leading innovator in the fields of couples therapy. An adult attachment and primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy, EFT. She has been called the best couple therapist in the world, and her books for the public include the bestsellers Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, which is a self help version of the groundbreaking research on how to enhance, repair, and keep our most precious relationships together, and her 2014 book Love Sense, the revolutionary new science of romantic relationships, where she proposed understanding that romantic love is based on an attachment bond.

I'm sad to share that this is one of Sue's last recorded conversations as she died from cancer in Victoria, British Columbia. in April at the age of 76. He really shows her power in our conversation. Sue wanted others to understand what works and how the power and significance of emotion in people's lives is critical for healing and our health and well being in general.

I was so thrilled to be able to talk to Sue when I was able to talk to her, and to have that conversation really made a big impact on me, and I know it's going to make a big impact on you. I'm honored to share with you this powerful conversation on attachment, emotions, and bonding with Dr. Sue Johnson.

Well, Sue, thank you so much for coming on the Mindful Parenting Podcast. I'm so glad you're here. You're most welcome. And I'm so excited to talk to you. I think your work with relationships is amazing and I think it's so important for us to talk about, but I love to, I love to start by looking at ourselves and how we got into this work that we do.

And I was wondering how you were raised and what was your childhood like? I believe you grew up around a pub, right? 

[00:03:50] Dr Sue Johnson: Yes. It's so interesting. Nobody's actually asked me that question in quite that form before, and so, um, when you told me you were going to ask me that, I thought, Yes, what was my childhood like?

Actually, I mean, the answer is it was a bizarre childhood. I mean, it was certainly not anything, you know, it was out of some sort of novel or something because I lived in a pub. I lived with my father and my granny. Who were both amazingly, what we would call secure parents. They were incredible. Um, they were present.

They were, um, empathic. They were supportive. Um, you know, they were there for me and, um, my granny in particular, her and I had the most wonderful relationship where we would, um, make jokes and, and, you know, um, it was a working class pub. So. Sometimes the jokes were a bit iffy, even for a child. Okay. Uh, but, um, and then we have my mom who was a whole different bag who was, um, could be amazing, playful, vibrant, wonderful, present, and was also incredibly stressed and then could also be, um, unpredictable.

And, um, very, very, very negative and critical. And so there was this kind of mix of parenting styles and, well, I lived in this pub. There were no children around, none. There were no children on the street. There were no children to play with. I was with adults all the time, except for school. And this is the other thing that makes my childhood bizarre.

I was an English working class kid who ended up, through circumstances I'm not quite clear about, um, in a middle class Catholic school where, to say that I didn't fit, um, my accent was wrong. I used, I used, I used to speak like that, you know, I used to speak like cockney, you know, like, right, like that, like, right.

Okay, what are you saying, Hunter? What, what? Yeah. Um, if you've seen the, the, the Peaky Blinders show on TV I can hear everything they say. I know all the phrases they use. So, I went to school. I was poor. The children, the rest of the children were quite well off. They all had phones and cars. We didn't, um, my uniform never fit.

I spoke with the wrong accent and I was not Catholic. How I ended up there, I don't know. Um, I was not Catholic. So, I didn't know any of the catechism. You know, um, and I think some of the teachers really felt I shouldn't be there. So I had these two worlds. And I had, contrasting in parenting, um, my best friends growing up were my granny and my dog.

I always have dogs, I have dogs now, I have two whippets. She was my buddy and, um, but I, I, I wouldn't say I was an unhappy child. I loved my father. We would go for walks and, and, uh, pick up grass and weeds for the rabbits. Almost all working class people kept rabbits in their back garden. Um, so I had a rather strange childhood and I had about 40 uncles and aunties.

Because everyone who came to the pub was an uncle or an auntie. And I had the, um, you know, the, the captain of the fleet was an uncle. Uncle Ken and I knew he was important because he had braid down his arm on, on his uniform. It was a nave arm, and he had braid. If you're important, you had braid, right? And, um, the little man who sold papers on the corner in a terrible old Mac and who my mother used to give breakfast to every morning because he, he didn't feed himself.

He was an uncle too. So, I had this range of, um, ladies and men who I would call uncle. My father told me later, when I was about 18, that my favorite auntie of them all was Auntie Nancy. Because she was so beautiful and she used to wear bright red lipstick and bright red high heeled shoes. And he told me that she was the pub's lady of the night.

Oh my goodness. So I, I, I think she was a pretty fancy lady of the night. Okay. For a working class pub. But according to him, I loved her. We used to play and she'd read me books. So I, I was in this safe, very varied. environment where everyone knew that if anyone ever hurts Sue, my father would kill them.

