Creating Intimacy with the Self

» Posted by on Dec 15, 2017 in Articles, Healing Intimacy Disorders, Love | 0 comments

Creating Intimacy with the Self

Creating Intimacy with the Self:

A New Approach to Relational-Marital Therapies

When I was trained as a marital-relational therapist, the focus was on the interpersonal relationship, that is, the interaction between two individuals.  This included enhancing communication, the quality of intimacy, looking at time spent together and apart as well as the explicit and implicit contracts, anger and conflict management, problem-solving skills, and parenting and negotiation. This work was necessary, but not always sufficient.  Sometimes each person required additional individual therapy to work on developmental trauma, neglect, or the impact of parental attunements or lack thereof. The approach could be effective, but when seeing one of the partners separately, the partner may be open and self-disclosing to the therapist at the expense of critical sharing with their partner, or the couple becomes polarized as they separately tell their version of recent interactions, complain ot the therapist or want them to validate the other partner’s perceived misdeeds. This frequently makes the relationship more complex and difficult, since hearing one side of a disagreement can lead to incorrect insights and hence advice from the therapist.

Intrapersonal-Relational Therapy

Eventually a third, more useful approach to relationships emerged:  intrapersonal-relational therapy focused on strengthening one’s relationship with self.  Many clients present with internal core beliefs of self-hate, perfectionism, depersonalization or feeling “object-like,” or carry shame, believing they are “damaged goods,” which influences their choice of partner and what they are willing to accept and expect in the relationship. Two people in a destructive relationship can actively – and unconsciously — recreate patterns from their childhood.  A person who feels defective and undeserving will often recreate neglect or abuse. If the male partner, for example, hates himself, he could fear true intimacy and reject it, and for example escape into illicit affairs, online pornography, workaholism, or discharge out-of-control anger to prove to his partner that he is “bad” or unworthy. In other couples, one person becomes so over adequate to earn the partner’s affection, that their partner feels unnecessary, has no defined job role with the house, garden, kids or chores, and the foundation of the actual partnership is undermined and subsequently threatened.

In intrapersonal-relational therapy, the couple is seen by the therapist and the focus is on each partner learning self-compassion and care, and developing the capacity to receive the partner’s mirroring of adoration, affection, understanding and appreciation. This is done by having each individual identify the angry, lonely, sad, disconnected and scared parts of them self that manifests their outwardly expressed thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Next, the partners learn to form an internal (within the self) intimate relationship with these adverse parts of self, similar to the connections we form with our children or good friends. When the parts of the self that are sad or lonely shows up, the partners listen compassionately and accept these parts (feelings), knowing that their feelings are likely amplified by the unfinished business— unprocessed emotions — from their past.

When we are mistreated as a child or bullied by peers, the injured parts of self can become disconnected, particularly if no one helps us process these feelings, allowing us to make sense of why others can be cruel or neglectful. The mistreated child might falsely conclude that it is he or she that is bad, rather than understand the behavior or maltreatment in context, i.e. the bullies picked on him because he looked vulnerable, which is because his dad exploded angrily at home, which has led him to withdrawing more and unable to pay attention in class. Oftentimes, there is a domino effect with one problem creating the next, until the victim concludes they were chosen by the bullies to be picked on because of being defective, bad or sick, and they feel shame.

Healing the Core Self

Self-compassion and nurturing can heal those injuries to the core self.  When clients feel the anxiety or hears the self-talk that attempts to cover the deeply felt shame, they instead learn to actively re-parent themselves or engage their partner to assist them to receive kindness and self-compassion and “correct” the formerly adverse emotional experience.  When they make a mistake, or don’t know how to do something effectively, the partner or self can reason gently and reflect, “That’s ok. No big deal. We can learn and are learning, to do it differently.”

The new revolution in mindfulness teaching is to teach individuals that their minds are often reactively stuck in the past, full of fault-finding or the debilitating recounting of “what they should have done,” or are anxiously playing out the future, full of “What If?” fears.  To increase self-control, problem-solving capacity, and to enable the generation of more positive experiences in the present moment, we must allow ourselves (and our clients) to learn from emotional loss, psychological pain and suffering, mistakes they’ve made and the conflicts they need to face in order to achieve the wisdom that comes from self-growth and that eventually leads to far more personal happiness.

Intrapsychic Therapy

Today’s intrapersonal-relational therapy often adds the component of “Ontrapsychic Therapy.” In this approach, one partner is the focus of a therapy session while the other partner silently witnesses their partner work through the angry, sad, lonely and disconnected parts of self with the therapist. This provides greater clarity and compassion in the witnessing partner, allowing them to understand why their partner may act in ways that upsets them.  As a wife watches her husband deal with the memories of his father beating him for a minor infraction as a child, she can then feel genuinely sad for him. She might better understand what prompts her husband to be critical with her and/or their children. This knowledge can then help to motivate her to reach out and help him learn greater patience and gentleness with both himself and his family members. The husband recognizes that he is repeating a destructive pattern. He mindfully notices that his out-of-control, angry part is fueling negative voices that say of his daughter, “She doesn’t respect me. That child needs to be punished.” Instead, he learns to calm himself, take a time-out, and find a more compassionate, constructive intervention. At that point, therapeutic help, that which develops interpersonal and parenting skills, can prove very useful.

Critical Development of Self-empathy

When individuals develop self-empathy, their relationships with others will begin to change and improve. These subtle changes lead to positive feedback and more positive mirroring from others, which increases the individual’s self-esteem and self-cohesion and creates more self-empathy. This continuously regenerating, upward spiral is the primary goal of relational and intrapersonal-relational therapy.

Once one partner begins to do deeper work, often their personality begins to shift from defensive, angry, avoidant, or dismissive, to being more open, “response flexible,” and vulnerable. Their partner then begins to shift in response, and typically, requests to do similar work themselves. As each partner changes and evolves, they feel more positive and hopeful, which motivates more change. Often, the tools for interpersonal interaction — improved communications and collaborative solutions-focused problem-solving — are maximally deployed and become highly effective.

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