Who is your inner child and what mischief might they be creating between you and your partner or spouse?
Our inner child is a part of our psyche that is embodied deep within us. It holds our childhood memories and experiences, as well as our personal beliefs and the template for how we should behave, and react in any situation.
This template was designed by our immature mind as a way to keep us safe and to get our needs met. Notice I said ‘immature’…it may well be that this doesn’t best serve our needs now that we’re an adult.
Our wounded inner child – whether from childhood trauma or neglect – tries hard to get our needs for love, care and attention met. It can cause us to manipulate people and situations to our own advantage, perhaps by becoming overly dependent upon someone else to meet our needs – as if they were our idealised parent.
Alternatively if we have given up on our efforts to get our needs for love met by someone else we might then become emotionally cut off and overly self-reliant and super-independent. All of which keep us disconnected from mature love – the very love that could heal our early wounds.
How Do Our Inner Child’s Wounds Show Themselves?
In a nutshell.. by our being ‘too much’ in our relationship.
We show too much:-
* Suspicion, doubt, insecurity, jealousy and fear of rejection and abandonment
* Attacking our partner verbally, and perhaps physically, from our wounded place without really knowing why we do it or being able to stop ourselves
* Anger and resentment when our needs aren’t met by our partner; and of setting up arguments with them to create distance
* Expectation of our partner’s ability to mind read and be able to guess what we need without our having to ask for it
* Repeated squabbling about the same issues – because the underlying reason from the past hasn’t been exposed and cleared up
* Need to be ‘in the right’ and take the higher ground – ignoring or devaluing our partner’s perspective and reasons
* Testing our partner’s loyalty – with games, manipulations and emotional blackmail
* Playing the caretaker, victim or martyr and setting up a power imbalance in the relationship
* Blaming, shaming and criticising – becoming a bully and making our partner the victim
* Regressive childlike behaviour and faked incompetence…’I can’t do it…you have to do it for me’
* Overwhelm, panic and distress at things that other adults in relationship seem able to easily cope with, such as changes to plans, partner’s unavailability due to work etc.
* Expecting to get our own way most, if not all, of the time – and that our partner can and will ‘fix’ everything for us
* Impatience, drama, tantrum throwing and sulking – all designed (sub-consciously) to get our demands met
* Sending out mixed messages, creating confusion and distorting what’s been said
* Fake happiness and wearing a mask of compliance
* Neglecting our own feelings and needs and putting our partner on a pedestal – and making their needs more important than our own
* Secret-keeping and evasiveness – the inner child is hiding away or playing games to elicit curiosity and concern from their partner
* Obsession with being in a relationship – as if their identity, or even their life, depended upon it
* Resentment of the partner’s other interests, hobbies, friends or family members who take up their time
* Pressure to have sex – as if this were ‘proof’ of love. Sex is used as a substitute for love and intimate affection
* Emotional distance – re-creating inner loneliness. Creating a partnership of convenience and friendship with little or no depth or personal sharing
* Over-spending and maybe getting into debt; gambling or other dependencies or addictions – which are used as a way to temporarily feel better, but which damage the foundations of the relationship
You may have identified with some of these yourself, and there may be others that you’ve experienced from a partner/spouse. It’s all a matter of degree and how much the relationship is being destabilised and weakened because of these maladaptive behaviours.
Suffice it to say that a wounded inner child certainly can and will mess up a relationship – particularly if both partners have unhealed childhood wounds and activate one another’s pain and despair.
As a psychotherapist it can be hard to work with troubled couples who both have a wounded inner child – because the ‘child’s’ tendency is to blame, to sulk and withdraw, or to lash out at the other.
For this reason when I worked with troubled couples in the past I would interview each one separately at first to assess their own wounds and their part in the difficulties that they both experienced in their relationship.
If only one party is willing to do what is needed to heal their own wounded inner child this can still have a ripple effect upon their relationship – and in fact upon all of their other relationships too.
What Can We Do To Help Our Inner Child To Enjoy Happier Relationships?
* Become aware of our Inner Child’s existence and promise to listen to their needs – and to take responsibility for having them met in a healthy way that doesn’t involve anyone being made to feel bad.
* In any conflict we can shift our state of mind and ask ourselves ‘How old am I behaving?’
If we are too immersed in our raging inner child mode then it can help to have the conflict recorded – even if in sound only – for later playback and evaluation.
