Why I’m Sticking with the Kid
I have discussed the pervasive nature of Developmental Trauma in earlier posts. Because we learn how to be partners from our parent’s example, there are just far too many ways for trauma to force us to “exile” the fractured, traumatized part of ourselves.
As your couples therapist, when you discuss the trauma of your past, I’m “sticking with the kid” to find out how he/she is showing up in your marriage, and what we can learn about your unresolved family-of-origin issues. Our parent’s marriage, and the lessons we learned cast a long shadow into our future. But how they behaved as parents also impact our self-image, and how we engage with our future spouse.
Richard Schwartz, the theorist behind a therapy model called Internal Family Systems. says there are 3 essential patterns of exile in Developmental Trauma. Think of it has 3 different suits of really bad parental hands you might have been dealt.
Schwartz posits that we all have “exiles” who hold on to our most painful attachment injuries. He tells us that it’s possible to learn to speak for the exiled part of ourselves, and not from the exiled part.
Your Natural Innocent State and Essential Vulnerability Taxed Your Parents/Caregivers (Exile feels rejected and Unlovable, Impacts Mostly Boys).
This will happen if either of your parents suffered from:
- Severe depression, or were in such regular conflict with each other that you became “parentified” and had to take care of them.
- Your parents were so neglectful that you had to raise yourself, perhaps while also taking care of your siblings.
- Treated you like a stand-in-spouse, or lived vicariously through your achievements.
- Told you that you were had to “toughen-up” to have a good life.
- Used verbal abuse or physical abuse because they despised their own neediness.
Your Natural Vitality Disturbed Your Parents/Caregivers (Exile Feels Rejected and Unlovable, Impacts Mostly Girls).
This happens if either of your parents:
- Were religiously inclined to dampen your lust for life.
- Became enmeshed with you and refused to allow you to develop as a healthy independent adult.
- If either of your parents were survivors of childhood sexual abuse, they might find any inkling of sexual or aggressive feeling emanating from you as threatening.
- Were so violent or sexually inappropriate that it caused you to fear even your own aggression and sexuality.
- Were abusive to you when you were a bit too “lively” for their baseline.
Your Vulnerable Parts Became So Hurt That They Disturbed Other People As Well As Yourself. (Exile Feels rejected and Unlovable While Circumstances add Insult to Injury. The Exile feels Self-Loathing, as Well As Loathing From others. This Pattern Impacts Both Boys and Girls).
This may happen when you get dealt one of the following extremely bad parental hands:
- You were the King-Baby… but then your brother was born, and overnight your status plunged. You pouted and protested, tantrum-ed and acted out. And you were punished, ever-after becoming the lifelong “problem child.”
- Your Uncle Elmo has been molested you, so you acted out with another child at school and was severely punished.
- Your father ignored you until puberty, then creepily began to demonstrate inappropriate affection all during your teen years. Or worse.
- Preyed upon by a bully at school, you leave the house each morning with your developing brain marinated in fear and dread.
- The sudden death of a parent or caregiver paralyzes you with grief, and you lock it away so you can function.
How Exiles Roll
I’m sticking with the kid because I’ve got to figure out in couples therapy exactly where he/she is hiding.
We think we are banishing the exile because the pain they carry for us is too great. But “exiling” your hurting part is a futile strategy.
If you arouse your sleeping exile with a current life crisis, if you deny them a voice, you might risk allowing them to pull you into an ancient despair. Listen to them. Love them. Speak for them…but not from them.
We need to find, heal, and ultimately learn to parent our exiles. We need to provide for them that which was not provided for ourselves. It is the highest form of self-compassion and an essential part of your couples therapy.