In the case of Adam and Tracy the therapist facilitated cycle de-escalation by relating the couple’s underlying emotions to:
The process of accessing emotion in EFT does include:
Cycle de-escalation represents a:
The therapist will help each partner to expand his or her emotional experience to:
The five interventions used most often in cycle de-escalation are listed below. Match each of the interventions to the example below that best illustrates the intervention.
What’s it like for you to be in this relationship, always waiting for the bomb to go
So when the conflict gets going, your pattern takes over, leaving both of you behind. Almost like you don’t know what hit you.
So for you his silence is killing you. It makes sense that you need to do something to break through and find out what he is thinking. The silence leaves you fearing the worst.
So you feel cornered. Trapped. Like there is no place to go, no place to run. You want to hide.
And when you get angry to get his attention, it’s like part of you is mad and the other part is sad hoping to connect to him.
Read the following transcript of a cycle de-escalation event and identify the intervention used by the therapist throughout the session. Select the intervention(s) from the list below and enter the appropriate intervention in the space provided after each therapist’s talk turn.
Two spaces are provided when more than one intervention is used.
Restructuring Tracking the cycle
Ingrid: (irritated) “I just keep thinking that this is the way it’s going to be—I am supposed
to do everything and she doesn’t do anything—she’s lazy—she will do anything to
avoid work. She’s not changing—that’s the way she wants it!”
Therapist: “That sounds like it is really frustrating and maybe even scary that maybe
there was a part of you that was expecting, hoping that things will be different but then
you are not seeing Frances change—and that begins to feel discouraging and hard to
hold any hope.”
Ingrid: “I am not sure I am scared, but why should I change and she not change at
all? She should be changing first! I am the one that supported her in her work—I gave
a lot! I gave time, and have always been there. I don’t see what she’s giving—I can’t
Therapist: You gave a lot to help Frances. I would expect that you, like all of us when
we join our lives with someone, had a lot of hopes of sharing your life with her and all
kinds of dreams about building a future together with her, like working as a team.”
Ingrid: (voice starts to calm) “That’s it. I don’t feel like we are sharing. I am doing
everything and she just goes along for the ride.
Therapist: “That is so hard because this is where the cycle takes over. You see yourself
alone doing all the work and Frances is not there. The resentment starts to build and
suddenly you are caught in your anger. You want to share with Frances but you really
don’t expect she’ll be there, so you up the ante so that she will respond—to which
Frances withdraws, shuts down, and she is even more unavailable. Is that how it is?”
Ingrid: (starting to tear) “Yes, she is nowhere, I never know what is going on with
Therapist: (RISSSC manner) “That’s very painful to you to have your partner but not
be able to depend on her—that is a painful place.”
Ingrid: “I can’t do everything. Frances just expects me to swallow it up and not say
anything and just carry on like I always do.”
Therapist: “Hmm…so on one hand you need to be with Frances and share with her.
But on the other, it’s like you are not supposed to speak or be able to say what you need
and actually the cycle gets in the way of that really happening, getting your needs met.
Once it takes hold you are off and running and you end up nowhere but frustrated,
distant, and alone.
Ingrid: (crying, nodding)
Therapist: “What’s that like for you? It looks like it hurts a lot.”
Ingrid: (calmer, softer) “It seems like she doesn’t want to help. It’s just my feeling—
maybe it’s just a perception.” (looking directly at Frances)
Frances: (irritably) “That’s not the way it is. I just came home. I wanted to relax. You
can’t expect me to start working the moment I open the door. I just felt like just walk‑
Therapist: “It’s hard for you to hear what Ingrid is saying that she needs your help,
needs to feel she can reach for you and get support. She gets scared when she can’t, so
she pushes. It hard to hear because you looked forward to seeing her and when you got
home you saw her frustration, you just wanted to get away?”
Frances: “I don’t know what she expects. I was going to get around to it but it doesn’t
matter what I do, it’s wrong—so what’s the use!”
