How to Navigate the Seas of Open Love… If a Relationship is Being Controlled From the Outside

How to Navigate the Seas of Open Love… If a Relationship is Being Controlled From the Outside

In my work as a non-monogamy therapist and coach I often hear things like, “My relationship with my boyfriend’s perfect except that his wife won’t let him spend the night at my house” or “my partner won’t let me have sex with our mutual friend and I’m so frustrated about it”. The hard truth in such situations, excluding instances of oppression and abuse, is that the person upholding those limits in their own relationship(s) is the one making those choices. They’re assessing the needs and desires within their different relationships and choosing how they want to delineate their time and energy accordingly. The choices to stay the night or to have sex with the mutual friend are still available to these people. There are simply reasons they’re choosing not to do those things. If they would own those reasons their situations would be much healthier and less confusing. 


“The only people who can control the ship are the ones on board. Others can make suggestions on the radio, but they don’t actually have any control.

If you think of your relationship as a ship, it becomes clear that the only people who can control the ship are the ones who are on board. Others can come over the radio to offer suggestions or requests, but barring instances of abuse, they don’t actually have any control. To avoid the illusion that people outside of a relationship are the ones controlling it’s course, my main recommendation is that we all uphold boundaries and expectations that each individual in a given relationship own their own choices. When people abdicate responsibility for their own decisions by putting them off on their other partners, it creates feelings of injustice and confusion that harm all of the relationships involved. Each person owning their own choices improves metamour dynamics, while also increasing feelings of mutual respect and understanding in each romantic partnership involved. 

Think of what a different picture it paints for someone to say, “If we continue dating I’ve made a decision not to stay overnight at your house because _______” rather than “my wife won’t let me stay overnight at your house”.  That person’s reasons may be because they want to respect their wife’s feelings, because they feel a sense of obligation due to co-parenting, or to simply avoid conflict in their life. Their reasons also likely have to do with loyalty that’s been earned over time through many sweet moments and loving acts offered to them in the partnership they’re choosing to prioritize. Whatever their reasons, at the end of the day it is still a choice they are making and it would benefit all parties involved for them to own that and foster insight into the authentic reasons they’re making that choice. 

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“Whatever their reasons, it is still a choice they are making and it would benefit all parties involved for them to own that.”

If people can identify their motivations in their decision making they can often trace their choices back to core values. Are they being driven by compassion, empathy, family, loyalty, simplicity, peace, or some other fundamental values? If so, identifying that can often foster higher levels of understanding and acceptance. It’s hard to argue with someone telling you that they’re choosing not to spend the night at your house because they desire to live with a sense of integrity by upholding their values of empathy and family. That choice may indicate incompatibility, but it’s not an instance of injustice. It’s an instance of mismatched desires/needs and values that may or may not be reconcilable. 

Sometimes, however, people examine their motives and don’t end up at core values. That is also very useful information. We humans tend to feel internal discomfort when we act in ways that are contrary to our values. Passing off responsibility for our decisions allows us to avoid facing those feelings of cognitive dissonance that can be powerful motivators in pushing us towards optimal fulfillment in our lives. When we acknowledge that we’re the ones actually making the choices that shape our relationships, we must evaluate if those choices are ones we truly feel good about making. In instances where they’re not, having that increased self awareness often organically inspires us to change course towards more authentic alignment. 

In exploring this topic of choice I also think it’s important to acknowledge that the vast majority of us who engage in ethical non-monogamy are especially privileged, with very high levels of freedom. Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see image below if you’re not familiar with that term). People who are struggling with their basic needs are much less likely to have multiple romantic partners. Having the extra time and energy non-monogamy requires certainly is not a luxury that’s afforded to all. In fact, it seems to me that such a luxury is in the self actualization realm of Maslow’s triangle, which makes the “(s)he’s making me do xyz” stance  particularly unlikely. 


“It seems to me that the luxury of non-monogamy is in the self actualization realm of Maslow’s triangle, which makes the ‘(s)he’s making me do xyz stance especially unlikely.”

In healthy relationships there should always be space for each person involved to express their needs, desires, feelings, and boundaries. If one’s partner(s) engaging in certain actions would cause pain, they owe it to themselves, their partner(s), and their relationship(s) to be authentic about that. Offering that information is not controlling a situation. It is simply providing one’s partner with complete and accurate information for their decision making process. Often when people use the language of a partner “making” them do something, what they really mean is that their partner made a request of them or expressed a clear boundary of not wanting to be in a relationship in which xyz occurs. The fact is - how one handles requests and boundaries of their partners comes down to choices they make of their own free will. 

Furthermore, I often see people equate feelings to mechanisms of force. If one’s partner has an emotional reaction to something many people seem to take the leap of interpreting that action as off limits leading to “(she)’s making me do xyz” statements. For example, someone recently told me he wouldn’t have kissed another woman had he known that the “rules had changed”. Upon further exploration I realized he was interpreting his girlfriend expressing jealous feelings as a new “rule” when that was not desired on her part. To be clear: a feeling is not a rule. It’s just a feeling. For non-monogamous relationship dynamics to be healthy, there has to be space for everyone involved to express their feelings and for people to decide how they want to navigate those feelings in tandem with their partner(s). That doesn’t have to lead to avoidance of the behavior that caused the feeling. The best course of action has to be decided on a case-by-case basis in consideration of the circumstances and individuals involved.

Reality Therapy, a treatment modality developed by Dr. William Glasser, focuses on the value of fully acknowledging the power of our choices in creating our own realities and encouraging full acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of our choices. That’s a key component for creating healthy and sustainable non-monogamous relationship dynamics. Acknowledging our agency reminds us that we are the captains of our own ships. It also empowers our partners with more accurate information about our intentions, values, and priorities that can help them in best navigating their own journeys (AKA more ethical informed consent).

In curt recap - I strongly urge each of you to own your shit, own your choices, and expect that your lovers do the same. If you do I bet things will seem much less confusing out there on the open seas of love. So fair winds and following seas, Matey’s! I wish you all the best out there as you continue making the choices that will steer each of your loving adventures!

“Fair winds and following seas, Matey’s!

I wish you all the best out there as you continue making the choices that will steer each of your loving adventures!”

But Don't You Get Jealous? Oh Yeah...Bring it!

But Don't You Get Jealous? Oh Yeah...Bring it!

At a non-monogamy conference I attended recently a speaker asked, “How many of you can relate to the question, ‘But don’t you get jealous?” the room filled with raised hands. Then she asked, “and how many of you get jealous?” Most of the hands remained. None-the-less, I frequently have clients tell me they think they’re “bad at poly” because they feel this normal human emotion. Lately I’ve found myself pondering where the myth comes from that non-monogamous people should somehow magically not feel jealousy? 

Where does the myth come from that non-monogamous people
should somehow magically not feel jealousy? 

My take is that it’s largely due to our frames of reference being so heavily influenced by a culture that applauds numbing difficult emotions. We’re taught to minimize “negative” emotions through consumerist distractions and substances, as well as through society’s predominant relationship expectations. In the context of mainstream monogamous dating we’re taught that we should largely follow spoken and unspoken rules to help us all avoid the feelings we call jealousy (example: not talking to partners about crushes on other people). There’s an underlying assumption in that way of relating that jealousy’s bad and should be avoided. Then that mindset carries over when people explore non-monogamy even though they’re no longer following those rules that help them steer clear of jealous feelings. It’s a catch 22 that doesn’t set people up for success.

“If you imagine jealousy as a barrier along a path the aforementioned rules serve to help people navigate around the barrier without coming into close contact with it. Non-monogamy, however, is a choice to climb it.”

If you imagine situations that trigger jealousy as barriers along a path the aforementioned rules serve to help people navigate around the barriers without having to come into close contact with them. To explore non-monogamy, however, one has to climb them. If you decide to no longer circumvent jealousy triggers you’ll have to put some time into learning how to best navigate those feelings within your relationships. A result of our jealousy avoidant culture is that we’re largely ill equipped for tackling the challenge when needed. The choice to go in for the climb or not isn’t about how many people one has sex with. There are many monogamous people who face jealousy directly and many non-monogamous folks who do everything they can to avoid it. The truth is, however, that the obstacle of avoiding it is much more difficult (potentially impossible) in the context of non-monogamy. Many would say that’s the greatest challenge of the lifestyle. The good new is that it’s also one of the greatest benefits, depending on perspective. 

What we call “jealousy” tends to be anger, sadness, fear, or frustration in disguise. It’s often fueled by our own insecurities or ways that our desires aren’t being met in our relationships. Learning to assess and journey through those feelings can increase our self awareness in transformative ways that can ultimately lead to strengthened feelings of self worth and fulfillment. When we take the the focus away from how others can ease our jealousy externally to how we can heal it within ourselves it’s deeply empowering. Tuning into our feelings often shines light that can guide us in creating healthier boundaries, shifting our self talk in positive ways, advocating for our unmet needs, and inspiring us in creating the lives and loves we most truly desire. It’s not always easy, but as an outdoor adventure lover I often remind myself that the most beautiful places I’ve ever been were also the most difficult to get to. 


“As an outdoor adventure lover I often remind myself that the most beautiful places I’ve ever been were also the most difficult to get to.”

The truth is that the emotion of jealousy is one that most of us humans experience no matter what relationship structures we engage in. The choice to be in non-monogamous relationships is not a choice to forego fears and insecurities of the human experience. It’s simply a choice to conceptualize them and interact with them differently. When we stigmatize jealousy we empower shame and evoke a wide range of defense mechanisms that are harmful to our relationships. Jealousy in and of itself is not bad. If we own it in a mindful way we can choose to transform how it impacts our beings and our lives. With shifted perspective it can become a force of growth and good that can take us to higher ground - no matter what relationship structure(s) we each choose.

The climb to get to that higher ground, however, isn’t always easy. When people decide not to take preventative measures to avoid jealousy it tends to lead to increased emotional processing and communication in relationships. It’s important that people have a realistic expectation about that if they choose to take the non-monogamous adventure route. If you see value in journeying through difficult emotional terrain to get to beautiful places you may be well suited for the landscape of non-monogamy. Just don’t expect that you can go in for the climb and stay on level ground at the same time because non-monogamy tends to look at big emotional boulders and say, “Bring it!” And you shouldn’t say “bring it” if you’re not ready to rise to a challenge.


“You shouldn’t say ‘bring it’ if you aren’t ready to rise to a challenge.”

Free Your Mind with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy): 10 Helpful Questions for Non-monogamy & Beyond!

Free Your Mind with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy): 10 Helpful Questions for Non-monogamy & Beyond!

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In my work with clients I frequently utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques for helping people restructure thought patterns that aren’t best serving them. At first CBT takes a good bit of thought. Then once we internalize desired patterns of thinking they can start to flow automatically freeing our minds of critical and negative self talk that has kept us down rather than lifting us up. One CBT intervention is called “Socratic questioning”, which is basically just a fancy way to say that one is looking for evidence that supports or disproves thoughts.

Below are 10 examples of questions that can serve that purpose. I’ve also shared examples of potential automatic thoughts and alternate perspectives for each one. An automatic thought is one that we jump to initially due to our own mental templates of how we believe ourselves, others, and the world to be. If we find that those templates aren’t best serving us ample research shows that we humans are capable of re-training our brains to learn alternate perspectives that can positively shift how we experience our lives. Asking ourselves questions like the ones below is an important part of actualizing that goal.

1) Am I confusing a thought/feeling with a fact?

