#48 How Trauma Affects Your Romantic Relationships With Esin Pinarli, LCSW MCAP


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What if your past didn’t have to dictate your future?

Esin Pinarli is a human behavior specialist offering psychotherapy to couples, using the Imago and Gottman methods in conjunction with emotional-focused therapy. She joins us to share her perspective on the deep-rooted beliefs behind our actions and reactions within the context of relationships.

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We touch on how trauma affects us all, and common actions that trigger a trauma response within relationships. Tune in to hear how the support of a therapist can help everyone to unpack the experiences behind their trauma, how the four attachment styles impact our relationships, and how the pandemic has changed the way in which we relate to one another.

Esin also explains the role of our nervous system in creating connection and attachment, common reasons why couples become dissatisfied with their sex lives, and much more.

Key Points From This Episode

  • An introduction to Esin Pinarli’s counseling practice.
  • Unpacking the buzzword, ‘trauma’, and how it affects all of us.
  • Common actions that trigger a trauma response.
  • The role of negativity bias.
  • Advice for those seeking to address their trauma.
  • How a therapist can support people as they unpack the experiences behind their trauma.
  • The four attachment styles and how they impact our relationships.
  • What the collective trauma of the pandemic has done to the state of attachment.
  • Differentiating between introversion and the avoidant personality type.
  • How codependency fits into attachment styles.
  • Your nervous system’s role in creating connection and attachment.
  • Why couples become dissatisfied with their sex lives.
  • What effective communication might look like.
  • Cultivating ‘the space between’ where intimacy exists within relationships.
  • Simple solutions for the process addiction that comes from porn usage.


“People always think they have to qualify for trauma. Everybody has had a certain level of embedded trauma.” — Esin Pinarli [0:02:41]

“We should always be doing the work. There are just so many things in our subconscious that we are not aware of.” — Esin Pinarli [0:10:33]

“A therapist is somebody who will help you to make sense of what’s inside of you, and to untangle and unprocess that trauma so that it doesn’t dictate your future.” — Esin Pinarli [0:11:37]

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“If you don’t have enough rupture and repair, you always end up feeling disconnected from your partner.” — Esin Pinarli [0:42:15]

“Not only do we have a dance with our romantic partners, a cadence and a rhythm, but there’s a space between us that is where the intimacy is.” — Esin Pinarli [0:43:13]

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EP: I always ask couples, “When’s the last time that you guys had sex? When’s the last time you guys held hands, when’s the last time you guys did something romantic? When is the last time you guys connected?” It’s usually resentment, people start to build resentment against their partner.”


[0:00:21.7] SJ: This is The Bad Girls Bible Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Jameson, and this is the place where I interview experts and professionals, and everyone in between to teach you how to dramatically improve your relationships and have more enjoyable sex more often. If you’re not already subscribed to The Bad Girls Bible Podcast, you just need to open your podcast app, search for Bad Girls Bible, and hit that subscribe button, so you get the latest episodes delivered straight to you, the moment they are released.


[0:00:54.1] SJ: Esin, thanks so much for coming on the show.

[0:00:56.4] EP: Thank you for having me, Sean, I’m really excited for The Bad Girls Bible Podcast.

[0:01:02.3] SJ: Good. I’d love it if you can just tell our listeners maybe a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you came to do what you do.

[0:01:11.6] EP: Absolutely. So, I am a therapist for about 17 years. I’m a psychotherapist, I specialize in couples using the framework, I know it’s going to sound – people are going to be like, “What is that?” Imago and emotional focus therapy, and I do a little bit of Gottman. So, my background is I’m trained in anxiety, depression, trauma, codependency, attachment styles. I look at everything through a relational lens. 

I have a private practice in Florida in Boca Raton and I also – it’s called EternalWellnessCounseling.com and so, what got me into therapy? Me. I got myself into therapy. When I started taking classes in college, every single psychology course that I took, I was tuned in and I felt very interested in the human mind and how people interact and basically, I started to become a human behavior specialist, I call it.

[0:02:11.0] SJ: Awesome. So, I’d love to start off by talking about trauma, what it is, and maybe how you see trauma affecting people’s romantic relationships.

[0:02:24.5] EP: Absolutely. So, trauma is this big buzzword now. Everybody’s talking about it, it’s everywhere, and then you have a lot of these wonderful coaches that are sort of educating people on. I’m so glad that it’s brought out more into the mainstream and I’m not saying people have it wrong but people always think they have to qualify for trauma. Everybody has had a certain level of embedded trauma.

And so, what that means is, is that there’s – in a simplistic format, they are called big traumas and little traumas, and I don’t even look at it like that. I look at it like everybody has embedded trauma and the best definition that I would give about what trauma is, is that an event, a situation, something that happened too much, too long, impacted your nervous system, and it left an imprint and it left an interpretation or it created this wound.

So, it became a wound. So, it’s not what happened to you or what you witnessed but how you interpreted what happened and the impact that it left on your nervous system and how it starts to play out because your body keeps score of every single thing that you’ve ever been through. So, trauma lives in your body, in your behaviors, in your thoughts, in your sensations, in sort of this – it impacts the way you move, the way you talk, the way you interact with people, and it shows up in romantic relationships.