Therapist: “This is a place that you go, Frances, when you are in the cycle, the place
where you feel like there is no point. It seems like it doesn’t matter what you do; it is
wrong, that there is no point in trying. What’s that like for you Frances when you are
in this place? It sounds like an awful place for you.”
Frances: “I just want to get as far away as possible. There is no point sticking around.
It really doesn’t matter if I am around, I will only get it wrong.”
Therapist: “So the cycle takes over and when you see her frustration and disappoint‑
ment, you just want to get as far away from that as possible, so you don’t see it. It
sounds like it really bothers you to see Ingrid’s frustration, is that right?”
Frances: “Yeah. I feel kind of useless—to her anyway.”
Therapist: (RISSSC manner) “This is a really hard place for you Frances because when
you see Ingrid’s disappointment it has a huge effect on you and you end up feeling
kind of useless like you’ll never get it right.
Frances: (starts to laugh, looking at Ingrid) “That pretty well sums it up, right, Ingrid?
I am pretty useless.”
Therapist: “So you move away because Ingrid’s disappointment with you is so hard to
bear, not because you don’t care, is that right?”
Ingrid: “You know I never said that. I just want you to help out more and see more of
what I need.”
Therapist: “The cycle has a huge impact on both of you. It gets in the way of you, Ingrid,
being able to get your needs met and has you feeling alone. And you, Frances, end up
feeling bad about yourself and feeling like the only thing you can do is get away.”
Frances: “I might as well. It seems like it would be better that way. It’s the only thing
I can do.”
Therapist: “I am wondering, Frances, if you could try and talk to Ingrid about this now.
I know it is hard because when we feel like we’re kind of useless—we do want to go
away, we want to hide to protect ourselves. It’s hard to stay visible. But could you try
and tell Ingrid what it is like for you? How it feels inside?”
Frances: (looking at Ingrid) “I don’t know how it feels. There are some times that I just
feel such hate and I just feel like leaving.”
Ingrid: “Well if you feel hate, then we might as well just end it.”
Therapist: “It is very hard to talk about feeling kind of useless especially in front of each
other. It’s easier lots of time to talk about hate—we feel bigger and stronger that way.”
Frances: “It’s not that I hate her. There is such a feeling of hate. I am not sure if she
even wants me. She would be better off without me.”
Therapist: “There is the overwhelming bad feeling that you can’t please Ingrid and you
end up feeling that Ingrid doesn’t want you.”
Frances: (looking at Ingrid) “You never touch me. I go to you for hugs and cuddling
and you never come to me.”
Ingrid: “That part of me has just shut down. I can’t be close physically when there is
nothing happening anywhere else.”
Therapist: “I know you need to protect yourself that way, Ingrid, but for you, Frances,
it feels pretty painful not to be wanted or desired by your partner and maybe you end
up feeling that it is you, that maybe you are not worth much or even kind of useless in
Frances: (nodding, looking at Ingrid) “Do you even love me?”
Ingrid: “I don’t know how I feel these days. I feel like you are just making an excuse—
an excuse for not doing anything.”
Therapist: “Frances, that takes a lot of strength and courage to ask how Ingrid feels
and it seems like this is a painful place for you, not to feel the love and wanting coming
from Ingrid, and it seems like it is very hard, Ingrid, for you to hear and take in what
Frances is saying now, maybe because it is too hard to believe that Frances actually
cares about being connected to you. Now what I have heard you saying is that you do
want her, you actually want more of her, more of her to depend on, to count on and
not to feel so alone.”
- , ,
Ingrid: “But I am not sure she wants to do it. Maybe she’s just not capable. She’s never
had any successful relationships.”
Therapist: “It’s hard to trust that she really wants to be there for you, that she really
wants this relationship, this partnership, and that you are truly not alone.”
Ingrid: “I don’t trust her. She has taught me not to trust her.”
Therapist: “It is so hard to even begin to trust her—you have been so disappointed in
the past, that has really hurt, yes? I wonder if Frances has any idea how hurt you feel.
I would expect that she doesn’t know.”
