17. HOW AND WHY WE CHOOSE OUR PARTNERS.
5. DESCRIBING YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER AS EITHER GOOD OR BAD STARTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
This is a rather complicated area and Google will supply you with tons of information if you need to know more. Reading tons of theory however is one thing, seeing it acted out in the therapy room is an entirely different matter all together.
In many cases couples who saw me, would describe each other or their relationship using the words good or bad. This immediately alerted me to the great work of Melanie Klein, the Austrian born British Psychoanalyst.
She describes using opposite words like good and bad as a process of Splitting – and you will have probably also have heard of the term, ‘Good Mother, Bad Mother’.
Very simply put, in the early years and what has been observed through countless observations of babies, is that a baby sees their mother’s breast at times as good and nurturing. At other times, if the baby has had to cry and wait for it’s milk it may feel frustrated,hungry and deprived. The mother and her breast can be seen or felt as bad, empty and un-nurturing. Not all mothers can always be there 24-7. So they can be perceived as bad, abandoning and unavailable.
After posting this Blog the following was asked by Melody Green, a Radical Life Makeover Coach: ‘You specify breast feeding- how does this relate to the millions of babies who are bottle fed? And what happens with twins or multiple births? Emotional eating also stems from these early encounters so I am curious to hear your thoughts on this – thanks for a great post!
I answered, ‘Melody Green, thanks for this reminder as I should add this point: It’s not actually about the breast itself but the timing of the feed whether breast or bottle. And twins would certainly have to wait their turn, sometimes feeling frustrated only to find that the in case of a breast/s there may be less milk available. Plus not all breasts have tons of milk. So if the baby does not feel full enough, trying another breast, might result in the baby becoming restless and crying isn’t always helpful. (In these cases the baby could also develop food issues later on in life. Or if the child had to wait long periods before being fed this too could lead to food issues however this is a topic for another blog)’.
And furthermore mothers will tell you too that as their babies become more clinging, the babies also begin to bite their breasts if they are still breast-feeding. It’s a way of reminding and warning the mother of their presence, and it’s a way of saying if you abandon me, I’ll abandon you – and I’ll punish you. Especially if the mother has been away for a while and the baby has felt abandoned.
Even if the mother reacts by admonishing the baby for biting her breast, often the baby just laughs and does it again. So at even this very early stage of life we begin to understand good and bad and the power of control and punishment.
But, under normal circumstances, we all learn to cope and integrate the good and bad within the parent – and ourselves. We all learn that our mothers or fathers cannot always be there for us, and somehow we learn to manage and gain a certain amount of independence as a result. Later, once the ego has developed sufficiently, the bad gets integrated, and ambivalence and conflict gets tolerated.
However, if the child finds this integration difficult and is also constantly reminded of their own good and bad behaviour, this can result in long term splitting, which the child can take into their relationships and various scenarios and situations later on in life.
And I repeat, ‘Birds of a feather flock together and we attract what we know’. Finding a partner that has not resolved their own good and bad scenarios in childhood will usually result in two people projecting their inner feeling of good or bad onto each other. In extreme cases their description of themselves or one another would only ever be good or bad. They would be unable to contemplate any grey areas. Life would have to be seen to be either good or bad at all times.
In these circumstances the projective system (I wrote about this in my previous blog) would be very strong, and blaming their partners for being good or bad, would be their main system of relating within their relationships.
This can be very destructive because it implies that they can only love and accept their partners if they are good, and being bad becomes difficult for the couple to accept. So the couple would experience conflict most of the time.
Which is why, if the process of good and bad splitting within the couple relationship continues, then a healing and an integration of the whole self, the accepting of both good and bad, will be required. The couple will need to accept the bad within each another and within the relationship as well.
It may take a while for each individual to begin to integrate both good and bad before they can then integrate the good and bad within their relationship.
Looking at this from another angle, from the viewpoint of a parent, it may be poignant to remember that, yes, one can only ever be a ‘good enough’ parent or for that matter, a ‘good enough’ child.
No one and no situation can be perfect. No infant or child will have all their needs met – mothers can only be a good enough parent.
Also, what is okay for one child might not be okay for another.
And so even in adulthood, one can only hope to achieve a ‘good enough’ relationship – because no one person can offer you everything you might need or want.
Note: © 2014 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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