ERP 366: How To Assess The Health Of Your Connection — An Interview With Dr. René Vázquez del Valle

By Posted in - Podcast April 4th, 2023 0 Comments

In today’s fast-paced world, we often hear about the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship, but how do we actually assess the health of our connection?

In this episode, Dr. Réne Vázquez del Valle, a psychotherapist, and author of “Head Heart Crotch Connections: How Not to Fail in Search of Your Perfect” shares his simple yet profound formula for evaluating the head, heart, and sexual connection in our relationships and provides tips for identifying areas of weakness and working on them.

Dr. Vázquez del Valle breaks down his technique and offers a free connection scale on his website, allowing individuals to assess their level of connection and identify areas that need improvement.

Join us in this insightful conversation as we explore the importance of connection and how to maintain its health.

Dr. René G. Vázquez del Valle, DSW, received his MSW at Columbia University and his Doctorate at the CUNY Graduate School. He was an Adjunct Professor at Long Island University; guest speaker at both the NYU School of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry and CUNY Law School. He retired from the NYS Office of Mental Health after 30 years of clinical practice. He currently resides in NYC and East Hampton, NY, and works as a private practice therapist.

In this Episode

3:44 How to assess success or failure in a relationship and the different factors that contribute to it.

13:16 The importance of descriptive language and mutual connection in relationships.

17:26 The importance of different types of connections in a relationship.

23:40 Understanding your partner’s needs: Enhancing connection in relationships through emotional, sexual, and intellectual fulfillment

28:52 Analyzing the fight-or-flight response to improve connection in relationships.

31:07 Understanding attachment style and types of connections.

33:25 Defense mechanisms and their impact on an individual’s ability to connect with others

39:56 Understanding marianismo and the effects of shame on connection and wellbeing.

44:00 Dr. René Vázquez del Valle talks about his book and explains how the simple formula of assessing head, heart, and crotch connections can have profound effects on people’s lives.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Assess your connection using the Connection Scale that measures how connected or disconnected you feel in each area.
  • Identify areas of weakness or disconnection and work on improving them.
  • Take the time to reflect on your thoughts about your relationship, your partner, and your connection to explore your emotional connection.
  • To gain a deeper understanding of your emotional connection, try reflecting on your feelings towards your connection, partner, and relationship.
  • Explore your sexual or crotch connection by asking yourself how you engage physically and sexually with your partner.
  • Continuously work on improving your connection with your partner to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship.

Mentioned

Head, Heart, Crotch Connections: How Not to Fail In Search of Your Perfect Union (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Connection Rating Scale

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Dr. René Vázquez del Valle

Websites: renev.authorchannel.co

Facebook: facebook.com/reneleo2

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/rené-vázquez-del-valle-dsw-lcsw-r-71484563

Instagram: instagram.com/rene_vdelv

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. V., thank you for joining us today.

Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate this opportunity.

Oh, well, it’s an honor. I know that you have such a great background and have been really working to really distill a lot of these principles as it relates to relationships. So I know we are also lucky to have your voice here on the show. We’re going to be talking about connection today, and you have a really comprehensive look around how you’re orienting. 

Before we get into today’s topic, I’m going to love for you to share a little bit about who you are, and giving people a chance to connect with you and where you’re coming from, if you’re open to sharing.

Sure. Currently, I’m a psychotherapist, primarily in private practice. I retired about 10 years ago after working for about 30 years for the New York State Office of Mental Health. I worked in an outpatient clinic where I did treatment, supervision, administration; supervised a lot of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, art therapists. After having retired from there, I went just basically as a consultant to work at different mental health agencies. About 10 years ago, I started, at the behest, the request, and the urging of my patients, to consider writing a book about the treatment that I offered them in therapy. It was a specific formula that I devised to get them to explore the nature of their intimate connections. Meaning, when I say intimate connections, I mean their mental, emotional, and physical sexual connections and relationships.

