That is a legitimate question posed by people who have felt challenged with the paradigm of dating, mating and relating. Perhaps they have been through a series of dysfunctional unions that have had them shaking their heads in bewilderment, wondering why they keep meeting the same person in different bodies. Could be that the love of their life has died, and they have difficulty believing that they could be emotionally or physically intimate with another. Maybe they grew up in a home where love was mixed with abuse and they didn’t want to replicate that in their own lives.
A book that addresses all of those issues is called Safe to Love Again: How to Release the pain of Past Relationships and Create the Love You Deserve. It was penned by Gary D. Salyer, Ph.D., whose therapeutic practices, writing and speaking is inspired by Attachment Theory as taught by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman. The book is more than a treatise on love but filled with how-to tools and skill sets that even those who are not particularly relationship savvy can put to practical use. Rare is an author who is also able to tailor a book for therapists to enhance their own clinical practice.
Many enter into relationships in an unconscious fashion as they toss the dice and hope for the best.
Salyer breaks down the general concepts of Attachment Theory into his own treatise:
Four Feelings that create what he calls lasting love
- Welcomed with Joy
- Worthy and Nourished
- Cherished and Protected
- Empowered with Choice
He adds that love depends on six rights:
- The Right to Exist
- The Right to Have Your Needs Met
- The Right to Separate and Belong
- The Right to Create Your Own Experience
- The Right to Assert with Voice and Choice
- The Right to Love and Be Loved
How did your own childhood experiences shape the man you are now?
At first, it left an indelible impression on my psyche. Now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. On the other side of learning my lessons and rewiring my brain for secure love, it has given me the gravity well of experience which created my new theory, enabled me to write the book and still enables me to sit in the chair of transformation with my clients. In other words, it gives me depth and weight.
I believe my story is similar to famed psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan. Just as it was his own journey through mental illness that equipped him to change the mental health field at the time, so it has been with me. So, I treasure all the pain from that time now, though I doubt I’d like to relive any of it.
What I gained from surviving a borderline mother was a soul deep determination to overcome adversity or any hurdle life put before me. My childhood forged a will of iron, and I’ve always depended upon that ace in the hole. I remember a vision or a dream I had when I was seven. I saw myself at the bottom of a deep hole or well and only a sliver of light coming from above. All I wanted was to get out of that darkness and to climb the well of family dysfunction to live in the light.
To be honest, that dream focalized my entire youthful years. I always saw that tunnel of light when dealing with my mother or family. It was the light that kept me going. So, you could say I became a man of vision and deep purpose because of those experiences.
Here’s how I tell one such paradigmatic story from the book, p. 163ff: When I was two, I remember telling my mother “No!” while I was jumping up and down on the bed. She told me to stop several times. But I did what many toddlers do — I asserted my right to say “No!” My mother’s response was swift. She hit me with a backhanded fist that sent me careening off a bed post. The effect was swift and lasting. I never, ever said the word “No” to my mother again. My family praised me for being such a “good little boy.” Little did they know why!
That was the first incident I remember, but it wasn’t the last as she often used physical force as a form of discipline. In elementary school she raged against me again. Beating me with a kitchen chair, I remember being crouched in the turtle position, scared to death. It seemed like I might be killed.
Suddenly, anger rose up in my heart and soul. I thought to myself, “This is so unfair.” In utter defiance, my brain came up with a solution, “I will never bow to this! You can bend me, but you can never break me.” It sounded good at the time. This “solution’ seemed like a way to reclaim my authority with an impossibly oppressive mother. That was the positive intent of my young brain. However, it was also the moment I lost much of my Right to Assert for years to come, though I didn’t see it.
How did you break the family patterns of addiction and abuse and go on to become a thriver who helps others?
It wasn’t easy, to be honest. I had the great fortune of choosing great friends and had some fabulous teachers who gave me just enough of what I needed to survive and eventually, find my way in life. There has been a providential leading of my soul, or perhaps through my soul, my entire life.
Therapy didn’t actually break the patterns, which is why I wrote the book. After seeking degrees, more than a decade of therapy and countless workshops like John Bradshaw, I was still either choosing Ms. Wrong or acting like Mr. Wrong. After a string of painful dating relationships, especially the one I sabotaged, I looked in the mirror the day after a woman I deeply loved broke up with me. I vowed that if loving was the problem, then I’d find a way to fix things, even if I had to come up with a new theory myself. As it turns out, that’s exactly what it took. My soul incarnated to do exactly what I have done in the book. What I said to myself that morning was, “I don’t care if it takes the rest of my life, but I will crack the code for love.” Well, luckily it took about 10 years and not the rest of my lifetime.
As a child I swore to myself that I would be different than my family. Going to college, I enrolled as a psychology major to make sure my life would be different. Four years later, I received a huge shock; preparing for graduation, a professor gave me a personality test to see how fit I was for adult life. That’s when he dropped a bomb on me: “The tests tell me that you have a 90% chance of being divorced.” The words fell on my ears like a grenade. Within hours, I decided that if a double major in psychology and religion weren’t enough, then perhaps a third major would do the trick. I prolonged college for a fifth year to gain a third degree in marriage and family relations.
Imagine my surprise, when 12 years later my marriage was in flames. How could all that studying, and three majors — each deliberately selected to stave off a divorce — have worked out so poorly? I was stymied. After years of therapy following my divorce, I finally pronounced myself ready to marry again. It was therefore devastating to me when my second marriage began to unravel after just a few months. Four years later, divorce came knocking on my door a second time. Confusion ruled the day. After all my studies and almost a decade of therapy between marriages, the test I took at 22 had proven to be accurate. Doubly so, even!
My life story and its lessons are all here in this book. Looking back, I can clearly see that my soul chose a lot of lessons. Yes, there were painful relationships, but at some level they were all my choices. All of it was in the service of learning the lessons that lay behind every page in this book — inviting you, the reader, to have a more fulfilling experience of lasting love — this is the ultimate promise behind this book.