EARLY EXPERIENCES AND ADULT RELATIONSHIPS
I AM ALL GROWED UP AND CAN'T GET INTO TROUBLE ANYMORE
Our earliest experiences of relationship with our parents or caretakers become the template for our future relationships including even our relationship with God. Wow, that’s interesting.
If these early relationships are characterized by what some call a secure attachment, then we grow up with a sense of wholeness and maybe even a sense of holiness or, as I like to say, wholeyness. With that wholeyness comes an innate sense of preciousness, so we treat ourselves and others as precious. We do not tolerate ANYone treating us any less than preciously.
Secure attachments come about by our parents’ ability to read our needs and then respond to our needs during our first nine months of life. So if I cry because I am wet, it is important for the parent to recognize the words I am yet unable to speak that lie beneath the cry, to recognize it is an “I’m wet” cry.
The reality is we do not live in a perfect world, and probably none of us experienced completely a secure attachment. We get wounded as the great mythological stories tell us. This is not about parent bashing or crying over spilled milk. It is just a fact of life. We get wounded.
Unfortunately, most of us have no clue we are wounded, and we go into marriage with no clue. We have no clue that conflict in our relationship triggers these old wounds. We just automatically assume that the other person is attacking us and hurting us, and sometimes we assume they are doing it on purpose, and you know what? Since our beloved is also wounded from the past, they probably do attack back on purpose. It’s about the confusion and the subsequent drive to survive.
Here is the confusion. I think you are attacking me. It feels like you are attacking me because old emotions that we have no conscious access to, emotions that are stored forever in our amygdala, get triggered and fired off as if the old hurt is occurring at the moment you are snarling at me! So, of course, for the sake of my survival, I must defend myself some way or another and one way is to intentionally hurt you.
As we grow into a toddler and a preschooler, many of these initial wounds become intertwined with feelings of guilt when we are told we have done something naughty. And often times, we have done something naughty. Perhaps whatever it is just doesn’t call for the death penalty. But that’s what is administered when we get the evil eye, or we are shunned, or worse physically hit or verbally attacked and shamed. Or even worse, when our parents tell us, “I am disappointed in you.” That perhaps is the worse. See if you can figure out why, from your own experience and your own use of those same deadly words with your own children.
We are basically telling a child he or she is not a good enough mirror to reflect just how wonderful we are as parents. But that is never a child’s job, not even an adult child’s job. As parents, we have to create our own internal mirrors for that validation. We literally destroy our children’s soul when we try to shape them into being that mirror for us.
So we enter marriage or a relationship, loaded for bear. We either have vowed never to allow another attack on our soul, or we are so used to being attack that we invite one after another. Our connection to each other is not characterized by a sense of preciousness, that feeling that hopefully most of us feel when we hold an infant. Instead, our relationship becomes a game. We are desperate to keep score. We must always keep the score even. No one can win, but both of us continue to lose day after day.
Our relationship becomes an exercise in making sure we attack first or avoiding attacks all together by closing our hearts, withdrawing, and eventually withholding.
In From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi, Chapter five invites us to get it that we are all "growed up" and can’t get into trouble anymore. It is not about becoming perfect or impervious to making mistakes. It is simply acknowledging that, as adults, we can no longer get into trouble the way we did as kids.
One of the benefits of realizing that we are all "growed up" and can’t get into trouble is it short-circuits this survival behavior described above. We begin to recognize ourselves as grown-up and if for no other reason than this simple recognition, begin then to treat each other as grown-up rather than as a naughty child.
Treating each other as grown-up, as equals, gives us our best chance at loving each other.