Wow, great! I mean, how beautiful that you were urged by your patients to provide a guidebook or to provide some manual, if you will, around your approach and how you worked in this arena.

Yeah. Because primarily, it helped them overcome a lot of the difficulties they were having in creating that perfect union that they had always said they wanted. They primarily came in a lot of times, either single or partnered, struggling with remaining connected, but not knowing exactly what the difficulty was. So when I wrote the book, I was considering that, and the title of the book, of course, is [Head, Heart, Crotch Connections: How Not to Fail In Search of Your Perfect Union]. I wrote “how not to fail” as opposed to “how to succeed,” knowing that relationships often fail, as evidenced by the high rates of divorce, that 50% of first marriages end in divorce, and 60% to 65% of second marriages end in divorce. So to understand where things go wrong was very important, where the disconnections occurred; not just where you connect, but how you disconnect.

It occurs to me that probably most people don’t even have the conscious word of connection. Like they’re not coming in saying: “Oh, we’re disconnected.” Maybe some do, but you’re bringing to light that connection is the essence of typically where people are off-track. Is that right? And how it manifests in these different areas of our life. So you’re bringing light to, like, let’s look at what this can look like when it’s not going well.

Sure. I think that there’s lots of books out there on how to succeed in relationships, from the Six Pillars of Intimacy, to The Five Love Languages, lots of books. But nothing about what goes wrong, or how not to fail, the inverse of that. Being that relationships fail more than that succeed, the why of that remains elusive to a lot of people; not only elusive, but often shameful to talk about. So opening up the shame associated with a failing relationship. 

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“Before you go on to what’s going to make it work, you need to know what happened, how it fails, at times, as well.”

It almost sounds as though you’re inviting people to be where they are, and use what might be so-called “failure” as the signpost, and really focusing there to be able to confront some of this, to then be able to transform or shift some of these dynamics. It might be too difficult or too big of a leap to just go into implementing some of the more transformational principles of how to succeed. Where would you like to begin with the description of the failures here? I mean, I recognize it’s extensive, perhaps.

Right. Well, usually, when a relationship is failing or disconnecting, there are reasons why. There are determinants that cause failure. Usually, it’s a failure in the connecting to a person’s thoughts, or failure to connect emotionally, or a failure to connect sexually, one of those three spheres. So getting a person to sit down and think about their connection. Their mental connection to their partner: what is it that they admire and love about the partner’s thoughts, their values, their belief systems? Emotionally: what is it that they like about the emotional expression of their partner that attracts them? Then sexually: what is it that they are attracted to sexually? Success within the sexual arena usually has to do with mutual satisfaction, and the willingness to please yourself and the other person. Does that exist within your crotch connection, that’s what they call it, and to explore that openly and honestly. I also get them to discuss what it is that they are attracted to, identifying their connection. I get them to say, what they relate to most, what do they seek in others, what is that order of preference if there is an interest? So for example, do they first connect at the level of the head, the heart, the crotch? Or is it the heart, the crotch, the head? So it requires that they identify their particular preference for connection. What is their preference, do they have one, and is there an order of the current relationship they have? So getting them to look at that and expound upon it is very helpful to them.

Okay, so this is a little bit of an assessment that helps determine success or failure. Also, it reminds me of even some of the personality tests of the Myers-Briggs. Do you rant more through your thoughts and relate to the world through the headspace? Or are you in orienting more through feeling, and is that how you typically relate is through more of the feelings? I mean, as we look at intimate relationship, these tendencies probably exist. Then also, just the attraction and sexual connectivity, and just how that’s operating and where their tendencies lie, and where their current relationship is functioning. Is that right?

Yeah. Do they relate to the world, for example, when they project images of themselves? Do they relate to the world through their head in an intellectualized way? Do they relate to the world emotionally? Or do they relate to the world sexually, displaying a lot of sexual energy? You would think that the best way of relating is through a concerted effort of head, heart, and physical. But not everybody can engage that way. Some people compartmentalize who they are, and what image they prefer. So do they like the erudite individual, the intellectual type? Or do they go for the feely touchy person? Or do they go for that sexual being, that sexualized image out there that gets projected?

