6 Things I Learned From NARM Therapy 

May 13, 2022 (updated January 31, 2023) — Written by

Vulnerable post alert. I started seeing a NARM therapist last year and it’s been a game changer for me (and maybe it could be for you too). My daily mindset has shifted, my relationship with MYSELF is healing and I’m starting to live a little truer to me. All because of 6 seemingly obvious things I’ve learned through NARM therapy.

a woman with long wavy hair smiles into the camera

By: Lisa Fennessy


Before we dive in, let me start off with this; It’s not easy finding a good-fit therapist. Over the past 5 years I tried four different therapists before I found someone I felt good about. Maybe it was the type of therapy, maybe it was the person themselves, maybe it was me not being vulnerable enough….IDK but what I do know is that all of this trial and error led me to my current therapist—a woman I meet with remotely, three times a month who practices NARM and Somatic Psychotherapy. 

I didn’t know anything about NARM when I signed up. In fact, I didn’t even know that was the type of therapy I had chosen. I just reached out based on a friend’s rec. 

Turns out NARM is The NeuroAffective Relational Model of therapy which is a “cutting-edge model for addressing attachment, relational and developmental trauma, by working with the attachment patterns that cause life-long psychobiological symptoms and interpersonal difficulties” according to the NARM Training Institute

Looking back, I’m kinda glad I didn’t really know what type of therapy I was signing up for because reading this description, it doesn’t sound like anything I needed—and I might have passed AGAIN on another opportunity. But unknowingly, I dove in and I’m so glad I did because at this point I’m pretty sure this type of therapy is exactly what I need. This is what I’ve learned over the past 6 months. 

RELATED: Is bHRT for you?

The concept of practicing forgiveness on myself is literally blowing my mind

Have you ever forgiven someone? I’m talking a HARD forgiveness—like someone who did you dirty-dog-WRONG. It’s not an easy thing to do but man it feels good when you can do it, doesn’t it? 

And have you ever made a mistake and then had someone forgive you? Feels like the weight of the world has been lifted, right? One of the best gifts I’ve ever received. 

One day I was ruminating about something I had done—I tend to be really hard on myself. If I think I’ve said the wrong thing, I’ll go at myself with “negative self talk” which turns into “worst case scenario self talk” which becomes “off the deep end self talk”…like me resolving never to have friends again to avoid all of this in the future. 

During one of these episodes, my therapist looked me in the eye and asked me if I had ever forgiven someone. And then she asked me if I had ever been forgiven. And then posed the question; “What if you forgave yourself? How would that feel?” And my world blew open.

I don’t know if I’ve actually been able to put this into practice yet but conceptually, I get it. I can see it, I can visualize it and I can feel it—so I know I am getting closer. 

Staying small protects us 

Default behaviors that keep us small are actually protective in nature. I learned that these behaviors are an outdated response that at some point was imprinted on us to keep us safe. It’s a childhood nervous system and a deep brain response. And now, as adults, we have our critical thinking skills that can keep these default behaviors in place (even though they are not helpful anymore). 

Now that I know this, I think about it every time I’m about to say no to something or am afraid to take the next steps. Basically my self-talk looks like, “You wanna live small Lis?!….You gunna let these outdated, protective behaviors run you!?” And 100% of the time, I’m like “OH HELL NO GIRL!” 

(I even got a necklace made that says “live big.” It sits right by my heart as a daily reminder).  

It’s actually really strong to be vulnerable/emotionally available

Our nervous system learns to protect itself in situations of abuse, guilt and shame. Our brains learned that it wasn’t safe in these situations so we don’t allow ourselves to be in them…to be emotionally available in them. This kept us out of harm’s way as children. 

This can lead to avoidant behaviors like avoiding hard conversations or people or situations. 

Leaning into hard conversations and maintaining eye contact are hard to do but are ways to connect and engage. While behaviors like withholding and giving someone the silent treatment are a way of disconnecting. They are also learned behaviors. They are not who we are at our core.

I got super brave last month and asked my husband to PLEASE put the cap back on the toothpaste instead of just letting myself be annoyed and not saying anything, LOL. Filing this one under #babysteps.

RELATED: Your guide to a non-toxic personal care starter kit.

Adaptive Survival Strategy is a thing…and I use it 

In NARM, the focus is less on why a person is the way they are and more on how their survival style distorts what they are experiencing on the daily.

The Candidly explains, “…We all have survival styles, which are adaptive strategies that children develop when their core needs aren’t met. Even in the most loving, stable home, the possibility of not getting a core need met early in life exists for everyone. Essentially, these adaptive strategies are coping mechanisms to deal with feelings of pain, isolation, and hurt feelings, and these strategies become our survival styles, which persist in our adult relationships and create adverse emotional responses. Each survival style is named for the unmet need—or whatever was missing during childhood.”

I read through all 5 strategies and can identify with each of them in different ways. Need more time with this one but it’s helped me understand some of my thought patterns and start to gain perspective. 

Interested? Read this book I’m reading too.

I can make the rules 

I’ve spent a majority of my life trying to “do the right thing”. Over the years I’ve chalked this up to my Myers Briggs or my Enneagram 1-ness or my fill-in-the-blank-whatever. This means I’ve spent A LOT of energy trying to figure out “what’s right” and “what’s wrong”—mostly at the expense of figuring out what’s right and what’s wrong FOR ME. I’m going to start making up for that starting NOW. 

Thinking in the middle brain 

When we are threatened or stressed or triggered, we tend to think in what’s called “the middle brain.” The middle brain makes yes / no,  right / wrong decisions. It does not make complex decisions. 

Complex decisions are made in the frontal lobe which we can explore when we are calm and feeling safe. 

This has brought so much clarity to why I freeze up when I get into confrontational conversations. It’s hard for me to access my needs and organize my thoughts in the heat of the moment. When this happens I feel paralyzed and mad and sad and I cry. And I always need time (like days) to think about things before responding….if I ever do. 

That is an acute example but more frequently, I wonder where I am during the average day. Am I constantly operating out of my middle lobe? Am I ever in my frontal lobe? What’s driving my decisions? Is it fear? Hello middle brain. Is it curiosity? Hello frontal lobe.

To be continued….

The changes are small and subtle right now but I see them. I catch myself thinking different thoughts. I hear myself taking risks in conversations that I would have never done in the past. I’m gaining perspective in a way that is supporting me and helping me recognise my thoughts for what they are as opposed to taking them as absolute truth and letting them run me. And it feels expansive. 

RELATED: How to go gray and 101 ways to respond to rude comments about gray hair.

Have you tried or experienced NARM Therapy? 

xo, lisa in cursive

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By Lisa Fennessy

Lisa is the founder of The New Knew. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!

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