[0:03:51.2] SJ: How does it show up is, would you see a common way it shows up or common ways? Is there like a stereotypical way it presents itself?

[0:04:00.7] EP: Well, the lack of safety. What I find is that, let’s say, if we’re looking at it through a relational lens, right? Through a relational attachment lens. The idea is we have gotten wounded in relationships and we can also heal in relationships. That’s the beauty and the magic of it but we also – so, the idea is, let’s say we got wounded by a primary caregiver. “Mom was never there for us, Dad was never there for us, Dad was an alcoholic, Mom was an alcoholic, we’re a product of divorce.” 

It’s, how did that impact us and how is it showing up now because it always shows up in how we connect with other human beings, particularly romantic relationships. So, we might be scared to get too close to somebody because the last time that we were close to somebody, we were hurt, and we were wounded. So, these primary caregivers, they’re the first people we ever get into relationship with, Mom and Dad. 

And so, if our parental figure or our caretaker, whoever that may be, is both a source of comfort and a source of terror or is inconsistent with us in terms that they give us attention and love and admiration, which is all the things that we need when we’re growing up, and then they pull away from us, it’s so inconsistent, our nervous system has what’s called neuroception and it detects in a millisecond. 

We start to create a story about what our partner is doing and what they’re not doing and why they’re doing it and that’s all coming through that lens of that trauma, which is safety. It’s like, “Oh, they are pulling away. Oh, they’re acting weird, their body language is different, they don’t like me, they’re mad at me.” Or, “They’re getting too close and I need to pull away because this is threatening to my nervous system.” 

And immediately, you start to get anxious because you don’t feel safe, because all of a sudden, you were back to a seven-year-old girl or a seven-year-old boy, experiencing the impact. You might not know exactly what it is but it left an imprint in your body, and your nervous system is reacting. So, you could get angry at your partner and yell. I guess, one of the barometers would be your partner says on any given day or a friend.

It shows up in friendships, it shows up in not just romantic relationships, they may ask you, “You want to go grab a coffee?” and you flip out on them. So, it feels like the reaction is disproportionate to the particular event that’s occurring.

[0:06:33.2] SJ: Okay. You’ve been pretty thorough there, that’s good to know. So, it happens, leaves an imprint on you, and then it can affect you years later. So, you’ve given the example, maybe someone asks you for a coffee and you have this completely wild reaction to it. Is there anything you see in your practice, any other sort of common reaction to trauma that a romantic partner would have to their partner, or a common action that triggers that trauma to reemerge?

[0:07:07.8] EP: Yeah, I mean, it’s the way they talk, it’s their behavior. If a partner is distancing, meanwhile, they’re not intentionally distancing, maybe they need to really focus on a work project and they’re not giving their partner as much attention. All of a sudden, the other partner becomes extremely activated and flooded and what happens is, it’s an abandonment wound gets hit and these wounds are from the traumas and so it’s this abandonment wound. 

We talk about core wounds, right? We all have these core wounds. “I’m not good enough, I’m not lovable. Uh-oh, they’re ignoring me, they’re focusing on themselves. This means they’re going to leave me.” And then it creates anger inside and you may end up flipping out on that partner. You didn’t flip out because of the coffee, you flipped out because your partner was maybe a little bit more autonomous. 

And had a little more agency and kind of doing things independently without you because they needed to get some stuff done but all of a sudden, you felt like you were seven years old again and dad wasn’t paying attention to you or mom wasn’t paying attention to you or maybe dad got divorce. You know, insert in your story whatever it is that created you to feel not safe, abandoned, not lovable, and not good enough.

[0:08:27.0] SJ: It could be as simple as having a friend at work or something you talk about them, not even that much but the other partner might start thinking, might start telling themselves their own story, that has nothing to do with reality.

[0:08:42.7] EP: No.

[0:08:43.6] SJ: And then suddenly, it’s triggered.

[0:08:46.1] EP: Yeah, and that’s called negativity bias, and it sounds like a big word but what it is, is that our ego and our body, and our wounds, they want to stay alive. They want to stay alive and so, they are looking, it’s called neuroception, they’re detecting the environment for any kind of cue. “Oh, you’ve been talking about Susan.” Let’s say somebody’s in a heterosexual relationship and the partner, like you said, is talking a lot about this coworker and they’re so great and all of a sudden, the wound becomes activated. 

The jealousy, it’s all connected to abandonment. “Oh, they’re talking a lot about this person”. Then that negativity bias creates a whole story. “They must be having an affair, they might be secretly meeting with this person, they’re speaking really highly of them.” And so then the wound you sustained, which is the trauma, when you were younger and it can happen when you’re older too, the wounds that you sustained has gotten activated. 

At that point, the story begins and now, you added all of the subtexts to something and you’re coming at your partner angry, jealous, attacking, blaming because you think that they prefer the other person over you, or that they’re going to leave you for that other person. Meanwhile, all they did was talk about the other person.

[0:10:07.3] SJ: It’s wild. It’s so unfortunate as well for an otherwise good relationship that these things can happen. So, let’s say you’re in a relationship, you realize that, “Perhaps, I have some trauma, it needs to be addressed. I want to address it.” What would you advise them to do?

