May 6, 2024

Attachment parenting with Con Sheehan

Podcast Episode 50 Attachment Parenting


Episode Summary

Welcome to a very special episode of The Communicate & Connect Podcast titled “Attachment Parenting with Con Sheehan.” Before we dive in, remember to take our ARE quiz based on the brief accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement scale to assess the attachment dynamics in your own relationships.

Today, we are joined by the esteemed clinical social worker Con Sheehan, who specializes in emotionally focused therapy for families and couples. In this episode, we delve into the world of attachment parenting, exploring how parents’ availability and empathetic engagement play critical roles in fostering children’s security and resilience.

Con provides valuable insights into how children cope with feelings of caregiver inaccessibility and how this can influence their behavior and life choices, including the risks of substance use. We also discuss specific challenges faced by military families, such as managing parental roles during deployment and the unique stresses that can impact both children and parents.

To aid our understanding, Con shares examples from his practice, focusing on creating a family environment where each member’s needs are understood and met. We’ll emphasize the importance of repair, availability, and intentional parenting—even discussing how therapy, even short-term, can be instrumental for families.

Whether you’re a parent feeling the weight of responsibility or someone interested in emotional and relationship health, this episode is packed with practical advice and deep insights to help you connect more deeply with your loved ones. Join us, and let’s start building stronger family bonds today!

Guest Speaker Bio

Cornelius “Con” Sheehan has worked with couples and individuals for over 20 years In his work as a therapist, he focuses on the critical importance of a secure, connected, and hopeful relationships. Consequently, he specializes in attachment-based, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for marriages, couples, families, and individuals in the Reno Nevada area and holds a certification as an Emotionally Focused Therapist and Supervisor. Furthermore, he applies EFT in his practice with couples, individuals, and families, valuing its effectiveness, research-based approach and solid theoretical foundation. Several years ago, he established the Emotional and Relationship Health Counseling Associates in Reno, NV, and currently serves as its director. He is the Founder / Director of, the Reno/Tahoe Community for Emotionally Focused Therapy. You can learn more about EFT at and

Episode Transcript

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:00:01]:
This podcast is sponsored by Communicate and Connect Counseling, where we have a team of therapists who provide individual, couples, and family therapy services, all tailored to meet the needs of military and veteran families. To learn more about our services, visit

You’re listening to episode 50, Attachment Parenting with Con Sheehan.

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Communicate and Connect Podcast. I am really excited. I have my friend and colleague here, Con Sheehan. He’s a clinical social worker, but he also does emotionally focused therapy and he does it with families along with couples. But I just wanted to bring him on really to talk about parenting and family dynamics because he does a lot of supervision and things around using this with families, trying to see what else. You’re also the founder and director of the Reno Tahoe community for EFT. So, yeah. Is there anything you want to say to just introduce yourself?

Con Sheehan [00:01:28]:
That was great. Thanks. And it’s just really good to be with you. I’m honored to be invited onto your podcast. Thank you for that. And particularly happy to be talking to the people that listen to this podcast. I think it’s just such a necessary thing, some of the stressors that military families experience to really kind of hear, I think hear from us about what we’re seeing with people we work with. Kind of cool opportunity to hear a therapist talk about it that way and maybe sort of normalize some of those things. And then also, like, maybe what to expect if you were going to seek help or look for help, what it might look like getting help with somebody. So let’s just see where it goes. But I’m just so happy to be with you.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:02:15]:
Yeah, thanks. I’m glad you’re here, too. So we are doing this series on attachment, and we have been covering sort of what is attachment and attachment theory? Why does it matter how couples can be thinking about this? We even covered, like, how to think about it in terms of if I get divorced and picking another, like, how can I use that to go into a new relationship? But one of the things that is not talked at as much about as I would like it to be talked about is family dynamics. And for military families, you know, it’s not just the spouse and the service member who struggle with military life, whether it’s deployments or coming home from deployments or the moves. But the kids are also struggling. And I did some research, like looking at research in preparation for our podcast and found some information about the impact on kids. And certainly they are experiencing really long separations from the service member, parent, they have frequent relocations that can often end their friendships. Oftentimes they’re adapting and moving to new schools. The average tends to be six to nine times before graduating high school. And I had a client maybe two weeks ago who told me they went to eleven schools before graduating.

