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.
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.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.