And I mean that literally, I'm not using an image there. It was massively protective. And so I was in the midst of all this adult chaos and listening to adult conversations that I probably shouldn't have heard. And, you know, watching adults fight and flirt, and especially on Friday night, um, often have a punch up.

I enjoyed the punch ups. They weren't threatening to me as a child. I hate to say it. I must have an aggressive personality. Aside to my nature, a

[00:09:39] Hunter: punch up is a, like an adult getting

[00:09:42] Dr Sue Johnson: each other. Okay. Okay. Yes. Yeah. Okay. Everyone gets drunk on Fridays cause people get paid. And, um, the, you know, the officers don't, don't do a punch up.

They drink lots and lots and lots of very heavy liquor and then fall down drunk. And my father would pick them up and put them in the back room, but the other people would get drunk and. I would watch it with, when I think about it now, it was kind of bizarre. I didn't have any sense of threat. You know, I was behind the bar on a stool, drying glasses.

In a working class family, everybody worked, including the kids. And, um, I would just watch it and go, watch my father knock somebody out because they were being very violent. And I'd go wee, splat, you know,


[00:10:32] Hunter: It sounds like a, a Looney Tunes cartoon to me, like, it's like, it's, it's all this violence, but it's kind of entertaining and it's safe in a way, right?

[00:10:41] Dr Sue Johnson: Save me, cause I'm behind the bar and my father was, had this, it sounds bizarre here, this gentle way of being. Um, you know, he was in the Navy and he, he, he would just hold somebody by this shoulder, sort of look at them sort of a bit, sadly, and then go, they go, oh my goodness. And I, we splat. So it was strange childhood in answer to your question.

Um, but I think I found people. The most fascinating, fascinating thing of all and dramas between people, the most fascinating thing of all. I spent my childhood watching them and I spent my childhood knowing on some deep level that the conversation wasn't the conversation. The information being exchanged was one level, but the real conversation was, were the emotions that were being exchanged.

And I think that, um, that had a huge impact on me. In my professional life, because I went to graduate school and nobody seemed to be interested in the conversation under the conversation, which is the one that defines the relationship, by the way, you know, I can be perfectly polite to you and give you lots of information, but if I give it in a way that you get, that I feel completely hostile towards you, or I'm angry, that, that defines our connection.

Our connection is unsafe for you and tight and, you know, limited. Um, I think I learned a lot in that pub from watching all these adults and interacting with them. And I was given a lot of leeway because of my father. I was allowed to say what I thought. I remember the, the magic man who used to come to my birthday parties and he couldn't do magic to save his life.

He was awful. He blew all the tricks and all the kids would laugh at him because they could see the rabbit hiding behind the, you know, it was just, he just couldn't do it. And I can remember when I was like seven or so saying things like, in the pub, you're a really, really, really bad magic man. You can't do tricks at all.

You should do something else. And this was terribly rude. I mean, for an English child. But I would get away with it, and everyone would sort of laugh, and my father would pat me on the head, and so I learned to be assertive, and I learned to tune into people, and I learned to listen to the emotional music, and realize that it's the emotional music that really tells you what's going on.

And of course that helped me tremendously in my work.

[00:13:35] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

That's fascinating. I mean, that's kind of different from the training that everybody else gets. Like we're all trained to try to listen to the content and the fact that you were so removed from the content that you were kind of this outside observer, you got to watch these emotions. And it's so, so interesting.

Cause like that's something that you don't I talk, we talk about it like in mindful parenting, this idea that like, it's safe for you to name your emotions around your kids and own them because they see it anyway. They know it anyway. It's not like you can say something and pretend to be calm if you're upset and it's going to work.

Right. So we can't fake that stuff anyway. It has to be authentic. 

[00:14:23] Dr Sue Johnson: That's right. And the emotional music. Emotion is what defines, your emotion is what structures and organizes your inner life and your relationships, and that's what your emotions do, okay, and so to ignore them is Ignoring this enormous valued piece of information, you know, and it's so interesting.

I remember sitting watching a mother and child in an airport. The child is in a car seat, a child seat, and he's obviously very distressed. And you can see from his face and his, um, the way he's using his hands. He's distressed. He's. It's like saying, where are you? Where are you? Which is the million dollar question in all close relationships.

Are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Can you see me? Will you respond to me? Where are you? Where are you? But she doesn't get it. She's on her phone. So she's, I think what she was hearing was he was hungry. So she kept looking at her phone and saying, oh here, have this buffle. Oh, here, here's a, you know, something to suck on.