[0:10:25.3] EP: Obviously, I’m a big fan of therapists as I am one and I’ve been in therapy myself for 17 years because I think that we should always be doing the work, right? There is just so many things that are in our subconscious that we’re not aware of and all that means is, “Why do we do what we do? Why do we behave the way that we behave? Why do we show up romantically in terms of connecting with people, is there a pattern?” 

I’m recognizing that I’m having disproportionate reactions to my partner, I’m getting angry, I’m getting triggered. Triggered is a buzzword, right? You can call it, “Awakened” But really, it’s pouring salt into a wound that existed way before you’ve even got with that partner. So, starting some self-reflection, a lot of people are hesitant to go to therapy and I understand that but journaling about, “Why did I get activated?”

“What happened? What was the reason why I started spinning out of control or I started creating a story in my mind? Why am I so fearful right now? Why am I reacting this way to my partner?” And I call that, you know, shadow work, what are these parts that we’re not really addressing. A therapist is somebody who will help you to make sense of what exists inside of you and to sort of untangle and unprocess that trauma so it doesn’t dictate your future.

[0:11:51.3] SJ: I’d say, you’re working then with a therapist. Is it something like – I mean, I think most people actually know the answer to this question. Is it something like, “Hey, I’ve broken a bone, I go to the doctor, they put me in a cast, two months later, it’s fixed” there is never an issue again or is it an ongoing thing?

[0:12:10.4] EP: I wish. I wish, you know, so many of my clients I get to work with some of the most amazing people all over the world between my coaching company and the thing is that, yes, there is trauma resolution. Yes, this impacts you to a lesser degree but it’s not like this little mini operation where you go in and you get put in a cast and one month later, it’s basically an unfolding.

And so, what that means is, you have to have trust with the therapist that you work with or the coach, or whoever you choose to work with and it’s sort of an unfolding that happens, and so some people come in an acute crisis and they are able to come in and problems solve, understand where it’s coming from and they’re able to be really conscious of it and then they change their behaviors, even if they’re feeling what they’re feeling.

But therapy is – and I don’t want to scare people away from therapy and be like, “Oh, you’ll be in therapy for years.” That’s not the idea. The idea would be to process with somebody. The quickest way to move the needle is to work with somebody who is trained in trauma modalities. Whether it’s EMDR, eye movement desensitization reprocessing, brain spotting, which is one of the things that I do. 

It’s natural flow EMDR. It allows us to get into the subconscious a lot quicker and it allows us to untangle that trauma way quicker than talk therapy.

[0:13:40.3] SJ: Awesome. I know there’s a bunch of different attachment types. Ideally, in a couple, there is two security attached to people but often, that’s not the case.

[0:13:51.8] EP: Yeah, very often that’s not the case. I mean, so the studies used to show, you know, there’s four attachment styles. I’ll keep it really, really simple. The first attachment style is secure attachment and the irony is you can have insecurities and you can still be a secure attachment. The prerequisite is not to be this perfect person that has no issues, no insecurities, that would make you not human, right?

A securely attached person just means that they are comfortable with closeness and autonomy and they are comfortable with the idea of what’s called interdependence, which means they don’t really worry much about their partner leaving them. They are very comfortable with giving reassurance and validation, they don’t feel very smothered in a relationship. They are comfortable with intimacy. 

They’re comfortable with having difficult conversations and that’s about 50% of the population. It used to be a lot more but I think the studies have shifted in terms of just evolutionary situationally.

[0:14:54.4] SJ: What do you think is causing that?

[0:14:56.0] EP: I think post-pandemic, I really do. I think that people were left alone with their thoughts and without any coping mechanisms or adaptations or any strategies that they didn’t realize that they were sort of running away from these feelings that lived inside of their body and they ended up having to sit still with stuff.

I mean, I had people coming to me that had had a panic attack for the first time or we’re like, “I don’t know what I’m feeling.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s anxiety.” They’re like, “What’s that?” And for the first time in their life, they had experienced anxiety. Understandably so, it was this huge thing that we were in.

[0:15:34.2] SJ: Oh, I mean, I think situations that you don’t control that are imposed upon you, it’s nightmare-ish. It’s like the worst possible thing for your psyche.

[0:15:43.1] EP: Yeah, and I call that – we had a collective trauma, right? We had a collective trauma and then we were all in the sea but we were indifferent boats and if you got left with a lot of free time on your hands, what end up happening is a lot of your stuff started coming up. Not just you, but everybody’s stuff and they didn’t know how to make sense of it because they were working out all the time or they were working a lot or they were leaving the home a lot or they were socializing.

Now, take away all these coping strategies, some healthy, some not healthy, adaptations, you’re left with yourself, and all of these memories start resurfacing and coming up and so, I think that’s why people became less secure in terms of the way they related to people, plus, we were isolated a lot and that technology became huge and people forgot how to connect to people.

[0:16:32.8] SJ: I mean, leaving what’s that voice memos, that’s not a natural way to communicate. Like, you need to see people.

[0:16:40.6] EP: It doesn’t foster intimacy in the same way. We lost a lot of intimacy and when you lose intimacy and intimacy is, you know, even a Facetime is way more intimate than a voice memo. A phone call is way more intimate than a text message, and speaking to somebody, you know, over computer, being in person is the best, right?