I’m interested as you bring emphasis to how to not fail, and you’re inviting people to look at these different aspects of how they engage, and I appreciate you acknowledging that they’re not all equally strong, or the preferences are not always equal. How do you help someone look at what’s maybe failing, or where it’s thriving? Like, how do you help people identify in their thought, their head, heart, and crotch?

Sure. It entails exploring the words that they ascribe to their connection. How are they talking about their partner, what are the exact words? I encourage them to use very descriptive, nuanced words, versus very vague explanations. So if they just say, “I think he’s bright, I like that.” But that’s not good enough, you need to be more specific about the brights. What is it about his thoughts that attract you? What is it about his feelings? So to use very nuanced specific words. Because words create our experiences; they ascribe meaning to our lived encounters. 

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“When we think about our experiences, we use words to enrich them. The more nuanced and descriptive the words you can use to describe your thoughts and feelings, the more you create bonds of attachment to those experiences. In turn, the more intense the bond, the stronger the connection.”

That’s my theoretical perspective of why I get them to be as descriptive. It creates internal imagery when you’re more descriptive and more nuanced, and the paucity of words, for example, will decrease your connection. If you can explain well what you like and dislike, that creates this connection.

Okay. So as I’m hearing you in these different aspects of the head, and as we’re focusing on the verbalization of the thinking and the interpretation and perception of the other, you’re saying the lack of being able to be clear and specific can be a detriment, and is also a sign.

Absolutely, it can hinder a connection, it could create a weakened connection. Because you haven’t fully elaborated your feelings and your thoughts. The more you elaborate, the more descriptive you are, the more you attach to those memories, to those connections.

Okay. So it amplifies when we can articulate it. It amplifies, it brings into more visceral felt experience. This is how we typically, to your point, feel more connected is through the emotional connection and boundedness. These things all assist, they all probably work together.

Yeah. Equally important is what I used to get my clients or my patients to talk about what they liked about their mind-body-spirit connection, was getting them to talk about their partners connection to them. Did they have any awareness of what their partner liked about them, appreciated about their intellect, about their mind, about their emotionality, about their physical sexuality? That was much more challenging for many people to think about.

So it’s not only the individual experience, but it’s also the interaction, and also, as you’re describing, knowing how the person perceives and connects to you as well.

Yeah. That’s part of creating a perfect union, knowing your connection and knowing their connection to you. Sometimes we underestimate, or we don’t appreciate the value of those connections. We just think about our connection, but fail to think about their connection to us. So thinking about their connection to us, what do we need to improve? How do we need to elaborate and work on our intellectual connections; our thoughts, our feelings, our sexual connection?

Yeah. In a lot of relationships, this isn’t necessarily clearly articulated and expressed. So to be able to invite these type of conversations really helps foster more of this connection.

Yeah. I would get them, for example, to approximate their connection percentage wise, for example. I’d come down to that. I would say, in terms of your head, heart, crotch connection, approximate? Is it 70-20-10? Is it 50-20-30? Which is the one where you feel least connected? Is the heart the area where you have a 10% connection, and you have a 50% connection to the head, and the 20% sexual connection? But the heart is what’s faltering, that’s the area of vulnerability for your relationship. That’s what you’ve got to work on. Then equally the other way around, your partner to you? Where do you think the strongest connection is and the weakest connection? Because those weak connections is where, often enough, the person begins to experience a desire to escape the relationship, where failure starts. So if they’re missing a heart connection with your partner, there’s where you look for someone who’s emotional. Or if you’re missing the sexual connection, then you go out and have an affair looking for sex. Or if you’re missing the mind connection, you go out there looking for someone really bright, who you can connect with at that level. So where you’re missing the connection, that is what’s most important to focus in on. There’s what you want to work on.

