Parts I, II
As a priest for just about eleven years, I am told more often than not, “Father you are single you are not married how would you know” It is said not with any hurtful intention but with an honest heart. They are right. How would I know? I know nothing than trying to understand how to be a good Christian. In addition, as you would know there are no ready-made answers to this question. However, I still believe that I probably can add just a little piece of my accumulated experience (which is not much) to such a compelling, energetic, yet difficult process of maintaining a relationship between couples. I promise I would not bore you! I am no professional, and I am always subjected to correction. The professionals would be more capable to discuss this issue in more detail. This is in no way exhaustive and should not replace the advice of a professional.
It is critical to know thyself. What do I mean by know thyself? Well, know your family. Know what makes us angry or what makes us sad, and of course, what makes us happy for they are all linked into that complex yet unique individual you and me. It is of great importance to pay attention to our family of origin, or our childhood experiences.
Our experiences when we were growing up as children are crucial in understanding our personality today; In fact, there are those who believe that this little child remains with us always. The placement in my family whether I am first, second or third bears very strongly on my personality as an adult. The imprint of who we are today has been laid during the formative early childhood years. Once we understand that, then we are ready to understand what makes us tick and work with it to be a more holistic individual.
There are many complex ways this situation replays itself in relationships. What is not said in relationships are the “little misses” we experienced in our childhood years. They are buried in us. They never leave. We learn how to deal with them and take charge and control them. When the reverse occurs then it can be chaotic, and we just do not understand why we cannot maintain a relationship. Sometimes we move though numerous relationships never really understanding why we find it so difficult to maintain a relationship. There are many complex reasons. However, I would like to develop this one: our childhood.
Very often what makes us angry or what makes our stomach boil over in a relationship with regards to the actions of the spouse, is really not the action of the spouse itself. What really are at play here are the feelings that the actions of my spouse evoke in me. This tends to be the foundation of the issue. The feelings that this actions evokes in me more often than not are emotions that are not new to me. There is a strong possibility that I could have already experience this feeling or emotion when I was a childhood stage or in my family of origin. Now these feelings since they were never address remains hidden in a latent stage; only to evolve when a similar action to that first previous action re-occurs. It is like a sleeping baby that awakes crying uncontrollably. This could be an exaggeration but the the concept of this situation is what I am trying to convey.
These unresolved issues from childhood remain with us as adults and unto the grave if they are not addressed in a healthy manner. Now this may not affect everyone negatively. However, to most of us it does. As soon as we are placed in a situation (as an adult) that is similar to this first painful situation everything comes up. This is not said or rationalised in this way; for the couples may not even be aware of what is happening.
How does this manifest itself? Again, the answers are as varied as the grains of sand on the seashore. In spite of these varieties, there seem to be some patters; withdrawal, anger, feeling s of rejection, an overwhelming impulse to please another, etc. Have we found yourself saying, “Every time you do this or say this you make my blood boil in anger.” Or maybe “I just cannot take that in you”. Very often when these statements are made, they really indicate to the speaker where his /her weakness lies. It is an opportunity for growth. Again, this is easier said than done. The symptoms displayed are really ‘sign posts’ that can be interpreted by the persons involved in a way that allows them to understand themselves better. What the persons will not say is that this reminds them of a situation that they experienced long ago, but the emotions revolving around this (many times unhealthy first situation) springs forth like a bullet. We develop certain negative reactions to certain experiences as adults that may not be encouraging to our present relationship.
This is where some others will say that the child in us rises. Now remember children have a very strong tendency to be selfish. Everything is for me. I must be seen. I must be first. I must get the attention. Have you seen a child in a temper tantrum and after this, the parents have to “lovingly plead with the child to be nice again.” We do that as adults. Now the “child” in us most often can hold us ransom. The ”child” does not want to grow. He/She wants to remain as a child and will do everything in his/her power to remain a child. Now this is all happening in an adult. It is an adult who faces a situation that takes him /her back consciously or unconsciously to an unresolved issue in his/her childhood. (Keep remembering this all occurs in adults.) This “child” we have been carrying in us for so long; this child who has experienced so many “misses and sometimes very painful” in his/her life, so many unresolved issues, is very much present in us as adults. The child’s first reaction is to be impulsive for they have not yet arrived at a formal stage of critical thinking (Piaget).
