I'm Still Alive So it Must be Working:

An Exploration of Developmental Adaptive Styles

In these Developmental Adaptive Style Classes, I am drawing from the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (Founder of the Feldenkrais Method), Dr. Larry Heller (Founder of the Neuro-Affective Relational Model), and Lizbeth Marcher (Founder of Bodynamics), as well as from my own experiences. The classes are in part informational, but primarily experiential.

The informational portion of these classes is focused on heightening one’s awareness of one’s primary adaptive style(s). One will also gain an understanding of why these adaptations were useful (and, in some cases, necessary) as a dependent infant, child, or adolescent. These adaptations then, are not “pathological.” They were developed as necessary survival strategies. Though necessary while we were in a state of dependency, as adults, these same adaptations have become limiting. So in these classes, one will also learn how to spot these adaptations in the context of everyday life. What are, for example, the specific coping mechanisms for each adaptive style? What are the subconscious beliefs that go along which each adaptive style? And what are the specific “conditioned responses,” that tend to occur with each adaptive style?

But these classes are not just “informational.” Using a variety of means, the focus experientially is on restoring and/or increasing one’s capacity to function as a mature, integrated and potent adult:

  • An adult capable of staying present, grounded, and centered, even in times of high stress; 
  • An adult capable of having, maintaining, and sustaining fulfilling and dynamic intimate relationships; 
  • An adult who remains connected to oneself, to others, and to the flow of life itself, even in times of daily life stress and even in times of relational stress.
If you would like to be notified when the next Developmental Adaptive Style Class is being offered, please email us at [email protected].
Continue reading for additional information on the course, followed by testimonials.

Read an exploration of the course topic

As infants, children, and adolescents, we were dependent on our caregivers for survival. In this dependent state, what did we learn? How did we adapt (physically, mentally, emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually) to life in our family of origin?

What did we learn, as dependent children, about how best to protect our “attachment relationships”, (i.e., our relationships with those responsible for our care)? And what did we learn, as dependent children, about how to best protect ourselves within our family of origin? How did we learn to hold ourselves physically? What did we learn (implicitly) about how to feel, think, and behave?

What did we learn about connection (to ourselves, to others, to the universe)? Did we learn that it was safe? Were we given a sense that we belong . . . that we are a part of something? Did we learn to be in touch with our bodies and our emotions or did we learn to cut ourselves off from them? Did we learn how to be in consistent connection with ourselves and with others or did we learn that it was too overwhelming to do so?

What did we learn about becoming aware of our needs and expressing them? Did we learn that it was safe to both have needs and express them or did we implicitly learn that it was dangerous to do so? What did we learn about reaching out to others for nurturing and nourishment? Did we learn that our needs would be met or did we implicitly learn that our needs would be ignored or denied? And, if we learned that these needs would be ignored or denied, did we learn to simply adapt to the perceived scarcity in our environment?

What did we learn about trust and interdependence? Did we learn to have an inherent trust in ourselves? Did we learn that it is safe to “let down” or did we learn to fear doing so? Did we learn to trust others or did we implicitly learn that trusting others was inherently dangerous? What did we learn about interdependence? Is that safe or were we implicitly taught to rely solely on ourselves and not allow even a healthy interdependence?

Did we learn how to say “no” and set limits? Did we learn how to speak our minds without guilt or fear? Did we learn how to be autonomous within an intimate relationship or did we implicitly learn that speaking our minds is dangerous and that we must give up our autonomy in order to be in an intimate relationship?

Did we learn how to self-regulate? Did we learn how to stay grounded and centered even in times of stress? Were we taught how to balance our needs with the needs of others? Were we taught how to boldly assert ourselves when necessary? Did we learn how to manage and contain our own emotional energy or stress-induced energy (without contracting)?

The reality is that most of us did not learn what we needed to learn to fully function as a mature adult in the physical world. And we did not learn what we needed to learn to fully function in a healthy and dynamic intimate relationship.

Instead, we learned to adapt. In the process of adapting though, we diminished our capacity for living life to the fullest and for being fully present “in the moment”. And we diminished our capacity for maintaining and sustaining healthy, fulfilling, and dynamic intimate relationships which combine a loving heart with a vital sexuality.

Suppose we adapted by losing touch with our bodies and our emotions. Suppose we learned that being in connection with another was overwhelming distressing. It would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving, sexually-vital, intimate relationship.

Suppose we adapted by being un-attuned to our own needs for nurturance and nourishment. Suppose we learned to not express our needs – that it was dangerous to express our needs. Or suppose we learned that our needs would be ignored or denied. It would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving and sexually-vital, intimate relationship. The reason is that we likely will be excessively fixated on getting our needs for nurturance and nourishment met.

Suppose we adapted by not “letting down”. Suppose we learned that we need to stay “in control” in order to feel safe – that trusting others, and interdependence, was dangerous. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving and sexually-vital, intimate relationship. This is the case, in part, because this type of relationship requires the capacity to “surrender” (i.e., the capacity to relinquish control).

Suppose we adapted by finding strategic and secret ways to avoid domination and control by others. Suppose we learned to be inauthentic and that setting boundaries was dangerous. It would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving and sexually-vital, intimate relationship. This is the case, in part, because we would likely view intimate relationships as traps that would rob us of our freedom and independence.

These adaptations might have been appropriate, useful, and even necessary when we were dependent on a specific other for our survival. As adults though, those same adaptive patterns have become mal-adaptive at best. At worst, they have become literally life-threatening (on a number of levels).

They have led to physical constriction patterns that affect our physical health. These constriction patterns can lead to organ and gland dysfunction. They can also lead to physical pain, injury, and unnecessary surgeries. These physical constriction patterns have their mental and emotional corollaries.

The way we think is rigid and thus restricted. There is a deadening of our mental processes. We are unable to take in new information and re-adapt with resiliency to what is occurring in the present moment. This rigidity substantially reduces our capacity for sustaining a dynamic intimate relationship with another.

There is a deadening of our emotional life as well, which leaves us, at best, unable to experience our emotions with greater clarity, breadth, and depth. At worst, it may leave us “clinically depressed”. Either way, this deadening of our emotional life is not conducive to sustaining a dynamic and loving intimate relationship (with ourselves or with others).

In some cases, we may be present to our emotions on some level, but we “mentalize” those emotions. Much like a scientist, we observe our emotions from afar, but we don’t let them “affect” us. Emotional encounters with another, even positive ones, become for us “interesting” or “intriguing” instead of emotionally impactful. This “mentalizing” of our emotions distances us from ourselves and from others and is, therefore, not conducive to sustaining a dynamic and loving intimate relationship.

These adaptive patterns also diminish our sense of aliveness; our potency as adults; and our capacity for connection to ourselves, to others, and to the flow of life itself.

Much of this learning was implicit, rather than explicit. That means that this learning is encoded in our subconscious mind – at the bodily level – rather than in our conscious mind. Therefore, as adults, we remain unaware that these patterns of adaptation even exist. As a result:
  • Our capacities (as adults) to function as mature, integrated human beings, are thereby diminished.
  • Our capacities (as adults) to both recognize and get our basic core needs satisfied, are thereby diminished.
  • Our functional capacities in certain key areas (such as bonding, boundary setting, grounding, centering, self-assertion, management of energy, and social balance) are thereby diminished.
  • Our capacities for having, maintaining, and sustaining intimate relationships are thereby diminished.

Testimonials for the Adaptive Styles Class

With three exceptions (the top comment in each column) the following comments were made by those who attended the very first Adaptive Styles Class held in May 2013 at the Center for Human Integration. All comments (including the first three) were made spontaneously in emails that were intended as feedback on the class. Permission to cite these comments has been given by the individuals, but their names have been omitted in order to protect their privacy.

“I am a full-fledged Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and have been for many years. But in terms of what I struggle with the most in my everyday life, I gain more understanding and insight from your 4-HOUR Adaptive Style Workshops than from all the other 4-DAY+ workshops that I have taken in recent years. The comments that you make on my experiences are like BOOM!!! There is just so much insight and so much opening!!”

“Great class – interesting and well done . . . All of the materials were fascinating and I realize there is much more that might be presented in the future. I have a high level of certainty that what we did yesterday in class continues to work its magic in an extremely powerful fashion. The idea that you could create a way to specifically and precisely target a thorough and gentle approach to healing is so cool! My sense is that you are onto something very significant and powerful!”

“I thought the number of participants was perfect – especially for the interactive part, which I loved! Everyone got to speak up and it felt like a small, intimate gathering. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. Hearing what others are experiencing was an important piece of the workshop. I felt as though we shared, we understood each other, we empathized with each, and in some cases we could just laugh at ourselves. Thank you for making it safe enough for us all to open up.”

“Great class! I really liked the movement lessons interspersed with the information. I know we ran out of time but I am looking forward to more movement lessons. I would not change anything about the class except more time – perhaps two 4 hour classes instead of one!”

“Loved your energy, your enthusiasm, and the intention you set of us learning together. It was clear that much effort, energy, thought and preparation went into the creation of this class. So thank you for creating such a wonderful environment and adding such wonderful supplemental materials. I found the group discussions to be very valuable. They brought up additional thoughts, ideas and questions. I also enjoyed the presentation on the historical development of what you were presenting. I got a much broader perspective on all the key figures that were involved. It was helpful to hear about the benefits and inherent limitations of each (from your perspective and experience).