Yes, it’s illuminating that there might be a little bit of a weakness or a deficit. It seems like there might be, to your point earlier, a good follow-up around how would you give percentages to the head, heart, and crotch? But also, what would you like it to be?

Yeah. What is the actual order, and what is your preference? Would you prefer to have a heart, crotch, head connection, and then what do you actually have? Those are things that we discuss as well.

Do you ever find that partners will be mismatched around their preferences?

Oh, absolutely. All the time.

Okay. So how do you approach that?

I don’t think there are ever two equal connections, usually. Every relationship is different. Every person you encounter, you have a different mind, body, spirit connection to them. No two are the same, absolutely not.

Okay. So you’re saying mind, body, spirit, and you’re also saying mind, body, crotch.

No, mind, body, spirit is another way of saying head, heart, crotch. See, the old paradigm was mind, body, spirit. The new or more 21st century adaptation, I call it head, heart, crotch.

Okay. Mind, body, spirit. Is spirit heart?

Spirit is heart, clearly. Body is the sexual body. 

Okay, I just wanted to double-check that. So what do you do if people have a mismatch around preferences? How do you negotiate that?

I mean, that’s okay. You don’t have to have the same preferences. But it’s about are you creating connection within those preferences? Are you amplifying the connections mentally? Are you stimulating each other mentally? Are you appreciating each other’s emotional experience? Connections require empathy, and there’s basically two kinds of empathy: affective, and cognitive empathy. So when you explore their ability to empathize, that’s how you analyze their level of connection.

Would you, for people that don’t know the affect, can you spell that out for people?

Sure. Cognitive empathy is when you’re able to relate and empathize with your partner’s thoughts.

“I see what you mean, it makes sense to me.”

“That makes sense to me. I appreciate it. I like it. I enjoy your thoughts.” Or is there a disconnect there, where you find their thoughts abrasive, disconcerting, offensive? So looking at that, can you develop more cognitive empathy for your partner’s thoughts? Emotional empathy. Can you feel what they feel? Can you appreciate their feelings? Do they appreciate your feelings? Can they verbalize that? So how do you increase that? Again, it’s about the words you employ to describe those connections. 

Yeah. It makes sense to me that, as you’re describing this, and I love that you’re welcoming. It doesn’t have to be same-same for there to be success in partnership, if you have two individuals that perhaps have different preferences. I often think we partner with someone who has maybe more skill or is exuding aspects that are underdeveloped or are a weakness. So we sometimes find, and this is where people might say opposites attract. I don’t necessarily mean that per se. But I wonder if you think that if we’re welcoming these three aspects and giving attention to it, and if our partner has a stronger preference than maybe we do, it doesn’t mean that there’s a no and a block. It means we have different preferences, and how do we get to a win-win? How do I support my partner in having this experience?

Sure. Hearing the preference that your partner has for you, and what’s the strongest connection that they appreciate in you, you know that you’re connected there, you don’t have to pay that much attention to that. But if they have, for example, a feeling, that emotionally, they’re not connecting with you, that they don’t appreciate certain emotional states in you, the mere awareness of that. For example, if they think that you are materialistic or distrustful or vengeful, you need to know that. You need to know that there are contrasting states to those that they would prefer; they would prefer perhaps someone who is understanding, forgiving, spiritual, sensitive. If you’re not that, you need to know that, that that’s what they would prefer in you, the same way you would do for them. So the exploration of contrasting states in the person is what helps them realize what’s missing.

Yes, I love what you’re saying. There’s something that I’m hearing, I want to check out with you. That when one is hearing their partner speak to the specific way that they prefer, that that’s almost an invitation and a calling that this is where they experience love the most. So if I’m going to put energy into cultivating connection, I want to keep in mind, what’s the bullseye for them?

Absolutely, what hits the mark.