[0:17:02.5] SJ: A hundred percent.

[0:17:04.1] EP: But that was taken away from us for a very particular reason and for a period of time. So, people lost the practice of connecting and they started connecting through technology and all this kind of things, and a lot of stuff surfaced that already lived within each person, they just never were aware of it or they never acknowledged it or they were running away from it through working or drinking or spending time with friends, whatever their adaptation is.

[0:17:33.3] SJ: So, you’ve covered secure attachment. Could you also talk – you said, there was kind of for main attachment styles?

[0:17:39.6] EP: Sure, yeah, and so secure attachment would be the one attachment style that’s the secure one and that’s the one that I just explained. that’s a lot more comfortable with interdependence and closeness. Then, there is anxious attachment, that is about, I would say, 20% of the population. Don’t quote me on this because the studies change all of the time but an anxiously attached person tends to be – it’s called, anxious preoccupied. 

They tend to be very preoccupied with their partner, their object of affection, their lover, and they think about them all the time and their life starts to sort of revolve around them. They’re very in tune with their partner’s behaviors, what they do, what they don’t do, their body language, their texting. Has their texting shifted? Has it slowed down, are they calling them less? Are they not initiating sex? They don’t like me anymore. 

So, they are a very, very – like a tuning fork to their partner and they’re always worried about their partner leaving them. They’re always worried that their partner doesn’t want to be close enough with them. They worry sometimes that they’re too much, they worry that they’re needy. They worry that they don’t feel close enough with their partner and they feel like they’re going to get abandoned at any moment. 

And they worry a lot because they are very preoccupied with the relationship, where it is, where it stands, if the partner is into them, if the partner loves them if the partner is going to leave them. So, they’re so preoccupied with that because they’re afraid they’re going to get abandoned.

[0:19:12.1] SJ: I mean, it’s a horrible way to feel, I can only imagine, and I can imagine things like stress, naturally being anxious would trigger that. Is there anything you see or that would commonly trigger those feelings are heightened those feelings that could be kind of underlying?

[0:19:28.2] EP: Yeah. I mean, you made a great point, you talk about external variables, right? Those things matter. If your work is more stressful and your nervous system isn’t what I call sympathetic arousal. If your amygdala is hijacked, the fear center, you know, and you’re on fight-flight-freeze, and you have to get stuff done, you’re going to be more sensitive. You’re going to be more prone to paying attention to what your partner is doing and not doing. 

So, I think those things exacerbate anybody but particularly, anxious attachments, they get a lot more sensitive when they are under stress from work, from family, from other external variables. I think that their attachment style, their fear, it’s all fear, fear becomes exacerbated, that they’re going to get left and that the partner is not paying enough attention to them. It’s this idea that the shoe is going to drop at any moment. “This is too good to be true.”

“The partner is going to leave me. Oh, I’m noticing distancing behaviors, I’m noticing they’re not as quick to reply to my text messages. I’m noticing they’re going out with their friends a little bit more.” But I’m becoming hyper-tuned in and hyper-focused on what they’re doing and I sort of lost my sense of self for a little bit.

[0:20:41.1] SJ: I can understand if you don’t know your partner very well, it’s the start of a relationship. Perhaps, it’s kind of normal to feel that way? But does anxious attachment slowly dissipate and degrade once you’re in a relationship for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? Does it degrade, like, does it kind of go away naturally once you see, “Oh, you know, I can freak out a little bit and be anxious, and my partner hasn’t left me, it’s actually fine.”

[0:21:10.3] EP: Yeah, because you’re getting disconfirming beliefs over and over again. They’re not going anywhere. They’re staying, this relationship, so you made two great points. Number one, the idea that anybody gets anxious when they first start dating somebody. There’s a certain level of anxiety when you get to know somebody and you’re in that uncertainty stage before you make that commitment and before you’re in that relationship, that’s completely normal. 

The anxiously attached person though continues to become that way and they need a lot of reassurance and reaffirmation like, “Are we still okay? Are we good? Do you still love me? I’m feeling really scared. You know, I feel like you’re going to leave me.” So, they constantly overtax, multiple tax, want to make sure they know where the partner is. I want to say two things about that. 

One, if they pair with an avoidant attachment, which I’ll talk about, most likely, it will be very difficult for the anxiously attached person to feel comfortable even as time goes by. If the avoidantly attached partner continues to create distancing strategies or continues to be distant, or continues to not be as close as they want them to be. It just kind of reaffirms, “Oh, yeah, nobody ever wants to be as close with me as I want to be.” 

But that’s a very difficult pairing and a very common pairing, the anxious and the avoidant, there’s a dance. Everybody does a dance but that pairing creates a lot more insecurity in an anxiously attached person.

[0:22:43.5] SJ: Could you talk a little bit more about someone who has an avoidant attachment stuff?

[0:22:49.9] EP: Sure, and then now, we’re going into sort of the other 15 to 20% of the population, which is the avoidant attachment partners, and they have difficulty, and again, it’s so nuanced. I can’t put anyone neatly into a box but it’s nuanced in that every single avoidantly attached but very kind of texts book, you’ll see similar behaviors. They’re not that comfortable with being super close. 