Con Sheehan [00:03:55]:
I was like, oh, my gosh. Yeah, that’s a bunch.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:04:00]:
So there’s a lot of isolation for kids, and they sometimes develop kind of this coping skill of not really developing very deep friendships because they know they’re just going to move. I found a lot of mental health diagnoses related specifically to deployments and separations, harder time with academic achievement, and then just all sorts of emotional and behavioral responses related to the deployments and the switching and the moving and the switching schools. So I’m really hoping we’ll be able to talk about how parents can help their kids through all of these changes.

Con Sheehan [00:04:44]:
Absolutely. Yeah. When I heard you go down the list, it’s. I felt an urgency that like, let’s. Let’s move to the stuff. It doesn’t all have to happen. Right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a, there’s a different course for some of this because, I mean, really, when we’re looking at, you know, a family intervention, right.

We often think of it as, you know, something is really severe. Right. The parents said that the kid’s acting out at school and they’re becoming violent or something. You gotta go see a family therapist because the kids off the, off the rails, that kind of thing, and the kid becomes the identified patient, and that’s the reason for initiating the family work. But there’s a lot of other family work that starts under very different circumstances. And it’s people recognizing that the family, when there are just kind of minor disruptions or people aren’t able to express needs and find responsivity to needs in a way that’s soothing. Then the kind of family mix becomes a place where it’s not really a supportive environment for people’s kind of security, and it’s not a supportive environment. How should I put this, Liz? It creates the sort of resilience that can be possible for the family members.

We’re more resilient when we know people are close to us, when we know when we’re in a time of distress, there’s somebody there to count on. And we want to know that in families. So when I hear you go down the list of things and I know they’re very real, some of those are on my radar as well. You know, I start to think, all right, well, where are the resilience factors? And I think we’ll talk more about that today, how we build resilience in despite or even in the face of some of the challenges that are unique to these families that you’re talking about.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:06:40]:
Yeah, I like that idea. I’m just, like, pulling it together in my mind of that. If I have needs and I can voice them and feel like my family members are responsive to them, what I’m hearing is that is what helps families be resilient, even with these changes.

Con Sheehan [00:07:02]:
Right. Right. Then I know this is a place where I’m not alone, and particularly if something feels frightening, if something feels difficult to talk about, if something feels odd, in terms of my experience, I’m having. I know that I’m not alone with that thing. There’s that old saying, like, no atheists in a foxhole. Right? And this isn’t to take this in a religious or non religious direction, but there’s that old saying, there’s no atheists in a foxhole. Right. We don’t want to be alone, you know, when we’re, when we’re in battle, when things are scary and super difficult and we’ve. We’re resilient, we’re. We’re a little more resourced and bolstered when we know we can turn to somebody at a difficult time.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:07:51]:

Con Sheehan [00:07:51]:
So. So that. That is. Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry, Liz. Well.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:07:55]:
Oh, no, you’re. You’re fine. I was just thinking. So I’m thinking, like, for people listening, one thing that they might be hearing or taking away right now is, like, okay, if my kid is struggling with all of these military things or struggling for other reasons, I need to be responsive. And that will help them. Maybe. But I’m also thinking someone might be sitting there thinking, like, how on earth am I supposed to do that? Like, what does that tangibly mean? And.

Con Sheehan [00:08:27]:

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:08:29]:
Especially if they’re acting in a way that I don’t want to be responsive to.

Con Sheehan [00:08:34]:
That’s what I’m imagining, and that’s not that uncommon. Right. Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine the people listening to us thinking that as well, you know, that being a difficult thing. And so really, what you start to point to when you describe that we should take a little sidebar into a closer look at attachment, but what you point to with that is one of the things that happens when a family gets stuck in these patterns of not finding a way to feel responsive or the way the kid is showing up is super difficult, and the parent can’t organize the right response to it. So the parents not hearing the kid’s underlying need to feel this resilience I’m talking about to feel like somebody’s with them. They’re just hearing somebody acting out in a way that’s anywhere from super annoying to hostile or whatever it might be, Right? And they’re having a hard time organizing a response to this reactivity. And so what a therapist is going to be able to help do, an emotionally focused family therapist is help the family understand the patterns are getting caught in this way, and help them access sort of underlying needs and fears that aren’t finding expression, and help them clarify and express to one another those underlying needs and help them sort of process through blocks that they have to responding effectively to one another’s needs. And we can talk a little bit more about that. But I just wanted to kind of preview the idea that, you know, I think it’s helpful for the listener to imagine if they needed help or if some of these things were showing up, what they would be working on or what it would be like to work with somebody on this. Right.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:10:30]:
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s really helpful. I think especially the diff, like the. Well, I think when I have heard other people talk about family therapy, it’s often kind of more the kid goes to individual therapy and sometimes the parent sits in and gets an update, but it doesn’t feel like things are really improving. But this process of emotionally focused family therapy is actually quite different than something like that.