Okay. The other important thing that I’m hearing you say, that I think is especially important and critical in relationship, is that when somebody is leading with a complaint, that there’s an underneath. That that directly relates to a longing perhaps, and that’s the thing that it’s almost like, what’s the opposite of being selfish? Or like, what is it that matters to them? They might be critical or even complaining, but there’s something there that is important to them. Is that what I’m hearing you say?

Is important to them, exactly. That you need to hear that and empathize with that wish, and attempt to create and fulfill it. That’s what creates a better union, a better fit, a goodness of fit between two people, when you’re willing to sexually please, emotionally please, and intellectually please the person in some way, and fulfill their needs.

Yes. Well, I think this could be potentially easier to approach if the context or the frame of the conversation is about, let’s look at our connection. I mean, that might be difficult to hear for someone to interpret or decode, if there’s a complaint around “you’re selfish, you’re this, you’re that.” But to be able to understand what the underneath longing is. So if we’re framing it as the way of connection, and we’re getting really curious and in service of how are we more connected? If my partner is saying, “Oh, you’re too talkative, you’re selfish.” It’s like, if I think about this, what is getting in the way of that? Are they needing more time and space? Are they needing more of their preferences? Are they needing to feel more seen and heard? So that, if it’s in service of the goal of connection, I think people could tolerate a little bit more.

Sure. Rather than viewing it as criticism, viewing it as what the other person may need to create a better attachment. What is it that you need? What is it that your partner needs from you?

Right, this is a really important framework for people to be talking about explicitly.

In the book, I break it down. I can give you a few names of the chapters, so you could see where I go with the book. The first chapters, the first three are broken down into: what do I mean by a head connection, what do I mean by a heart connection, what do I mean by a crotch connection? So people are clear about what I’m talking about. Then I have a chapter on how psychotherapy can help. What is the role of psychotherapy in addressing these connections? How would it help identify your connection preferences? Then a chapter on why a relationship can fail? A chapter then goes into what affects success, whether there’s a fight or flight response in your connections? Do you fight for your connections, or do you flee from your connections, for example, running away? There’s a chapter called Where Fantasy and Flight Works, But For a While, where I talk a lot about fantasy bonds, and the use of those in relationships. There’s a chapter on denial, called Heads In the Sand, where I discuss healthy and unhealthy denial, and how each one of them serves to keep us connected and disconnected at the same time. 

There’s a chapter called When Familiarity Breeds Contempt. So that the more familiar you are with them, the more intimate you are, the more you can either love them or hate them, and the exploration of that familiarity. There’s a chapter on When Trauma Affects Our Connections; how childhood trauma can affect our current sense of attachment, our attachment styles, and our connections. Then the final chapter is on How Age Affects Our Perception of Head, Heart, Crotch Connections, as we age, and how it changes, and the need for it to change as well. We don’t experience at age 20 what we experience at age 50 and 60, and our perceptions of the need for our connections change over time. So that’s a breakdown of what’s in the book and what I’ve elaborated or theorized about and wrote about.

Yeah. As you’re talking about, just even your last point, that viably, if I’m hearing you correctly, our preferences and these percentages of the head, heart, and crotch, that might change throughout time. You have chapters about flight and flee and your nervous system. I’m curious what you would like us to maybe know a little bit about that here, as it relates to connection and the head, heart, and crotch?

Yeah. Well, analyzing the way you react to situations, the whole fight or flight response, and how that leads to either connection or disconnection. Clearly, if you want to fight for your connections, it creates connection. But if you flee from interactions, from conflicts, that leads to disconnection. So you need to explore your own personal fight or flight response in situations, in order to better understand where you’re not connecting or where you’re disconnecting.

