A child enters the world vulnerable and with basic needs for safety, security and nurturing physical touch. It is necessary for these needs to be met in order to be able to develop a sense of ‘rightness’ about oneself in the world. When these needs are not met, a part of the system will develop a basic sense of itself-in-the-world as not safe or not belonging. This part will internalise a sense of ‘wrongness’ about itself that will then be carried as part of its core identity. AS the system grows the pain of this part will be exiled.
Abuse is usually thought of as physical or sexual acts against the person – assaultive boundary violations of the personhood. Abuse may also take more subtle forms. Parents who remain unawares of the damage from their own childhood are likely to be blended with parts that minimise or trivialise their own exiled parts and indeed may repeat forms of parenting learned from their own role models. Children raised in alcoholic homes or families with mental illness face particular difficulties attempting to figure out the inconsistent responses that invariably accompany such environments. Generally children will blame themselves for the lack of consistency, contributing to an exile’s sense of unworthiness.
This may include shaming the child as a teaching tool, physical punishment “for the child’s own good”, a confusion of love, affection, sexuality and power, and the need to stifle the child’s emerging spirit as “willful children are a problem”. Anyone raised in such a way that their own spirit was censured as a child will find the emerging spontaneity in their own child intolerable – it will call to them as a reminder of their own lost part of self and such a realisation, for many, is intolerable. Similarly, the child’s open need for love, affection and physical nurturing may evoke feelings of discomfort in the adult as their own exiled parts call for attention, so gratification of these needs may be minimal at best.
A young manager part may then develop a sense of wrongness about the needs of other parts, learn that it is not safe to express them, and that they will not be met. Adults who are intolerant of their own parts’ ‘neediness’ may have managers declaring that to be needy is not acceptable.
Adaptive creatures that we are, in the face of the dissonance between desire the inability to get the desire met, a child’s system will develop strategies that minimise the unbearable tension of unmet desires. These may include (but are not limited to) deciding that “I don’t need anyone”; shutting down the ‘receptors’ (psychic and physical) which are open to receiving love; believing “I am not worthy of getting my needs met” and that lack of attention/affection is “my fault”. A child may then spend much of its energy seeking to prove his/her worthiness. Unexamined, there is nothing to stop this psychic mechanism continuing into adulthood. Ironically, having decided “I am unworthy” and being unavailable for receiving love, attention and affection, the quest for validation from others is one doomed to failure: even when presented with a genuinely loving response, the protector parts of the system regard it as too threatening to take this in.
Adults who experienced abuse/neglect as children, and had no one with whom to share their misery, will have parts that carry a legacy that may include chronic low self-esteem, difficulties respecting boundaries (both their own and other peoples), fear of abandonment and living with high levels of anxiety and/or depression. Primary relationships in adulthood will trigger the emotional reality of child parts as the intimacy of the dynamic with the loved one evokes the early intimacies of the parent-child relationship and activates the exiled parts. Often played out unawares within a partnership, dynamics that emerge which create difficulties are a call to healing of early wounds.
Bringing the energy of Self to the exiles enables them to be unburdened and the constellation of parts that have organised protective behaviours are thus freed up.
For an overview of emotional abuse click here