Many people come to see me reporting a history of failed relationships. Some find they keep choosing the wrong person, who treats them badly. Others report not understanding why their relationships fail. Others have a history of seeing many therapists, seeing each one for a period of time, then moving to another therapist with no resolution of their difficulties.
All report being dissatisfied with their relationship histories but don’t know what to do about it. They feel stuck and unable to change the way things are happening.
I Am Not Good Enough
A lot of the time, when I explore with them their feelings about themselves they will report feeling not good enough. Often they believe they are not worth anything better.
Often they are looking for the perfect parent to fill the void left by less than perfect parenting that left them traumatised. This happens especially with friendships and therapists.
Insecure Attachment And Poor Attunement
For these people, they have not formed a secure attachment relationship with their parents in childhood. They will also have had parents who were not attuned to them. This leaves the child feeling unsafe and invisible.
This may not seem like a big issue, but this happens at a time when the child’s brain is developing. When the child’s template of relationships, their view of the world, their view of themselves is developing.
Research has shown that human babies have an inbuilt need for secure attachment. If a parent cannot meet a baby’s needs, then the baby will die. For that reason, it is vital a baby can trust that their parent will feed them, change them, hold them when they are scared or in pain. In short, the baby needs to trust that their parent will keep them safe and alive.
This continues as the baby grows into a child. A child still needs care and protection.
This is what is referred to as attachment.
If a child does not have a secure attachment with its parents, then it is not safe. That is terrifying for a child.
Attunement is a measure of how well a caregiver understands the child and is able to meet their needs, especially emotional needs. It means the parent seeks to understand why the child is crying, or acting out.
Instead of judging the parent may seek to understand what is wrong with the child. Are they tired, hungry, upset about something, unwell?
To be understood, to be attuned to, is to be seen. If you are seen then you are more likely to have your survival needs met. If you are not seen you are invisible and then you are at risk of dying because you will not be cared for.
It is worth noting that the parent who spends their time on their mobile phone instead of looking at their child and interacting with them is at risk of exhibiting poor attunement with the child.
If You Can’t Spend Time Caring For Me or Seeing Me Then I Am Not Worthwhile
Lack of attunement is a terrifying situation.
Insecure attachment is a terrifying situation.
They leave the child with the message that they are not worth anything because their parents don’t take the time to attend to their needs, seek to understand them or notice them.
Physical, sexual and emotional abuse can also leave a child feeling they are not worthy of love, that they are not good enough, that they are not worth anything better. I will talk about those issues more in other blogs.
I Am Not Worth Anything And Counselling
This is the situation many people who come to see me find themselves in. They were not worth enough to be securely attached or attuned to their parents.
People come to see me because they want help to feel better in relationships with other people. They want to have successful relationships. They want to have relationships with people who they can feel safe with.
But when there is a history of insecure attachment and lack of attunement it can be hard to work with a counsellor. If all other relationships are unsatisfactory, how can you be sure the counsellor will be a safe person to work with?
The Therapeutic Relationship (Alliance)
Counselling is a relationship referred to as the Therapeutic Alliance. Research has shown that the relationship between you and your counsellor is responsible for the majority of healing that takes place.
When you come to see me, the relationship we have will be a model of a secure relationship. The difficulty is, can you trust that the relationship is secure? When all you have known is insecure relationships, can you be sure I will give you the secure relationship you crave?
The Therapeutic Alliance Must Be A Secure Relationship
I can give you that secure relationship, but will you allow me to?
Growing up in an insecure relationship is terrifying. Children know intrinsically what they need. They can’t name it, but they will seek what they need.
A child who cannot trust relationships will constantly look for evidence that the person they are relating to cannot be trusted. Often, to avoid the pain of failed relationships the child will end a relationship before the other person can end it. This happens even when the other person is committed to the relationship.
Bids For Attention
As humans, we make constant “bids for attention” from the people we are in relationship with. As adults those bids are usually fairly subtle, but if those bids are not met, they can become more obvious, even angry.
For a child, who lacks the skills of an adult, the bids for attention are more extreme. The child may misbehave, break things, yell at the adult. They will do whatever it takes to get attention. This is because it is only when they get attention that they can know they are seen.
You have no doubt heard the saying “any attention is better than no attention”. The ignored child doesn’t want the bad attention, but if that is all they can get they will seek it.
The trouble is, the bad attention doesn’t meet the child’s needs fully.
The Traumatised Child In An Adult Body
As the child grows up, the small traumatised child who was desperate to feel safe and get their needs met is still there.
Normally, as we grow into adulthood, we learn new behaviours to replace the old behaviours. Then we behave in ways that help us to form and maintain relationships.
But for the child whose childhood needs were never met, those behaviours that worked temporarily in childhood don’t get an opportunity to transform into adult behaviours.
I see this often in my work. The small child, desperate to feel safe and get their needs met, demanding attention, demanding control, unable to consider others or collaborate with them. That adult with the small child behaviours is often labelled narcissistic, selfish, even aggressive. Yet they are not a true narcissist. They are just a child who lacks the nuanced skills of an adult.
How I Work
In my work I seek to heal the child and allow the adult self to take control. That is the way for you to feel safe in life. For you to have those relationships you crave. The way for you to feel worthwhile, safe and seen.
But for you, working with me is dangerous and scary. How can you trust me?
Therapy Is No Quick Fix
Healing the pain of your childhood will take a long time. Additionally, I will work with areas of your life your traumatised child is desperate to protect. I need to work with those areas, because they are what is holding you trapped in unsuccessful relationships. And you need to be able to let me do that.
It takes a long time to work through childhood trauma.
I will use many different approaches to help you work through this.
You may want me to wave a magic wand and fix you instantly. You may want me to work the way you decide, even though it is not a way that will help you. You may get frightened and decide you don’t want to be healed. You may know that you don’t want healing, or you may convince yourself that you just want another approach, or another therapist will meet your needs better.
Communication Between You And Me Is Vital
It is important we both communicate well.
I will tell you how I envisage working with you and ask you if you are okay with that.
I will explain things to you and review often to see if you are happy with the direction therapy is taking and discuss different approaches we can take for each stage of treatment.
You can help by telling me about your feelings and concerns so I can hear you and meet your needs.
When we communicate well with each other, then we can plan your therapy to best help you heal.
Therapy Is Long Term
Don’t expect this to be quick.
It is quite likely we will work towards a goal and you will then stop therapy for a time while you learn to live with this new goal. Over time you may find another area that needs attending to. Then you will either come back to me or to another therapist to do more work.
Can I Help?
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your difficulties, please contact me on 0409396608 or email@example.com
If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz