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Book Summary: Fierce Intimacy by Terry Real

by | Jan 6, 2022

This is a book I often recommend to others.  These are my personal notes from the book.  My notes are not all direct quotes, but also paraphrases and added commentary from me.  A * designates a note-worthy point.  As always, reading the book for yourself is suggested.  

One

Functional adult versus adaptive child

Choose to do something different, choose to use your functional adult brain rather than your child brain. 

If you stay in your child brain, you will not want to use new tools or learn a new way.

Fight flight or fix

Whoosh—> your triggered reaction

* You will experience that whoosh forever, for the rest of your life, because your adaptive child doesn’t ever go away no matter how much therapy or how much healing you have.  

The adaptive child doesn’t want to be intimate, they want to be protected.

To do— Stop doing the same old childish thing, Learn to manage the whoosh

* True freedom is freedom from our own automatic responses.

Controlling mother—> learned to lie to adapt

I learned to withhold information out of fear of reaction which then turned to guilt and shame.

Self-esteem— Think of yourself warmly, hold yourself in positive regard, or be compassionate with yourself, despite flaws. I’m enough and I matter. 

Stand up to your inner critic.

Stop the harsh voice but don’t meet harshness with harshness.  Use loving firmness. 

Actively use warmth and love.  

* Most people live most of their life out of their adult adaptive child thinking it’s their mature adult brain.

Performance-based esteem: I have worth based on what I do. Everything can be a performance. Men are more susceptible to this. It’s fragile, think of the fragile male ego. There’s always someone better lined up. Becomes workaholism.

Attribute-based esteem: I have worth based on what I have. cars, muscles, trophy wife, Ivy League college. This becomes greed.

Others based esteem: I have worth because other people think I do. I supplement my lack of self-regard with what you regard. More susceptible for women. Codependency. Becomes love addiction. 

Health/center – same as, not inferior, not superior. 

One down/less than is shame 

One up/better than is grandiosity 

Both are forms of contempt, either directed at others or directed at yourself.

Contempt is the root of all psychological violence.

It is disconnecting and it isn’t necessary.

To do— Shut up and take a breath, don’t speak until any contempt is completely gone.

Use boundaries and tell those you love that you will not dish out contempt or take in contempt.

It’s a terrible feeling when you come down from grandiosity, but it feels good to come up from shame.

Being one up or one down isn’t your fault, trauma/abuse creates this.

Two forms of abuse: disempowering abuse (shame) and false empowerment (grandiosity) 

* Three healthy aspects of parenting: nurture, guidance, and limits 

Shame/depression is one down, inner critic, self-contempt position 

Self-esteem is an active practice, it’s not something you have but do. 

As you go up/down from center: Notice what triggered you, what the thought is, feeling, and physical sensations are 

* Grandiosity feels good, it feels good to go off on someone or reach for that second martini/cake, to flirt with that secretary, and ride on someone’s ass. Intoxication are portals from grandiosity. Remember your commitment to living in health/center, not one up or down. 

Don’t come down for their sake, they may deserve it, do it for your sake! Say no thank you to contempt for yourself. 

Two 

Physical (space, things, self) and internal boundaries 

No one wants to be controlled, demanded, or pressured to do something. 

Sexual coercion/pressure is when you pout or make a stink, punish or get a temper when you don’t get your sexual needs met. Feel rejected.

It is not an inalienable right to have your sexual needs met by your spouse.

Don’t give in to sexual coercion. 

* The best strategy to extinguish a woman’s sexual desire is to demand it. 

Controlling/containing yourself is reining yourself in. It’s your own boundary.  Inside boundary. 

Outside boundary is what others throw at you. Incoming stuff from others/world. 

Ask yourself – is it true? If it’s true, take it in. If not, don’t. Do u care about the person? If so, take in, if not, don’t. 

Boundaries vs walls 

Boundary work is internal, it doesn’t require communication to another person. 

Too much/too little boundaries 

Walled off vs too porous, boundaryless

Walls of anger, silence, words, tv clicker, preoccupation 

Walled in vs walled off 

Boundaryless- unprotected 

In health- connected and protected (healthy boundaries)

“OK thanks for letting me know, I’ll think about it.”

You can actually hear the ping of your boundaries as you start to use them. It won’t be easy at first and you won’t be good at it at first.

You can still listen while using your boundaries. 

Times to use a wall instead of a boundary: verbal abuse, rude strangers (use a wall of pleasant)

Don’t keep the walls up or it becomes passive aggressiveness or retaliation.

An emotional bomb could go off and your boundary will still keep protecting you. You can keep your calm and peace in the midst of chaos. Your boundary will protect you.

The grid of relationship health (Ask me for pdf of grid or go to terryreal.com and take the grid quiz)

Use the two continuum’s to create a grid- esteem and boundaries 

4 quadrants – each has their own set of unique characteristics

BR:(bottom right quadrant) desperation, Marilyn Monroe, manipulative, poor self esteem, love me/ I’ll do anything, dependency, love too much 

TR: (top right quadrant) use of control and anger, when demands don’t work you retaliate, abusers, violence, do what I say or else

BL: (bottom left quadrant) withdrawn, depressed, resigned, Eeyore

TL: (top left quadrant) disengaged, you’re not worthy of me, no one is good enough, you don’t deserve me, indifferent, passive-aggressive, spirit of meanness, snob, elitism, racism lives here 

Where do you go when you’re triggered/hurt?

Description is prescription. Knowing where you go in the grid, allows you to see which way you need to move.

Boundaryless people are dependent. You are the temperature of wherever you are, whoever you’re with. Overtly or covertly you are controlling. 

You have to change the stimulus to feel better. Anxious. Become this way by being emotionally abandoned/neglected, by having walled off parents. Become needy. Become others based esteem. Connected but not protected. 

Walled off people are love avoidant. Mistrust of intimacy and trust. Disengaged. Protected but not connected. 

Remember your abundance. It’s all around you and in you. 

You can predict the choreography depending on the 2 quadrants you and your partner go to. 

Pursuer- distancer cycles

The more _ the more _. 

Negative cycle 

Stormy couple 

Mean relationship, banging at the wall 

The blame is on the pattern, not the people. 

Change your knee-jerk reactions.

Change your stance. 

Get out of your adaptive child.

Three 

Losing strategies 

All relationships have harmony (closeness) disharmony (disruption) and repair. 

This is the natural rhythm of all relationships. 

Disharmony is rarely discussed and out in the open in society. No one tells you how raw it is or that we all experience it. You feel alone and betrayed. 

That’s not a bad marriage, thats a normal marriage. 

Normal marital hatred. 

Repair- knowing love. Choose to love them anyway. Good outweighs the bad. 

Should I stay? 

* Relational reckoning tool: Am I getting enough in this relationship to offset the pain that I’m also experiencing? 

We long for perfection. 

* But relationships are the collision of two imperfections.

We are triggered —> disharmony and our adaptive child takes over to protect us.

5 Losing Strategies

  1. Being right 

Solving an issue by figuring out who was right, who remembered it correctly

Doesn’t work!

Objective reality has no place in personal relationships.

How can we solve this in a way that both of us will agree with?

Self-righteous indignation – you’re wrong, shaming 

  1. Controlling your partner 

Shoulding your partner

Direct and indirect control

Get out of traditional gender roles.

Men don’t trust women because they feel managed, manipulated or controlled by them.

Bully/relent dance 

Control is an illusion.

  1. Unbridled self-expression

Bringing up everything but the kitchen sink. 

You always, you never…

Barf-bag approach to intimacy.

Present one specific current issue at a time instead. 

Don’t trend talk.

Don’t use character assassination. 

You don’t express every frustration and annoyance at your child, don’t do it to your partner  either. 

Excessive sharing isn’t great either – use containing boundaries.

  1. Retaliation 

Revenge, getting even 

Offending from the victim position 

* No shame or guilt in your actions because you put yourself in the victim position and they deserved it or did it to you.

Cycle of violence 

Being a perpetrator while playing the victim.

Every offender/perpetrator puts themselves in the victim position. 

Punitive measures will not cause accountability. 

Direct (rage, aggression) and direct (passive-aggressive, withholding) forms of retaliation.

  1. Withdrawal 

Refusing to engage. Stonewalling. 

We are not going to talk about that.

* Giving up is not moving into acceptance.

If you are feeling resentful, move back into engagement.  Have a conversation. 

Use responsible distance taking.

