In this article I want to share my enthusiasm about the NeuroAffective Relationship Model (NARM) by Lawrence Heller and Michael Singer’s teachings and explore how they may have a deep common background and could be a wonderful complement to each other. I see Michael’s teaching as laying out the background, while NARM as a psychotherapeutic method puts the theory into practice.
First of all, a few words to introduce each of these teachings.
Michael Singer’s approach is based on the idea, that all experiences that have not been fully processed are stored in the energy field of the person and strive to be released. These are on the one hand experiences, that we did not like and have pushed away hoping that would avoid the associated pain. And on the other hand, these are experiences, that we liked so much that we want to hold on to them. An experience is processed when it is allowed to touch the person, the person can learn from it and let it go, i.e. neither push it away nor cling to it. One way past experiences move towards release is by creating an energy field in our heart, which we may not even have words for, which in turn creates involuntary thoughts in the mind. If we can manage to watch these emotions and thoughts, relax around the experience and release the associated energy, we can let go of them and process them even a long time after they first occurred. This is an ongoing process, which opens us up more and more for the life energy (life force, qi, shakti) which runs through us. By letting go of those past experiences, we let go of blockages of the life energy.
NARM starts from a very similar background in that the life force is thought to run through us and that we all strive toward more aliveness, healing and connection to others, ourselves and something greater. NARM focuses on the impact of relational experiences during the first years of a child’s life. It postulates that beginning even before birth, disconnections from the life force can occur when the child’s core needs are continuously not met. The child “learns" from those experiences and develops one or more survival styles which generally ensure the continuation of the relationship to the attachment figure, while compromising the fulfillment of the child’s other needs. However, as the name points to, these survival styles are incredibly wise ways the child has found to survive. The relationship with the attachment figure is absolutely crucial for the child and above everything else essential for his or her survival. Hence, it is very smart to work around all other hurdles to make sure it can continue to exist.
Both teachings have their basis in the life energy running through the body and want to encourage and enable people to remove blockages of this energy. They furthermore both believe that blockages come up spontaneously in life (and therapy) and “want” to be released. Or in Larry Heller’s words: “just as a plant spontaneously moves toward sunlight, there is in each of us an impulse moving toward connection and healing” (Heller, 2012, p. 28), toward the life energy. The result of more freely flowing life energy is more connection and aliveness (Larry) and more enthusiasm, love and unconditional happiness (Michael).
How do the two approaches complement each other?
Michael’s main “technique” or advice when blockages come up is to relax and let go, i.e. do not get involved in the thought or emotion coming up. Rather, he suggests sitting back in your seat of awareness, identified with your consciousness and nothing else and let the energy release itself.
NARM offers an expansion to this. What if I cannot relax and let go when a mood or a feeling washes over me, and I feel stuck in it? The beautiful question NARM suggests (therapists) to ask is: what is getting in the way of you relaxing? And a whole new realm of emotions and thoughts opens up: suddenly the blockage is not one big mood or feeling, but it breaks down into smaller emotions and thoughts, which are much easier to soften to, relax into and let go of. With this question NARM addresses the blockage of the life energy directly: what is getting in the way of your life energy? And at the same time it opens a space to explore the blockage rather than bluntly wanting to get rid of it. Putting any force against the blockage, i.e. by being more goal-directed (how can I relax), would just increase its resistance and the energy would become more blocked than before. It is therefore necessary to be curious about the blockage and to honor it knowing that there was a good reason for it to be put there in the first place: it was the way the child found to survive when the parents did not fulfill her/his core need(s).
And probably this is true in a way for all blockages: they are like left-overs from a non-ideal situation, in which we did our best – whether early in life or later. And we can only relax and let go of them when we don’t reject them, don’t tense up to them. As Michael would put it: don’t try and work with or manipulate these thoughts and emotions, but rather take your hands off them and let them pass.
And this is exactly what NARM does with the help of a therapist who holds the space for the individual to process more difficult thoughts and emotions and memories.
Deepening in different areas
The biggest difference between the two approaches is of course, that NARM focuses on how developmental trauma disconnects a person from their life energy early in life, before the age of 6. Also, being a psychotherapy, NARM looks in depth at how psychological, physiological and relational connection can be restored in the therapeutic context.
Michael on the other hand is not so much interested in when the blockage happened but rather in how it shows up in the current moment and how to release it immediately. He focuses on how the mind operates with its constant chatter and voluntary as well as involuntary thoughts. And he expands on how the mind is tied in with the heart in that the emotion which arises in the heart fuels the thoughts. Michael teaches a deeply spiritual and at the same time extremely grounded and easy to understand perspective of the human experience. His teaching culminates in what happens after we have let go of most of the blockages: our awareness will be drawn to the life energy itself and one day, the question will arise as to where this life energy actually comes from. When we start seeking the source, we are seeking god.
In my own personal process, it was only a month ago that I listened to Michael’s book “The Untethered Soul” and started his online course, a few days before my first training week in NARM. I was amazed to find that just listening to his teachings and beginning to relax and to let go, I started sensing “balls” of energy in the palms of my hands, which was a completely new experience for me. This intensified during the NARM training week and I started to feel energy running along the meridians in my body. Back home I wanted to continue to explore this energy and started practicing the qi gong moves I had learned more than 10 years ago. Sensing the energy during the moves, the increasing joy and excitement thrills me. I am very excited to continue this exploration and integrate both teachings in my work as a therapist as well as practice them for my own personal and spiritual growth.
Heller, L., & LaPierre, A. (2012). Healing developmental trauma. How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationship. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, USA.
Singer, M. A. (2007). The untethered soul. The journey beyondyourself. New Harbinger, USA.
Singer, M. A. (2017). Living from a place of surrender. The untethered soul in action. Sounds True.