Con Sheehan [00:11:01]:
It really is, Liz. Yeah. And that is the typical story you hear about what family therapy looked like. Right? What you’re describing. Yeah. And, you know, I mean, there’s a history behind that and the development of family therapy, but I think also some of the time these things just feel so incredibly difficult. And therapists haven’t been armed with ways to deal with them that if we can just sort of get this kid fixed, then my family’s going to function well again. Like, you know, little Johnny or Susie’s acting out in a certain way or whatever. If we get them dialed in, we can all start to feel better. The siblings won’t be as affected by it. You know, dad and I, mom and I won’t be feeling as much distress secondary to the way the kids acting out or the difficulty they’re having at school. And so. And so I think it’s an attractive idea that I can just go plug Johnny or Susie in with, you know, with Doctor Liz and they’re going to come back and the whole family’s going to be dialling, but that’s usually not what happens, you know, and we know that there’s better ways to, you know, work with a situation like that. And we want to bring that kind of, that kind of connectedness and responsiveness between family members, and we can do that with emotionally focused family therapy.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:12:21]:
Yeah. So I know we’ve described this before, at least for couples, for couples on the podcast at some point, but I’m thinking, like, family members would get into cycles or patterns of interacting when there is, I guess, that tension or child is having problems. Like, I’m just imagining there are some family patterns at play. Do you have any nice ways of trying to explain what that might look like?

Con Sheehan [00:12:53]:
Let’s think of an example where a kid that was maybe formally appeared sort of compliant and, you know, compliant in a well adjusted way. Not overly compliant, but compliant, adjusted. Getting along is all of a sudden becoming more withdrawn. So let’s use that example of more withdrawn as opposed to acting out in a more aggressive way or something like that. And, you know, it gets on the parents radar that the kid just isn’t themselves. And it seems like it’s something kind of beyond the normal, you know, not themselves or just kind of being a little solitary or quiet, and it becomes a point of concern.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:13:37]:
Well, I’m thinking that in emotionally focused family therapy, and especially when we’re thinking about attachment and relationships and helping parents and kids have really good relationships, even though this is so stressful and everyone is reacting probably to the stress of military life. And then I’m thinking, if I’m dealing with the stress and my partner is dealing with the stress of military life, and now our kids are dealing with the stress, I’m just imagining that it would be really hard. What do parents typically do or what is often common that goes wrong versus what should we maybe be doing that would help it go right? Those are very generic. And I don’t know that I like wrong and right, but.

Con Sheehan [00:14:29]:
Well, I’m understanding. Yeah. When I hear you say wrong or right, I’m thinking of something that feels like effective versus not effective. Right? Yeah.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:14:37]:
Yes. Thank you. That’s much better.

Con Sheehan [00:14:41]:
I knew what you meant. I’m sure anybody that is used to listening to you knew what you meant, too. So, you know, I think what starts to happen is the, you know, parents aren’t finding a way to respond or they’re responding to what they’re observing in the kid behaviorally. Right. So let’s say, you know, if it’s a situation where, let’s say there’s like a ceremonial duty that the family have to go to. And if the families that listen to this or anything, like the families I’ve worked with, oftentimes the 14 year old with their, they’re finally settling into a group of maybe new friends where they’re at. They’re not super excited about having to go Saturday to a thing, obligatory thing. So they raise a protest and they talk about, I went to the last three things and I can’t believe this, and you never let me do my own thing. And ever since we moved here, this is having to do a thing again. And, you know, nobody even cares if I’m there anyway. Right.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:15:46]:
Yeah. I could totally see that happening.

Con Sheehan [00:15:48]:
Right. And so then what happens for parent is, you know, parent might be responding to that in a way of like, oh, my gosh, the parent’s thinking, here we go again. I know these have been a lot of adjustments on the kid. I know they’ve been difficult, but we have to go to this thing. We have to go there. And I don’t want to get in a big debate right now. This sounds like such a pain in the butt. And so here’s the response to the kid. You know what? I know it’s tough, but this is the way it’s going to go. So suit up and let’s get out of here. We got to be at the thing. I’m not going to, you know, sit here and debate this thing and argue. I can’t believe this. This. Well, believe it, because we’re going, this is what’s right. So this big thing happens. And so then later there’s some kind of, like, retaliatory fallout from the kid, you know, for having complied with this or going to, you know, getting. And it starts to show up in some other way in the family, you know, or this turns into a big, protracted kind of, you know, argument situation. Or they go and they’re, it’s obvious they don’t want to be there. So they’re right, you know, so being there becomes more of a, more of a strain. Well, what are people responding to? What just happened there? What just happened right there? You know, the kids thinking perhaps, and I might be going a little far with this, Liz, but let me just

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:17:10]:

Con Sheehan [00:17:11]:
Speculate with this. So maybe if we’re, if we have a chance to talk to the kid about what was going on like we would in therapy, the kid’s saying something like, you know, like, I do, I have made all these moves. I have made all these sacrifices, and every time I start to do anything on my own, I feel like I’ve got to, like, jump through hoops for everybody else and the stuff that matter. I’m not getting to do what I want. I just want my own time, and I’m having to jump through hoops, and it gets so super hard for me. That’s the thing kind of driving this. Do you see me? Do you understand my autonomy? Do you know what matters most to me? Are you seeing the things that matter for me? That’s really the underlying thing. That’s hard to tune into for the parent because it’s not the spoken part. The spoken part is, I can’t believe this. It’s the protest and the fuss about having to go to this thing. Well, parents thinking, we got to get to this thing, and there’s so much going on, and maybe if it’s a non deployed military spouse and they’re having to organize this whole thing, it’s like I’ve had so much happening. There’s all this stuff going. This is all on me. I’m doing it all alone. I got to get to. I can’t have this one kid, 14 year old, interfering with the whole program. We got to get this thing going. It’s just too much stress. That’s. And they’re. And they’re thinking to themselves, like, I just can’t have these debates and can have these battles. I want everything to go well, but it’s not like I asked that much of them. And I just need him, you know, need him to see that I really need him at this thing, and I need this to all kind of go through well, that stuff that isn’t the stuff that gets talked about in the heat of the moment. What gets talked about in the heat of the moment is, I’m not going, I can’t believe this. This is a bunch of crap. And then the parental response might be, well, suit up. Let’s go. Like I mentioned before, right?

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:19:05]:

Con Sheehan [00:19:06]:
So in therapy, there’s an opportunity to start to see that, you know, maybe mom or dad get a little bit blocked to hearing that for the kid, they really do need to start to feel a little more trust from the parent that they’re trusted to make autonomous decisions about spending their time a certain way. And maybe the block to hearing that is there’s a fear and a worry that if they’re not showing up at events or doing the right things, it may be. It might be like a risk of career damage or losing some connection in the community. That’s important to them or something like that, like managing all these fears. Those things can start to sort of block a receptivity to these underlying needs. I need to be seeing. The kid is saying, I need to be seen as competent. I need to be seen as trustworthy by you as someone who can make his own agenda a little bit. And parent is saying, I want to hear this stuff for you. I just get so afraid that in this new environment, if we’re not doing these things and sort of getting with the program or whatever, there might be fallout. And it’s an awful lot for me to manage. It’s really difficult. So the therapist, when we get in, this is going to be making room for and actually, like, functioning in ways that elicit that underlying discussion, that make it explicit to bring it into the room. So people are hearing each other and we’re clearing up these blocks, you know, that might get in the way of the parents responsiveness. The parents, you know, good caregiving intent might get blocked at some of these times. And that’s a mild example. Yeah, yeah, go ahead, Liz.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:20:56]:
Well, yeah, I’m just taking it all in. I think I was. So dishes are a trigger for me in my relationship. We, and from my family of origin, this whole lot around dishes. So sometimes I’ve talked about dishes so many times on this podcast, but one of the things I’ve said in the past was, like, the fight about the dishes is never about the dishes. And this feels like that moment, like the fight about going to the thing or the ceremony isn’t really about the ceremony or going to the thing I’m hearing for the kid. It’s, do you trust me to be coming into my kind of like adulthood in. In this instance, my sense of competence and independence? And because they’re a kid, it’s not necessarily vocalized clearly, and the parent isn’t necessarily catching on to that. One, because it’s not vocalized clearly, but two, because they’re stressed out about trying to get to the ceremony or to the event. So then I’m just seeing how, I mean, you said it, but I’m just maybe repeating, like, the underlying parts don’t get seen or talked about, and then the tension grows.

Con Sheehan [00:22:21]:
Right. Right. We start, you know, it becomes about the dishes. Right. We’re talking about the dishes, and it’s not about the thing underneath what you just expressed. You know, I want to be trusted. What the therapist will do in making all that clear because, you know, let me preface that a little bit. The kid’s not going to just step into usually understanding all that about their own functioning and saying, oh, yeah, I just really want to have my autonomy and trust intact. Right? That’s not the typical, like, 14 year old. Yeah, yeah. Like, psychological reflective capacity. Right. Of a young teenager. But a skilled, emotionally focused family therapist will help get to that place and help them and be able to sort of ask the kind of questions and reflect what the kid’s experiencing in a way that allows them to kind of walk into that with the parent present. See, we’re circling back again right now. This is actually, to me, interesting. Imagine if I just had the kid. You referred me the kid and go, this guy’s acting out. The parents have to go to stuff. He’s always raising a fit. Da da da da da. Like, you need to see this kid and get him to get on board and get with the program. Yeah, you wouldn’t say that, but let’s say some therapist said that, or a parent put them in front of me. Well, you know, what am I gonna do? I mean, I can understand a lot about how they might be in distress or on those things. And I might say, well, you know, Johnny, you need to tell your mom that, you know, you need to feel trusted. Or worse. I could start to make some assumptions at the, you know, that would plant the seed for Johnny that mom was being overly controlling or distrusting, you know, and I just view that as disastrous, you know, to have a therapeutic intervention where you’re suggesting some sort of malfunctioning on the part of the parent, something judgmental, and you’re creating more of a family division this way. But instead, yeah, the power of having people together and being able to, you know, make it so that mom or dad could hear Johnny talk about how hard this gets to not feel from a really poignant place. A poignant place of, like, I need to be seen as a competent guy. I need to be seen as someone trustworthy. You know, we’re making all these moves. I’m trying to connect to a new friend, network. I really need to know that you guys see me, that you can kind of reflect back to me a picture of a kid that’s competent, a picture of a kid that other people can have trust in. I mean, think of that, right? Like, you know, to not feel like someone trustworthy when you’re coming into a new environment with new people, social handicap that would create if the people that mattered most to you hadn’t sort of reflected back, hey, bud, I know this is hard. There’s so much you do that’s so smart and so good. You take so much initiative on it, and I know this one’s difficult, and I really, really want you to go to this thing. And this isn’t about not trusting you or not caring for you in that way and not believing in you. It’s just, you know, your appearance that this is going to matter and then kind of going from there. Right.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:25:51]:

Con Sheehan [00:25:52]:
Tapping into that underlying sense of self in the. In the kid.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:25:59]:
Yeah. I mean, as you’re talking, I feel my body calming down. Like. Like just the. Like the conversation, like the contrast of the two conversations. The. I don’t want to go to this thing. Well, suit up. You got to go. Versus this sort of discussion around this is really hard for me. I really want you to see me as capable and trustworthy. The response of, yes, I. You are. I see how much you’re doing. It is really hard. Like, the validation of the kids feelings. Yes, yes. And even then, the disclosure from the parent of, like, I get it. And this one’s really important.

Con Sheehan [00:26:52]:

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:26:53]:
It has a different feeling to me. I just. I could feel myself feeling calmer.

Con Sheehan [00:26:58]:
Oh, wow. Yeah. I’m so glad you pointed. Pointed that out. They’re really, you know, that’s probably the most important way that they are different than those. Think of the content part. So for the folks listening to us, what we say is a lot less important. So this isn’t about tips or tricks or finding the right thing to say as it is to, like, you had sort of mentioned that kind of tuning in and letting somebody else know that their experience matters to you and maybe owning the idea that, you know, so for the parent, maybe owning the idea that you did get a little stuck in not hearing them. Right. So, for example, a repair around that. So let’s say that whole thing just did what it did. Johnny went to the thing, but he was super pissy about being there, and it was just miserable and. Right. And there was like hell to pay after the whole thing, the repair in. It might be that, you know, I, as parent, would approach him and say, look, you know, I know you took one for the team. And the thing that happened for me, that was so hard. I just get so worried about us in this community and us being together as a family, and it kind of, frankly, sort of scares me. I just get a little fearful of us, you know, not being together. And I think out of that worry about us not, you know, showing up or not being cohesive as a family, I. My response has probably got too. Too strong and too stringent. And I don’t want to be like that with you. I do trust you. I do. You know, I really do hear you on those levels. I know you make a lot of awfully smart decisions and I didn’t find the right way to let you know. I see that and still ask you to be with us. I always want you to know that I feel that about you. And I want you to be able to come to me. When you don’t feel confident in what you’re doing or you don’t necessarily trust where you’re at, I want you to know that I’m there to talk with you about that. Right?