“Also helpful was the whole discussion around not being ‘dependent’ on a ‘particular other’ to meet our needs. I walked away realizing that I had burdened my wife much too much by expecting her to meet all of my needs. Not only did I burden her with such an expectation, that expectation also left me with the feeling that I am unable to get my needs met (which is not true). I walked away really ‘getting’ that I am no longer a dependent child – dependent on a particular other to fulfill my needs. Some of those needs can be met (and are met) elsewhere – by others. I realized that it might take some of the strain out of my relationship with my wife by getting some of my needs met elsewhere and that I can do so without ‘straying’ – i.e., without jeopardizing the monogamy of our relationship.

“All to say . . . I can’t wait for the Adaptive Style Class . . . and the next one!”

“The questions you sent us beforehand, for reflection, were really helpful: they helped me observe how much I apologize for my existence and devalue myself. Leading up to the class, I started seeing that all of my over-efforting doesn’t really come from perfectionism . . . it comes from wanting to be ‘good enough,’ and the belief that I’m simply NOT good enough.

“In the days preceding the training, I watched myself asking people, in different forms, ‘Did I do good?’ So it was really helpful to hear that one of the Connection Style’s main (implicit) beliefs is that they are fundamentally inadequate. I realized that this has been one of the ‘split off’ beliefs about myself.

“Over the last few days, the feelings of worthlessness (the heaviness, the pill bug reaction, the tears) have been coming up and I’ve been observing them and recognizing them ‘in the moment’ as a remnant of my past and doing my best to stay in the present moment. The greatest gift you gave me was when you said to us in closing: ‘You are all miracles.’ To have someone I respect and trust and believe say that has been a lifeline the last few days. It has made me start to believe that I have something important to give to the world. Thank you for that!”

“I found this Adaptive Style class very educational and inspirational. At the same time, it boosted my understanding of how the mind, the nervous system, and the musculature are all engaged in the Adaptive Styles.

Your ability to take such a complex subject and break it down into its essential components, so that the material is easily grasped is amazing. The experiential pieces you provided seemed to anchor the intellectual understanding of this material. And your explanation of why we do movements only on one side was an absolute revelation. I found myself experiencing a major “ah-ha” moment.”

“This seminar sped by. The four hours seemed more like one hour. Most seminars I attend, even if they keep my attention and are well presented, can seem to drag on and I’m tired by the time they end. Your seminar was informative, engaging and physically stimulating. By the end, I not only had a considerable amount of information, I left feeling like I was energized and ready to take on any challenge. It was amazing!”

“The movement lessons, and the topics covered in this class, led to a level of self-awareness not normally found in a class. I honestly think you have something big here–the kind of self-awareness people will travel distances for.”

“Working with an awareness of a specific part of one’s body, coupled with specific meaning-based statements, as we did in this class, allows for the kind of shifts that I think Wilhelm Reich and Moshe Feldenkrais had in mind when they insisted that somatic work and psychotherapy needs to be simultaneous.”

“You stated that one of your intentions was to ‘help us to become aware of how much our perceptions and implicit beliefs (i.e., beliefs that we have but we don’t know that we have) are encoded at the sensory motor level.’ The movement lessons definitely brought home the link between how we are organized physically and the impact that our ‘physical organization’ has on behavior, meaning, feelings, etc. After this workshop, all in all, I was left with the words of the AT&T commercial where the little girl says: ‘If we like something, we want more, we want more, we want more.'”

“The amount of information in your slide presentation was shocking. I mean that in a good way! It was mind blowing to see how much you put into this presentation. But is wasn’t just a bunch of information that puts me to sleep halfway through. It was well thought out. The graphics were stimulating – keeping one on the edge of their seat type of information. And the supplemental materials you gave us – Wow! I have left other seminars with just a few notes. The last seminar I took I paid extra for the speakers ‘notes’, which ended up being eight bullet points of the topics covered. What a disappointment that was. What you gave us is so valuable. It will serve as an ongoing resource in and of itself.”

“Thank you for including me in your inaugural event! It was very useful for me to hear about the history behind the development of the Embodied Mindfulness Method in general and the Adaptive Style classes in particular.

“I also really liked the fact that you kept reiterating that the adaptive styles aren’t permanent states of being or personal defects, and that by using movement and other means we can move out of the past . . . into the present moment.

“It doesn’t seem like using movement should work as part of that process, but it does! The first movement lesson was particularly useful for me. When we came to sitting and you had us hold the thought, ‘I have the right to my existence’, while sensing only the side that we moved, I felt my whole spine on my right side instantly reorganize all the way up to my head. I felt ‘regal’ and ‘dignified’ (just like another participant said). All to say, I look forward to more expanded versions of those movement lessons!”

