Saturday, August 22, 2015
Child to adult
Benjamin Button – the man who grew younger and (presumably) more immature as the years went by – is often the reality in human psychology. The feeling of a first-grader who falls in love with a girl on the school bus; a child’s real questions about the world; early teens, with their youth group self-explorations, middle teens and their starry night Kumbaya love and camaraderie on a confirmation class retreat; kids who see through their parents’ smiles and sophistic explanations – there is more gravity and reality in them than in many of the adults I see in therapy. The complexity of adults’ malaise, confusion and rage is, in fact, a factor of their ascendant superficiality, their loss-of-touch with their true feelings and sights. To reach emotional truth, depth, is to become simple again.
Not long ago I worked briefly with a troubled young-thirties couple married only two months, whose pinball-like emotional and commitment oscillations were more adolescent than adolescence. Her caroming on and off grew out of loss and shutting down in a childhood of deep neglect, leaving her to live blind and on scar tissue. She was so out of touch with her inner life that she laughed, sighed and smiled about her first marriage as a victim of Power and Control abuse,* and about the gossamer quality of her second marriage. The man was prematurely powerful, head of a successful construction business. This was his strength, like an iron lung detached from his hollow infirmity.
I wonder what the “systems” marital therapists would do with this couple. He did not trust her, as she continued to talk with “old boyfriends.” They each felt their relationship with their own children had been damaged by joining this marriage. That one fact revealed in each a pathological child-state of emotional neediness, in the same way that some divorced fathers remarry, dedicate themselves abjectly to their new wife and her family and abandon their own children. Marrying, did each spouse instantly lose the substance of his and her parental bond by succumbing to their greater need to be nurtured – like a child – by their partner? If so, it is not a systems problem. It is a core wound problem, a primal scream problem.
I remember using one of Dr. Hendrix’s slogany ideas: You have to be allies not enemies. And a catalyst of my own: You may need to ask yourself if you actually like the character of the other person. Some marriages are ruined from the beginning by this hidden, never-acknowledged dislike which turns an even deeper “compatibility” into an eternal tornado. Underlying everything we did early on, including the discomfiting Couple’s Dialogue, was my sense that these are children who are grudgingly play-acting “being there” for the other, when each is too starved to be there for anyone but himself, herself.
Each partner would need to quit this dance for a while and plunge into regressive therapy that would show them, by touch, where they came from. Returning to the child is to regain the depth, the self, and hopefully the love, they lost while growing up.
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* Referring to the Power and Control Wheel -- http://www.ncdsv.org/images/PowerControlwheelNOSHADING.pdf -- used in Domestic Violence classes.