Relationships – My Past Creates My Present
Present relationship problems can often be traced back to childhood.
In therapy, the presenting issues of the client are related to his/her core beliefs, which usually originate from childhood. The philosophy that underpins this work is the Adlerian Psychology of Alfred Adler (one of the most important figures in 21st Century Psychology, originally a colleague of Freud and Jung). It is a philosophy and a way of life – a Psychology of action. It gives us the tools to understand ourselves and to get to the seat of our issues. It is a philosophy of mutual respect, co-operation, democracy and personal responsibility, with each one of us working for the common good. Very apt for these times we live in! As such, it is a wonderful philosophy for working not only with the child within, but with children and families as well. With insight we come to see that, as adults, we are responsible for how we think, and consequently how we feel and behave - for the consequences of our actions and ultimately, our destiny. We are not victims of our childhood, but survivors.
A Case Example - Alana’s Story; [Names and details have been changed to protect the anonymity of the client and given with permission]. Alana came into therapy because she was unsuccessful in love – the boyfriend role was the same, just the players' names were different. None of them would commit. She wanted to know why she was facing the same pattern over and over again!
Alana was an only child. Her Mother was a housewife and her father was a successful businessman.
The women in my family all have difficulty in their intimate relationships, most of all my mother. My Father was a workaholic and not fully committed to her and to me. I feel so angry with my Mother, and here I am in the same boat! I am in an unhappy relationship with a man who can’t commit – he is ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ between me and his ex-partner and becoming increasingly more absent and I am condoning it!
When asked how this was making her feel; ‘taken advantage of, disrespected, condoning, non-assertive.’ She was then asked if she could give an example of an early memory, as far back as she could remember (preferably before the age of seven) which resonated with the feelings she was currently experiencing.
She gave this Early Memory
I am about 5, sitting on the floor hump in the back of Daddy’s car. Mummy and Daddy are sitting in the front seats. Mummy is talking to Daddy about not being around, spending too much time away working and asking him to be with us to look after us. Daddy is cross and threatening to go back to work.
Sad and torn. I knew Mummy was right but I was worried that her talking to daddy like this would send him back to work.
A close up of Mummy and Daddy in the front seat and me on the floor sitting behind but in the middle of them.
Title of this snapshot: ‘The one in the middle.’
She starts to cry, overcome with emotion. She couldn’t believe she had produced a memory that was a mirror image of her current difficulties. Looking at the beliefs of this child, she could relate them to those still operating for her today. Like Daddy; men are self-centred, men don’t commit, men are emotionally absent. Like Mummy, I don’t deserve commitment, if I confront a man I will be abandoned etc.etc. She was astounded to see that, unconsciously, she had reproduced a similar scenario to that which she had witnessed in childhood. In her adult relationships she was choosing men with commitment issues, like her Father, and powerless, like her Mother.
A word about Core Beliefs
They are unconscious and arise from the conclusions that the child arrives at about themselves and relationships, having experienced both happy and painful events in childhood. They form the blueprint of our belief system. Alana was unconsciously attracted to what she believed she deserved – she was now the ‘one in the middle’ between her partner and his ex - pure magic!
Alana came to see that, as children, we are born into a play in progress and creatively find our place, hypothesising about the world and our place within it as we go. She found her place within her family by taking responsibility for others' feelings and perceived that she had to hold onto her loved ones at the expense of her needs.
She also could see why she had all this pent up anger towards her mother. The child had been angry towards her mother for not dealing with the situation assertively and allowing herself to be bullied. She was also angry with herself for behaving the same way.
She realised that she didn’t have to ‘put up and shut up’ as the child did. She could confront a man who was not showing commitment and assertively discuss her needs and place boundaries. She didn’t have to be the ‘one in the middle’ ensuring Daddy didn’t leave anymore. She could choose an equal relationship because she deserved commitment, just as she deserved a Daddy who was present and committed to his family!
The answer to all problems is indeed within ourselves and has its roots in our childhood perceptions. This means that, as adults, we can take responsibly for the choices we make and create a future where we can heal the past and live a truly fulfilling life.
Adlerian therapy is therefore a solution-focussed model of short-term therapy where the client explores future goals and aspirations, as well as issues experienced in the present, and looks at perceived blocks to happiness-mistaken beliefs.