On this episode, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my mentors, Laura Mullis, LCSW
- Why Laura switched from weekly therapy to intensive sessions
- Difference between trauma and attachment wounding
- How attachment wounding contributes to anxiety
- How receiving love from God causes us to be able to love ourselves
- Learning to meet unmet needs as an adult.
Laura’s website: Triumph Center
Transcript of Episode 21
Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD, episode 21. I had the absolute privilege to interview a mentor, Laura Mullis and I brought her on the podcast to talk a little bit about attachment wounds from childhood and how these can contribute to anxiety in adulthood. So let’s get into that interview.
Carrie: So Laura, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Laura: Hello, my name is Laura Mullis and I am a clinical social worker from Moultrie, Georgia. That’s kind of in the Southwest corner of Georgia. I tell everybody about an hour from Tallahassee because I don’t expect people to know where Moultrie is. I am a therapist who offers a different type of therapy in the sense that I had my own practice and the way I set my practice up was that I offer intensive therapy where people come and they book a few days with me at a time and we really dig into whatever it is they want to change in their life.
The other way that I am probably different is one of my main focuses is not just on helping people heal from the things that happened to them in their life, but also the things that should have happened that didn’t, and that’s called attachment trauma, which is something I’m sure we’ll get into later on into the podcast.
About me, I have been working in the field of therapy in some capacity since 2004. So that’s 16 years and I started off in the field of substance abuse because in my own personal history, I’m actually in recovery myself. So of course we’re all wounded healers, right? So I went to go try to help people who were in recovery get the same breakthroughs I got. And as I started working in that field, I realized that majority of the people who I worked with had deep, deep, deep wounds that they were carrying from events that had happened to them in the past and just relationships that had really, really, really hurt them and so that sent me on a quest. I went on a quest and I’m still on my quest, but I don’t think the quest is ever done. My quest to try to figure out how to help people really overcome and heal the wounds that caused them to keep recreating patterns in their life or to keep living below what their full potential is capable of. And so until I’d be on a journey of many, many trainings and many, many learnings, I just tell people that I’m eternally curious. I will go learn about anything.
Carrie: I love that you’re terminally curious because I think the best therapists are the people who are willing to continue learning and continue growing.
I’ve met people in the field, unfortunately, and you probably have too that feel like they’ve already arrived and you can’t teach them anything and that’s very frustrating. So I love it when people love to learn and grow. The quest is never over. And the cool thing about that is that you always run into clients with different issues that come up and it’s like, “Oh, well, I don’t think I’ve quite dealt with this before. This is a little bit new. What are we going to do here?”
Laura: Yeah. Interesting thing. There’s always something new. I heard somebody say once before “wisdom is knowing you don’t know” and so I always hold that as my motto, that wisdom. I don’t know and if I think I do know then I’m missing a lot.
Carrie: So, let’s get into talking about attachment trauma and how you would define that.
Laura: Attachment trauma is basically I call it attachment wounding because trauma. When you think of the field, it’s so much about what happened and attachment wounding is more about what did not happen. So all of us were born into this world and are raised by somebody. It might not be your parents or paternal parents, but you are raised by somebody and those people who raised you almost leave an imprint on you based on how they treat you or what they don’t do for you and the imprint or the impression or the impact that they leave on you is that attachment wounding. So if you were raised by caregivers who didn’t see you, didn’t hear, didn’t value and, or raised you in a way where it was confusing, sent mixed messages, or raised you in a way where they didn’t know how to manage their own emotions, so then they couldn’t teach you to manage your emotions. Then you almost internalize all of that and you take that into yourself and then you grow up and you repeat all those patterns in your relationship with yourself and your relationship with others.
And so then when you go to a therapist and the therapist says, “well, tell me what happened.” You’re like, “I don’t know. It’s just my exist. Yeah. My childhood was good. I mean, everybody had problems. They didn’t beat me. I wasn’t hurt.” I wasn’t all the things that you think of when you think of trauma and people don’t really know that there’s was anything different because it’s just like the existence I grew up in. And so it’s really hard for people to share what did not happen or what happened that felt almost like it didn’t match what they knew they were supposed to receive. So that’s attachment wounding and attachment wounding I have found is really driven or kept alive by unmet needs.
So our needs did not get met in childhood and that caused a part of our brain to almost get stuck at the age at which the need wasn’t met. And then we are at times in our life responding out of that age or that sense of absence and what we then grow up and do, we then look outside ourselves for somebody else to meet our needs.