* Take time out from the interaction – by first having signaled your exit from the conflict with an agreed sign that you’ve both consented to take notice of. When either of you makes that sign (e.g. forming the letter capital T with your index fingers) – then you both agree to having a pause and to move away to a different place for your Time-out’. You can then breath slowly and deeply for a few minutes until you regain your adult composure.
* Establish, by discussion and agreement, that both of you will say and show one another the ways you want to give and feel love, value, respect, desire and support.
* You will also realise the great importance of, and be willing to show, emotional connection with one another. If either of you has difficulty with this then your emotional wounds will be getting in your way. In which case you should be willing to get the professional help needed to free up this vital part of your personality – which will then greatly enhance the emotional connection and bond between you both.
* Show genuine interest in your partner’s life – but not in an obsessive or controlling way, but instead as you would to a special friend. The inner child is always curious, but be sure to listen more than you speak. Share their celebrations and be happy for your partner. If your inner child feels any resentment or envy then ‘have a word with them’ as you would an actual child in that situation – and reassure your inner child of their value, talents and successes.
* We can also take a wider view and decide to S.E.L.E.C.T. our life… and make it one of our own choosing – and not to continue to accept what has been handed down to us by people who didn’t know any better many years ago.
I have created an acronym for this S.E.L.E.C.T. process of change:
Self-Awareness – Intentionally becoming aware of how you are thinking feeling and behaving – and not ignoring or trying to silence your feelings with unhealthy behaviours. It’s also about being aware of how YOUR behaviour impacts YOUR partner and YOUR relationship.
Education – Being aware is a vital first step – but we then need to be able to do something about that awareness! It helps to understand how you’ve been treated in the past and why. Particularly if you have experienced childhood trauma. This is not meant as a tool for blaming anyone, but as a way to inform you – which helps you to make sense of the effects and consequences of what you did and didn’t get from your parents, and how this is now affecting your relationships.
Learning new skills – Remembering to pause before you react, shout, sulk or surrender. Ask yourself in that moment of pause what your inner child needs from you right now. From YOU – not from your partner! Only you can re-parent your inner child and have a better relationship with them. The skills you need are like those needed by a good parent – interest, time, attention, love, care, empathy, compassion, support and guidance. Don’t worry if that sounds like a lot upfront – just take one baby step at a time and keep going!
Emotional Intelligence & Balance – Being aware of your emotions and the intensity with which you feel them. Are some emotions squashed or forbidden inside you? Why? Who did that serve when you were a child?
Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, also involves being attuned to your partner’s emotional processing and reactivity. Are they calm and balanced or is their inner child getting in the way of sensitive and respectful communication? This is very likely to be the case. Our inner child guides us to people with whom we can play out the same old drama; or to people who are the opposite of those characters – in the hope of making things right in future. Either way there will be clashes.
We are responsible for how we communicate and respond to any such challenges, and we can shift and develop our EQ as we do so.
Control, clarity and choice – Become more clear about why you are in this relationship. What did you expect from it, and how are you creating that for yourself?
Being able to see things from a one-step-removed perspective enables us to be more objective and to see our part in the two-way dynamic of the relationship.
It’s not about the content that we talk or argue about, it’s really about the process we are playing out in the way we interact.
When we are clear and in control we can make the right choices for our inner child based upon whether they can thrive and get what they need from this relationship. If not we have the choice to find a different relationship with a different ‘process’ that better suits our need for love, compassion, respect and growth.
We can only ‘fix’ our part in any relationship – the other person has to be responsible for fixing their part too.
Transformation – Healing your own inner child’s emotional wounds, and making peace with your past so that it doesn’t keep messing up your relationships in the present and future!
Being the sort of parent to yourself that you wished you’d had. Then you’ll more fully enjoy ‘adult’ relationships which still involve spontaneity, fun and playfulness without sabotaging your own right to love and happiness.
So, over to you and your inner child to find, nurture and sustain the loving relationships you always deserved.
It’s never too late to get what we need…it starts with ‘Care & Repair From The Inside Out ©’
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com Where you will find out more about how to S.E.L.E.C.T Your Life © and get some FREE resources to help you, and your inner child, along the way to happier relationships – in spite of your childhood.
You will also find an e-course called ‘How To Sort Out Your Relationship – without couples counselling’ which is only £37!