What’s your LSP? (Losing strategy profile)

What’s your partner’s?

* The more I _ the more my partner _. Fill in blanks with each of your losing strategies. 

The adaptive child is a child in adult clothing.

The bigger the intrusion and childhood, the bigger the walls built.

The adaptive part of you comes from family, peers, other adults, TV etc.

Adaptive child: black and white, doesn’t want intimacy but protection, perfectionistic, relentless, rigid, harsh, hard, certain, right.

Mature Adult: grey, can pause, realistic, forgiving, flexibility, warm,  supple, yielding, humble, relaxed.

Some people think perfectionism is actually a good thing but it’s actually an adaptive child part of us, immature. 

* There is no redeeming value in harshness. Loving firmness is always better.

Write a letter to your adaptive child. Dear little ___ (your name),

1 Thank you. For what you did for me. 

2 These are the things you’ve given to me. Think of the pros in your go to quadrant.

3 These are the things you cost me. Intimacy, vulnerability, connection, conflict etc.

4 I’m here now. The functional adult. I’m in charge now. You can let go. 

Four 

Core negative image CNI 

How you view your partner in the most negative way, it’s very consistent, (similar to NSO- Gottman)

CNI triggers—> that’s the lens to which you talk to them—> partners CNI triggered —> reinforces own CNI, reinforces your partners (and around and round you go)

CNI is controlling the fight now. 

Exaggerated version of you at your worst .

Grain of truth 

* Accept that grain of truth rather than push it against it.

CNI exercise with your partner (only in a healthy mental state) 

Write your partners CNI on paper. 

Use 3-5 adjectives 

Write your partners best guess of your own CNI 

Give each other your CNIs. 

This is a compass. 

Operating instructions. 

Have to be grown up to use it. 

* Acknowledge your CNI (yeah, that’s me)

What are three times you acted in your CNI and what are three ways you could act to bust your CNI?

Five Winning Strategies: (Read his New Rules of Marriage book for more on this)

Shift from complaint to request

Speak to repair with love and respect

Listen with compassion

Empower each other

Cherish one another

Three phases to get what you want: 

1 dare to rock the boat/assertive as/use your voice, be willing to risk doing it, do it lovingly

2 Help your partner win/succeed, be proactive, make it specific and tangible, ask for what you want, don’t be passive, Break it down, do it lovingly, lay down your sword and shield, be appreciative

3 Make it worth their while, “give biscuits not boots,” reward, encourage , positive feedback, celebrate the glass 15% full/small changes, water it- don’t stomp it, this is what we do with our children but not our partners.

Don’t use disqualification moves: it’s too little too late, that doesn’t count, that wasn’t what I asked for, discouraging

Speaking to your partner with love

Remember you love this person.

Ask yourself if you are in your adaptive child or mature adult.

Remember that the reason you’re speaking to this person is to make things better.

Don’t talk until you are in your mature adult brain.

Wait: why am I talking? To repair or to fight?

Speak up for yourself with love.

* “First, I just want to tell you that I love you. However this is not OK.”

This is loving firmness.

Practice and learn how to do this.

Move from complaint to request.

I don’t like how you’re talking to me versus this is how I would like to be talked to. Can you please lower your voice?

* Negative past focus versus positive future focus

Give an invitation to what they can do.

* You don’t have the right to be angry at something that you never asked for.

Requesting is vulnerable.

Don’t tell them what they did wrong, tell them how they can make it better/do it better.

Use the pronoun I.

Be respectful and put yourself in a state of healthy esteem. Hold your partner in a state of healthy esteem. 

* Don’t let a great message get lost in a lousy delivery.

Realize your request may not be delivered.

  • You won’t get all of what you want just like you won’t get none of what you want.
  • Negotiation: Invitation (do you want to?) , Request (can you?), or Demand (you better _.)

No is distance taking so also state your reasons why so it’s not disconnecting. 

Invitations are easiest to say no to. 

Make invitations inviting if you want a yes. 

Requests are favors. 

Say no responsibly. 

It’s ok to feel disappointed or need to grieve. 

Demands are threats (you better) or for boundaries. 

Demands are for ultimatums or emergencies only. 

* Relationships are full of micro disappointments. Get over them. Accept them.

* Disappointments don’t have to be problems.

Speak up and let go. 

