Ep#54 Healing Insecure Attachment & Discovering the Joy of Intimacy with Juniper Wong
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Juniper Wong, a Chinese-American licensed clinical social worker turned intimacy coach and teacher who specializes in healing attachment trauma and developing deeply satisfying intimate relationships with self and others.
Main Topics Discussed:
- An explanation of the four attachment styles
- Pinpointing the source of your co-dependency
- Meeting your needs and rewriting destructive narratives
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Juniper: I’m celebrating my birthday. I turned 36 yesterday. I’m celebrating just letting things be: noticing thoughts and feelings come and go without having to have a whole story behind them. I’m also celebrating not feeling the greatest and showing up anyway.
How would you describe your medicine?
Juniper: I think my deepest gift definitely is in being able to bring out the authenticity in others, including the darkness. I think that there is a lot of hiding around the things that we're ashamed of, the things that we feel might not make us good enough or the things that might hold trauma or pain in our lives and I think I'm able to bring that out with people either with tenderness or humor or whatever it is that they need in that moment.
How has your ancestral lineage influenced your path today?
Juniper: My mom grew up in Taiwan and my dad grew up in Hong kong. My grandparents really experienced the effects of the communist revolution. So, something that has started coming up for me with regard to my ancestral lineage is the story of poverty. On my dad’s side, my grandfather had a moderately successful business but it was one of those things where when the communists came, they lost everything overnight. They were nine siblings sharing one bedroom in a Hong Kong apartment. Being the eldest male, there was that classic patriarchal Chinese expectation for him to bring the family out of poverty. And then on my mom's side, my grandfather was a general in World War II and basically had been courting my grandmother and, long story short, the Japanese came one day while she was sending him off at the airport hangar. It was very cinematic: He literally pulled her onto the plane and she never saw her family again. On my mom's side, my grandmother had a lot of depression and a lot of overwhelm. My grandfather, as a military man, was always leaving, and she was raising children without support. My mom grew up a very, very anxious child because she had so much responsibility put on her at way too young an age. Same with my father. That all showed up in my upbringing and was the catalyst for what I do today.
You chose therapy as your path. What led you to it?
Juniper: Long story short, our dynamics were highly dysfunctional. My brother developed Tourette's Syndrome around 4th grade. My mother didn’t know, so she always punished him because she thought he was misbehaving on purpose. So, my brother was bullied a lot in 7th grade, and his teacher encouraged my mom to see a psychiatrist for him because she could tell he had something. When he was diagnosed, my mom experienced an existential crisis kind of thing because she had always been a very dutiful woman who thinks she's doing her best. Shame completely overtook her when she realized that she had been punishing her son for three or four years for something that he couldn’t control. She didn’t know what to do, and that’s when she turned to spirituality. She joined a church in Van Nuys that had cult-like practices and we crossed a lot of boundaries that confused us spiritually and psychologically. There were a lot of good things mixed with a lot of bad that it became difficult to see what was going on. And that’s a lot like my parents themselves: a lot of good mixed with a lot of bad. Honestly, this is really where attachment theory helped me clarify a lot of what I had been feeling and understand the dynamics of what was going on in a more digestible, structured way.
What are the four attachment styles?
Juniper: 1) Secure basically means you have a strong sense of personal identity, but also interdependence. You're not afraid of being independent and alone, but you also recognize the value of depending on other people. You're also able to give help without making other people feel like they're a burden. In general, they grew up with a parent who was able to be relatively consistent. 2) Anxious Ambivalent people live with the fear of separation—either physical or emotional. They were raised with parents who were either inconsistent or used the child to satisfy their own needs for closeness. Their intuition is actually really good for sensing things, but the problem is they oftentimes jump to the wrong conclusion; so, they might sense that suddenly there might be some sort of distance or there might be some sort of anger in the air or some sort of tension, but what they tend to do is personalize it. The key for this is recognizing that their intuition is correct: They are sensing something but not allowing themselves to jump to the conclusion that they've done something wrong. 3) Avoidant means you fear closeness. When they are brought into a normal state of engagement, it feels threatening to them. It feels very threatening because they're used to a “sleepiness”. They're almost used to this dormancy in terms of their emotional life. Out of the four types, actually, they are the most fragile when it comes to heartbreak. 4) Disorganized is when you have a hard time self-regulating your emotions, so you often feel unsafe in your relationships. These people swing between emotional extremes and their childhood may have been shaped by abuse, neglect, or trauma.
Tell us about your upcoming course that will help people dig deeper into their attachment styles.
Juniper: I’m doing a program called “Deep Intimacy”. We're actually in the middle of one cycle now, which has been really great. We're starting a new cycle next year in early 2022—exact date to be announced. We do have a course and it dives into attachment theory and the fundamental premise of all of our work. Our baseline is that all the behaviors are meant to communicate a need no matter if the behavior makes sense or not—all behaviors are communicating a need. So, ultimately, the fundamental question that we're aiming to answer is: “How do we help you meet your needs and feel that your needs are deeply being met so that you don't feel like you have to use these maladaptive behaviors any longer to meet your needs?” We unearth narratives that don’t help us and recognize that we are the authors of our own lives and that we can change these narratives. The second part is heart and body work (which are intertwined). A lot of it is the physiological neuroscience and nervous system theories and research around attachment and how we can use what we know about bodies—what we know about neuroplasticity and neuroscience to start to heal a lot of those wounds that were programmed into us through childhood or relationships. The last part of that is self-compassion and learning how to give ourselves the nurturing that we never received. The third part is around spirituality and referring to our Enneagram to do Shadow work.
What do you do to stay grounded and what is it that you’ve learned to release?
Juniper: I recently traveled for the first time in a long, long time to Mexico City. I’ve been staying grounded by opening myself up again to new experiences. That's been a huge part of who I am and I can't necessarily always travel, but I think being open to something completely different and allowing myself to go back out into exploring culture and art and dance and things like that (which I’ve lost touch with during quarantine) has really helped me stay grounded. Also, I'm actually starting a somatic dance and movement workshop in this area because I really felt the pull to connect with people in person. So much has been done online, and I really want to be around the energy of the humans. The number one thing I've learned to let go of is scarcity mindset.
If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what is it that she would say to present-day you?
Juniper: Basically: “You silly goose.” It’s not so much what she’s saying, but the energy. She’s so happy. I see a lot of children running around.
Conclusion: Co-dependent people feel that their self-worth and their validation hinges upon other people's responses to them. The key is to recognize your needs to be able to isolate them from your maladaptive behaviors, then meet those needs in a healthy way by rewriting your story.
Action Integration: Healing attachment trauma begins when you answer Juniper’s key question: “How can you meet your needs so that you don't feel like you have to use these maladaptive behaviors any longer to do so?”
Learn more about Juniper:
Visit her website: www.juniperwong.com