Oh, here. She'd do this and go back to her phone and he'd continue to cry and get agitated. And then finally she got angry with him. And what was interesting was, from my point of view, he shut down and shut her out. His face, you could see his face. The emotional cues are so powerful if we're watching. His face literally shut down, it went flat, his body went still and stiff, he shut down and he stared at the floor in front of him and she said, good boy, that's better, that's better.

Now I don't know what you were making such a fuss about and I felt like, and then he zoned out, he didn't use, he didn't have his bottle, he just zoned out, like dashing across to her. Every time I tell this story, which isn't very often, I wish I'd done this. I felt like dashing across to her and saying, no, no, not good boy, not good boy.

Do you realize that if you do that 10 times a day, you're teaching your little one to shut down and go numb and shut people out. And that's what he'll do in his life, in his relationships. And he'll be alone. Not good boy, not good boy. Um, Tan, all he needed was you. He didn't need a bottle or a, you know, a toy or something to put in his mouth.

He needed you in that moment and I think we're not We're not getting that through to people, and of course it's the same in, in our intimate relationships with our partners. Well, so

[00:17:18] Hunter: wait, so I have a question for you. So in that situation, there, there may be a couple of different scenarios, right? Like maybe mom is ideally, I'm imagining that you would want mom to connect with him, make eye contact and empathize with him.

Let's imagine like that's sort of the ideal situation. Has, you know, is totally burnt out, emotionally drained, she's had a terrible, horrible day. In that case, what would you suggest that mom could have done?

[00:17:53] Dr Sue Johnson: The evidence is that you don't, in attachment, what we understand about the science of bonding, and we really do understand bonding at this point, it's not a mystery whether it's romantic or between.

Mother and child, father and child, or between siblings. We really do understand it. We've cracked the code of love and romantic love. What the evidence is, that's okay. If a fair percentage of the time you do turn and look at your child in the eye and lean towards them and say, Oh, what's happening? Uh, are you scared?

Are you, mommy's here? And you use, listen to my voice. I've gone down low and slow. We use this in therapy with adults all the time. If you want adults to come with you somewhere scary, you have to talk to them like a mother and child. If you talk to them like this, um, guess what? They won't come with you because they're listening for information.

They're in their prefrontal cortex. You want to talk to their amygdala. So, um, you know, you go, and if, if occasionally like enough times and nobody's totally sure what enough means, and of course it depends on your child. Some children are more sensitive. You do turn. Then the child can tolerate the times that you don't turn towards and become what we call A R E, um, accessible, responsive, and engaged, which is how you create a bond, okay?

It's emotional, accessible, responsive, engaged, you're present. So, you know, you show up emotionally and if you do that frequently enough, then the child can tolerate times when you, you can't do it. But I, I'm, I think parenting's changed and I think it's changed for the better in that I couldn't imagine my mother, particularly my mother, um, sense.

saying something to me like, Jisoo, I'm sorry I was so short with you the other day when you were upset because I was really having a bad day. Just can't imagine her saying that. And I remember with my son, it was very intense little thing. Okay. With my son, when he was about six or seven, me turning to him and saying, Oh, Tim, I'm so sorry.

You know, I didn't listen to, um, you know, an hour ago when you came to me and you said this, mommy was. Mommy was worried about something and she didn't listen, and I'm so sorry, sweetie. Um, I don't want you to be sad. And he came and crawled into my lap. And I, at one point I thought, this is, uh, different and alien to the way I was brought up.

Most people, my generation were brought up. I could imagine my father doing it just out of where he got his parenting skills. I don't know. Okay. I can't imagine, but he was an uneducated man. Who was one of nine children, lived in a two room cottage. The only interaction he ever had with his father is his father had a huge long stick and he would smack whoever he wanted to smack at the table.

They all ate at one table. Um, how my father learned to be empathic and I don't know, but he was, you know, so he might have done it just out of his innate wisdom, whatever we call that, but certainly that wasn't the rule in parenting. Children were seen and not heard. You were, um, to do what you were told.

Um, you were, well, really an inconvenience. Because life was all about survival and hard work, especially in working class England. And, you know, uh, there was an amazing study. I haven't heard about it for years when I was, uh, deciding to go to university by a man who sat on buses and studied how mothers talk to children and the kind of vocabulary they used.

What he found was that working class mothers who were often very stressed, very not supported, have very hard lives. Would speak to their children in almost, um, what do you call it? They'd use as little words as possible. It would almost be a shorthand. And it would be full of commands. Sit down. You know, don't, don't make a fuss.

You know, like, and where less stressed, more middle class women, right, who were, you know, riding the bus to go to an appointment or something, would turn and, and be conversational. That's helpful. Say, Oh, you know, we're going to go to the dentist now and, you know, it's going to be okay. And mommy's going to be with you.

And they, they speak in sentences, whereas these other women who are terribly hard lives and who had probably never had good parenting themselves. would speak in this sort of shorthand. And that's interesting too, right? 

[00:23:07] Hunter: Yeah. Yeah. No one likes to have orders, you know, be ordered and commanded. Not really at any age, I think.

[00:23:16] Dr Sue Johnson: Last time I did family therapy, actually it's in a book that I, that I wrote, um, Attachment Theory in Practice. I put it out for therapists a few years ago. I was working with this family. And the little boy, little boy, he was 11, but he was very small. He would take his house apart. He would break the TV and throw chairs around.

And he'd been, they had to take him to the police station about four times. And he was there and everyone was. Miss you surprised about his behavior. Well, I wasn't because he made it incredibly clear And he said he said to his father all you do is tell me what to do All you do is tell me what to do. You say go to bed sit down You you you don't you don't talk to me You're never with me and his father and mother were like, I don't know what you're talking about You know, I played cards with you on Sunday.

I you know, and this little boy was enraged You What he was really trying to say to his father all the time, he was desperately trying to say, where are you? Where are you? Are you there for me? Are you there for me? And of course the answer would come across as no. Mostly because this man was desperately unhappy and desperately trying to shut down and ignore the fact that he believed his wife was going to leave him and he had no idea what to do about it.

And so he was just crawling into a little shell and that meant that he wasn't there for his son. So, you know, we see these patterns in relationships and we see them in parenting. We see them in romantic relationships, um, and we understand the structure of these attachment bonding relationships. When you understand the structure of something, Not a mystery anymore.

And once you understand the structure of something, you can start changing the structure, which is quite revolutionary. And if I say to you, Hey, Hunter, we've cracked the code of love, maternal love, romantic love. Um, shouldn't that be on the front of the New York Times? Don't you think that would change everybody's life if they understood that?

You'd say, I think you'd say, Sue, that's a good idea, but it never has been on the front of the New York Times, because. Perhaps because it would be the most amazing good news. And that's what I try to put out in my book, Hold Me Tight, which is still selling like crazy after all these years, because I think everyone wants to know how to love and how to give love and how to be a good parent, how to be a good partner.

And we're never taught it. And in fact, we're taught misinformation. We're taught romantic relationships are all about sex and, you know, um, I think my generation believed that parenting was all about. Telling kids what to do, you know, um, you know, uh, children are seen and not heard. You know, it's, um, we give out all this crazy misinformation.

And then wonder why depression and anxiety in our society is going through the roof. Well, it's because people are alone.

[00:26:30] Hunter: So people, so you, you teach attachment theory and this emotional responsiveness. Is there a big, is there much of a difference between attachment in a marital relationship versus attachment in a parent child relationship?

[00:26:50] Dr Sue Johnson: Oh yes. The main difference is, in a marital relationship is, um. You know, there's some equality there. You have, if you want a good marital relationship, you, all our research and all the research on attachment says that you have to know how to tune into your partner, listen to your partner, be empathic and share, share your vulnerability with your partner in a way that pulls your partner close.

And both of you have to be able to do that. It's an equal relationship. You both impact the relationship. In our parent relationship, it's the parent who is the main sculptor of that relationship. They have more power, they have more control, they're the sort of initiator of a lot of interactions, and it's the parent who is mostly responsible for understanding that the parent's main point in terms of evolution and in terms of being a human being is to create safe haven for their child.

This is Attachment Science. A safe haven, secure base for their child. A safe haven that their child could come to for comfort and a secure base that their child can feel grounded in and know that somebody's got their back and that someone cares for them, that they're important to somebody and they can go out into the world.

This is what attachment tells us. It tells us that these are the, and it's different between, you know, Adults who share the same amount of power and, um, have the same kind of responsibility and, and kids, you know, who don't, who are, it's the parent's job to create that safety. And one of the tricky parts about adolescence is that starts to, that starts to shift and that the adolescence starts to, Define the relationship in new kinds of ways that parents are, you know, uh, not used to and get uncomfortable with and right.

[00:28:55] Hunter: Mm. Okay. Well, you said that like when, when marriages fail, it's not to talk about marital attachment and things. It's not the increasing conflict that it's the cause is the decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness. That's right. It's discrimination. Can you tell us about that? Mm hmm.

