The Magic Of Inner-Child Work And Couples' Therapy

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The Magic of Inner-Child Work And Couples' Therapy

Family dysfunction and childhood wounds can impact relationships. How can inner-child work and couples' therapy help your relationship get through these challenges?

Once upon a time, a little six-year-old girl named Rebecca lived with her parents and younger four-year-old brother, Joey.

Far away in another state there was a little nine-year-old boy named Michael. He also lived with his parents and an older brother, 11-year-old Tom.

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Rebecca was seeking acceptance and love.

Her mother scolded and punished her for many reasons that were not her fault. Sometimes, she would be locked in a dark closet for hours, helpless and very scared.

Rebecca would lie down on the closet floor, praying to be let out. She cried and wondered why her mother didn’t love her. Her father was very quiet, and her mother often scolded him, too.

Rebecca grew up feeling like she didn’t matter and learned that the only way she could feel safe was to not talk. She made few friends.

Her teachers wondered why it was so difficult for her to speak to other children. She was terrified when she had to respond in class, always fearing that her answers would be wrong.

As she grew older, Rebecca withdrew from her peers. She felt safe only when she was alone. Eventually, she decided to major in psychology when she went to college.

As time passed, she developed anxiety accompanied by depression. Her psychology courses initiated her decision to seek help.

Meanwhile, Michael longed for attention.

He grew up with a very strict father who was cold, detached, and unavailable to his son's interests and desires. Michael felt unloved and yearned for a hug from his dad that never came.

The only way he was able to receive any attention was by playing football. Michael was a very good athlete. But his father never attended any of his games, not even when it was a championship event.

His mother was busy with her girlfriends and tennis. She was never home when Michael came home from school.

Tom, his older brother, would tease him, make him feel bad, call him names, bully him, and beat him up just for fun. Even though Michael was bigger than his brother, he cowered when Tom would become aggressive.

Michael’s anger grew as time went by, the tears morphing into an irrepressible rage. He would put his fists through doors, smash furniture, and then feel guilty for his reprehensible behavior.

He didn’t know why he was so angry and quick-tempered. His friends shied away from him, leaving him somewhat isolated — except for football practice.

Football became a sublimation for his anger and won him a four-year athletic scholarship to college and the hearts of many girls.

In time, his girlfriends left him due to his anger and abusive behavior. He never physically hurt them, but his demeaning words and contemptuous behavior would leave them in tears. Eventually, they would end the relationship.

Rebecca and Michael met in college during a rainstorm as they passed each other on the way to class.

Rebecca lost her footing and slipped onto the ground. Michael helped her onto her feet. He asked if he could walk her to her class, as she was a bit shaken up from the fall. She agreed and smiled.

That was the start of their romance.

A year after Rebecca graduated, they became engaged. When Michael graduated, got his first job, and went to graduate school to receive an MBA, they married.

It wasn’t long before Michael’s anger began to surface.

He found fault with Rebecca’s cooking, housework, and even the way she dressed.

Rebecca’s self-esteem began to diminish. She became depressed and regressed to the little girl that was locked in the closet. The more he found fault, the more she tried to please him.

Their marriage fell into crisis.

Rebecca felt she had to do something. Michael seemed to create battles for no reason at all. He needed to be right and make her wrong. There was little joy left in the relationship.

What was once a sacred space now felt dangerous and polluted.

One day after a terrible fight with Michael spewing words that felt like daggers to her heart, Rebecca asked Michael if he wanted a divorce. They had no children and it seemed that it might be best to call it quits before children came into their lives.

What they both didn’t know was that Rebecca was pregnant. When this was discovered, they decided to stay married and seek professional help.

They had been to two therapists, each for three or four times, but nothing changed. They felt disappointed, frustrated, and fearful that things would never change.

Then, Rebecca found a therapist in the same city not too far from their home, an expert in Encounter-centered Couple’s Transformation.

They felt hopeful after the first visit.

After a few more, Michael understood where his anger came from and why Rebecca was the recipient of his unresolved childhood wounds co-created by his dysfunctional parents.

