prof. Metka Kuhar, PhD
neuroaffective relational model

NeuroAffective Relational Model 

Nevroafektivni relacijski model 1NARM is an integrated psychodynamic, body-centred approach for treating the consequences of developmental trauma and relational issues. It was developed by Laurence Heller, PhD, who based the model on the theory of object relations and attachment styles, somatic psychotherapy models such as Somatic Experiencing, as well as psychodynamic approaches to personality structures (Reich, Lowen etc.). This approach allows simultaneous addressing of identity and relational issues, as well as imbalances in the nervous system and the body in general.

It focuses on the early, unconscious patterns, the so-called survival styles, which strongly determine our identity, affect, behaviour, physiology and relations. Survival styles are cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioural patterns of response, which we develop during childhood and adolescence in reaction to situations where our core needs were not met. Whilst growing up, all of us had to more or less break the connection with important parts of ourselves in order to preserve the connection with our custodians. Each of us found ways to deal with the absence or lack of attunement and mirroring by our custodians, with their inability for or weak capacity for empathy, with the insecure attachment or traumatic experiences – in short, with the early relations which were less than secure, loving, protective, consistent and playful.

In individual developmental periods, different needs came to the fore, which were more or less satisfied:

  • connection and a sense of belonging to the world;
  • being in tune with our physical and emotional needs and the ability to fulfil those needs;
  • trusting ourselves and others, healthy dependence and interdependence;
  • autonomy, the ability to set limits (own boundaries) and to express ourselves without fear or guilt;
  • the capacity to integrate love, sexuality, and self-esteem, irrespective of our appearance and performance.

Nevroafektivni relacijski model 2Satisfying those needs is necessary for having a good self-image and establishing healthy relationships with others. Many physical and emotional symptoms, as well as relational difficulties originate in the basic needs that remained unsatisfied early on in our lives. In the past, survival styles had helped us survive difficult circumstances, but they have lost their functionality in later life. Nevertheless, they still affect how we experience and act in the world, as they may create different symptoms and increase the distance between us and others.

This method supports strengthening healthy and functional parts to gradually increase the capacity for self-regulation and quality interpersonal contact and relations. Somatic mindfulness and awareness of survival styles help us to work with the life story or issues by applying a perspective, which is deeper and broader than the narrative itself. We monitor the processes of connection/disconnection and regulation/dysregulation in the here and now. Anchoring awareness in the present moment helps us to become aware of the cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioural patterns (e.g. toxic shame or guilt, chronic self-criticism, excessively high demands towards oneself etc.) which originate in the past. Such awareness helps us feel less like victims of our personal history. The emphasis on personal strengths and resources additionally supports the building or strengthening the feeling of empowerment and easier dealing with everyday issues.

This approach effectively supports spontaneous moving (which is in all of us) towards connectedness, safe attachment, health and vitality. In the words of Laurence Heller: “No matter how withdrawn and isolated we have become, or how serious the trauma we have experienced, on the deepest level, just as a plant spontaneously moves towards sunlight, there is in each of us an impulse moving towards connection and healing.”

Literature and sources:

Laurence Heller & Aline LaPierre (2012) Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship, North Atlantic Books.

Aline LaPierre & Laurence Heller (2012) Working with the Capacity for Connection in Healing Developmental Trauma – strokovni članek (na podlagi knjige Healing Developmental Trauma).

NARM, Laurence Heller Ph. D.

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