[00:29:16] Dr Sue Johnson: It's disconnection that's the issue, not the, the, the, the conflict is the inflammation.

The issue is the, the, the emotional disconnection. So you know, for example, we use a Hold Me Tight, which is a program based on my book. We use our Holby type program, uh, in the great big, uh, heart hospital in the capital of Canada in Ottawa, and I worked with a couple there, and, you know, um, he had a new heart in his chest, so he had gone through hell, and his wife, who they got married at 17 and they'd fought their whole time and now they're 60.

Okay. So I don't quite know how they'd stay together. Um, but they'd had children, you know, the best thing you can do for your children is have a good relationship. That's the truth to share parenting and to support each other and to show your children what a good relationship looks like. But they'd had children.

And she, one of the big fights they had was, she said to him, Um, sweetie, could it be that that's, don't you think that's a little bit too much wine that you have in your glass there? I don't think that Dr. Smith would like that. And my client blows up and says, Is that what you're going to do the whole time?

Is that what you're going to do for the rest of my life? Persuade me that I'm not the man I used to be. Persuade me that I'm a sicko. Is that what you're going to do? Because I'm not going to listen. Nothing's ever good enough for you, right? And she gets massively upset and starts to cry, but also yell. He walks out of the house at night in the country with no cell phone, with no nitroglycerin.

Not having taken his pills and screaming that he's not going to the doctor tomorrow and he walks out and he drives around the country all night and worries her sick and then comes back in the morning and says that he's not going to the gym, he's not going to the doctor, he's not taking his pills. You can see why the best predictor of another heart attack is the quality of your most intimate relationship.

Not the damage to your heart the first time around.

[00:31:44] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcast right after this break.

[00:31:51] Dr Sue Johnson: I got caught up in the story. What was the question?

[00:31:54] Hunter: We were talking about, you know, marriage is failing because of this. This is the disconnection, right?

[00:32:00] Dr Sue Johnson: He, she has never talked to him about how scared she is that he's going to die. Because they never used to have those kinds of conversations. She doesn't, conversations, they don't know how to move into that.

So he just sees her as controlling him and reminding him that he's not the man he was. And he is terrified of his feelings, his fears, his longing to be supported. He takes it so unmanly to need support from her. He's terrified that she will no longer want him. Because, you know, one of the things that happens if you have a new heart in your chest is Your body getting erections isn't exactly your body's main priority at that point, right?

So, you know, he's terrified and they can't talk about it. They can't talk about all this fear and longing and sadness. And so, it's like a huge elephant in the room and they just go around it and she Puts all her anxiety into trying to monitor him and tell him what to do, and he just feels criticized.

And so he shuts down and shuts her out. And the more he shuts down and shuts her out, the more scared she becomes, the more she sounds critical, and she, until she, there are three weeks after he's gone home, she looks like mis criticism, mis righteous criticism, and he looks like this silent, ticked off, angry patient who is resisting everything his wife and his doctors tell him.

And the answer to this is to help. Well, we do emotionally focused therapy with them. We do. We create hold me tight conversations, which we have shown in our research, um, end up not just improving your relationship, but reducing your depression and anxiety. And those, those results, we're one of the few couples therapies that have a lot of research and get very good results.

And also where our research last, our, our results last, we do follow ups and three years later, the results are all the same. The relationships improve. The couple are confiding in each other. They're doing better, of course, as individuals, because when we are, have safe attachment, we feel stronger. We can be more independent because we're not alone.

We feel connected with the world. We feel loved. We know we're important. All these things build strength. So, you know, we, we can see that and it's about disconnection and teaching people that they're stuck in a pattern. This couple's pattern was she would, she would end up sounding critical. That's how she dealt with her anxiety and telling him what to do.

And he would end up, um, showing resentment, but actually underneath. Being full of shame that he was, you know, needing this, and that he was now a sick man, and that she wouldn't want him anyway, and he'd put all his fear and sense of having failed as a man. into shutting down. And the more he shut down, the more upset she got.

And this was the dance they were doing. And the dance was the problem. The dance was the problem.

[00:35:25] Hunter: You talk about this in your book, the habits, right? That we get into. And, and for parents, like a lot of us, You know, we sometimes when kids come along, like these habits of disconnection can start. And so it sounds like what I'm hearing you saying is that part of it to like come back to a place of like where we're connected and we're actually being real and vulnerable with each other is like, how do you get from that place, you know, from, you know, We're disconnected.