Rebecca learned that her fears and intimidation were carried over from her sense of powerlessness from her family of origin.

She had been abused and abandoned by both her parents. Rebecca needed to learn to protect herself by creating boundaries and finding her voice.

So, what does all this inner-child work have to do with relationships?


What is unresolved in your childhood is carried into your adult life. This impacts your choice of partners, how you negotiate differences from your past, and how you live out your future.

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Here are 5 strategies to stop past traumas from poisoning your relationships.

1. Therapy.

Therapists guide us through our past and into our present to ensure our future doesn’t repeat self-destructive patterns of behavior.

Talk or support therapy will not cut it. Any therapy must be experientially coupled with cognitive behavior therapy.

It's essential to find a seasoned therapist who has the skills and tools to be successful.

2. Combed inner-child work and couples' therapy.

Encounter-centered Couples Transformation, founded by Hedy Schleifer helps couples see their partner’s dysfunctional past that has been carried over into their relationship.

Each couple brings their own baggage that gets dumped in the relational space. When that space gets uncomfortable, the couple reacts to the discomfort, causing the space to feel dangerous.

The couple then reacts to the danger in the space, and the space becomes polluted. The goal of couples' therapy is to restore connection and safety by cleansing the space. This takes time, commitment, and money.

Are you willing to invest in yourselves? It may be the best investment you will ever make — and cheaper than a divorce!

3. Principles and rituals of EcCT.

Learn the principles and rituals in your sessions and practice them when you get home. Without practice, you'll never reach your goals.

Change requires commitment and patience. It needs time and a burning desire.

Real change does not progress in a straight line. It’s one step forward, and two steps backward — three steps forward, and one step backward.

Not unlike the stock market, change swings, dips, surges, and stabilizes. And once it stabilizes — unlike the stock market — it no longer maintains volatility if you use the skills.

4. Be mindful.

In Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Steven Covey writes that there's space between stimuli and response, called "T.H.I.N.K.!"

It’s natural to lash out like a child when you get hurt. Anger is an automatic response to hurt. As children, we didn’t think. We just reacted and had temper tantrums.

As adults, we need to think of our outcome goal and create a strategy to achieve it. That means taking a moment to process our feelings and where they come from.

We need to own them and take an elevator up from your limbic system, the seat of your emotions, until you reach the frontal lobe. This part of your brain serves as an arbitrator between your reptilian brain ("fight or flight" mode) and your limbic system.

It negotiates between them initiating a thought process to reason and consider the consequences before you act.

Acting out is converting a feeling into a behavior. The frontal lobe, that part of your brain that plays the negotiator, will direct you into an effective solution.

5. Be present.

Sit across from each other, no more than 18 inches apart. Look into the eyes of your partner and stay silent for a few minutes. Take each other’s hands with an open heart and warm eyes.

Be grateful you’re alive. Feel your presence with each other. Stay present in the moment, holding hands, with your legs inside of theirs.

Listen to your heartbeat, while looking into the eyes of the person you once took vows to love and cherish until death do you part. Don't talk — just look upon your partner and learn the landscape of their face. They must do the same. Breathe.

Breathe again and again — deep, slow breaths. Find the little child in their eyes and remember they had struggles, the same as you — different in content, but no less, emotional scars — perhaps even more than yours.

Be gentle, be open, loving, sensitive, empathic, and just gaze into the eyes of the person who raptured your essence.

Show gratitude! Don’t be surprised if you each shed a few tears. If you do, then that’s evidence that you have reconnected.

All these principles and rituals will create an adventure in intimacy. Just as a caterpillar sheds their cocoon, you will shed your survival suits, your false self, and perhaps for the first time in your life, know who you really are.

You will meet your authentic self, feel your vulnerability, and become the champion to your wounded child.

Change is always possible if you commit. If a person commits, the universe will cooperate.

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Joan E. Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. To learn more about how Encounter-Centered Couples Therapy can renew and restore your relationship, contact her via email.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.