A concept I learned from the RelationalLife workshop last weekend was the idea of three parts operating in us at any given time. The wounded child part is the most immature – triggered and reactive to events reflexively and without much conscious control. The adaptive child part develops to survive. It tries to look like an adult and is mostly interested in self protection. This looks like black and white thinking, perfectionism, rigidity, harshness and feels tight in the body. The functional adult is has a much more nuanced approach – realistic and forgiving, flexible and warm, relaxed in the body.
The adaptive child is challenged to be in relationship to others – the black and white, judgmental aspects keeps others at a distance.. I see this in couples where one is highly controlling and reactive to imperfections in the environment and in their partner. Often the partner’s imperfections are taken personally – as disrespect. There is a grandiosity that develops where judgment is impaired and the impact of their behavior on others is not seen. The lack of empathy for their partner’s experience damages intimacy. Becoming aware of how these parts show up in their day to day interactions gives perspective and allows recognition of when he/she is operating in their functional adult as opposed to the adaptive child. Only a functional adult can be in relationship. Therapy can help partners to recognize these parts and develop a distaste for their own grandiosity…living in relationship rather than as tyrants.