We're not emotionally connecting to like, you, you want to be able to, you want to be able to recognize the habits that are causing that disconnection before you can then find your way back.

[00:36:04] Dr Sue Johnson: You need to, you need to have somebody help you understand that it is about loneliness, disconnection, and how vulnerable we all are without a safe.

Connected other standing by our side. You need to understand that, and we don't help people understand that at all. We tell people that strong adults should be independent and separate, which is absolute nonsense, okay? So, you need to have some sort of general frame for relationships that includes That, um, it's a strength to be able to reach for other people, and it's natural to reach for other people, and we all need other people.

But I'd love to

[00:36:43] Hunter: People, people worry about codependency though, right? Like, is that a thing? Like, can you just tell me about what is the difference between attachment and codependency? And for the listener, Dr. Sue Johnson is just shaking her head in frustration.

[00:36:58] Dr Sue Johnson: Um, this word was you, was created in the addictions literature.

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And it was, and then people started saying, Oh, well, love is an addiction. No, because addiction's got all kinds of negative connotations. You could say that love's an addiction on some level, but it's a very functional, uh, addiction that is designed to create safety in an uncertain world and allow people to thrive.

It's how reaching for other people is our main survival skill. It's why we've made it this far. And it seems to me we're losing it fast with the internet and with cell phones, and nobody seems to worry about that too much. Um, I think if we lose that one, we lose everything personally. You don't have to worry about the environment.

We're not going to survive if we lose that one. We have to be able to reach for people. But, you know, so you have to be able to, um, have this awareness, which we don't give people. We don't teach them about relationships. We don't teach them about empathy in school. We lecture them about all kinds of things, but we don't do that.

And then you show people the dance they're caught in, and they get, understand that they're both caught in the dance. And it's the dance that's the problem, and the problem is it keeps them separate. You know, I give you a good example. People like it when folks like me, who are supposed to be experts, share where they've got stuck, because we all get stuck, because we're human beings.

When my son was about 17, we were going through a very rough patch because I was used to being close to him and suddenly he wouldn't talk to me. He wouldn't, he wouldn't, he wouldn't let me in at all. You know, and I remember saying to my husband, I feel like I've lost my son. I, I, I don't know who he is.

And so we were in Starbucks on Saturday morning. Which is not a good place for a relatively well known therapist in a community to have a family fight. Okay, isn't good. So we're in Starbucks and I was trying to do what I said in my book, which is come across as safe and right. Encourage contact. So I said, you know, you know, Tim, um, I, we're just waiting, you know, to, to put our coffee order in.

Um, You know, um, I'm a little worried because you aren't talking to me and I get the feeling that things aren't going well in school, you know, and I'm getting worried. And he looks at me and he rolls his eyes. He goes, Oh my God, here's my mother talking to me in this phony voice, right? And I lose it. I lose it.

In the middle of Starbucks on Saturday morning, you know, famous therapist loses it, right? And I lose it. And I say, what are you doing? Oh, I see. I'm, I'm, I'm pathetic. Am I? I'm, you're rolling your eyes. You don't even want to hear me. That's typical. That's typical. And he says, mother. You're being embarrassing.

So I say, Oh, you think this is embarrassing. I'm just winding up here. And so we can go into it, right? And he's, what is the cycle? I'm pushing, criticizing, demanding. He's shutting down, being distant, getting more distant, being patronizing, right? Uh, and there's a criticism in there as well. You shouldn't be doing this.

Right? And if we were home, that would continue all day. So the barista reaches across and says, would you like cinnamon on top of your, right? Which is, we go, um, oh, um, no, thank you. So then we sit down and my wonderful, wonderful son, who's lived with me for all these years and lived with EFT, emotionally focused therapy, and watched all kinds of tapes because he'd walk in in the middle of them, right?

Of me working with people, um, says to me. Well, that conversation didn't go too well, did it? Now he doesn't say, you're a terrible communicator, or he talks about the conversation, the dance. And I said, you're right, it didn't. So then I correct it. And I do the beginning of a hold me tight conversation. I say, I see the pattern we're caught in.

I see it's about disconnection and I see my part in it. And I say, uh, I started in the wrong place. What I should have said to you is I'm getting really, really scared. I'm getting scared because you're not talking to me, and I think you're in trouble, and I think you're in trouble in school, and I don't know how to reach you, and I feel scared and sad and like I'm a bad parent.