Yeah. In my experience, I do feel like this can be nuanced. I get what you’re saying, that the impulse to want to engage or that fight is more conducive for connection, and it can be done in very overbearing ways or anxious ways that can be off-putting, or even feel a little intrusive or not really honoring of the person that might feel overwhelmed. I get that these dynamics sometimes have some ways in which they interact that create connection. I think both styles could create connection or disconnection. I agree with you though that the flight, there’s something wise about that that’s happening. But on face value, it’s difficult to see how that fosters connection, but it does create a lot more. Like, there’s a real voice for safety and regulation and having it feel contained. 

Yeah, sometimes you need to flee. Absolutely. But do you come back? Do you stay fled? Do you run away from connections and totally disconnect? Or do you come back and fight for something? Fight for your thoughts, fight for your emotions, fight for your sexual well-being? So understanding the fight or flight response in terms of your own attachment and your connections is really important. Understanding your attachment style. There’s a lot written now about attachment styles, whether you’re anxious, ambivalent, insecure, avoidant. Understanding your attachment styles will understand where you’re connecting or where you’re not connecting. So even talking about that, and understanding that there are different attachment styles, and its effect. I mean, an anxious attachment style is clearly disconnecting. An avoidant attachment style, an ambivalent attachment style creates disconnection.

Right. I think fundamentally, we all are wired up for connection, and these different ways or tendencies are typically related to our early imprints. So I really appreciate what you’re acknowledging around how these things show up, and if we’re having a conversation about connection, and we can look at the influences, that this is helping us really unpack how this is operating. Because my understanding of attachment is, it’s a whole working model that is very much affecting the thoughts, that’s affecting the physiological body, and the emotion. Like, what we feel in our nervous system: do we feel relaxed, do we feel at ease, our muscles, our heart rate, or are we tensing and bracing, or what’s our thinking? I’m anticipating, even if there was a clean slate in relationship, what I’ve known in my upbringing, my predisposition is to think you’re not trustworthy, or that you’re going to be here or not there. So that lens of which we come into relationship is impacting the head, heart, and crotch. Yes?

Yes, absolutely. 

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“When you think about it, relationships, in and of themselves, can be extremely traumatizing. They can be an assault on our emotions. They can affront our thoughts. They leave us questioning about our sexual desires and our needs.”

So we need to understand the effect, for example, of trauma, on relationships, on our well-being and our sense of connection.

Would you like to say a little more about that? That’s very important.

Sure. I explore this issue of trauma, for example, in the form of abuse or neglect or physical punishment in childhood, and the effect that it has on the individual. I talk about that defense mechanism that gets built up when you identify with aggression. When you’ve been aggressed upon verbally, physically, emotionally, as a child, your conception of love is imbued with aggression and hostility. So it’s very hard for you then to accept a loving person who comes along who’s non-aggressive, non-manipulating; you’re a little leery of it. That’s not a form of love that you knew. So when something good comes along, often enough, you’ll end it out of fear. It’s something that you want, but it’s something that’s so foreign to you that then you will create rejection of it. So identifying with aggression can be a problem in terms of connection. So I talk about that defense mechanism. I talk about how splitting defenses can be a problem for connection. 

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“If you’re using black and white thinking, if it’s all good or all bad, if you’re idolizing or devaluing, those have consequences and implications for your sense of connection.”

So the avoidance of those splitting mechanisms, the avoidance of fantasy bonds where you’re reenacting childhood traumas.

Can you give us an example of that, for people who don’t know the fantasy bonds? You gave some examples of the splitting, and also the familiarizing and what’s been associated with love in one’s upbringing, that informs their relationship to maybe aggression or certain traumatizing things. But would you say a little bit more about the fantasy bonds?

Sure. The fantasy bond is that compulsion to relive the past within our current relationships. It comes from emotional pain in childhood. So that in a fantasy bond, a connection goes from being, for example, two independent persons in love to being two dependent persons. That’s a difficulty. Once they form this illusion of being together as one, they lose the sense of being together as two people. That’s what you’ve got to be very careful of, and you have to try and overcome and avoid creating these fantasy bonds. So I go into a lot of elaboration in the book about it, because it’s an interesting concept. 