Ingrid: “She doesn’t want to know, she just shuts me down.”
Therapist: “It’s hard to think that she would even want to know how hurt you are,
especially when the cycle takes over because all you see is Frances going away and not
being there for you.”
Ingrid: (starting to cry) “I can’t depend on her. She’s not there. I feel so alone.”
Therapist: “What are you feeling, Frances? The look on your face looks like this bothers
you to see Ingrid in such pain.
Frances: “Well, it hurts. I don’t want to see her so hurt.”
Therapist: “Can you tell her that?”
Frances: “I don’t want you to feel so hurt. You’ve got to give me a chance. I am trying.
I move away when I feel hopeless, like I’ll never please you.”
Ingrid: (looking intently at Frances) “I don’t know if you can.”
Therapist: “But Frances is here, and so are you, Ingrid, and you both are trying and
struggling, the cycle pushes you apart and doesn’t let you see each other but I get a sense
that you both want the same thing, to be close and be there for each other—yes?”
Frances: “I am trying. I will try.”
Ingrid: “We have to make time for each other. I don’t want you to feel useless.”
Therapist: “Time is important, but it seems like the cycle convinces you that you really
aren’t there for each other. But what you did tonight with Ingrid sharing a bit of her
hurt and Frances seeing that and Frances being more verbal about where she is at.
All this helps you Ingrid know more what is going on with her. I would expect it helps
you to be able to see a bit of what is happening for her. That was great guys; you really
worked hard tonight and took some risks, which isn’t easy.”
Now take the example of Ingrid and Frances and diagram this couple’s cycle. Name the position that each person typically takes in a conflict. Draw an arrow to indicate whether the person’s position typically involves pursuit or withdraw. Then identify the secondary and primary emotions that relate to their experience.
Now imagine a couple that has a pursuit and withdraw pattern in their relationship. The pattern is often triggered by conflicts the couple has over leisure time. Sean experiences Lynn’s efforts to arrange joint activities as controlling and invasive and Lynn finds his desire for personal time and solitude rejecting. Sean complains that she is dependent on him and Lynn claims that he is selfish and only interested in himself, not their relationship.
- How does Sean see her as the problem in their relationship? Finish the following
sentence using words that he might use. (See Table 5.1 for ideas.) “Things would be
better between us if she would just…”Add description here!.
- What secondary emotions might you expect Lynn to have in response?
- Now match the secondary emotion to a possible underlying emotion Lynn might be
experiencing, perhaps out of her awareness. (Refer to Table 5.2 for ideas.)
- Is Lynn in the pursuer, attacker, or withdrawer position in this interaction?
- Now ask, how does Lynn see Sean as the problem in their relationship? Finish the
following sentence using words that she might use. (See Table 5.1 for ideas.) “Things
would be better between us if he would just…”
- What secondary emotions would you expect him to have?
- Now match the secondary emotion to a possible underlying emotion Sean might be
experiencing, perhaps out of his awareness. (See Table 5.2 for ideas.)
- Is Sean in the pursuer, attacker, or withdrawer position in this interaction?
Bob and Sharon frequently argue about the couple’s financial struggles. Both agreed that Sharon would manage the family finances. Bob is critical of Sharon’s approach to handling the money and frequently challenges her decisions. Sharon experiences Bob as critical and hostile about finances, but otherwise disengaged in their relationship. The therapist has helped the couple identify a common pattern where Bob criticizes Sharon’s financial decision making, and she responds with defensive silence and then later cross complains about his lack of commitment to the family. Then Bob backs away further and she escalates her efforts to get him to respond. He retaliates by blaming her for the family’s financial problems, saying in the end that it is simply “All her fault, and she can’t handle that.” In replaying a recent argument Sharon said
“I just get so frustrated that he asks me to pay a bill and then he is relentless in check‑
ing to see if I have paid it. It doesn’t matter if I say I will pay it, he is after me till I pay
it. But if I ask him for help around the house, I am ‘nagging’ and ‘insensitive to the
demands of his work.’ I am sick of him expecting me to do what he says, and him not
caring a bit about what I want, or what I need. He can be a jerk sometimes.”