And he says, Oh, this is a different kind of conversation, right? From, are you doing your homework? You know, um, yeah. Yeah. He says, um, oh, yeah, mom, um, Um, you've got a right to be scared. I've absolutely failed everything. I haven't given in an assignment in any course since the beginning of the year. So then I go, Oh, we both sit there and we both go, Oh, we're in trouble.

We're both in trouble. Well, the interesting thing is we shared our vulnerabilities and our fears and he opened up to me and I opened up to him and it was five blocks from my house that Starbucks. We hadn't been able to talk for about 18 months with him hiding out and me aggressively trying to reach him and, um, by the time we got home, we decided what to do.

We'd solved the problem. We decided that he had to go to the other school down the road and do a make up year. We decided how to set that up. It was like we were collaborators working on a joint problem. This is what happens when you have safe connection between people. They're fantastic problem solvers.

Things that, you know, had them stuck for years suddenly become quite simple, you know, um, because it's, they focus on the problem, not all the emotional messages that are exchanged when they talk about the problem. And so we sort of put his life back on track in those five. Five blocks. But it was because of that beginning of that hold me tight conversation.

If I'd stayed rigid in my, well, you know, um, you're not talking to me and if you're not going to talk to me, I'm not going to pay your allowance. So there you go. If I'd stayed rigid in that and if he'd stayed rigid in, oh, you know, parents are just a paying they don't understand, right? Um, you can, you know, you could get stuck, but he understood instinctively.

But it was the dance that was the problem. And once you understand that, you see that you're both stuck. You're not, nobody's really the bad guy. Nobody's trying to hurt anybody. Most of the time, occasionally we get so frustrated. We do, we say, I'll make you respond to me. I'll smack you so bad. You'll have to respond to me.

That's a pretty desperate thing to place to get to, but you know, and then we can turn and have another conversation, which is, Our Hold Me Tight Conversation, which is basically sharing vulnerability, sharing fears, being honest, opening up, and then doing it in a way that pulls the other person close and then responding, them responding to you.

That conversation is so powerful, has so much survival significance. That conversation, um, you know, we should be showing everybody what right looks like, teaching people how to do that. Showing people how to do it with their kids, with their partners. This is what we should be doing. We've cracked the code of love.

Let's, let's show it to everybody. And we try to do this in our Hold Me Tight online program and in all the Hold Me Tight programs around the world, you know, which are awesome. In places you'd never dream, you know, everyone wants a good, close, loving relationship, whether you live in Iran, Egypt, Finland, Australia, there isn't a place, Uzbekistan.

I don't even know where Uzbekistan is. Okay. I had to go and look on the map, but you know, it's my book has been translated into Uzbek. Go figure. Anyway. But, um, you know, this is the way we're wired. This is our basic need. And this is why we've become the dominant. animal on this planet because we can support each other.

We look at us. We've got no claws. We can't run very fast. I mean, we should have been exterminated ages ago. Why weren't we? Because we could get together. That's why we could cooperate. We could share. Connection. Yeah. We could have connection. And it seems to me in the present world, we've just abandoned that and said, stimulation and distraction and things.

You know, if I'm depressed, I'll go out to the mall and I'll buy things. Or I'll watch a, the latest TV show, I'll watch Oscar night and see what the ladies were wearing and then go out and get something similar, you know, although I think it's kind of weird because most of them look like a lampshade to me, but anyway, um,

[00:46:38] Hunter: No, I couldn't agree with you more.

I couldn't agree with you more. I think that our, you know, the modern devices and things are hacking our biology. So it's all about dopamine addiction. and Distraction rather than deep and meaningful connection. And it takes a lot of, um, takes a lot of like support from outside sources, outside resources and inner resources to have, to be able to make a different choice when everything in the world is pointing you towards distraction and disconnection.

[00:47:17] Dr Sue Johnson: That's right. And attachment, if you think attachment science, which has started off with mother and child. In the 19, what, I don't know, 50s, 60s, it was only applied to mother and child until the beginning of this century, when some bright spot remembered that Bowlby said, attachment goes from the cradles of the grave, it's not just about parent and child.

We always need this sense of connection with a few others who will come when we call. We know that we're ultimately vulnerable if no one will come when we call. And loneliness is a killer. Loneliness is You know, if you listen to clients talk about depression, anxiety, or PTSD, I don't think I've heard a client in the last 20 years talk about that without talking about being alone.

We're not wired to face the world alone. We're not good at it. We're not designed for it, but we, we seem to have forgotten that. And we, what attachment does, and you think about this as a theory. It links physiological response, biology, key biology, biology that's about survival, to the nature of social conversations.