They keep their partner at arm’s length, they basically, after a period of, let’s say, they hang out with their partner for like a week straight and they go on vacation, they have an amazing time and they start to feel really close to their partner, and everything’s going well, they pull away because their nervous system feels smothered. They feel smothered and they start to get anxious because, for them, the trigger is closeness.

[0:23:44.1] SJ: Could that be a little bit similar to just being introverted? Sort of like, you go to a conference for two days, you’re talking to people nonstop that you don’t know. I’m just talking about myself mostly here.

[0:23:56.1] EP: No, totally, your social battery can die, yeah.

[0:23:58.4] SJ: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

[0:24:00.1] EP: Absolutely, and I think that the idea with the avoidant is it’s a little extreme, where it’s hyper-independent. They’re hyper-independent, which means, they require – it’s okay to have, require alone time. It’s okay to go recharge your own batteries and be by yourself and be self-reflective and sort of go back and do all the things that make you feel good that you get to do independently because you sort of reach your threshold for closeness and connection and being – and peopling.

You know, you’ve reached your sort of threshold for peopling and so you’re like, “I want to go back, I want to read my book, I want to do my work, I want to do my writing.” Whatever it is that you enjoy doing independently outside of your partner but with avoidant, they tend to come in very close and are able to kind of be very consistent, and as the relationship progresses and as they get closer, their attachment system turns on. 

An inner queue, it’s automatic, and they automatically feel, they start pulling back and they engage in what’s called deactivating strategies. They start to turn themselves off of that, their partner. They’re like, “Oh, they need too much. They’re too needy that’s why I’m so independent.” They pull away, you don’t hear from them from – you know, there is a difference between saying, “Hey, I need some downtime.” 

“I need to be by myself. We just spent six wonderful beautiful days together, I’m kind of do my own thing.” They sometimes just go off the radar, you don’t hear from them for a couple of days and it’s like you’re in a romantic committed monogamous relationship. It’s all about the communication, “Hey, I need a break. We were together for six days straight. I got to take care of some of my own things.” But they still check in. 

A secure partner checks in, an anxious partner checks in. The avoidance sometimes like is off the grid. 

[0:25:47.8] SJ: That’s fantastic. It’s a very concrete example of that. Yeah, I think it kind of captures it. What’s the fourth attachment style? 

[0:25:56.8] EP: The fourth attachment is called the fearful-avoidant attachment and it is a combination of anxious and avoidant and so, it is the one that’s about its the smallest percent and I think it’s about six percent of the population and it’s a combination. They slip off between being anxious and avoidant within the confines of the relationship. Let’s say you and I were dating and I was a fearful avoidant and you and I are close and we’re hanging out a lot. 

All of a sudden, I feel smothered and I pull back and now, I become more avoidant. It’s very confusing because I was all in with you and we were communicating and there was a dance and a cadence and a regular way that you and I were texting and talking and spending time together and all of a sudden, I started to feel smothered. I pull back, you now don’t hear from me for a couple of days, then you match my energy. 

You’re like, “Fine. If she’s not going to respond to me, I’m not going to respond to her.” And then all of a sudden I get enough distance from you and I start to feel anxious. “Uh-oh, uh-oh, this relationship might end.” Now, my fear of abandonment, my anxiety kicks in, and now I start coming in and being like, “Are we okay? What’s going on?” you know? And you’re like, “I don’t know, you pulled away. I haven’t heard from you.” 

So, I am flip-flopping, it’s very confusing. It’s called the disorganized attachment and it’s fearful avoidant, which means anxious-avoidant, which means you flip-flop between the two, and then here’s another caveat, it all depends on who you pair with. If a fearful avoidant pairs with another avoidant, they will end up showing up anxious in the relationship because the avoidant is so much more avoidant that it hits their anxious part. 

So now, instead of flip-flopping back and forth, they’re always in the anxious part because the partner they paired with is very independent, hyper independent and avoidant. So, it’s called the wheel of attachment, it depends on who you pair with. 

[0:27:59.2] SJ: It sounds a little bit like a partner who’s hot and cold, I guess you could say. If you wanted to simplify it. 

[0:28:06.6] EP: Yes, that’s the best way, always describe that. In simplest, simplest terms, a lot of hot and cold. Even though avoidants showcase that way, fearful avoidants are very hot and cold because – and that’s why it’s called disorganized. It feels very disorganized, it’s like you’re closed one minute, you pull away another minute. It’s because their trauma and their abandonment is getting hit. 

And what I find with that attachment style is not to say but I mean, 17 years of people on my couch, I find that they have a lot of trauma, not that everybody has that trauma, where they’re the one attachment style more so, not that it doesn’t exist in the other that their source of love, their first relationship, parent, primary caregiver, whoever it is, babysitter, was a source of terror and a source of comfort at the same time. 

Where there was either sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, this can also happen in the other attachment styles but my own anecdotal evidence based on 17 years of seeing people and hearing people’s stories and them inviting me into their humanity, it’s almost always characterized, not always, a lot of the time because it’s so nuanced characterized by this figure of attachment, the very first people. 

It’s like this flip-flopping of one minute they terrorize them, one minute they’re loving and consistent and they give them attention and love. 

[0:29:39.3] SJ: That does sound terrifying, you never know what you’re going to get on any given day. 