Now as the therapist, follow the process of de-escalation. First reflect Sharon’s secondary emotion and then validate Sharon’s present experience.
- As the therapist, write a statement using Sharon’s comments above that will reflect
her secondary emotion including a statement validating her experience within
As the therapist engages Sharon’s anger further she notices Bob turning away and closing
off from the conversation. He folds his arms and looks at the floor.
- Now as the therapist, how would you bring Bob’s emotional experience into the
room? Form an evocative question that will help Bob connect his withdrawn posture to his emotional experience in the couple’s cycle.
Next, the therapist works to engage the underlying experience of each partner.
- Using reflecting underlying emotions how would you invite Bob and Sharon to
connect to their secondary emotions in the cycle?
Now imagine Sharon responds: “Yeah, I just want him to stop. To look at me. To see
me, not the checkbook. Why can’t he see it? He just doesn’t get it. His money is more
important than me.”
- What is her underlying primary emotion?
- Put into words how you would reflect her emotional experience focusing on her
underlying emotion framing this reflection in the context of the cycle.
Bob responds: “I just don’t know what to do with all her anger. It is just too much and
she seems to take all this so personally. Frankly, it confuses me why she responds this
way and I don’t know how to make it better, or to convince her otherwise.”
- What is Bob’s underlying emotion?
- Put into words how you would reflect Bob’s emotional experience focusing on his
underlying emotion framing this reflection in the context of the cycle.
Bob agrees and opens up further to his fear. As he talks he shifts the conversation from
his fear in the relationship to his fear that Sharon will make poor financial decisions
and that he can’t rely on her at this point.
- What would you say to Bob to help him refocus on his fear and vulnerability?
- What would you say to Sharon if she responded to Bob’s vulnerability by dismissing
his fear by saying: “Yes we have missed a few payments, but we have never been in real
financial trouble.” What would you say to Sharon to help her refocus on her hurt?
Once the therapist refocuses the couple, the therapist returns to describe the couple’s cycle and their positions in the cycle. Follow the therapist’s framing of the cycle and then answer the questions.
herapist: “So when this argument gets going, Bob, you raise concern about how
Sharon is handling the money, and she hears you being critical, like you don’t trust her. And then Sharon you respond to his questions, by telling him that things are
okay, and he need not worry. Bob, you hear her dismissing your concern and find
ways to support your concern by bringing up past problems. Then Sharon feels
attacked and responds by questioning whether you care more about her or the
money. Bob, you then back away not knowing how to respond to her anger, and
Sharon you find yourself even more upset because he doesn’t seem to care because
he is not responding and you use more anger and sharper words to get his attention.
This goes on until Bob blows his silence, saying that he wants to give up because he
doesn’t know how to talk to you and Sharon you leave feeling like he has given up.
Is that it?”
Bob: “Yeah, that’s it, I mean I don’t want it to go that way, but that is what happens.”
Sharon: “Sometimes it just feels out of control, like we end up in the same place no
matter how hard we try to avoid it.”
Therapist: “So this cycle, this dance you get caught in pulls you both apart and
leaves you confused, frustrated, and alone. And I get the sense that you both are
looking for something else, someway to do this together, not alone, to not be divided
by this cycle.”
Use Figure 5.3 to identify the various elements of Bob and Sharon’s cycle. Review the
therapist’s comments above to describe the couple’s process. Name the position that
each person typically takes in a conflict. Then identify the secondary and underlying
emotions that relate to their experience.
Now return to the example of Inez and Fernando as they entered therapy, which is described in the previous chapter. Name the position that each person typically takes in a conflict and place into Figure 5.4. Draw an arrow to indicate whether the person’s position typically involves pursuit or withdraw. Then identify the secondary and underlying emotions that relate to their experience.
Reviewing the couple in this chapter, at this stage in therapy, which of the following best describes their cycle?