Wow, that's a jump. That's a, that's, that's telling us who we are as human beings. It links those two. It says we're relational in our physiology, in everything about us. Relationships are like the water we swim in, and if you take a fish out of water, it goes wrong. Everything goes wrong.

[00:49:01] Hunter: Everything goes wrong.

Oh my goodness, Sue. I wish I had two hours to talk to you about this. There's so much we could, where we could go. I really, um, appreciate your scholarship and your curiosity and all the work you've done with, um, EFT. Sue, you, to your listener, you definitely should get Sue's book, Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

Um, I wish, I do truly wish we could talk about this for, for, for two hours. There's so much there. I want to thank you so much for choosing to come and join me here at the Mindful Parenting Podcast. I'm really honored that you're able to talk to us. Hey, it was

[00:49:42] Dr Sue Johnson: incredible fun and thank you for asking me.

I'm, I think if we're not going to have, we've cracked the code of love all over the New York Times, we should at least have it on every podcast.

[00:49:52] Hunter: Amen to that. Yes, yes. You can find Dr. Sue's work at drsuejohnson. com and of course, Hold Me Tight is her amazing book. Thanks again. Okay. This has been awesome.

Thank you, Hunter. It was really fun. I appreciate it.

Wow. What can I say, right? Dr. Sue Johnson speaks for herself in her power of the power of emotion and tuning into each other and how it's the key to defining You know, to, to having us love in our lives. Oh my gosh. And what could be more important? Um, so Dersu, for all your work. And I'm so honored to share this, one of these last conversations that she had with the world here on.

Mindful Parenting Podcast. Of course, you should check out her the books and go to dr sue johnson.com to learn more about the legacy of Dr. Sue and EFT and hold me tight, et cetera. So powerful. Such, such powerful work. I think that. It can really change the way we live our lives and how connected we are with each other.

And if this episode spoke to you, if it, if it resonated with you, if you got something out of this, please tell one friend about this show today to share not only the Mindful Parenting Podcast, but of course the legacy of Dr. Sue Johnson and the power of this. So, um, thank you so much for listening. I'm so glad you're here.

I know that this is. Really watering some good seeds today, and I'm really appreciate you being here and part of the Mindful Parenting community. Make sure you've subscribed. Of course, you get every episode in your inbox. And yeah, for more resources and everything, uh, The show notes, all that is at MindfulMamaMentor.

com along with all the information about all the different things we do from the freebies to the teacher training. So check it all out there and I wish you a great week. I wish you peace and ease. And some laughing, lots of hugs, and all that good stuff for you. I'll talk to you again real soon. Thank you so much for being here.


I'd say definitely do it. It's really helpful. It will change your relationship with your kids for the better. It will help you communicate better. And just, I'd say communicate better as a person, as a wife, as a spouse. It's been really a positive influence in our lives. So definitely do it. I'd say definitely do it.

It's so worth it. The money really is inconsequential when you get so much benefit from being a better parent to your children and feeling like you're connecting more with them and not feeling like you're yelling all the time or you're like, why isn't this working? I would say definitely do it. It's so, so worth it.

It'll change you. No matter what age someone's child is, it's a great opportunity for personal growth and it's a great investment in someone's family. I'm very thankful I have this. You're a cool person. You can continue in your old habits that aren't working, or you can learn some new tools and gain some perspective to shift everything in your parenting.

Are you frustrated by parenting? Do you listen to the experts and try all the tips and strategies, but you're just not seeing the results that you want? Or are you lost as to where to start? Does it all seem so overwhelming with too much to learn? Are you yearning for community people who get it, who also don't want to threaten and punish to create cooperation?

Hi, I'm Hunter Clark Fields, and if you answered yes to any of these questions, I want you to seriously consider the Mindful Parenting membership. You'll be joining Hi, Hundreds of members who have discovered the path of mindful parenting and now have confidence and clarity in their parenting. This isn't just another parenting class.

This is an opportunity to really discover your unique, lasting relationship, not only with your children, but with yourself. It will translate into lasting, connected relationships, not only with your children, but your partner too. Let me change your life. Go to mindfulparentingcourse. com To add your name to the waitlist so you will be the first to be notified when I open the membership for enrollment.

 I look forward to seeing you on the inside. MindfulParentingCourse

Support the Podcast

  • Leave a review on Apple Podcasts: your kind feedback tells Apple Podcasts that this is a show worth sharing.
  • Share an episode on social media: be sure to tag me so I can share it (@mindfulmamamentor).
  • Join the Membership: Support the show while learning mindful parenting and enjoying live monthly group coaching and ongoing community discussion and support.