“After the Connection Adaptive Style Class, the thought that ‘I have a right to exist’ was interesting for me to play with. I found myself getting really irritated at work. I had a hard time concentrating when people were acting in a way that seemed disrespectful in relation to me.

“I’m usually able to block out that sort of stuff; this time, however, I played around with not blocking their behaviors out of my mind. Instead, I observed their behaviors, while at the same time, holding the thought: ‘I have a right to exist.’ This exploration was both interesting and amusing at the same time.

“What occurred to me later is that, over time, I have continued to select positions within my profession that involve my being in a subordinate position to someone else (when I could have easily been hired for a position in which I would have been the one ‘running the show’.)

“People in my position run around, trying to make their superior look good — covering up their mistakes. Then their superior inevitably gets all the glory. After the awarenesses that grew from my experiences in the Adaptive Styles class, I’m not so sure I want to do that anymore!”

“The 4-hour workshop, Autonomy 2 was fantastic! I just wanted to THANK YOU for putting it all together. The way you’ve combined all of the modalities is really a gift to all of us. I found all of the info very informative. What I REALLY liked was showing us ways to work with yourself at home (e.g., the process of dialoguing with different parts of ourselves). Reviewing different ways to modulate our internal responses was also very helpful (e.g., the “getting bigger” exercise).”

“The amount of work you put into distilling broad theories and practices, as well as synthesizing them for this class was obvious. To ‘marry’ research, theory and methodology and then put it all together for a presentation for the lay population is quite a feat. You have an incredible contribution to make to the field of Somatic Therapies.”

“I was humbled by the power of coupling top-down (but not traditional psychotherapy) with bottom-up processes in the workshop. In one of the movement lessons, I discovered that opening my hand to receive what is there to meet my needs (an organized and resourced place) was very different than actively reaching out for what I need (a disorganized and stuck place). This awareness is potentially powerful and may create a profound shift in how I ‘do life.'”

“You made this seminar feel very casual, easy and smooth. Your style of presenting is very heart warming. I felt as though you could step into my shoes – that you had a sense of what it must be like to experience what I experience. You made parts of the lecture fun and funny where appropriate. Hey, sometimes you just have to laugh at all of this. And it was refreshing to do that. Even when you thought we were out of time and then suddenly realized we had an entire hour left — that that was just a fun moment. And because you could laugh at it all . . . we could laugh and enjoy it with you. Some presenters come off like they are the talented, knowledgeable, wise ones — somehow above the rest of us. You are talented, knowledgeable and wise, but it also felt like you were ‘among us’. I loved that.

“The class was both meaningful and helpful. I really enjoyed it. I have even used of some of what I learned with my own clients. The intention you set for the class was, I think, met very well. If you really grok this information – if you really take this information in – if you really embody it — it does result in a greater compassion for yourself and for others. It takes away a lot of the judgment (about oneself, but also about others).

“For me, the movement portion (the experiential portion) had the greatest impact. I had insights during that portion of the class that had never even been in my consciousness until that day. But the foundation that you laid prior to doing any movement, I believe, helped us to have the experiences on the floor that we did. Without that foundational understanding, I doubt the movement lessons would have had the same impact.”

“I enjoyed the class immensely. Thoughts have been swirling in my mind ever since I left. I appreciate the information offered and your desire to share it with the ‘lay population’. The class left me feeling compelled to re-read your ebook: The Missing ‘First Domino . . . ‘

“I recognized my husband’s adaptive style which left me wanting to know more. I was surprised though, to find bit and pieces of my adaptive style. All this time I thought being an introvert was the reason I have low energy and want to spend so much time alone. Maybe Jung’s typology needs to be reworked. And another surprise . . . Usually after our Sunday morning ritual (going to church and then out to breakfast), I come home and feel in need of a 2 hour nap. But I had to go straight from our morning ritual to your workshop so I could not take a nap. Needless to say, when I returned home after your workshop, I was quite surprised to discover that I felt no need to take a nap. Hmmmm!”

“The mix of participant sharing of their experience, didactic instruction, and movement explorations was relatively balanced. And I thought sending the ‘reflection questions’ ahead of time was an excellent idea. It set the stage for the nature of the class and allowed for even deeper reflections in the class itself.”

“Thank you so much for putting this class together. You did an amazing job! Very powerful stuff! I really enjoyed the movement portions. In fact, I would love to do an entire day or half day of just the movement. Overall, there was so much good content. I can’t wait to dive in further and really integrate all the teachings. This class was a great addition to the Somatic Experiencing work.

“I really appreciated the way you shared with us that although some of the people with this adaptive style suffer the most, these same individuals are some of the most brilliant, intuitive, sensitive and talented people alive. That was such a nice way to shift our focus to all the good that can come from having these early experiences.

“I just can’t say enough about how much I learned from your class!”