[0:29:44.1] EP: No. 

[0:29:44.8] SJ: So, what is codependency and how does it fit into attachment styles? 

[0:29:51.0] EP: Yeah, that’s an awesome question. Codependency, another big word that you know, I am so excited that it’s more mainstream because codependency was really only, back in the day, only talked about in the 12-step programs of addiction. I am an addiction specialist also and so, I don’t know if you ever heard of Melody Beattie but she wrote the book, Codependent No More

[0:30:14.7] SJ: I haven’t. I have to check it out. 

[0:30:16.6] EP: Oh my God, it’s an excellent book. It’s a great place to start to understand about codependency. It’s called, Codependent No More, and then Pia Mellody also is an author of a lot of codependency. I think she’s wrote a book called, Facing Codependency, but it used to be just reserved to the people affected by people who had addiction. So, they became super codependent in terms of healing the addict. 

So, they basically would enable them or if they were okay, then they felt okay. If that person was doing good, they were doing good but we realized that it is such a broad concept. 

[0:30:53.2] SJ: So, could you give some example behaviors per relationship of codependent behavior? 

[0:31:01.1] EP: Yeah, absolutely. So, you want to be together with your partner all of the time, that’s just one aspect of it. You engage in people pleasing, which means you abandon yourself or what you need in order to please your partner to earn love. To make yourself valuable, you self-abandon, which means, “I really want to do because I want to please you because I want to make sure that this relationship stays intact. 

So, I am basically – codependency I describe it as giving people the wrong map to your heart. You’re people pleasing and you’re becoming this watered-down version of yourself to make sure that the relationship, it’s like a survival mechanism because if you choose between attachment or being your authentic self, we’re always going to choose attachment, and so being your authentic self means I wouldn’t people please. 

It means I wouldn’t abandon what I wanted to do. It means if my partner wants to go boat shopping and I want to go work out but I don’t want to be apart from my partner, I give up the fact that I want to work out just so I can be with them in close proximity to them.

[0:32:10.3] SJ: Kind giving up yourself for your partner. 

[0:32:13.7] EP: You give up yourself, your sense of self, and that sense of self slowly erodes over time if you continue to engage in codependent behaviors and I say that with a lot of compassion because I’ve been there and so it’s giving up your sense of self, self-abandoning, people pleasing, saying yes when you really want to say no at the expense of yourself. You are abandoning yourself and you’re not putting enough self-love deposits in. You’re putting it into somebody else’s account. 

[0:32:41.1] SJ: So, if someone comes to you, they recognize, “Hey, I have some codependent behaviors.” What would you do with them to kind of work through these behaviors? 

[0:32:51.9] EP: One of the common things that I find a lot of times with people who are codependent is that – or they experience codependent traits is that they’ve learned a long time ago that they had to please other people in order to get connection, that they had to please other people in order to have – and connection is safety when you’re younger. We all want to be safe, we all want to be connected, and we’re all wired for connection, right? 

And so, I would say to them, “What is your sense of self? What do you like to do? What makes you feel good?” What I often find is that a lot of people who experience, not all because it’s nuanced, they don’t have a sense of self. It’s not intact. They’re like, “I don’t know, I don’t know what I want to do. I’ve been – I know that I like to take care of people. I know that I like to be a really good partner.” 

I’m like, “But you, what do you like to do? What gives you joy? What makes you happy? What do you do independently to feed yourself, to nurture your soul, to make you feel full, to make you feel nourished?” So, I start to work on no matter what you are dealing with, working on you and understanding you and your own sense of self is the gateway and the portal to even have deeper intimacy with others. 

[0:34:13.0] SJ: You talked a little bit about the nervous system kind of throughout our conversation, the amygdala, can you talk a little bit about how the nervous system affects people’s ability to feel safe? 

[0:34:27.2] EP: The nervous system is everything. That’s the other thing, your nervous system is the vehicle and the mechanism that is responsible for how you attach to people. Your nervous system decides if somebody is safe or not safe. Your nervous system is what makes you attracted to somebody, drawn to somebody. It is the vehicle for connection and attachment and it’s basically – it has a mind of its own.

It’s its own language, it’s all tied up in all of your earlier experiences. Let’s say I felt safe with you Sean, which I do. I would say, you know, I would say, “You know, you remind me of somebody” or you have a calming presence, right? And I am drawn to you because of that. I am not deciding that, my nervous system is deciding that. In a millisecond, my nervous system does two things. 

It scans my whole entire database of everything that I’ve gone through my whole entire life and I said, “When else have I had an experience like this with a person and were they safe or not safe?” And that’s called interoception, which is really scanning my internal feeling sensations, and neuroception, which is I dictate, I’m deciding, you know in another millisecond, everything I’m taking in, what I’m sensing, what I’m feeling, what I’m seeing. 

All of these things combined decide if I’m going to attach to you or not and it doesn’t mean it’s right because we seek familiarity because familiarity equals safety. That’s nervous system talk, even if it’s bad for you. So, if my father was abusive and I am now drawn to somebody else, not that you show abuse right away but we have what’s called mirror neurons. So, my subconscious is already picking up that most likely you will at some point be an abusive person. 

And sure enough, six months into the relationship, you start to exhibit similar behaviors to me because you’re familiar. So, the nervous system doesn’t understand cognitive language, so you can’t out-talk yourself out of shame. You can’t out-talk yourself out of fear. 

[0:36:40.1] SJ: It’s not a choice, it’s just you feel it or you don’t. 

[0:36:43.3] EP: Absolutely, but it’s not a choice, it’s subconscious nervous system reactivity that’s deciding all of this for you and deciding who you’re attracted to and who you’re not attracted to. How often do people be like, “I keep dating the same guy. I keep dating the same girl in different clothes.” There is a pattern here, I’m attracted to the same type and it’s like no, your subconscious is attracted to what is familiar and most of the time, our familiar is not what this healthier adult version of ourselves would want. 

[0:37:17.9] SJ: And then, I think also a problem is people bend backward rationalize, they put the logic in at the end. “Oh, well, here’s X reason, Y reason, Z reason, why I feel like this.” And really, it’s just a more base-level emotion. 

[0:37:33.8] EP: Yeah, “I’m just drawn to them, I have a connection with them. It’s fate, you know?” And it’s like your subconscious programming is you’re being attracted to somebody that might not necessarily – it might be a pattern for you, where it’s an emotionally unavailable man or woman who’s toxic or who’s consistently not there for you, who keeps hitting your abandonment wound and you say, “But I connect with them.” 

“But there is A, B, and C that’s so wonderful about them.” Of course, you’re going to rationalize. You need to make sense of why you’re staying in it or why you’re drawn to that person, so you say it cognitively. 

[0:38:11.3] SJ: Why are some couples, maybe couples you’ve kind of worked with in the past, obviously, don’t name names, why are some couples –

[0:38:19.7] EP: I’m going to name all the names. No, I’m just kidding. 

[0:38:21.5] SJ: Why are some couples dissatisfied with their sex lives? Is there a common thread? 

[0:38:28.2] EP: Yeah, lack of intimacy. So, what ends up happening is there’s so many different reasons but a lot of times, you know, I always ask couples, “When’s the last time that you guys had sex?” When’s the last time that you guys were – you know and intimacy, sex is intimacy but when’s the last time you guys held hands? When’s the last time you guys did something romantic? When’s the last time you guys connected? 

It’s usually resentment, people start to build resentment against their partner and they’re keeping score and they’re basically either sweeping things under the rug and not talking about it and it’s building up. So, the best way I can describe it is there’s a lot of ruptures that are happening but there is no repairs. So, they’re fighting and there’s an issue and then it never gets resolved and it’s still not resolved and it’s building and it’s building and it’s building, and the last thing they want to do is have sex with their partner. 

[0:39:25.9] SJ: Of course not. I mean, it doesn’t seem like the biggest turn-on in the world to just be fighting with your partner but I think also sometimes, there’s small things, there’s small fights maybe some couples have or there’s a disagreement that they think, “Hey, I’m just not going to bring this up. I’m going to let it go.” And they don’t let it go but they thought they did and then it just builds. 

There is another similar situation I’ve built and before you know it, it’s just poison for your sex life. 

[0:39:57.2] EP: It’s called the slow brew or the simmer, right? And then you have this whole thing. You’re like, “I can’t pick a fight about everything. I better pick and choose my battles wisely, right? I don’t want to make a thing about everything, so I don’t talk about it.” So, effective communication, not everything has to be a fight and if you have effective communication, where you’re not blaming, you’re not defensive. 

You’re not shaming and you’re just basically saying what I’m noticing, so you are not blaming, you’re not shaming, there’s no contempt and there’s no defensiveness. You can actually work through a conflict like that very, very successfully where it doesn’t have to keep going on and on. Like it could be a mini argument but if you hold that in and then you hold the other thing in and then you don’t say anything about that thing. 

And then, you sort of subscribe to the philosophy of, “Do you want to be right or you want to be happy?” And so people just, “Okay, I want to be happy, so I am not going to bring it up.” But unfortunately, your body keeps score of every single thing you’re going through or gone through that’s not properly resolved for you and you’re going to bring it up in a different way and then you’re going to get angry, and something else because it’s been brewing inside of you. 

And you are going to have a bigger rupture than you would have and a rupture is just a fight, argument, disagreement, same thing, a fancy term. Meanwhile, if you have effective communication and you have this sort of open floor like, “Let’s talk about what bothers us.” Like, “Oh, I didn’t like when that happened, it made me feel.” If we always start talking about my experience, my experience, it’s not you, Sean, but my experience of you was that, my experience was that I felt kind of dismissed by you. 

[0:41:42.1] SJ: Hey, hey, that’s not true. 

[0:41:43.5] EP: “Yeah, I felt really dismissed by you, Sean. I didn’t feel heard. So, when I don’t feel heard like that again, I know it’s not you. I know you’re not trying to do that to me but it reminded me.” And most people don’t know this, they’re not going to be like, “It reminds me when my dad used to do that to me and that really hurts.” And that’s the beauty of therapy. I get to help people to see where it’s coming from. 

Why it’s bothering them so much, why it’s creating – it’s really disconnection. You built up enough resentment, you don’t have enough rupture and repair. You end up being disconnected from your partner. When you feel disconnected from your partner, the last thing you want to do is have sex. It’s not very sexy to fight and we want sexy, right? We want date night and we want surprises and we want spontaneity and we want intimacy and you can still fight and have sex. 