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:29:07]:

Con Sheehan [00:29:08]:

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:29:09]:
I just really like it. I just feeling myself smile and like the calmness and. And I think my, my brain is, is hearing. Like there’s the validation of the kid.

Con Sheehan [00:29:26]:

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:29:27]:
And there’s also like an. Kind of like an owning of my own stress and how that plays a role in our conversations and also a sharing of what I really want our relationship to be like and helping the kid know that my reaction is not about my belief in them, but maybe about my stress level that day.

Con Sheehan [00:30:00]:
Beautifully said, Liz. Going just taking that a step further. I think one of the things it says and one of the things efft. Therapists would be really interested in promoting is the kid’s confidence in the fact that the parent was available. And I think when the parent does that kind of reflection you’re describing and can also talk about and work through places where they get blocked to being responsive for the kid. The kid experiences the parent accessible and available in ways that they didn’t before. And that’s really where, you know, that’s really where the gold is, that the kid feels that parental responsiveness. Because when we, you know, earlier when we began to talk, we talked about some of the difficulties in deployments, reintegration, communications with, you know, that difficulties between parents with the disruption of deployment, relocations, interrupted support systems that come from relocations, routines get thrown off. You mentioned the massive school that can occur from people that can be, if a kid doesn’t know that the person who’s safer, stronger, wiser, most important to them, that that caregiver is inaccessible. That stuff can get scary. And there has to be some compensation for coping with the fact that they don’t experience that caregiver as accessible or available. And then, you know, you and I and people that do this kind of work from an attachment stance, we talk about sort of two central ways of compensating for that not knowing and one is I just have to shut that down. And so. Okay, cool, I’ll go with my friends. And by the way, that’s kind of a. And I don’t want this to alarm anyone unnecessarily, but there’s a correlation with that in substance using. Right. Because if I have to pull away, quiet things down, draw into myself, well, it’s pretty convenient to take something that actually causes me or enhances my quieting down.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:32:20]:

Con Sheehan [00:32:21]:
And another way of responding to those might be that up the. Up the need to be seen, up the need to be cared for. So I might start to develop, you know, protests, non compliant kind of behaviors, disruptive behaviors that, that say to people like, look at me, I matter, I’m here, I don’t feel like you see me. Right. That can go. And you know, there can be, this is a very simple discussion, something that can get complex. But to sort of capsulize or summarize that little point, it’s that if we can experience the caregiver or parent as available with us tuned in, then we have the kind of security in knowing that when something feels difficult or stressful, we’ve got that person to go to and we got both people, if it’s a two parent household, to be able to turn to. Right.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:33:21]:
And that’s the resilience. Like if I tie that right back to the very beginning, the resilience for the child is knowing that I can come to you, that you are going to be there for me.

Con Sheehan [00:33:31]:
Absolutely. And this is where you have somebody that did eleven schools and still went on to set goals well, achieve things, develop a sense of competence, make decisions that worked out well, confidence in themselves, in relationship. I matter to people. People see me. I know how to relate to people. I’m valued, I’m trustworthy. I kind of take that sense of security into relationships I’m in. So if they start to feel a little rocky, I can have some confidence that I can probably get through this. This probably isn’t a reason to break up or avoid people.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:34:14]:
Yeah, yeah. I can see the lasting impact of being really intentional, of like creating that family atmosphere together.

Con Sheehan [00:34:26]:
Absolutely. Yeah. So, you know, I mean, a lot of it sounds like I’m imagining listening as a parent. Somebody here is like, oh my gosh, there’s all these places where I can totally screw this up. And look at the one time when I lost my temper and I probably, no, you don’t do it the one time and damage somebody. Right? I mean, things have an impact, but the whole idea here is. It’s about repair. Repair is sort of the curative thing. We recognize we were stuck, and now we’re getting unstuck. And I’m available to you. I care about you. You can turn to me. You can find me. When you’re in a difficult place. I’m here. And so if people are feeling distress around these things or anxiety around this, they need to know that there’s really good help out there. It doesn’t have to be a long process either. Most of the families I work with, I think for me it was seven sessions was the average the last year and a half.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:35:32]:
Oh, wow.

Con Sheehan [00:35:32]:
Really? A short time. Yeah, it’s a short piece of work.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:35:36]:
Yeah. I do want to maybe just caveat. Like, you are very well trained and experienced in emotionally focused family therapy. Like someone learning, like, you’re certified. I think you’re also, you’re a supervisor as well. You have years of experience. It might. I think someone who’s in training can still be really beneficial and helpful for a couple and a family. I just don’t want anyone to feel like they are. Like, if it takes longer, there could be so many factors that go into why it might take longer.

Con Sheehan [00:36:16]:
That’s a great point, Liz. Yeah, that’s a really, really good point. The way the work is structured, because the model is so efficient, like it is with couples as well, it’s really a relatively very efficient model of working. Once somebody’s trained and understands the model well and works in it well, it does. The work does go fairly quickly. But I’m glad you put that caveat in there for your listeners. If they’re working with somebody and takes longer, you know, that’s, that’s not a sign that things aren’t working. It’s. And, you know, often, too, I probably ought to have qualified this. Some of these folks I’m working with, we’ve only got a short period of time to work because people are, kids are headed off to school. I’ve only got them for a little bit of time. Very difficult logistically with a lot of the folks I’ve worked with because we might bring alternately located parent into a session via Zoom or telehealth. And so we’re trying to get all these things worked out where we’ve got the kids just getting out of school and mom’s in a different time zone on her deployment or something like that. We’re trying to figure everything out. So that’s probably something else that’s led to the. My need to feel to be very efficient yes.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:37:37]:

Con Sheehan [00:37:38]:

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:37:39]:
It does really focus things. Right? When you only have so much time.

Con Sheehan [00:37:44]:
It sure does.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:37:45]:

Con Sheehan [00:37:45]:
Yeah. Well, and the, you know, I think, too, there’s something for me when it’s working with the kid and you feel this kind of family distress. It’s interesting. I feel it with couples, too, but in a different way. I feel this sense of urgency because there’s this developmental window for the kids. For me, as therapist, I see this kind of window where I know a lot’s changing fast for kids. I know that things can start to get off track in a way that might have developmental implications as far as lifestyle choices and things. And so I think I carry my own sense of urgency. Hopefully, it’s not evident in the sessions. Hopefully I feel relaxed that way with people and don’t create anxiety for them. But I want to get things on track and get these folks talking again because there’s. And, you know, there’s so much good intent there on everybody’s part to feel connected and be there for one another. And I feel like, geez, guys, I just. I want to make this mom and dad. I want to make your, your great intent to let these guys know how much you love them and how much you’re there for them. I want that in the room, but we can’t just, like, pop that in the room when earlier in the day, it’s like, you know, knock it the hell off and get your stuff together and get in the car. We’re leaving right now. And then the kids pissed off, and it’s hard to go from there to like, but we love you so much.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:39:24]:
Yes. Yeah. While it’s true, it’s a rough transition.

Con Sheehan [00:39:29]:
Yes. It’s a rough transition. Right, right.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:39:32]:

Con Sheehan [00:39:33]:
There was an old thing around. Oh, my God. You see in, like, old movies or something where there was the, you know, parent was. It was like a corporal punishment kind of thing, you know? But then it’s like, I. I’m only doing this because I love you. Right?

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:39:47]:
Yeah, yeah.

Con Sheehan [00:39:48]:
I care for you that you’re getting a. Getting a walloping.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:39:53]:
Yeah, yeah. I’m totally following. And I am just thinking that I’m really loving this conversation. Um, I hope to do probably a lot more parenting related things from this lens in the future just because it’s probably needed for all families, but especially military families. And I’m just thinking if we were going to try to summarize all of this into one or two key things to take from this episode, maybe you can help me condense. These are the two things or whatever to really be taking away.