* Remember all the good that you’re getting and grieve the things that you aren’t.

* Don’t walk around like a resentful victim. 

You both can’t be crazy at the same time. 

Meeting immoderatecy with moderatecy. 

Stay in your adult brain even when partner is in child brain. 

Take a break when needed. Let go. You can’t get what you want in that moment. 

Celebrate when you do this.

When you complain, remember to repair. 

Remember you love the person. 

Feedback wheel– how to complain. 

First, before using wheel 

1 Get your self centered, remember love. You’re wanting harmony and repair 

2 ask request is this is a good time to talk?

Appreciate the yes. Don’t just dump. 

Contracts are healthy. Agreements.  To protect u. 

Ask before you launch. 

4 Part Wheel:

1 this is what happened — what would have been recorded on camera, behaviors, simple and observable, 2 sentences 

2 this is what I told myself about it — what you said to yourself about it, thoughts, 2 sentences 

3 this is how I feel about it — feelings only, 2 sentences, 7 primary feelings (joy pain anger fear shame guilt love), skip over the first feeling that comes to you (whoosh)- move into the more vulnerable/core/underneath feelings then communicate the reactive ones 

4 this is what you can do about it —2 sentences, what you’d like, you do this with children/ parenting, stay in present, what you’d like now, specific and behavioral 

Last:

1 let go 

* Sometime you’ll get what you want and sometimes you won’t 

Celebrate that you spoke up lovingly 

Five 

* Yeah but, yeah and you, tit for tat isn’t listening. 

Don’t rebut, not even internally, it’s not listening. 

Take turns. 

2 monologues isn’t a  conversation. 

As you listen, Put yourself and objective reality aside. 

* No one thinks they are being irrational.  

Everyone makes sense to themselves. 

Moving back to harmony helps you. You should want to repair. 

Enlightened self interest. It’s of interest to you to move back into harmony with your partner. 

* When your partner comes to you upset, you are on a one-way street. The only thing that matters is repairing what your partner says hurts. It’s not the time to bring up that you’re hurt, too. Tend to them and their needs in that moment. 

“Ok what I hear you saying is __. Is that right?”

“I don’t understand, can you help me to understand?” Get curious.

“I didn’t look at it that way but I can see how you could have.”

Points of contention become points of curiosity.

Responding with generosity

* Lead with agreement and what you are willing to do, not what you don’t agree with or won’t do. 

Lead with agreement not argument. This is checking your ego.

Acknowledge whatever you can, don’t get defensive.

Usual escalation: 

Current offense –> past offenses –> trend/you always/you never to character/you’re just a _.

A great apology:

(same escalation sequence)

* I did it –> yes I typically do it –> I can be a _. (address current situation, past offenses, character)

Acknowledge what you can. 

Respond like a grown up. 

Yield. This isn’t submissive. 

Don’t think patriarchal. 

Men aren’t taught intimacy. 

Meet aggression with vulnerability. 

* Don’t say “I’ll try.” Do or don’t. 

Final step— What can I do to help you follow through? 

Remind? Encourage? Share? 

Relational empowerment- how can I help u come through for me? 

Personal empowerment is too focused on individualism, “I was weak, now I’m strong, so screw you.”

Cherishing 

Appreciate what you’re already getting.

* Attend to what is going well.

Being happy or close can actually be triggering for some people from toxic childhood.

Stable ambiguity 

Not feeling comfortable in a relationship but not wanting to leave it either (push pull) (disorganized attachment).

Can’t tolerate pain of being alone but also can’t tolerate real intimacy. 

Can’t be close or apart. 

Leads to these relationship types: Long distance, adulteress/infidelity, or fighting relationships

Complaining about what you’re not getting vs accepting what you are getting 

* Don’t disqualify everything your partner tries to do. 

Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die. 

Dealing with resentment is like coming down from grandiosity. It’s hard and not fun.

Example—

“Husband is an ex-dick.”

He was a recovering narcissist. 

She couldn’t get out of resentment.

He changed his stance and she didn’t. 

She was stuck in the stance. 

To her- “Who was the resentful one in your family of origin?”

Her mother was and she remembers being a child and being desperate for comfort and knowing her mother would not be able to do that for her.

Now you are in the family business of resentment.

They were spiritually connected through their resentment. 

She has to let go of that spiritual connection with her mother to embrace and connect with her husband.

* Some have to dare to be more connected, more vulnerable, and more close than our family origins were. Transform the legacy. Be an immigrant as you leave the old behind.

Who am I to be happier than my mom or dad was?

ADD (appreciation deficiency disorder)

Cherish yourself. Value your own wants and needs. Combat your inner critic. 

Cherish your partner. Remember why you love them and express it.

Cherish your relationship. Date night. No one but you two. 

We live in a child-centered culture. Show your kids a good relationship. 

Work on having a safe space to be intimate. Take the time to cherish the bond.

Cherish relationality itself. Take it seriously. Believe the importance of connection and relationships. 

Find things to do to cherish your partner, google it, it only takes a few min

Be thoughtful and generous.

Culture rewards the adaptive child part of us. 

Power couple in our culture: secret shame/outward driven man, secret resentful/outward compliant woman.

Ask your friends for relational empowerment support not personal empowerment support.

Six

Ask yourself a question, and give yourself an answer.

Don’t use skills/therapy to bash your partner over the head. 

It may be helpful to focus on 1-2 skills at a time. 

* Be transparent and tell your partner what you’re working on.

Keep a journal. 

Try something for 7 days. 

* Do the work. Start doing it poorly now, and over time, you will do it well. 

Children learn what they live. 

Your change and growth will help the next generation. Do it for them.

Help kids step out of cultural patriarchal roles. 

It’s not about feminizing men or maculating women. 

Embrace that boys can be big-hearted and strong. Girls can be tough and tender. 

Keep relational bar high for boys. Don’t lower standards for your boys.

Boys don’t have to “separate” from their mother. Just renegotiated. 

Olga Silverstein- “Courage to raise good men” book

Forces of patriarchy is alive and well outside of the home

Boys learn patriarchy by 4-5 years old- to act tough, suppress feelings, comply to stereotypes, etc

Equip your children to deal with unrelational norms.

Deal with preconditions before couples work: 

1 untreated psych disorders including depression/anxiety/adhd 

2 self medicating including addictions- sex, spending, gambling, work, alcohol, drugs, porn etc 

* Misery stabilizers– what you turn to for comfort other than your partner/intimacy including screens, another person, food. These build walls even if it’s not a problem or addiction.

3 acting out- aggressive or sexual. You have a right to be physically safe in your relationship. Develop a safety plan and do not do couples therapy. functional, dysfunctional, abusive behaviors (name calling, yelling, demanding, telling someone what they’re thinking or what they should do, shaming, extreme sarcasm, breaking contracts for no good reason, lying). 

Patricia Evans- “Verbally abusive relationships” book

Most people who truly can’t control themselves are institutionalized. You can control yourself from raging at a cop. You can stop screaming at your partner if the doorbell suddenly rings. 

Infidelity– you’ve broken the rules and lied/kept secrets. 

If you lie, you take away the tools of repair. 

Love avoiders are more likely to use secrets and lies. You’ve learned to lie to evade control of parent, to protect your autonomy. You use lies to create wall between you and your partner. 

Living a secret life and managing your partner is stressful. 

Infidelity throws a couple into crisis, but the first step in transformation often is crisis. 

2 phases to get over infidelity:

– acute and transformational

Acute- hurt person is traumatized, empathize and support, normalize, not in right mind. Hurt partner needs to be cared for. Hurting partner needs to show remorse. You don’t have to regret it, but you do need to show remorse for what it did to the hurt partner. 

Transformational- why it happened, healthy people say no to affairs because they don’t want to hurt their partner, their reputation, their integrity. If they don’t say no, there’s a level of entitlement. Hurt partner- How could you do this to me? How do I know you won’t do it again?

Trust isn’t an off/on switch. 

Trust returns when you feel it in your gut.

10 commandments for a time out– (can find all 10 on terryreal.com)

you take a timeout, not tell your partner to take one

give an explanation and a promise for return

give the issue a 24 hr break 

use the distance responsibly

About Kristi | View Profile
Kristi Schwegman is a psychotherapist specializing in helping couples develop healthy relationships, whether dating, engaged, or married. She also draws from her Christian-based approach to lead individuals in becoming aware of the limiting beliefs that can get them stuck.
We offer in-person and virtual services - contact us today to learn more!

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