In the first few years of our lives we are hungry for love, safety, and confirmation that we are wanted and valued – just for the very fact that we are here, that we exist. We search, from our very beginnings, for a reflection of ourselves, for information and reassurance about who we are. The quest for self begins in the beginning. Unfortunately we crave this mirroring long before we have the capacity to question the images presented to us. Again, unfortunately, we seldom, if ever, got a clear reflection. What we got instead were some fairground distortions that we believed wholeheartedly, because we had no other point of reference. We then proceeded to dress ourselves up, twist our postures and hide ourselves in an attempt to make us fit the way we believed we should look in order to get the love we craved. And when we grew up, this twisted and dressed up self is the bedrock on which we try to cultivate loving and fulfilling relationships.
As we developed as children much was left undone or done badly. Our longing to be seen, met and valued was unquenched and it is this longing that we so often bring to our relationships and it is this longing, unidentified and hidden from ourselves and from the other, that distorts and sabotages us. This longing is for confirmation of who we are – the kind of longing that was perfectly valid for us as children, looking to our parents to give us an accurate sense of us, of how important we were. In an adult relationship it is not possible for the other to repair this damage. They cannot do for us what our parents failed to do. That need was unmet and will remain unmet. It was something that had to happen at the start of our journey, not in mid-voyage.
Just to complicate things, if we have some deeply held negative picture of ourselves, that we are unloveable, worthless, bad or not good enough in some way, then we will often, unconsciously, work to have this belief confirmed by the other in our relationship. It is a strange truth that, even though these dark beliefs cause us pain, they are still who we believe ourselves to be and who we are most comfortable being. So, though we long to be confirmed, valued and loved we yet sabotage our relationships to stay safely within the self that we believe we are.
Again, to make our plight even more uncomfortable and resistant to change, the beliefs we have do not sit neatly in our brains in some cognitive framework but are stored as powerful feelings deep within our belly and our bones. They show up as hyper-alertness to clues that the other does see us the way we see ourselves and in an eagerness to conclude that expressions, omissions, postures and words all point to the ‘fact’ that other is seeing our ‘dark’ selves and despising them as much as we do.
So – what to do about all this? We need to journey into ourselves and uncover the stunted self and become familiar with the ways in which it insinuates itself into our lives and corrupts our relationships. In an intimate relationship everything we need to see is likely to make itself know. An intimate relationship is a gift for those in search of the truth about themselves. It will throw up:
· A longing to have those unmet needs met
· An exposure to the possibility of being disappointed yet again and a guardedness against this danger
· The impulse to do things the way we always have – that is to follow a pattern of behaviour that is designed to somehow compensate for what we believe we lack or have too much of
All these impulses begin in the body as sensations before they ever manifest as actions. While we remain unaware of these feelings we will continue to act upon them in the way we always have and the outcomes will be predictably similar. The only way forward is to become familiar with these feelings as they happen. We can do this while in contact with the other as they are triggered and when on our own when our own imagination and stories about ourselves trigger those same feelings within.
As we grow more skilled in this process we begin to separate the old stored cravings and fears from our ACTUAL needs, wants and boundaries within the relationship we are in right NOW rather that the ones collected in our unconscious. And as we do this we find we have choices that we didn’t have before and that our actions and reactions begin to change. As these changes occur then the quality of our relationships change with them and begin to give us a new picture of who we are. We begin to get a new reflection of who we actually are to balance the distorted images from our childhood.
This is how we heal.