Con Sheehan [00:40:41]:
As a listener, you know, we have a kid in the military, and I’ve shared that with you, so that this is somewhat experienced near this whole thing. And, like, although circumstances are different because we’ve been talking about the parent serving in our examples, we’ve been using both. When I think about it, a couple of the takeaways are one that parents are a little bit gentle with themselves through this and a little bit self compassionate, knowing that these are some really unique stressors. Again, when there’s a deployed parent, you have one parent taking on child rearing, household bill paying so much that they’re taking on in what can feel like a kind of alone way. So to know that some of the time, they might start to over or under function, we use those terms and just to really, really quickly kind of let your listeners know what I mean when I say over under function. So when I think of over functioning, it might be to, like, step in and, um, you know, do some of the problem solving on behalf of a kid that would. It would have been beneficial for the kid to do for themselves or to kind of prevent struggles that might be necessary to kind of developing, you know, some of the decision making. A parent might kind of over function and jump in and do this stuff just for the sake of efficiency and everything. Right. So when that happens or when. When under functioning happens, we’re just like, all too much and I can’t hear anymore, and I’m just. I’m so cooked and I just can’t. And it almost turns into sort of a dismissiveness. Right? You just, like, overloaded and can’t have any more, and you’re. And there’s not enough attentiveness to be a little gentle and know that that can happen. And that’s not a sign of being a bad parent or bad person. So I think that’s one piece. And then I think the other piece is to know that, you know, there’s really good, loving, caregiving intent on the part of parents that gets blocked for a number of different reasons. And to know that the good intent is often blocked by fear. And the fear is that I’m not finding the right ways to make things work out optimally for this kid under these circumstances, because we’re in unusual circumstances. And that scares me. And that scares me. And so when people can be gentle with themselves and realize some of the time that fear can be a block to being an accessible, available parent, it might be a little easier to kind of organize their response to things and think about it. And, of course, to get help around this stuff. Right. To reach out and, you know, get a little bit of help. So I hope that’s helpful to people. Liz, did that make sense to you, the way I talked about it?

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:43:50]:
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And I was thinking they could reach out to you for help con.

Con Sheehan [00:43:56]:
So they’d have to be in Nevada.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:44:00]:

Con Sheehan [00:44:01]:
I’m only licensed in Nevada, but. Oh, that’s kind of you to mention. We have, you know, they could do that, and I could certainly get them headed in the direction of somebody who has multiple locations, like you do, or some of our colleagues that have good e. F. F. T. Emotionally focused family therapy training that are located in other parts of the world. They can go to the International center for Excellence in Emotionally focused therapy, iceeft; And on that website, there’s a therapist finder function. And they can find therapists that have training in this family modality. But I’m more than happy to hear from folks and help point them in the right direction. Our office is so.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:44:55]:
Yeah, yeah. And I’m thinking there are actually quite a few military bases in Nevada.

Con Sheehan [00:45:04]:

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:45:05]:
But they’re kind of the. There are, like many small ones, and I have heard from a lot of the military couples that I know. Like, where can we find somebody? So if somebody is in Nevada and wants to work with you, how would they like. What’s your website? How could they get started?

Con Sheehan [00:45:24]:
Sure. So, yeah, let me just direct you to the website. It’s probably the best way to go. So on the web, it’s the easiest way. Is my first initial c and then last name, she’s c s h e e h a n. Junior. That’s. I chose that domain name years and years ago because it my name and it stuck. And now there’s been all kinds of iterations, but we’re emotional and relationship health associates in Reno, and we’re at 775-235-2205 in Reno. So if anyone looked up my name, Con or Cornelias Sheehan or the cc or emotional, relationship health or emotionally focused family therapist in Nevada.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:46:15]:

Con Sheehan [00:46:16]:
Somewhere in there, Google wise, you’re gonna get pointed to me.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:46:19]:
Okay, great. Yeah. I’ll include the direct links in the show notes in case anyone wants to work with Con or wants to have the directory if they’re in a different state or international, to find a. Efft. Family therapist. And Con, thank you so much for being on this podcast. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Con Sheehan [00:46:42]:
I have as well. It was such a it was a pleasure and a real privilege to be with you and also to know that we’re reaching the people that you speak to through this podcast. It just warms my heart to be with them.

Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky [00:47:08]:
As part of this special series on attachment in relationships, I created the ARE quiz. ​ This quiz uses the brief accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement scale, which I used in my own dissertation research and I use with each couple when I start working with them in couples counseling. This quiz helps you and your partner know how secure your relationship is, the level of distress you’re in, when you should be considering marriage counseling, and what sort of behaviors you both can work on to help promote the security of your attachment bond. Make sure to check out the show notes to download a copy of the quiz. While I am a therapist, this podcast is for educational purposes only and is not considered therapy, and it should also not be a replacement for therapy. If you think you need a professional of any kind, you should definitely of go find one. Until next time.


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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