What really happens as an adult is this child in us takes over. We allow ourselves to be overpowered by this childhood unresolved issue. Sometimes our actions are incomprehensible to us. Our reaction becomes that of a child in anger. We never really express that original childhood experience. Again, what is important here, are the painful emotions related to this experience that replay themselves in us, as adults. (I hope I am not confusing you the reader). What I am trying to say is that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to relationships. It all begins at our child hood years. The Child in us can be very stubborn. He/she will remember the pain and react from this. When was the last time we said something that to us seemed logical and normal to the issue being discussed, and all of a sudden our spouses response was so different and painful that we ask ourselves. ” Wow where did that come from?” In most cases, though not all, this response came from a past hurtful experience.
The point of liberation comes when we realise that we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by a child. In most cases, an adult decides important and critical issues for children. It is not the reverse. Once we come to that point we then attempt to take control of our lives and allow the little child in us to sleep comfortably for we have already outgrown this child hood stage. Once we can connect to this early child that has been abused or hurt in some way, we begin to make progress. It is important to remember that this child in us will resist all attempts by the adult to resolve this issue. She/he has grown accustomed to this process of survival. The “child” has learnt to survive this way. So too, as adults we have learnt to survive through this method. It is so important to resolve or re-assure the child in us that it is ok, that it will be all right. We really have to speak to ourselves (child) re-assuring this “child” (ourselves) that it will be ok.
“There is no more need to panic or to be afraid.”
“From now on…. I will care for you.”
“I do not need any adult to care for you.”
“I can and will care for you.”
“We are going to do that together you and I.”
“There is no more need to be afraid. I will protect you and care for you.”
“There is no more need to be lonely. I am there for you.”
We may even have to apologise to this little child in us.
“I am so sorry that you felt so alone, so lonely, Oh how you felt so much pain. I am so sorry mummy and daddy were there to protect you. There was no adult to protect you. The pain you felt must have been so terrible. I cannot imagine the amount of pain you have stomached in all these years. Please forgive me for not caring for you enough, for not giving you enough attention, for not listening to you enough.”
“I do love you and promise to care for you as long as I have breath!” “How have I gone in search for an external source to satisfy you, to give you your needs, but they were only temporary, none was sustainable. I now realise as an adult, I am the one who knows your needs the best, Others can and will help but I am the main person responsible to give you the attention and love for which you have been searching. I really promise not to abandon you any more but to care for you. I will protect you and love you.”
After doing this the tears may flow…let them flow. They are tears of healing. We may begin to feel lightness in our waist in our shoulders. We may begin to feel a weight lifted up from us. We begin to feel light. A new joy begins to swell up inside of us. At this moment we have connected with our unresolved issues, the child begins to sleep and sleep well. Slowly we begin to face the situations that once brought out the worse in us without this impulsive reaction. Our holistic personality begins to emerge. We become better individuals and better spouses to our partners. This is all a process and it takes time. The process of forgiveness has begun. Some move through it much faster than others do. The goal is to be aware of what makes us “tick” and work with it. Our past no longer holds us at ransom. We are now free; liberated to make informed decisions. A professional person can be very helpful in helping us to bring healing to this “suffering child.” This takes time and does not happen overnight. What is important is to begin our healing process of our painful memories as an adult. Being aware is crucial here!
The role of prayer is as critical to the issue as this psychological approach. I have found the Bible, Sacrament of confession and the Eucharist as critical to the holistic development of any individual. Since I write from the Judeo-Christian perspective, this is where the Sacrament of confession becomes crucial. The faithful can now take all this pain, hurts, and turmoil and offer it up to God in the Sacrament of Confession. Having the priest tell you exactly that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit is indeed a blessing. It brings up a joy inside that overwhelms us. Should you belong to another religious profession the support of the Scriptures with the guidance of the church’s pastors are very important. Having a spiritual base is very important to that of this approach. It brings the final coating and conclusion, when we finally take everything to God in prayer, through his Son Jesus in the Spirit. Any person irrespective of his faith can begin to find a sense of inner peace through this approach. This is a reality of the human person who is already dignified and blessed in God.
We can now begin to enter into a healthy relationship with our spouses and meet them as our equals. I hope I have not bored you. May God help us all in our path of inner healing; a healing that liberates us!
