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By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

The child you once were is still very much alive, although feeling orphaned, abused, and neglected. The child is still dwelling inside you along with all its hopes and honesty of emotion. You already know what your inner child looks like. It is wearing your original face, the one that you yourself wore before your denial, disease, and life experiences ravaged it almost beyond recognition. Your inner child has been kept in the dark for so long that it has forgotten what it looks like itself. Only you can hold up the mirror of your recovery to this child and remind it of who it really is.

Recovering your inner child and restoring its original face is your job and the only foundation for becoming a real human being. A real human being is a totality and a balanced expression of all its aspects. In losing touch with our inner child and forgetting its face, we became emotionally handicapped and sought the artificial limbs of dysfunction to feel complete.
-Mel Asch

I have a few ideas, ideas about why you find some aspects of your relationships so painful, confusing--even overwhelming, and oftentimes unworkable for you. Let me warn you, these ideas have absolutely nothing to do with the imperfect circumstances of your life or the oftentimes insensitive actions of others. No, we’re not going to focus on the externals--all the craziness on the outside that contributes to your state of emotional and spiritual dis--ease. Instead, let’s focus directly on you--your internal world and your unconscious mechanisms for sabotaging the well-being of your relationships. For it is these mechanisms, activated by the dormant disowned emotions from the unresolved conflicts of your past, festering in your unconscious, that create much of the chaos and disharmony in your adult relationships.

Why should you buy into the idea that these unconscious mechanisms are the culprit for much of the sabotage that goes on in your relationships? Why should you entertain the idea that your disowned emotions and unacknowledged unfulfilled needs of your past are the true saboteurs of your relationships today? Afterall, you know what you know--and here I am challenging you to focus on what you don’t know, what you can’t see, what you can’t wrap your brain around. I’m asking you to buy into an idea--an idea that you can’t touch, taste, smell or see--an idea about the power of what lies on the fringes of your conscious awareness--disowned emotions and unfulfilled longings created by the immaturity and neglect of others.

All you do know is that your relationship isn’t working the way you want it to. But you have explanations, justifications, and rationalizations to place between you and the truth. Perhaps you’re an expert at making everyone in your world wrong, building case after case against any and all of your perceived antagonists. Or maybe you use blame as a magical elixir to separate yourself from the emptiness and loneliness that engulfs your soul from all of your unfulfilled longings and unmet needs. And if blame doesn’t drown out the pain, there are other means at your disposal--drinking and drugging, serial relationships, compulsive sexing, soothing yourself with food, making the quest for success the lord of your existence--all effective ways to drown out the aches and pains caused by your invisible demons. Forever trying to fill the emptiness, drowning out the longing of your unfulfilled needs, yet in the end, only managing to sabotage your best efforts.

Here’s the importance of focusing on you and your unconscious mechanisms of sabotage. To the degree you have not experienced fully your past as a child, you’ll attract and/or create similar experiences from your past in your life today. If you continue to avoid or disown the experiences of your past and the emotional impact they have exerted on your life, you’ll make it next to impossible to recognize what you feel as you repeat the experiences from your past as an adult. It’s axiomatic: it’s your lack of connection to your disowned feelings and the lack of awareness about the unresolved conflicts of your past that blinds you to the truth about your futile attempts to heal the emotional wounds and fulfill the unmet emotional needs from your past by (re)creating similar experiences in your life today.

But there’s a way out of this vicious cycle. There’s very little complexity to the solution. Reclaim your past. Bring into conscious awareness and personal experience all that hurts, all that has gone unfullfilled.

As distasteful as that might sound, there’s no getting around this aspect of your spiritual path. One element of emotional healing and spiritual evolution is unmasking the link between what is happening to you now and the  experiences of the past they so provocatively mirror. Seeing the link between your disowned emotions and the here-and-now drama that engulfs your relationships will enable you to recognize how past experiences repeat themselves in your life today.

Are you beginning to see the importance of (re)claiming your past? The disowned feelings from the wounds of your past are locked safely away in your unconscious. And it’s  your unconscious that’s the fertile ground for the primary source of your discord and unhappiness with the people in your life. The primary source I’m referring to? The demands you make upon the people in your life--the demand to be loved in a perfect way and that this love should be handed to you in all of its perfection.

Please, let’s not get sidetracked by defending and justifying these demands--debating whether they’re appropriate or not, realistic or not, deserving or not. It’s more important that you invest your emotional energy in unmasking the original source of these sabotaging demands and the impact they have on your adult relationships.

To better understand the burden that the demand for perfect love places on your relationships, you must first understand the genesis of the demand for perfect love. So, let’s first look at the story behind the unfulfilled longing and unmet emotional needs from which arises the demands for perfect love.

All too often a child receives insufficient nurturance and love from their parents. The pain that arises from the deficits created by inadequate parenting, neglect, or abuse requires proper wound care. If these emotional wounds go untreated, the child, as an adult, will go through life unconsciously crying out for what went unattended to and unfulfilled in their childhood. As a consequence, the adult’s ability to love maturely will be compromised.

Sadly, so many of us, despite whatever amount of exploration we have done into our unconscious mind and emotions, frequently minimize or overlook entirely the strong link between the traumas of our past and our current  difficulties as an adult. The reason being that so many of us settle for merely understanding with our mind the theory of our woundedness rather than personally (re)experiencing the link between the wounds of our past and the problems that manifest themselves in our adult life. In order to heal your original emotional wounds and satisfy your unfulfilled childhood longings, you must develop fuller awareness by combining personal experiencing with conscious reasoning. In so doing, you’ll be better able to heal your wounded parts by unmasking and resolving the overwhelming feelings of emptiness, fear, pain, and grief.

It’s easy to see the importance of blending personal experience with conscious reasoning. When combined, conscious reasoning and personal experiencing activates as well as illuminates the very emotions you never allowed yourself to be aware of fully. As long as the hurt, disappointment, and unfulfilled needs from your past remain unacknowledged and unexperienced, they’ll remain unresolved and seek to be expressed in indirect ways--ways  that inevitably sabotage your relationships. Even if these disowned resentments are merely understood without being (re)experienced, you’ll continue to be enmeshed in the never ending burdens they bring to your life. But by recognizing and experiencing your deeply hidden hurt and resentment, healing can begin in the guise of forgiveness, letting go, and freeing yourself from the toxic influences these resentments represent in your life today.

Just how are you affected by the disconnect from the things that did and did not happen so many years ago? As long as you’re unaware of the conflict between your longing for a perfect love from your parent(s) and your resentment against them for not providing you what you so richly deserved, you’re left with only one way of coping with your pain and grief--using your adult relationships to remedy, correct, and/or master the unconscious internal conflicts, the disowned emotional fallout, and the unfulfilled longings from your past.

Can you see how this way of coping with your original pain and grief might manifest itself in your life? Quite simply, so many of the patterns of behavior you act out today are your attempt to reproduce the situations that were the original source of emotional wounding. Why, you might wonder, would anyone want to recreate the painful and unrewarding experiences from their past? That brings us right back to what I said above--this is your best attempt at remedying, correcting, and/or mastering, the painful experiences of your past.

However, as strong as the compulsion to remedy a past situation by (re)creating it may be, it is equally unconscious. And the outcome of your futile attempt is the same every time--the reservoir of unacknowledged, disowned feelings lies dormant within your unconscious, still waiting to be acknowledged and expressed.

So, just how do you (re)create these situations from your past that were the source of your original emotional wounds? In its broadest sense, through the interpersonal dynamics you create in your adult relationships.

To demonstrate how your adult relationships are used as a means of (re)creating unresolved wounds and resentments, let’s focus on a specific relationship--your choice of love partners and the drama of the dance that unfolds between the two of you. Consider for a moment how the dance created by you and your partner might begin within your unconscious.

Unconsciously, you either choose and/or selectively attend to in your partner those aspects of the parent(s) that fell short in providing you a mature love. As well, on the other side of the coin, you seek in your partner aspects of the other parent who had come closer to meeting the demands of your emotional needs. It’s within the context of this unconscious attribution of characteristics to your partner of those characteristics you most closely associate with your parent(s) that the dance of (re)creating in the here-and-now interpersonal experiences that replicate the experiences of your past. Sadly, this is the blueprint for each futile attempt you make at correcting, remedying, and/or mastering the wrongs of your parent(s) with your adult partner.

It’s the compulsion to correct, remedy, and/or master the wrongs of your past that drives you to attribute characteristics of either or both of your parent(s) to your partner. In so doing, the process of (re)creating similar scenarios from your past begins. Here’s the logic that takes place in your unconscious that enables the drama to perpetually play itself out.

If the child in you has yet to let go of the past, then you have yet to fully come to terms with the experiences of your past. Until you fully come to terms with those experiences and the resultant unfulfilled longings created by those experiences, it will be impossible for you to fully understand, accept, and forgive what happened to you. Because these issues remain unresolved, the child in you will continue to recreate similar conditions from your past in your adult relationships in a never ending series of vain attempts to win out and ultimately master the recreated situation rather than succumb to it.

Can you see what the point of this never ending dance is? First, let me tell you what the point is not. It’s not about creating mature love between you and your partner. It’s not about creating harmony in your adult relationships. It’s not even about resolving the here-and-now issues that remain forever unresolved between you and your partner. No, at its deepest level, the drama is about one thing and one thing only--not losing one more time. For losing out means being (re)victimized yet again. Unfortunately, the entire strategy is unworkable because what the child in you sets out to correct, remedy, and/or master never can come to realization.

There are two aspects of recreating the past in your here-and-now relationships that strike me as tragic--the futility and destructiveness of it all. No matter how tragic the circumstances of your past might be, it is an illusion that you were defeated. Now if you can agree with me that no matter the actual horror of your circumstances, the idea that you were defeated is an illusion, surely you can see that there’s nothing that needs to be or can be corrected, remedied, and/or mastered.

Take a moment to consider what the illusion is that you are attempting to correct. The illusion is that the lack of love, no matter how tragic that may have been as a child, continues to be the tragedy that your unconscious believes it to be all these years later. I’m not minimizing the horror that parental neglect and abuse can be. And let me be even clearer, I’m not saying that the neglect and/or abuse didn’t happen. I’m only saying that there’s a larger tragedy happening in your life today--sabotaging your emotional and spiritual well-being by (re)creating the traumas of your past.

Having asserted what I believe to be the tragic and illusory nature of the choices you make today, let me reiterate the following. In most respects, the process of (re)creating scenarios from your past and/or viewing events of your adult relationships through lenses tinted by disowned emotions and perceptions from your past is an unconscious process. And since that is the case, you must be wondering just how to undo the power of your unconscious?

Put the focus on you and take it off of the imperfections of the people in your life. The idea is to keep digging within yourself. Reclaim the emotions that remain outside of your conscious awareness. Put an end to buying into the distorted perceptions that the past can impose on your way of understanding the people in your life. Give up your  misguided attempts to correct, remedy, and/or master events of the past.

Without continued deeper exploration, without your willingness to walk into the pain you have disowned for so long, you leave yourself in a never ending bind. You unconsciously choose a partner with aspects similar to those of your parent(s). Equally so, you unconsciously imbue your partner with characteristics of your parent(s). The bind that both of these choices create? It’s a set-up for both you and your partner. You’ll continue to feel as deprived of the love and emotional and physical safety that you were deprived of so many years ago, yet you’ll hold your partner responsible for your feelings of deprivation. You’ll attribute your feelings of deprivation to the shortcomings of your partner--shortcomings that will oftentimes mirror the shortcomings of your parent(s).

Continually (re)experiencing this deprivation, provokes one thing and one thing only--a stronger resolve to get from your partner what you couldn’t get from your emotionally and/or physically unsafe, withholding, or unavailable parent(s). Do you see how the tragedy of your past is compounded by your solution in the here-and-now? Do you see how destructive it can be to demand of your partner that they rewrite your personal history? In placing a burden on your partner to heal the wounds, right the wrongs, make the past better today by loving you in a perfect way, you are merely amplifying the pain from the wounds of your past.

So what is there to be gained by viewing the discord in your relationships as a product of this unconscious mechanism of sabotage? What is there to be gained by not only understanding your past but (re)experiencing the pain and longings of that wounded child? Quite simply, bringing an end to the vicious cycle of self-sabotage you have created for yourself today. Liberating your relationships from the burdens placed upon them by the child within that is seeking relief from and retribution for the wrongs of the past. Freeing your partner to love you with all of their immaturities, you need no longer personalize the events of your life as the tragedy you believe it to be. Letting go of the belief that “this time, things will be different”, will empower you to get out from under the ever-increasing disappointment you experience when it never is different.

Ultimately, I hope you’re beginning to see the path I outline for you can forever change the mindset from which you view the actions of the people in your life. Become aware of the link between the there-and-then and the here-and-now now. Uncover the folly of your feeble attempts at correcting your past. Reclaim the disowned experiences of your past. Leave behind your childhood hurts by grieving the many losses you experienced. Begin to view your actions and reactions through new understandings created by reclaiming your disowned feelings. Relieve your partner of the demands you make upon them. Start to create a relationship predicated upon the provision of love as an adult rather than redressing the wounds of the unloved child. Discover the power of giving love rather than expecting and demanding it.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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