Just because we think or feel something doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s always good to for us to assess the objective evidence we have to back up thoughts/feelings to make sure we aren’t jumping to any conclusions before letting our thoughts motivate our behaviors.

Automatic thought: My metamour (a partner’s other partner) didn’t talk to me at the party. She must have negative feelings towards me.

Alternate perspective: It’s true that my metamour didn’t talk to me at the party, but it’s quite possible it had nothing to do with me. Perhaps they didn’t have a good day and weren’t feeling up to socializing beyond their good friends.

2) Could the situation be impacted by projections?

We humans filter our experiences through our existing expectations and views of the world. It’s always good to slow down and ask ourselves if past experiences, insecurities, or existing beliefs we have about the world could be coloring our perceptions of our interactions with others.

*** This one can also be helpful in the reverse. Often times people are the most judgmental of other people’s lifestyles when their feelings are being motivated by projections. Keeping that in mind can help us to take judgments from others less personally.***

Automatic thought: My partner’s been having sex with another person regularly. That means they’ll clearly start wanting to spend more time together and get more “seriously”  involved.

Alternate perspective: Just because the societal narrative is for people to move up the relationship escalator when we have sex that doesn’t mean people have to do that. Many people enjoy having regular sex with others without desiring increased time or typical relationship entanglements with them.

3) Might other people have different interpretations of this same situation?

Sometimes we can get tunnel vision and have trouble envisioning outside perspectives. It can help if we try to imagine how other people may view the same situation.

Automatic Thought: He didn’t respond to my text messages all day long. He must not be as interested in me as he used to be.

Alternate Perspective: The other person may just be busy or need some down time to recharge before connecting again because they’re introverted.

4) Am I looking at all the evidence or just the things that support my existing thoughts?

Social psychology research has shown that we humans have a tendency towards confirmation bias. We tend to look for evidence that supports things we already believe. It can be really eye opening to flip that script by intentionally looking for evidence to the contrary of our existing beliefs.

Automatic thought: That person clearly isn’t very into me because they haven’t liked or commented on any of my social media posts.

Alternate Perspective: Zooming out to look at contrary evidence one may realize that the person doesn’t seem to be active on social media in general and that they have invited them to multiple events recently indicating potential interest.

5) Did someone pass this thought/belief to me? If so, are they a reliable source? Could that other view be skewed or lacking important information?

Sometimes others pass their beliefs along directly like telling a friend that their partner must not be that into them if they haven’t “popped the question”...and sometimes thoughts/beliefs are ingrained in us by society over many years like the view that people who get married are somehow more likely to sustain relationships longer than people who choose not to get married.

Automatic thought: My friend’s boyfriend just proposed to her. Their relationship must be more meaningful than mine since my boyfriend hasn’t proposed.

Alternate Perspective: Statistics on the divorce rate clearly show that marriage doesn’t necessarily correlate with dependable commitment. The important thing is how healthy each relationship is, not whether it’s formalized through marriage.

6) Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms?

Nearly everything is relative. If you catch yourself using extreme language in your thoughts and statements (always/never, everything/nothing, etc) it’s good to slow down and get things in a more balanced perspective.

Automatic thought: My boyfriend never wants to have sex with me anymore.

Alternate Perspective: My boyfriend’s been really busy and stressed at work lately. It’s been a couple weeks since we’ve had sex. I should probably mention to him that it’s beginning to feel like a problem for me.

7) Am I condemning myself or someone else as a total person on the basis of a single event?

Sometimes we can generalize negative things as representations of our or other people’s characters rather than seeing them as isolated events within a bigger picture. Try to catch yourself if you ever extrapolate situations to judge the character of yourself or others.

Automatic thought: I was so awkward on that date. I’m not capable of online dating.

Alternate perspective: The fact that I felt awkward on that date just means I wasn’t compatible with that person, not that he or I suck at online dating in general. It’s still likely we can both have success with other people.

8) Am I concentrating disproportionately on negative qualities of my character without uplifting strengths of my character?

If you catch yourself being critical of yourself I encourage you to balance that out by focusing on your strengths. In fact, it’s likely that the very quality you’re being hard on yourself for is also a strength since strong qualities in our personalities tend to be both in different circumstances.

Automatic thought: I’m so flakey and scatter-brained.

Alternate perspective: The flip side of that coin is that I’m spontaneous and imaginative, which are qualities people enjoy about me too. It’s normal to be a mixed bag of character challenges and strengths. My true friends accept me for both.

9) Am I taking something personally that likely has little or nothing to do with me?

If you notice that you’re taking something personally ask yourself if it’s possible that it could have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Automatic thought: I was chatting with that person on OkCupid and they ghosted me. I wonder what I said that turned them off?

Alternate perspective: Bummer that person stopped chatting with me because they seemed like a cool person. I wonder if their life may have gotten too busy for online dating for some reason?

10) Am I being as compassionate with myself as I would be towards a good friend or am I being disproportionately hard on myself?

It’s often much easier for us to be compassionate with others than it is for us to be compassionate with ourselves. Next time you’re being hard on yourself I encourage you to think of what you would tell a friend in the same situation. Then try to be your own friend.

Automatic thought: I’m so pathetic and selfish. I wasted my whole night being anxious last night and I should have been feeling happy for my partner.

Alternate perspective: It’s a totally normal human response for people to struggle at first when their partners go on dates with other people. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Now I challenge you to choose three of these questions that resonate with you and come up with examples from your own experiences and to ask yourself some “socratic questions” next time you’re having thoughts that are causing you distress. Perhaps you’ll find they’re off base and be able to shift your thinking in a way that will better serve you. Ready, Set….Go!

Secure Attachment Beyond Coupledom: Strategies for Non-monogamy & Beyond

Secure Attachment Beyond Coupledom: Strategies for Non-monogamy & Beyond

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If you’re not familiar with attachment theory it could be helpful for you to read my last article “Attachment theory for Non-monogamy & Beyond: Getting Outside the Bubble” before diving into this one. In that article I explain what attachment styles are and that they’ve been found to be malleable over time. That’s right - modern neuroscience findings now prove that we humans are indeed capable of shifting from insecure to secure attachment in adulthood. Now, in this article I’ll be addressing the popular burning question - How can we work towards actualizing that shift?

If you look to popular literature on the topic you’ll find assertions that we must experience secure pair bonded relationships in order to reprogram our brains in this way. But what about those of us who aren’t partnered or who choose to have multiple partners? Is there hope for us as well? My answer to that is - Yes, absolutely! We must recognize that attachment theory originated within the context of Western culture. Thus it’s most widely accepted findings to date are surely skewed towards Western values (including monogamy, individualism, and nuclear family structures).

Cross cultural research has found that while insecure and secure attachment styles do appear to exist universally across cultures the presumed causes, rates, and presentations of them vary culturally. For instance, in many collectivist cultures it’s been found that aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents can serve as secure bases for children in addition to parental figures. It’s also been found that therapists can serve as attachment figures for their clients. With the knowledge that we’re capable of forming attachment bonds in various types of relationships it seems clearly short-sighted to continue asserting that monogamous dyads are crucial for healing attachment wounds.

Whether someone is monogamously partnered, single, solo, open, or poly I feel strongly that uplifting qualities of security in our relationships more broadly than coupledom has the power to expand our capacities for secure living and loving. Amir Levine, MD (author of “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help You Find & Keep Love”) identified 5 key elements of security: Consistency, Availability, Reliability, Responsiveness, and Predictability. Mainstream suggestions for fostering secure attachment focus on uplifting these qualities in our romantic relationships. It’s suggested that we form “couple bubbles” with our partners and make them our “go to person”. Suggestions of that nature are clearly biased towards monogamy with a proposition of an us against the world mentality. What I propose is a shift towards an us with the world mindset.

If strongly upholding the security building values of consistency, availability, reliability, responsiveness, and predictability in just one relationship in our lives has such healing power, imagine the power we can harness if we uphold those values in even more relationships! Below are 10 suggestions for ways we can do just that. I’ll also be writing follow up articles backing each suggestion up with clinical findings and research in the neuroscience of human relationships. Stay tuned if you find yourself curious for more details.


1) Create Rituals to Honor Friendships & Community

In Western culture it’s common for us to honor our romantic relationships and nuclear family connections through celebrating anniversaries, holidays, and other rituals. Why not create security building traditions of that nature in our friendships and communities as well? The above photo is of a 10 year anniversary party two of my friends had, in which they read vows of commitment to one another. Honoring our friendships so sincerely is a great way to increase security in our non-sexual relationships and create secure bases within our communities that can help us feel more steady through this wild ride of life.


2) Consistency of time

In mainstream romantic partnerships people tend to organically develop some consistency of time in their relationships, especially if they live with their partners. Couples may eat meals together at certain times, engage in shared hobbies that meet with regularity, habitually watch certain shows together., or have shared patterns around sleeping/waking times. Based on research in attachment promoting consistency in our relationships is important for creating feelings of security. With intention we can infuse similar aspects of consistency into our relationships more broadly through men’s groups, standing date nights with non-nesting partners, or certain activities we share with others in regularity like trivia nights.


3) Utilize & Encourage Self Soothing Coping Skills

Research shows that insecure attachment reactions are strongly linked to fear responses in our brains. There are many self soothing coping skills that have been proven to de-activate the stress and fear systems of our brains, on a neurobiological level. In addition to fostering security in our relationships we can also increase control over insecure attachment reactions through learning self soothing strategies that are evidence-based for counteracting our fear responses, such as mindfulness, vagus nerve stimulation, exercise, and promotion of oxytocin release. We can also support friends in strengthening these skills too by practicing them together, modeling them, and reminding friends to use them during stressful times if they forget.


4) Learn your friend’s love languages

Gary Chapman developed the concept of “Love languages”, which has helped countless people in romantic relationships learn how to best give and receive love to their partners. If we prioritize learning the love languages of our friends as well we can show up for them even more fully and help them feel even more loved. We can also teach them our love languages to create bonds that help us feel even more loved too! Learn your love language here:

5) Create a System of Support

It’s understandable that within the context of our busy lives we can’t be there for our friends every time they need us. None-the-less, if we create an intentional system of support we can settle into feelings of security that we’ll likely have someone who can show up for us in times of need. If we create a rotation of support with friends we can ask others if they have the bandwidth to help at the moment. If not, we can call on another friend with an understanding that if nobody else can help we’ll likely be going back around our list to ask friends if they can help us find someone who is available. As part of a team effort we can work towards ensuring that everyone in the system can take care of themselves while also taking care of each other.

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6) Stimulate oxytocin release in your brain through non-sexual touch

Touch is one of the best ways to stimulate the release of oxytocin. Hugging friends, exchanging massages with friends, cuddling with animals, and getting professional spa treatments involving touch are all great non-sexual ways to stimulate oxytocin release. We can also release oxytocin by sharing touch with ourselves through masturbation or self massage. Research shows that oxytocin has a multitude of positive health benefits for us, including lowering cortisol levels, lowering heart rates, decreasing blood pressure, and increasing feelings of calm. That means that it is a great way to counteract the biological fear responses of insecure attachment.


7) Include your friends in conversations about big life decisions

It’s culturally normative for people to consider their romantic partners in making big decisions like moving across the country. Often times, however, we fail to include our friends in those conversations or consider how those shifts could affect those relationships. The rate at which people relocate these days can lead to friendships feeling tenuous and unreliable. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Instead we can make agreements with certain friends to engage in conversations about major life decisions before making them, which could help us feel more comfortable leaning into those relationships as bases of security in our lives.


8) Connect with a Therapist or Support Group

It’s well-accepted that the relationships between therapists and clients are a core healing agent of therapy. In consideration of the security building qualities Amir Levine identified: consistency, availability, reliability, responsiveness, and predictability that makes perfect sense. Typically when we connect with therapists or support groups we know that support is likely to be available to us at scheduled times in a consistent and predictable format. The steadiness of those connections may be even more healing than the content of our communications in regards to shifting of attachment styles.


9) Foster multiple “go to” relationships

Instead of seeking feelings of dependability through making one romantic partner your “go to person” I recommend that you nurture multiple “go to relationships”. That means both diversifying the people you reach out to when you need support and showing up for others when they reach out to you. Different people have different skill sets so diversifying in this way increases the chances that you’ll have someone to reach out to who’s an ideal fit for what you need at any given time.


10) Join a team or get into a hobby that fosters regular connection with others

Teams, clubs, hobbies, and participation in religious communities can create especially strong bonds because they inherently offer consistency, availability, and predictability. You can know what to expect in regards to frequency of connections with those people and can have an idea of what the interactions are likely to entail when you do see them. The nature of team oriented activities also often creates ritual and feelings of group cohesion that can inspire feelings of a chosen family.


Now I Challenge You…

Email ideas to:

Attachment Theory for Non-monogamy & Beyond: Getting Outside the Bubble

Attachment Theory for Non-monogamy & Beyond: Getting Outside the Bubble

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Attachment bonds are integral to this human experience we share. We evolved in tribes and thus our brains are social organs that respond on a neurobiological level to our interactions with others. One way neuroscience research has found this to be true is that signals of potential rejection or abandonment tend to affect our brain chemistry similarly to if we were facing a lion in the wilderness - sending us into fight-or-flight survival mode. That served us well when we were likely to die without our tribal connections. Unfortunately, it’s an evolutionary adaptation that’s a bit outdated and tends to cause us more trouble than good these days.

Have you ever acted in a way you weren’t proud of when facing fears of rejection or pushed someone away who you were scared may reject you? In the context of modern love that’s how we fight-or-flight. When our fear responses are activated we’re also inclined to make snap judgments - a tendency that’s useful in actual life or death situations, yet often damaging in the context of romantic conflict. What’s more is that our early childhood experiences determine how sensitive our brains become to fear activation.

John Bowlby, the psychoanalyst who pioneered attachment theory, hypothesized that attachment is all about us seeking emotional regulation and feelings of safety in times of perceived danger. He purported that our attachment and fear systems are intricately connected. Mary Ainsworth at the University of Virginia then expanded on his theory to identify three primary attachment styles that have since been proven to be universal across cultures: secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious (with a fourth rare style – disorganized). Then further down the road in Louis Cozolino’s book “The Neurobiology of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain” he detailed neuroscience research that proves “beyond irrefutably” that these attachment styles stabilize in our neural circuitry by the time we’re 12 - 18 months dependent on the responsiveness of our early caregivers.


Attachment Styles:

Secure: If our caregivers are responsive to our distress in those early days we learn that we’re worthy of our needs getting met and that we can depend on other people to meet them. With that mindset our fear responses are less sensitive to activation. We also tend to be more comfortable expressing our needs clearly and forming interdependent bonds in intimate relationships.

Insecure - Anxious/Avoidant: If our caregivers were not responsive to our distress or we experienced early traumas, however, we’re likely to learn that we must be hypervigilant in order to make sure our needs are met. We become distrustful of others and assume that we can’t depend on them to meet our needs. This causes us to become hypervigilant and alters the fear systems of our brains on a neurobiological level increasing the sensitivity and intensity of fear responses. I conceptualize anxious individuals as people who are more likely to respond to that fear in fight mode and avoidant types as the more flight oriented ones. In relationships fighting can look like outward expressions of anger or less direct tactics of trying to get needs met; whereas flight looks like withdrawal from connection.


The good news is that research in “neural plasticity” has proven that those of us with insecure attachment have the capability of shifting our brains towards security in our adult years. We, humans, are super adaptable creatures! In the same way that our brains can initially adapt to unhealthy situations, they can also adapt back in healthier ways. It’s not an easy thing to do - but with dedication, patience, compassion (for self and from others), and sustained effort people with insecure attachment can learn to have more discernment and control in relation to their fear responses - a phenomenon often termed “earned secure attachment”.

Nearly all of the research around how we can achieve that goal has been done in the context of monogamous dyadic relationships. That research has shown that it’s very important to foster security in one’s relationships to create this shift. That makes sense seeing as the fears of rejection that trigger these responses inherently involve other people. It also makes sense because the attachment chemical oxytocin has been proven to calm our fear systems on a neurobiological level and it is released most strongly through connection with others.  If you’re single or non-monogamous, however, don’t fret! Much of the research related to fostering secure attachment can be applied to forming healing relationships beyond the romantic dyadic context if we open our minds (and our hearts)!

Amir Levine, the author of the book “Attached: The new science of adult attachment - and how we can find and keep love” uses the acronym CARRP to help people remember the main qualities he’s identified bring security to relationships - consistency availability, reliability, responsiveness, and predictability. In Stan Tatkin’s book “Wired for Love: How Understanding your partner’s brain and attachment style can help you defuse conflict and build a healthy relationship” he stresses the importance of forming “couple bubbles” to serve those functions. But it seems clear to me that with creativity we can infuse those qualities into our relationships more broadly. Let’s get real - if you could choose one person or a whole team of people to stand behind you for a free fall which would you choose? I know I’m definitely going with the team!

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If you could choose one person or a whole team of people to stand behind you for a free fall which would you choose? I know I’m definitely going with the team!

According to the mainstream view of relationships we’re supposed to be stuck in a bubble with one person to meet all of our security needs. Of course that’s scary! Society teaches us that we’ll feel complete and less lonely once we find “our one” and get in our bubble with them. The truth is, however, that the narrative of coupledom is often quite isolating. When we visualize coupled people being in a bubble that separates them from connection with others it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Perhaps what we actually need is to pop those bubbles and look beyond them for our senses of belonging.

By letting go of the cultural myth of our “one true love” we can shift our energy to finding our many loves through community - whether we’re non-monogamous or not. Breaking free of those couple bubbles can allow us to foster consistency, availability, reliability, responsiveness, and predictability in our lives through a network of love that can be stronger than the support any one person could ever offer. Expanding our support systems in this way can benefit us all by allowing us to settle into feelings of security in our lives that aren’t fully dependent on our romantic relationships. If we can feel assured that we’ll be held no matter what we can navigate our adventures of love with more steady and less fearful strides.

Through fostering strong connections with community we can actually attain both higher levels of freedom and higher levels of security at the same time. When we know we’ve got loved one’s out there who can catch us if we fall we can feel more free to fly. We can take big risks, go out on limbs, and explore with our whole hearts if we feel confident that we have a network of support we can lean into if those limbs or our hearts get broken. We can also show up for others to be that support for them with less pressure if we know that we can tap out and step up as needed with confidence that our loved ones will have support either way. There’s a reason people say “it takes a village”. It’s because it does - and that’s true for nurturing us humans of all ages!

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Approach with Curiosity

Approach with Curiosity


Free Your Mind of Projections ~

Instead Ask Questions…

Our brains are masterful collectors of data, soaking up information like sponges and using it to create mental templates for how we interpret the world around us. In that process we often fall into the trap of assuming that other people’s motivations and desires are the same or similar to our own. When we do this it’s called projection. By slowing down and approaching situations with curiosity it’s amazing how many projections we can catch ourselves making and how beneficial that increased awareness can be for our relationships. Curiosity is one of the most valuable assets we have for fostering authentic connection! By staying connected with our senses of wonder we can break through to truly see and be present with others.

The most striking example of curiosity bettering one of my relationships was when I finally asked a partner...

The most striking example of curiosity bettering one of my relationships was when I finally asked a partner what he was thinking when he left the room while I was crying. Directly asking him what he was thinking in taking that action helped debunk my false assumption that he was being uncaring. By getting curious I learned that when he’s sad he prefers to be left alone to process his feelings and that he was trying to be supportive in offering me that space. Then we were able to break down projections on both sides to learn how to more effectively support one another.

Shift into a Sense of Wonder…

Next time you’re in an emotional moment with a loved one I challenge you to shift into a sense of wonder. I bet if you do projections will be illuminated that can better your relationship(s). If you notice physiological signs of fear in yourself (increased heart rate, faster breathing, sweating, & obsessive thinking) this tip is even more important! Our emotional systems evolved to make speedy judgments when afraid so we can identify threats and take action quickly. Unfortunately, that long acquired snap judgment skill tends to be problematic in romantic relationships. By being mindful of this we can intentionally slow down in moments of fear to ask questions that can help us formulate more accurate perceptions of situations.

In addition to being educational and positive for our relationships, freeing our minds to tap into our childlike senses of wonder can also be quite fun!

In summary -  my suggestion is that you practice slowing down, getting curious, and communicating directly about your curiosities.  Often times the messages we think we’re receiving from others through body language and behavior are being drastically misinterpreted once filtered through our own mental biases. Clear verbal or written communication will always be superior to hinting, implying, and assuming. In addition to being educational and positive for our relationships, freeing our minds to tap into our childlike senses of wonder can also be quite fun! Now it’s your turn to give it a try!

Activity Challenge:


Next time you have an emotional moment with a loved one I encourage you to imagine you’re an alien sent to figure out what’s going on in their mind. Let go of a sense of knowing and get curious instead. What are some questions you could ask to test out assumptions you recognize yourself making?

In getting curious it's possible your assumptions will be proved correct. If you’re jumping to conclusions about other people’s motivations without checking in with them, however, it’s honestly more likely that you’re projecting. Either way, if you ask questions to test out your assumptions you’ll likely learn some valuable info about yourself, your loved one, and the situation - allowing you to behave in a more informed and less emotionally reactive manner. You’ll also likely find that the reactions you get from others when taking this approach will be less defensive and more open allowing you to work more effectively as a team in seeking win/win solutions.

Badass & Off the Beaten Path: Sarah Elsie (AKA Ms. WildJoy)

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Badass & Off the Beaten Path: Sarah Elsie (AKA Ms. WildJoy)



I absolutely adore this woman! She’s a fiery, badass babe for sure! She’s the kind of woman that rocks the dichotomies of being human in such sweet harmony. She’s peaceful, yet powerful. Dedicated, yet free. Deeply caring, while also unfettered by all the societal BS that can weigh us down. This is an interview about liberation, resilience, and awakening. She’ll take you on a journey of deeply rooted grounding and of rising up in full abandon all in one soulful read. Get ready to be vigorously moved, while not moving at all…


How would you describe this life path you’re forging that’s off trail and into the wild?


“It’s a liberation path.


path of passion


pleasure heals.”


It’s a liberation path. A path of passion where pleasure heals. I go where my soul wants me to go. I do what my heart tells me to do. Every bit of me is devoted to the liberation of my own human experience. It’s twisted sometimes and brutally beautiful but every stone along the way is precious to me. I’ve been called many times an empath, a psychic, a witchy woman, a teacher, and a healer among other things. Although I personally don’t like to lean too much into vocabulary of identity, I do understand when people say those things and I appreciate what they’re sentiments.

I’m not sure that I could call my path anything at all but I know I’m on it because it would be impossible not to be. I’m a person who’s experienced a considerable amount of traumas and challenges, yet not a single day goes by where I don’t consider myself to have it pretty peachy. I just keep going and I let my feet be moved by what has changed within me along the way. One of my longtime teachers calls that resilience . At some point I made the decision that I would rather navigate the oceans of suffering and contrast than hang out in the harbor because the eternal horizons of liberation called to me and I felt compelled to respond.


I see posts on your Facebook page about “WildJoy Living Art” and I’m so intrigued. Do tell us more about that...


WildJoy Living Art has become the phrase to describe both what I’m doing and who I am. I’m a multidisciplinary artist, Licensed Massage Therapist, Intuitive consultant, and alternatively schooling mother to two magical children. I say alternatively schooling because homeschooling doesn’t accurately describe what we do and whenever I use the term unschooling people get really confused . Unschooling is a very real thing though and I reference the work of John Holt often along our journey into the world of emergent curriculum and experiential learning.

When I made the decision to pull my kids from mainstream school I also resigned from my job at a luxury spa to focus on my personal healing practices, which include healing from all systems and institutions that harm more than benefit my family or myself. Now I  extend those practices into the world in various offerings through my business that intersects the esoteric arts , the healing arts and multimedia artistic creation.

So we ARE WildJoy Living Art because we are all healers and we heal ourselves simply by the lives that we lead. You see, authenticity is the medicine. My business IS WildJoy Living Art for the same reasons. If I am a healer it is because I am a woman who is healing herself and I choose to carry that story forward to share it with the world. I am inviting everyone in to see how I decided that my process is all I have to claim, in order to welcome others to claim the processes of their lives too.


“I am inviting everyone in to see how I decided that my process is all I have to claim, in order to welcome others to claim the processes of their lives too.”


My curiosity’s piqued about unschooling. In a culture that stresses the importance of mainstream education so strongly deciding to forego that with your kids is such a brave decision. What were the main reasons you decided to take that leap?


Well, I’m always telling my kids that they’re powerful creators and that they have to take responsibility for their unique gifts by creating their reality and boy did I ever get called out one evening by them. They used to go to public school and one evening my son who at the time was finishing 2nd grade says to me “You say that I create my own reality but I don’t. All day I’m crammed into this building with hundreds of kids that don’t even like me and it doesn’t feel safe or right to me...I don’t want to be doing this with my life every day. This is not how I want to live.”

Damn! That put me eye to eye with my own shit talking for sure! Walk you walk mama! I had to! So two years ago, shortly after this tearful conversation with my son I made some big, radical changes for us.  The compulsory education system just isn’t in alignment with a life of liberation as we see it so we opted out.


Of all the people I know I’d say you’re a top contender for giving the least fucks. Does that seem true to you?


I used to joke about making a pamphlet titled “How to care a lot and not give a fuck” and probably should add that to my 2019 body of work. It’s funny because people who know me will probably tell you that I don’t give a fuck about so many things like my reputation or staying inside the lines, but I am also a person who cares deeply about the world.

I care about where you hurt and I am deeply committed to offering bold encouragement, insight, and bearing witness to others along the way. Both of these truths about me probably are born out of the contrast I’ve experienced in my own life. In fact, everything so far has really just been more confirmation that I wasn’t born to follow or fit into the existing paradigm.


When I first met you I was smitten that you were a Roller Derby girl. Do you think your time in the Derby helped you in letting go of some of the fucks you’ve freed yourself from along the way?


Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m a survivor of multiple traumas, including getting violently assaulted in my early 20’s. I raged for a number of years and when Derby emerged I found a healthy home for my aggression and a network of other womxn that valued strength, courage and being aggressive. In the early days of Derby we really embraced our derby personas and I became known as The Red Vag of CouRAGE, a play off of the book title The Red Badge of Courage.

Nashville was so affectionate towards me and fully embraced wearing homemade Vag patches which were these red canvas triangles with a hand painted eyeball in the middle and on the back three words: Vision, Humor, Vagina. That was the shorthand of my personal recipe for revolution. I would make loads of them and all our fans would safety pin them to their denim and leather or right over their crotches.

I am still friends with many of the women I skated with and we continue to follow and support each others accomplishments and lives. Derby at that time represented a counterculture of misfit gals and guys. Real rock n rollers who lived on the fringes of Society. Although I’m not sweating and bleeding on the flat track these days I do still street skate often and will always be a roller girl. I highly encourage all sports fans to check out the WFTDA, that’s the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association which features some of the most phenomenal athletes both in the states and globally.

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Are there other major highlight moments of your story that you feel helped you get to such a fearless and dedicated place of liberation in your life?

I’d say cancer was a turning point in so far as it’s added fuel to the fire for adventure and staying on MY path however quirky or uncomfortable or disruptive it may be. It’s made us even more resilient and even more validated in creating exactly the life we really want to live.


Oh yeah! Two years ago when I took the kids out of school and quit that jobbie job I had every intention of selling my home in the burbs for an RV and hitting the road. My kids wanted to drive as far south as possible. I said “well, I can drive you to about 90 miles from Cuba.” “Yeah right Ma!”  I’m serious kids get the map out and see for yourselves. So they did and then they packed. We made it to Kiawah Island and about a week into our visit I became ill. I thought I had the flu, but could hardly stand. I drove off the island to a hospital and they told me I needed a blood transfusion right away to save my life! FUCK! Thank you blood donors!

After a battery of tests they determined I had a very rare kind of cancer that less than 1% of people get and it’s usually not discovered until it’s metastasized. They said I was remarkable and they’ll probably live out their entire medical careers without ever seeing someone find this cancer in early stages. Hahaha! See I can’t even do cancer normal. Our week long visit at my mothers turned into an almost three month stay while I recovered and we embraced that all we have is now.

We returned home to Knoxville once I was well enough. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness and defeat. I’d just almost died and was confused about how to live. I was really vulnerable. My kids were vulnerable and asking me questions like “if you die where will we go?” The whole experience really shook us up and we learned so much. We learned that there really is no “safety” and that the rug can get pulled out from under almost every good plan so we just go ahead and do things. If we fail and have to make a lateral movement or refocus that’s fine.

So long story shorter, I’d say cancer was a turning point in so far as it’s added fuel to the fire for adventure and staying on MY path however quirky or uncomfortable or disruptive it may be. It’s made us even more resilient and even more validated in creating exactly the life we really want to live. Now we’re back to the WildJoy vision board. The house is on the market and I recently found a great team to help us build out a bus into a beautiful, modern, sustainable mobile tiny home. So although I’ve had several major turning points that have asserted me in “leveling up” to the free life I’d say these past few years have really provided just the perfect storm to push me into full commitment toward my WildJoy ways.


Wow! You’ve experienced  a lot of struggles in your journey thus far. Amidst the ups and downs of this wild ride of life what are some ways that you ground yourself and help you foster a sense of calm when stormy seas roll through?


“I’d lean heavily into big strong trees and envision them as my backbone when I was scared...I'd add my tears to the creeks and rivers and thank the waters for carrying them away...and when I felt like I belonged to nothing I'd find or make a place in the Earth to sink my bare feet into and say I belong here. I belong with you.”


Ever since I can remember from early childhood I’ve understood the natural world as spirits and energies. My home life was pretty volatile growing up in an alcoholic household. The violence, the screaming, the meltdowns, nurturing adults through their hangovers when I wanted them to be alive and awake with me. I had a shadow beast of anxiety deep in my belly and it took root. I never knew coming through the front door if I’d be spit on, slapped or I spent as much time outside as possible...I learned quickly how to get outside and ask the sky to open up for me and send the winds of change.

I’d lean heavily into big strong trees and envision them as my backbone when I was scared and when I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’d add my tears to the creeks and rivers and thank the waters for carrying them away and when I felt alone and like I belonged to nothing I’d find or make a place in the Earth to sink my bare feet into and say “i belong here. I belong with you”. Those are very real practices that I have always known how to do and been compelled to do and never stopped doing.

When I walk deep into the forest I feel at home. The ocean connects me to everything I know and there has been no greater medicine for me than sand, salt water and sky. I have a very intimate relationship with the weather as well. Weather is so spirited and literally is in a constant conversation with my soul. It’s information is angelic. I see nature, the forests, the skies and oceans and rocks and earth as being perfect as they are, as they come, as they change. Nature is a pontiff of possibilities and it is never not me.


“Nature is a pontiff of possibilities and it is never not me.”


People often talk about how having children can hinder opportunities for adventure, but I don’t feel like there’s enough talk about how having children can add to adventure. Are there ways that your kids enhance adventure in your life?


My kids are my adventure buddies for sure! They’re my ride or die. Both of them have had a lot of personal struggle and heart ache attempting to fit into the mainstream. When my son came to me in tears and told me going to public school was not how he wanted to spend his precious days on earth I had to listen. I had to take compassionate action and it’s been the most rewarding experience so far because it made my own dreams of chasing sunsets non-negotiable.

Some of us truly were never meant to fit into the systems that currently exist and quite literally lack the capacity to live in a world this we poke holes in the systems or we opt out and create our own lives entirely. I can’t think of a greater adventure than to be in solidarity with young magicians of this caliber as we craft our wildly joyful lives.


“I can’t think of a greater adventure than to be in solidarity with young magicians of this caliber.”


Who are some role models you’ve looked up to on your journey who have also said fuck it with wild abandon and spread inspiration of liberation?


There are so many people of great significance to me in this regard. Too many to list. I’ve always admired Patti Smith. Over the years I’ve leaned on her words and creations in my most lonesome places and at times of great celebration. I particularly love these words of hers from an improvised meditation of hers titled Constantine’s Dream:

“And Piero della Francesca waking, cried out

All is art-all is future!

Oh Lord let me die on the back of adventure

With a brush and an eye full of light”


What advice do you have for others who are currently journeying on the well traveled path in life, yet yearn to venture into the unknown to craft lives that are more uniquely suited for them?

Take the box and turn it upside down and shake the shit out of it until you fall out and then get up and burn that fucker to the ground.


Put yourself in situations where you can dis-identify with society. I’m being very sincere when I say that. Do whatever you can to get outside of it. Take the box and turn it upside down and shake the shit out of it until you fall out and then get up and burn that fucker to the ground...and start having sex the way you REALLY REALLY want to have sex and see how quickly you awaken. Hahahaha! I’m serious. Fuck the way you really want to fuck. Take the time to actually figure that out and come as you are.

And in general when something calls to you along your way respond to it with integrity and intention. If you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing or you’re fearful honor that fear as respect for the deep power of the medicine you’re finding. Open yourself up to mentors along the way if you feel so inspired, but don’t count on anyone else saving you or healing you.

The way I see it, we’re moving through the age of authenticity and into the age of liberation. Do only what really resonates with you. We have to be careful. We have to learn discernment and use it. Don’t let anyone try and convince you that you need them to move forward on your own path or worse that they can tell you what your life path is or even worse that they can heal you because they can not and should not.

You are it. You are the guru, you are the healer, you are everything that you want something else to be for you. Skilled and studied healing arts practitioners are here to offer support services NOT to perform miracles on you or tell you what your dreams mean or initiate you. You are the miracle. You are the dreamer and the interpreter. Your life is your initiation. I meant it when I said we heal ourselves simply by the lives we lead and that authenticity is the medicine.

Pay attention to how things make you FEEL especially in a society that tells us our feelings don’t matter. If a situation FEELS wrong to you then it is. Your feelings are a compass and you are the navigator and the ocean all at once. You are worth more than you have ever been told. Perhaps the most important thing of all is for you to truly believe that.


You are the guru,

You are the healer,

You are everything that you want something else to be for you…

You are worth more than you have ever been told.”

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