Part II “The Inner child Child and our Spouse”
Some of the visitors from this blog would have wanted some practical suggestions in terms of embracing this inner child. I hesitate to give practical suggestions for they are not always the best. Why? Practical suggestions tend to limit our “thought processes”. Instead of participating in this wonderful gift of life and be “cool”, we tend to become fixed on said goals. This is not negative, except in this case it is not a fixed gaol. It is living! However, I will propose these simple suggestions, keeping in mind they are subjected to the advice of a professional person. None of the answers we may give is WRONG OR RIGHT. They are just guidelines to help us understand ourselves and to identify “in what way our inner child” influences our life. This may not be applicable to everybody. The inner child does not always influence every individual by limiting his/her inner growth. It is important to enjoy and celebrate the life given to us by God.
– Be aware of self. What do I mean? What are our most liked and disliked qualities?
– This should not be too difficult. Just pay attention to the compliments or challenges from those to whom we are close (family friends). Even what our enemies have to say about us. Smile…it is quite simple.
– What position are we in our families? Are we the first, last or somewhere in the middle. For example if we are first, we may be great at leading, maybe too demanding but maybe overworked as a child. Middle child; great listeners, maybe too altruistic, ignores self a little too much. The last child may be expecting too much from others in his/quest for satisfaction. These are just guidelines. They are not exhaustive. I am concentrating here on the “limiting qualities”. Keep in mind that we have excellent, holistic and health giving qualities that are super!!
– When we are with our loved ones how do we feel?
– When our loved ones do not give us attention what are the emotions that rise in us?(rejection, anger)
– When we fall in love what are the emotions that surge up in us? (joy, happiness, etc.)
– What are our strengths and weaknesses as a person; do we give our hearts out or are we more on the receiving side? When we give what do we expect in return?
– When we do not “get our way” in life, what are the emotions that we feel (rejected, empowered etc)
– When we “get our way,” pay attention to the emotions that rise in us.
– How do we display our anger?
– Do we worry too much and take on too many responsibilities?
These questions are not exhaustive. We may have those of our own. It is not about blaming or regretting. It is about discovering self. Everyone is unique and great! As an adult, we become responsible for our emotions, feelings and actions. It is never too late to become a more “holistic” individual. Pay attention to these answers. Then find out if they are in a balanced state or whether they dominate our lives in a negative way. If we are ok with them, that is fine. If we are not, this could be a sign that the inner child still needs some loving attention from us (not from another person). Do not think of it in terms of “work to be done.” No …it is an awareness. Once we become aware, we have a choice. We can say what the heck…This is how I am, or we can say let me try to become a better person. In other words, we then become a “father” or “mother” to ourselves. The areas in our lives still unfulfilled, we are now in a position to have them fulfilled ourselves. Yes, we can achieve this as adults. Now that we are grown, we can become fathers and mothers to ourselves. We then give to this inner child what they missed out as child. It is important to remember that alongside these “little misses” the great skills and qualities we have learnt from our families as children are also present. These skills and qualities will help us to re-affirm, embrace, and love this inner child. This inner child is now receiving what he/she has lacked. He /she now receives it from the person who loves him/her the most in the world…you!! It is important to apologise to the inner child for we may have as adults abandoned him/her (inside of us) as we searched outside of us for some source of replenishment. We now begin to lead this inner child (not the reverse) who now begins to be more relaxed and at peace. We no longer run from our selves. We begin to accept ourselves. Thus, we become slowly more liberated to be human. We should also keep remembering that our own children may have to experience this healing process of their inner child too. It all comes slowly as awareness. It is not a work like “constructing a house” …no…only an awareness. The next time we are faced with a situation or a challenge, we will suddenly become aware of this new insight and we will naturally react differently.
Our lives are not determined by our limitations. No way! For beneath these limitations is found the grace of God. Where sin is grace abounds! (St. Paul Rom.5:20). We are graced individuals. The process of healing begins, we become more holistic and most importantly we may find ourselves in a better position to enter into a relationship with our spouses. The goal is to live and be contented inside. Let us say the goal is to find our inner liberty and peace in God.
It takes time. It is not an overnight job. Be gentle and kind to self…..above all be kind and just….and have mercy, for this leads to all.. May The Eternal God lead us into peace….Have a great time.
This little child can be very stubborn. What do you think?
May God’s peace be yours!
Fr. Vincent Esprit FMI