Development of childhood wounds and trauma are the master key in mate selection. In this stage, it is important to define trauma. Trauma is, from the body psychotherapy approach, every experience where we were not able to manage the flow of energy, the arising feelings. We experienced fear, danger, we suppressed the feelings and therefore our bodies, our muscles contracted, we stopped breathing for a few seconds and the energy stopped flowing organically. This muscular contraction eventually becomes a "shell" that will protect us in the future from feeling those dangerous or uncomfortable emotions again. This is how our behavioral patterns are formed: first they served us to survive, but in adulthood they become defensive patterns and limit our ability to experience life energy in all its fullness. From the body and the way we learn to deal with the energy within us, a person's character is formed. No parents, no matter how devoted, are able to respond perfectly to all of the needs of the baby/child. There is no way to evade this childhood traumas. We all grew up knowing the anguish of unmet needs and these needs to follow us into our marriage...
I will list a short outline how childhood wounding transpires one to one in our adult relationships. This correlates to the character formation as known in the Bioenergetics approach:
Original Wholeness: “In foetal existence, we were in communion with the universe”. The sense of Oneness that the baby experiences inside its mother’s womb, the “Oceanic State” as Freud or the “Dynamic Ground” as Michael Washburn referred. In relationship with the impulse to unite with the partner is unconsciously an attempt to re-unite with the split-off parts of the self, which are projected onto the partner. Since there is a fusion of the partner and the parent in the unconscious, a positive emotional bond with the partner (achieved by loving in the partner that which is split off from the self and projected) restores a sense of personal wholeness and an awareness of our essential union with universe. This gives marriage an essentially spiritual potential. We enter marriage with expectation that our partner will magically restore this feeling of wholeness.
Feeling of Unity: When babies are in this symbiotic stage, their life energy is directed outwards towards the mother in an effort to recapture the earlier sense of physical and spiritual union. A term that describes this yearning is “Eros”: a Greek word that we normally equate with romantic love or sexual love, but that originally had the broader meaning of life force. Because of unmet needs, we gradually turn off our capacity to access to our pulsation of life. So, in marriage, we take over this yearning of life, we try to recreate the original state of it and expect our partners to give us the life force we lost on the way. So, at the end we meet our partners with the unconscious expectation that they should make us feel whole, full of life.
The Child’s Old Brain - Fear of Death: Because of unmet needs at a very young age, that the child experiences a primitive anxiety: the world is not a safe place. Since it has no way of taking care of itself and no sense of delayed gratification, it believes that getting the outside world to respond instantly to its need is truly a matter of life and death. How do we take over this childhood experience in our relationship? When our partners are hostile or merely helpless, a silent alarm is triggered deep in our brain that fills us with the fear of death.
The need to be independent - future “fusors” or “isolators”: Some children have caretakers who feel insecure when they cannot control their child (“Don’t go too far!”), so their drive for autonomy is being denied. The child is being engulfed and it will be trapped in the symbiotic union forever. This fear of engulfment becomes a key part of the adult character and they become what Harville Hendrix calls an “Isolator”: a person who unconsciously pushes others away. As adults, “Isolators” keep people at a distance because they need a lot of space, they want the freedom to come and go as they please, and they don’t want to be pinned down to single relationship. All the while underneath this cool exterior is a two-year-old child who was not allowed to satisfy his natural need for independence. Some children grow up with the opposite of parents, once who push them away when they come running to them for comfort (“Go away I’m busy!”, “Stop clinging to me!”). In this case, the caretakers are not equipped to handle any needs but their own, and their children grow up feeling emotionally abandoned. Eventually they grow up to become “Fusers”, people who seem to have an insatiable need for closeness. As adults, they want to do things together all the time. They crave physical affection and reassurance and they often need to stay in constant verbal contact. Underneath this clinging behaviour, there is a young child who needed more time on a parent’s lap.
Socialization - The wounding in the ego development: In the time socialization starts playing a role, we split our original wholeness, the loving and unified nature that we were born with, into three separate entities:
The “Lost Self”, those parts of oneself that we had to repress because of the demands of society. This is almost totally outside our awareness.
The “False Self”, the facade that we erected in order to fill the void created by this repression and by a lack of adequate nurturing.
The “Disowned /Repudiated Self”, the negative parts of our False Self that were met with disapproval and were therefore denied. This part hovers just below our level of awareness and is constantly threatening to emerge. To keep it hidden, we have to deny it actively or project it into others.
These elements formed our “personality”, the way we would describe ourselves to others. So, due to all this childhood experiences, which have been “saved” or “stored” in our old brain, we go through life truncated, cut in half. We tried to fill this emptiness with food and drugs and activities, but what we deeply yearn for is our original wholeness, our full range of emotions, and the Buddha-like joy that we experience as very young children. This becomes a spiritual yearning for completion and we develop the profound conviction that finding the right person will complete us and make us whole.
Of course this cannot be just anyone ... it has to be “the one who will make up for the wounds of the past”.
Questions for Reflection:
What wounds do you identify with in your case? Do you identify yourself more as "Isolator" or "Fuser"?
What parts do you repress or deny to get your partner's love and attention ("Lost Me")?
What parts do you hide, what parts do you use, what do you do to mask the emptiness you feel ("False Me")?
What parts do you hate or dislike in your partner ("Repudiated Me")?
In the next article I will address betrayal in relationships from the epigenetic point of view, that is, how adultery can be originated in our genes, as they are an intrinsic and innate part of human behavior.
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Sources / Reading suggestions:
"Getting the love you want: A Guide for Couples" - Harville Hendrix
"Charakteranalyse" - Willhelm Reich
"Ich und Du" - Martin Buber