So we have these unmet needs. We grow up and we become adults with unmet needs. And then we want other people in our life to meet those needs and that’s just not going to work because they have unmet needs too and this causes a lot of the dysfunction in relationships and the world. In my opinion, everybody wants somebody else to meet their needs.
And so what I do is I help people learn how to start to identify the unmet needs from their past, and then meet their own needs. And as I meet their own needs, it’s almost like a cup of water that’s empty and it fills up one drop at a time and it just feels relieving and satisfying and the person feels more complete because there’s nobody that can meet our needs, but us.
Carrie: That’s interesting. How would you kind of put a spiritual overlay on that as far as God meeting people’s needs versus people meeting their own needs?
Laura: So when I do the type of therapy, I’m a turn like curious so I have lots of tools in my tool belt, but the one I’ve found to help attachment trauma is called ego state therapy, which is basically like parts work.
And so part of what I help people tap into is almost a resource part of them who has all of the things that they needed when they were a kid and didn’t get. And one of the parts of them that I help them tap into is almost like a spiritual self if they’re open to that. Some people just are not ready to go theorem and I understand that, but if their spirituality is a cornerstone of their belief system then they have a part of them who is able to receive the love of their spiritual source and that part of them has the capacity to really, almost expand to meet their needs in life today. So I see it as in my own personal experience and going through recovery. I saw that in my life, I had first received the love, the unconditional love of God and out of that unconditional love of God, I could then love myself unconditionally.
Carrie: Yes, that’s so good.
Laura: And that was my path, I was doing exactly what I described at the beginning. I was trying to have my friends and my family and everybody else love me unconditionally.
And they’re just not capable of that. So it’s really tapping into that unconditional source of love, which then feeds your unconditional love for yourself and then you will just naturally know who belongs in your life.
Carrie: That makes a lot of sense. I know that I see this with people where there’s a lot of grief that goes on over these unmet needs like “I don’t understand why my mother couldn’t just love me unconditionally. I don’t understand why she couldn’t love me as much as my sibling,” etc, etc. Do you feel like that’s a long-term ongoing process for people that part of this being able to meet their own needs, relieve some of that.
Laura: Yes. Being able to meet their own needs, relieve some of that but when you describe that to me, that tells me that there’s like a younger part of their mind stuck in a place where they may be in their forties, but part of their brain or mind still feels like they are a kid needing a mom to take care of them.
And so part of what I help people do is help those parts of the mind that are stuck in that almost bortecs of why can’t mom love me, because when you’re four, you need a mom to love you for survival. But now that you’re 40, you don’t really need a mom to love you. It’d be nice but you don’t need it. And continuing to try to go back and have a person who’s not capable of loving you, love you is actually causing you to have unmet needs of the present. So I feel like it’s a part of the mind that’s stuck back in that place of feeling it’s like they’re four or whatever age and feeling unresourced and incapable of taking care of themselves.
So part of the work I do is help those parts of the brain realize this is life today and you have the ability to have this for yourself. There is an element of grief to the work, but there’s a difference between grief and almost like avoiding sad and like avoidance sadness. So, some people will stay in this level of sadness and denial, and that’s actually keeping them from the deep grief that they need to come to a place of acceptance. “I can accept who my mom is, and I can accept that whatever happened to her in her past made it to where she just could not pass that down to me.”
Carrie: Do you think that people, even if they don’t get those from their parental or caregiver relationships like these needs that a lot of times they get them met in other relationships, and that provides that internal resource for them to be able to have that?
Laura: Yes. However, I think that a lot of times because of the unmet needs in the past, people can choose people to be in their life out of their wounds, and unfortunately, it just winds up recreating the wounds. So there is that rare bird who comes, who actually has a healthy marriage or healthy relationship and within that marriage in a relationship, they can almost have their adult life had their needs met, but they still have that unmet needs from the past that will crop up sometimes. It will show up sometimes and will wind up causing them to get in fights with their partner or pull away and avoid or shut down or be too anxious.
And about their person’s love and affection for the like this is all the ways that attachment shows up in life today is how we relate to other people. And so if you have a lot of unmet needs from childhood, emotional safety in a relationship is difficult to maintain.
Carrie: So feeling like this person might leave me which could show up in a lot of different ways. If this person gets mad at me, they might leave me, or if this person gets too close to me or knows too much about me, they might discover my flaws and might leave.
Laura: Yes, and so then people respond to that in different ways. They either pursue the person harder
and want the person to meet demands or want the person to check boxes, but those boxes aren’t going to bring the relief they need anyway, or they pull into their own shell and shut down, or they do both. This push-pull dynamic that comes up sometimes and all of it is because there’s not a sense of emotional safety inside the person.
Carrie: Right. What’s manifesting outside is reflective of what’s inside.
Laura: And so I tell people, build the emotional safety inside and then things outside changed.
Carrie: That makes a lot of sense and I think that sense of the healthier that you are, the healthier people that you attract into your life.
Laura: Yes you do.
Carrie: And the opposite is true as well. Unfortunately, yes.
Laura: I have people come to me and they want their spouse to be different. They want their children to be different and they want their family to be different and always say, listen, if you change your family changes, you can’t do it in reverse order.
If you change and who you are is different than they will just start responding differently to you or you will come to the place where you realize in order to get better, you have to create that distance.
Carrie: Talk with us a little bit about how this issue of attachment wounding can cause anxiety to develop in people.
Laura: The place that we learn to feel internally safe is through our caregivers. So when a baby is born, it doesn’t have any way to manage the emotions or the feelings going on inside their little body. And so they are dependent on the person who is raising them to do things like pick them up and soothe them and rock them and soothe them for them. As that happens repeatedly over time, that baby will internalize the ability to soothe themselves. So if a person doesn’t have a caregiver who has the ability to soothe themselves then they do not have the ability to help the baby internalize that ability to soothe. So if you have a mom or dad or a grandma or whoever is raising you, who, when a baby cries gets anxious and panics or gets angry and then is trying to soothe baby out of that panic and anger, the baby is going to internalize anxiety, anger, frustration.
So we, in some ways, how we cope with the world at the core is a replication of how our parents coped with the world.
Carrie: That makes a lot of sense.
Laura: And in order to really develop your own ability to cope with the world, you have to get rid of, or heal what your parents passed down and it might not even be parents it could be bullying in school, could be different things. And what I’ve found is when it comes to attachment wounding, what happens is when we have an event happen in our life that is overwhelming or shocking, it’s like our brain turns on an internal recorder, literally almost like cutting on a recording system and it records people acting in that way and the message that they were sending us and the message at different times in our life. When we go through something that feels similar, we’ll turn it on and start replaying it in our heads as if that thing from the past is happening now. And so then when we have something in our life that’s upsetting or anxiety-provoking, we’re not just responding to it, we’re also responding to the messages inside our head.
Carrie: The internal dialogue.
Laura: Yes, and that internal dialogue, if you hear it for so long, it gets hard to separate. Is it mine or was it theirs? Where do they even start? And so a lot of the work I do is helping to figure that out and kind of turn that dialogue that does not belong to the person off.
Carrie: The messages that other people have put towards us that weren’t true, but we adopted them as truth for ourselves.
Laura: Well, we didn’t have a choice. You know, at times in our life we’re like sponges, we just absorb what’s going on around us and so we didn’t choose it, and then it gets implanted in our mind and we just don’t even realize it’s there.
Carrie: Working with people that have had also major trauma experiences, besides just the attachment wounding. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that sometimes the worst part of that traumatic memory was the attachment piece, maybe where they told the caregiver and the caregiver didn’t believe them or they told the caregiver and the caregiver just didn’t do anything about the situation or they were put in a situation that was unsafe. Sometimes that’s worse than the experience itself. It seems like.
Laura: Yeah, I agree with that. Also want to say that one attachment wound that I’ve encountered lately, in past few years, is really hard for people to explain is what I call an invisibility wound. So that’s when a child grows up in a home where they just did not feel seen. It’s almost like they existed within the home and parents carried on separate lives and this can come when parents are in the world we live in today. There’s a lot of demands and so parents can work long hours. Sometimes two jobs. Maybe one parent is out of the home all the time working and then when they are home, they’re taking care of the household and trying to maintain an orderly life and so the child’s needs just are not seen.
Parents prioritize physical needs over emotional needs. And so when the child’s emotional needs are not tended to, they wind up feeling invisible and that invisibility wound causes a lot of anxiety because they now show up in life today and don’t know how to be seen when they are seen, it feels very foreign and unfamiliar and they want to try to hide. And it shows up as anxiety, panic attacks, overwhelmed, shame, all the things that cause people to own their shrink into themselves.
Carrie: Social interactions
Laura: Because they didn’t learn how to socially engage. I think that’s so important. So the invisibility of women is a big one. That’s in the attachment wounding family.
I’ve seen a lot of people who struggle with it, really struggled to try to explain what happened because it’s a lot of what did not happen.
Carrie: A lot of no one asking me how I felt about a situation or what I’m thinking or what I’m needing. It’s just kind of like we all go through the flow of life and this is how it is.
Laura: Yeah, or go play. They’re playing in their room, so they’re fine. They were always quiet and didn’t ask for much. That’s not a child’s natural behavior.
Carrie: Do you think that this can happen? A lot of times there’ll be a situation in a family where one child may respond externally. Like they may be throwing fits or rebelling at school or getting in trouble and a lot of times the focus is maybe on that child versus the quiet compliant child that just kind of goes along to get along with everybody.
Laura: Yes, that’s another way that the attachment wounding can occur and that will increase in visibility wounds and the one that goes internal and the one that goes external while a lot of times learn, the only way that I can be seen is if I have to help. So then they grow up to engage in addiction and other behaviors. Same dysfunctional, but haven’t had a reason. One of the things that I always tell people is whatever you’re doing has a good and perfect reason for existing. it served your needs in some way.
Carrie: That’s good. That’s really good because our behavior isn’t just in some kind of vacuum. There’s a reason that we got to where we are and if we can peel back those layers and understand that process, that’s often a key to healing, but not just the inside of it, the actual working through it, working through the woundedness.
So talk with me about the people that come in because I probably have them come to see me and you probably have them come to see you that say, “well, I don’t want to blame everything on my parents. They weren’t that bad. I mean, they’re okay. I’m an adult now and I can’t just be going and blaming everything on them.”
Laura: Yeah, and I completely understand. I think that majority of parents are doing the best they can. And I think that this is another topic altogether but wounds are generational. What they didn’t heal, their parents didn’t heal, got passed to them and get passed to the children. You have to look at it from more of a 30,000-foot view sometimes in order to get the understanding you need.
What I tell people is that we’re not here to put your parents on trial. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re just here to know your truth exactly as you felt it and once we know your truth, we heal your truth and what will happen is that will radically shift your relationship with your parents today. It will radically shift your relationship with your parents today so that you can have a more adult-adult relationship with them. If you have a lot of unmet needs, then in some ways you’re staying in a relationship where you’re still the child and they’re still the parent even though you are an adult and you met. The people I work with, they have professional careers functioning, and raising their own kids, but when they go around their parents, they still act in that parent child dynamic and it continues to replicate the unmet needs. So if we can heal the wounds and just learn your truth, and you could be more adult-adult not just in your relationship with your parents, but in your relationships with others.
Carrie: That’s good because what we’re talking about affects people at work. It affects them at home and affects them in their intimate relationships. It affects them with authority, figures, parents, anybody. It’s really huge and once you kind of get down underneath all of those layers, then it have some healing there of these wounded parts, it can be really true formative.
Laura: It really can. It truly can.
Carrie: I’m curious how you got through this process of, cause I’m assuming that you were providing weekly therapy in the past, how did you make that shift from like weekly therapy to just doing intensives?
Laura: So I was doing weekly therapy and one of the things that I do work with, which is, again, another topic altogether is dissociative identity disorder, which is people who have literal such isolated parts and multiple personalities. And in that, I figured out you couldn’t do hour-a-week therapy with them. It just does not really fit the way that their brain is structured and so I started to do intensives with them all starting with two to three-hour sessions and then working my way up. And I realized that I just like it better. I’m a person who believes that you can’t recreate moments. So what that means is if we’re in a session and we get to a big breakthrough and we have to just keep going through it, if all of a sudden we uncover a layer and it’s a new truth or a new understanding or a new trauma or a new attachment wound that we need to work on.
That it’s really hard to say, “okay, let’s stop here and come back next week and we’ll resume at that spot.” The mind doesn’t work like that almost. I believe once you get there, you just have to keep going and heal that piece, and then you can rest and go back in and kind of work on another layer because I realized with my an hour a week with people that we would get to a point like that and then they’d come in the next week and we’d be off on something else. And even though I said, “but that was really, really, really important.” It’s like, “Oh no, but now this is important.” And so we had a lot of places we got to that were never resolved.
Carrie: And that doesn’t feel good. I imagine not feel good to me.
Laura: I imagine it didn’t feel good to me and it truly didn’t feel good to the people because I would lose sight of what we were even working on half the time.
I would say, well, what, what exactly are we doing here? So, uh, I’m thankful that my, the DOD clients taught me that the mind truly works better when you do it from an intensive approach. And what that means intensive, just so listeners can understand is people book days with me at a time and we do about six hours of therapy a day.