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“Especially, disconnection begins when the other person is no longer seen as a separate individual person with their own thoughts and values, their sexual desires and needs, different from your own. You have to be able to acknowledge that.”

So how do you help people begin to recognize this? A lot of this can be operating below the field of consciousness.

Sure. One of the things I do is I get them to understand that emotions and feelings are not the same thing. They’re often used interchangeably. But emotions are internal and subconscious; you can have emotions without demonstrating them. But feelings are usually conscious. They develop when your brain assigns a meaning to the emotion; they are the outward expression of your emotions. Like, psychologists have identified only six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. But there are many more feelings than there are emotions. So getting them to distinguish between emotions and feelings, is very helpful. 

How do you do that with people? 

I sit down, I ask them, what are your emotions, what are your feelings? Tell me more about that. Just don’t say, you have hate or jealousy. Are there more feelings than that? Is there envy? Is there kindness, benevolence, compassion, empathy? What other feelings do you experience? Because usually, they limit themselves, and in limiting themselves, you limit your world; you limit your connection. That’s vital, that’s the key. That’s the linchpin to the work.

Well, the way that I’m framing this, as we’re talking, is that with this overarching goal of assessing the health of the connectivity, or the connection of the bond between two individuals, that there are many things that can interfere, hinder, cloud, block connection. Many of them or much of them, if we’re not explicit or intentional about, could be just not addressed and wreaking havoc, almost.

That’s usually what does wreak havoc, what you don’t attune to, what you’re not paying attention to, what is the weakest link in your connection. People want to avoid that. People would prefer to think about their strongest connection, but their weakest in the connection is very difficult, very painful.

It’s almost I’m getting, like, being awake to the health of your connection, that that’s vital for the health and the bond.

Sure. One of the things that I also explore a lot is this issue of shame, and toxic shame in relationships. I explore that a lot because I work with a large immigrant population, with a large Latino population. In getting them to understand that certain cultures, for example, are shame-based cultures. Other cultures are more guilt-based cultures. With us, it’s about shame and inducing shame as a way of controlling people. Shame has definitely negative effects on a person’s thoughts, their feelings, and their sexual wishes. If you’ve been shamed or ridiculed or embarrassed or told something is not good, shameful, that will clearly affect your ability to connect in a healthy way. 

So machismo, toxic masculinity, is very toxic to relationships. So I get them to explore those concepts in their connections. The counterpart of course of machismo, which a lot of non-Hispanics are not aware of, is in the woman is marianismo. You hear a lot about machismo, but they never talk about marianismo, which is its counterpart. Marianismo is that aspect that the woman should be in the world to please the man, that they have to suffer, that they suffer in silence, that they’re different, that they’re virginal. All these things affect our connections, and our ability to connect, mentally, emotionally and sexually. 

So I go over a lot about toxic shame. People don’t even know, often, the difference between shame and guilt. They think it’s the same thing. 

Can you spell that out a little bit?

Yeah, sure. Whereas guilt is something that’s external, guilt is, I feel bad for something I did wrong. That’s guilt. Shame is, there’s something wrong with you. It’s internal. It’s much deeper. It’s much more pathological if you think about it. It’s much more damaging when you are shame-based than when you’re guilt-based. Guilt is a higher order defense. Shame is very primitive, very deep, and it’s very harmful when you live shame-based. Now, a lot has been written, of course, about Jonathan Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You, working with the inner child and the shame. 

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“In terms of connections and disconnections, shame can be the most difficult thing to work with in terms of creating connection, if you are shame-based and if you’ve been shamed all your life. If your thoughts are no good, if you’re ashamed of those, if you’re ashamed of your emotions, if you’re ashamed of your sexuality.”

Like, with the LGBT population that I also work with, they’ve been shamed into believing that there’s something horrible about their sexual needs or desires. So all these things have an effect on your ability to connect in a healthy way.

Yes. Because as you’re talking about this shame, and I appreciate you giving some examples, that often, if someone’s already attacking themselves, likely, they’re not going to bring that to the table for connection. They’ve already made it bad before they’ve even allowed anybody to see or access them. Like, I’m stupid, why am I like this, what’s wrong with me? Or this feeling emotionally of like, feeling alone and not good enough.

What’s important about connection is, I borrowed a lot from what we used to call the trauma safety model. You need to feel safe in your connections. You need to be able to feel safe in the expression of your thoughts. You need to be able to feel safe in your emotional world, in expressing your feelings. You also have to feel safe in that they’re going to guard your emotions, your partner, and take care of them. Sexually, you need to feel safe to enjoy your sexual world. So safety is a vital component to connection, and when you don’t feel safe, that often leads to disconnection.

Or if you haven’t felt safe and have felt shamed, then you’re already approaching relationship from this.

Shame-based, unsafe perspective, exactly. So you need to understand that too.

Yes. As you do the trauma work, too, I can see how these things are, all of it is interwoven. When somebody has experienced trauma, oftentimes, not always, but many times people will internalize the effects of trauma. Like, why do I feel anxious, to your point earlier? So being able to bring some visibility to this, it’s quite healing and critical, again, for our health and well-being. So thank you so much for giving some structure to how to approach this very large topic of connection, but also what gets in the way.

What’s interesting, what my patients often told me, is that it’s a very simple formula, the head, heart, crotch, but it has very profound effects in their lives. The simplicity of it they loved, and that’s why they wanted me to write about it. Because the way I would just say, what’s your head connection, what’s your heart connection, what’s your sexual connection? Where’s it not connecting? What are you doing about it? How are you thinking about it? It was very profound for them, because no one ever asked them to explore these things.

Yes, no one ever asked, nor do I ask myself, nor do we ask each other.

Yeah. Like, what’s your head, heart, crotch connection?

Well, Dr. V, this is wonderful. Is there anything else you want to say on our topic?

Well, one of the things that I did create was a scale, where I get them to look at their connection, where I get them to rate their connection, where the rating goes from: very connected, somewhat connected, not connected. They can use that as a way of quickly identifying their area of weakness. So that’s in the book. We call it a lead magnet in the book industry, so people can see what the book is about. You can quickly assess your level of connection, and you can assess where it’s not happening and what you need to work on.

All right, so where do people find that? 

That’s in the book. It’s also on my website, it’s given for free. It’s called a connection scale.

Okay, I love that. What’s the website? What would you like people to go to?

The website is ReneV.authorchannel.co

Okay, now this is your website?

This is my website. 

Okay, excellent. On the website, one could get the book, they can also do the connection scale.

Exactly. They can do the connection scale, and then see if they want to pursue reading the book, based on the results of the scale. If they find that they’re very disconnected, or somewhat disconnected, versus very connected and somewhat disconnected, they could see where they lie and what they need to work on. 

Lovely. Well, is there anything else you would like to say about the book? I know you’ve given us so much here today. But is there anything else that you want to direct people towards? It sounds like this is the website you really want people to go to and really engage with. Is there any other?

My author page is on Amazon, you can view that. The book synopsis, my background, areas of work that I’ve done. I’ve been doing this since 1978. I graduated then. It’s been a long time, and it took me 10 years to write the book. I started it 10 years ago, but then I put it down because I wanted to explore this technique more and more and more and see what happened with it.

Beautiful. Well, say the name of the book again, before we sign off.

Yeah, I’ll give it a quick go to see if they could see it. Head, Heart, Crotch Connections: How Not to Fail In Search of Your Perfect Union.

There we go. Dr. V, thank you for sharing with us and really breaking all of this down. I know there’s so much more to be learned and accessed through the book, and I’ll make sure to have that link on today’s show notes. Really lovely to have you.

It’s been a pleasure. My pleasure, getting the opportunity to tell people what it’s about. Really appreciate it.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching