Managing Our Internal Parent - Michael Acton-Coles
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Managing Our Internal Parent

internal parent michael acton-coles

Managing Our Internal Parent

Image copyright: marieappert / 123RF Stock Photo

We’ve all had that horrible experience: you invite a couple over, or you meet them somewhere for dinner, and they start fighting, right there in front of you — the character assassination; the barely controlled anger; the silences, awkward moments and chaos. Then comes the blame for ‘who invited THEM again’, ‘THAT couple is just infuriatingly stuck’, ‘oh, wait a moment, it is not THEIR fault, it is HIS fault’ or ‘SHE’s always starting it.’

Truth be told, whatever the dynamic between the jousting couple people in unhappy relationships are usually at the end of their tether, broken, disillusioned about their world and, worst of all, lonely to their core. What usually ignites in these people is that enough is enough!
People argue for many different reasons: they don’t believe in what the other person did or said, money issues, kids, relationships, friends etc. Some arguments are strong and silent and others are verbal, physical and can be life threatening (i.e. domestic violence).

Considering relationships’ key trials such as betrayal, violence, abandonment and trust, why do some people seem to repair their relationships and be able to move onwards and upwards and some just find it the most difficult climb? Most of the ability to manage relationship issues and relationship endings largely depends upon what we bring to the relationship in the first place. The old saying that we all bring baggage along with us is frightfully true.

Relationships and our Internal Parent

Our trials and traumas may shape who we are but they also have a very central part in how we work with the dynamics of relationships especially those relationships between lovers and those around parenting and custodial responsibility. Each of us has an internal child that requires feeding, nurturing, shelter and comfort, this inner requirement of need is regulated by our learned internal parent. This parent is trained during our lives by our own caregivers (how they did things) and many other significant others. Our internal parent is a kind of regulator of how we present ourselves to the world. An example of our internal needs being governed by our internal parent is when we find ourselves hungry in a restaurant and waiting for our food. Why don’t we just reach over to the people sitting next to us and take their food? Why would we stop ourselves from doing this? How were we trained to realize that this is not a way to do things?
Now consider this very simple rule we have learned and put in into the context of a relationship. It could be that our internal parent (regulator) is a bit too strong and makes us put up with things more than we should or not. Without going too much into depth, each of us IS DIFFERENT; we all have different perspectives on how we should act, think, perceive and judge. The most difficult experience a couple can encounter is how to accept that their partner and they have difference, and a difference that needs to be negotiated. Sometimes, the difference is too much and becomes so ingrained as a trigger for discomfort that the people in a relationship, over time, feel upset, betrayed, challenged, not considered for a variety of reasons and arguments or abandonment ensues. Most times, a couple will not remember what the disagreement was about. It gets even trickier if we add into the mix an extra-relationship affair, bereavement, family trauma, history of abuse, domestic violence, move of location, house purchase, childbirth…the list goes on.
The most common comment from people who access psychological help (counselling) is: “We wish we had done this sooner, why did we waste all that time?” So many people stay stuck in a relationship conflict for way too long because they just cannot see the wood for the trees. They might (a common theme in the UK) just not want to bother someone with their problems or one partner may feel that they will be betraying the other if they go outside the relationship for help (this would be that internal parent rearing his or her ugly head!) When, therefore, would it be the right time to access help and what would we expect from the experience?
Well, first it doesn’t always take two to make a difference in a relationship. Relationship therapy can work just as well seeing one of the couple but it may be advisable at some point to introduce the partner if this is safe and agreeable to do so. Therapists that are trained to work with couples and families are never shocked or surprised by what couples bring to therapy and, believe it or not, most issues brought to therapy are more common that we may think.
If you are considering accessing help for your relationship with me there are certain steps you may wish to consider: First, I will help you reframe your perspective of how things are in order to ascertain what is real, true and honest. I will help you to connect the dots of your experiences, feelings, and beliefs about life’s happenings. Our traumas and trials may shape who we are, but we need not let them dictate who we can become.

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