I have a lot of couples who have makeup sex, they’re like, “It’s the best thing ever.” I’m like, “But like, has it resolved anything?” 

[0:42:44.1] SJ: And sometimes, it actually comes after a resolution or after rupture or an explosion, which is not ideal. 

[0:42:52.4] EP: “I think that we had angry make-up sex and we’re good now.” I’m like, “But are you? Because you put a band-aid over a bullet hole.” And so, I work with them in terms of what makes them feel safe and connected to their partner. I call it the space between, everybody has a space between. Not only do we have a dance with our romantic partners, like a cadence and a rhythm but there’s a space between us that is where the intimacy is and I call it the core scene.

There is a core scene going on, it’s different arguments but it’s really about the same wound. It seems like it’s about the laundry if you’re married and you have kids or, “You don’t help me with the kids” and whatever but it’s this feeling of not being seen, not being heard, not being validated, feeling dismissed. There is always a core scene in every couple where somebody is feeling like a fundamental need or a fundamental wound keeps being hit over and over again and insert in different scenario. 

[0:43:58.1] SJ: I presume then the solution is talking about it and coming to some sort of agreement or trying to resolve it? 

[0:44:06.8] EP: Yeah. I mean, that’s the beauty of Imago. Imago has this concept, which is a couple’s modality that works with the space in between and it talks about reclaiming lost parts of yourself that you may have lost in the relationship and helping your partner is basically you’ve gotten wounded in a relationship, let’s heal in this relationship and inviting each other into each other’s internal worlds, and then you have more empathy for your partner. 

You’re like, “Oh my God, so you felt like you were – that I was ignoring you and then it felt like when you’re dad did that to you when you were six years old?” And you know, that stuff comes out and they’re like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “Wow, I don’t want to make you feel like that.” It creates more understanding, it creates more empathy. It’s like you’re not at war with your partner, they’re on your team. 

[0:44:56.3] SJ: I get emails all the time from women in heterosexual relationships and it’s the same issue. They want sex but their partner doesn’t. Often they mention porn, pornography as the culprit. Do you have any easy solutions, simple solutions, magic pills that kind of listeners in this kind of situation will be able to use? 

[0:45:21.3] EP: That is a common thing also and I call that, I don’t know what level it goes to but it’s called a process addiction when they’re basically, all their juices are coming out on the porn and there’s not much left and they’re not wanting to have sex with their partner because they have, you know? All the time, I recommend the masturbation porn fast. 

[0:45:42.8] SJ: It’s called no fap. 

[0:45:44.6] EP: What is that? 

[0:45:45.8] SJ: It’s actually very popular, of how the people call it no fap. 

[0:45:50.2] EP: What do they call it? 

[0:45:51.7] SJ: No fap. Fapping is slang for masturbation. 

[0:45:56.5] EP: Oh, interesting. Yeah, I mean, I recommend trying that and it’s a harm-reduction model, right? I’m not expecting you to – let’s do one week, one week of you not masturbating or looking at porn because there is a difference and there’s something that’s interesting that if you want – so, a lot of times people who watch porn, they become so desensitizatized and assume that the sex is supposed to be like the porn. 

And they look at their wives or their girlfriends like – and I call it the Madonna whore complex. I don’t call it that, it’s named that, and so what happens is, is that porn is like raunchy and really sexual and can be degrading on some level any which way you look at it and then they look at these partners as this Madonna figures, where they are the mother of their children or they’re their wifey or they’ve been together for a long time. 

They’re like, “I can’t do that stuff with them. That’s reserved for me time when I engage in all these fantasies.” And I say invite them into your fantasies. 

[0:47:03.0] SJ: I hundred percent agree, 100% agree. It’s better to share these things as opposed to bottle them up. I mean, that’s what having a partner is all about. 

[0:47:11.7] EP: Absolutely, spice it up, right? I’ve had a couple go together to go pick out lingerie and sometimes you have to fake it until you make it and what that means, I call it pretending and pretending really just means preclaiming. So, we’re going to preclaim the sex life we want. We’re going to preclaim by doing certain behaviors. So, when you move a muscle, you change a thought. 

If you engage in different behaviors, then your neuroplasticity changes, and your pathways change and then your feelings start to change as a result of the different activities that you start doing because you’re activating what I call neurons that fire together wire together. 

[0:47:53.2] SJ: Excellent. Thanks so much for coming on the show. If people want to get in touch with you, find out more about you, find out more about Eternal Wellness Coaching, how can they do that? 

[0:48:04.4] EP: Absolutely, so they can just go on at EternalWellnessCounseling.com, that’s my website and I also have a social media handle, where I am actually coming out with a lot of – an attachment workbook to help people with intimacy and it’s a freebie. So, my social media handle is, let’s see, I always get it wrong, @esinpinarli_lcsw, and it’s on Instagram. 

[0:48:30.8] SJ: Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show. 

[0:48:33.2] EP: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me, Sean. 


[0:48:37.0] SJ: One last thing before you go, if you want to hear more podcasts just like this one, open your podcast app, search for Bad Girls Bible, and hit that subscribe button. 


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