And I look at the mind almost like a ball of yarn, that’s all tangled up and so in that time we just kind of pull on a string and we just follow the stream and let the mind untangle itself and it’s really, really, really, really cool how the mind untangled itself.
Carrie: Do people tend to just be really exhausted by the end of that day, after doing six hours of therapy?
Laura: Not really, you’ll be surprised that I think it’s more exhausting to open something up and an hour a week and then close have to figure out how to close it down and exist until another week. When they come, it’s almost like they know I’m coming here to work on this issue, whatever it is they want changed in their life, and I’ll provide it in a setting. It’s almost like a retreat, like a setting where people can go, there’s cabins and they stay in a cabin and we meet in the cabin. So the setup works also with the way the mind works, which is compartmentalization. I’m actually leaving my day-to-day life. I’m going to this place where what I do in this place is I work on myself.
Carrie: Very specific purpose.
Laura: And they know that this is what I’m doing here and they don’t have to worry about anything else except for healing. So I have found that it really for the people who are ready for it, because not everybody would be ready for it. But for people who are ready for it and want to take the journey, the intensive approach in my opinion is the best way to go.
Carrie: That’s good. That’s what it’s for. Just very interesting and different. And I think a lot of people don’t know that that’s even an option out there for them because so people have a hard time with like you talked about busy-ness of schedules, just even making an hour of therapy a week work for them and trying to deal with things like childcare and transportation issues and so forth and so on. So, it’s really awesome. We’ll put your links and so forth in the show notes for people so they can find you if they want to look you up that way.
Laura: That’d be great.
Carrie: At the end of every podcast, since our podcast is called hope for anxiety and OCD, I like to ask our guests, what is a time that you have received hope from God or another person?
Laura: I guess I would say that one of my transformative shifts in my life was when I was in treatment for recovery from addiction. I was praying and I was praying for everybody else in my life, “Oh God, I want you to do this for this, I don’t want you to make sure this person remembers me and I want you to do this.”
And I was telling God exactly what I wanted him to do. It was like audibly, I heard God say, “All right, listen up. First, you work on your relationship with me, then you work on your relationship with yourself. Then you can work on your relationship with your family and then I will add who I want into your life.”
And that moment changed everything for me because I realized that that was the order. That was the order for healing. And I was kind of go top-down rather than bottom-up and I’ve lived my life that way for the past 19 years and every bit of it has come true.
Carrie: That’s awesome. That’s really, really cool. I liked that God told you to listen up because you’re a very direct person and I feel like you would say that to somebody else.
Laura: I was just and all of a sudden I heard God say, “listen up.”
Carrie: I feel like God knows how to meet each one of us where we’re at and how we are and so you’re like this really sweet, gentle, kind person, but you also have like a directness in you too. And so I was like, “that just so fits”.
Laura: Yeah. It was like, “boom!” I was like, “Oh, okay, I’m listening.” But it changed everything for me when I realized that and I also feel like in my work, it also shapes how I help people on their process. I feel like it helped me see a clearer path for not only how I got the healing I needed, but how people can get the healing they need.
Carrie: Yeah. That’s good. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us about attachment trauma. It’s been really good. Really informative. All right.
Laura: Thank you, Carrie.
I think it’s so tempting for us to say, you know what childhood was in the past that doesn’t affect me now. All of that stuff is over and I’m over it. But a lot of how we act today is affected by how we were interacted with by our caregivers and the patterns that developed. And I have seen amazing transformation when people unpack those patterns and heal from those past wounds and allows them to move forward into a more healthy adulthood. So I wish all of that for you who are listening.
I have a very exciting announcement, which is that I am going to be doing Hope for Anxiety and OCD is first giveaway, I’m going to be giving away two copies of my ebook, finding the right therapist, which is about how to find the therapist who is right for you in order to enter, you have to be subscribed to the podcast, wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.
It doesn’t matter. Take a screenshot showing that you’ve subscribed or showing that you’ve written us a review. If you have written us a review, you will get five entries instead of one entry. So one entry for subscribers and five, for people who have written a review, you could take a screenshot and send it to the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, that’s email@example.com to enter and you will have until the end of March in order to enter and I am so excited to be able to give those away. And I hope that that helps someone out there, but also encourages people to subscribe to our show and to tell other people about it.
Thank you so much for listening.
Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed by Benjamin Bynam. Until next time. May you be comforted by God’s great love for you.