Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Blaming Doesn't Help: How Abuse Impacts the Relational Template

This is a copy of a short piece I wrote on behalf of an amazing and active organisation in Australia called Fighters Against Child Abuse (FACAA). In a following post I will write a little more about the work they do in Australia, with possible ramifications around the world. 

Today I’d like to talk about relational templates and how they can be affected by early traumatic experiences.

So what is a relational template?

It’s a fancy sounding concept used by attachment theorists which is really quite simple…

Most of us experience a positive early childhood. We are helpless when we are born, and therefore dependent on our carer and other adults for everything: Nurture, warmth, protection, and so on.

In a way, when we are born, and as little children, we must assume that our primary carer, and other adults in our lives are ‘good’, and as they provide these things for us we learn that we are deserving of love, we are worthy and good, and that the world will always provide for us. When we grow up, we feel confident to be independent and attract people to us that reinforce this view of ourselves. This can be called a positive relational template. The template is almost fully developed by the time we are 6 or so, and becomes the basis on which we view ourselves, and the world for the rest of our lives.

But if, as little children, this assumption of a good and protective world is disrupted by an abuser, it will conflict with this world-view.  It is the ultimate betrayal. We continue to assume that the world is good, that adults in our lives are good.. So there is only one explanation that our subconscious has for this betrayal…’I am bad, I am not worthy or deserving of love, I am punishable’.  This is called a negative relational template.

The younger and more repetitive or traumatic the abuse, the more established the negative relational template becomes.

People with this negative template do not see themselves as worthy of secure relationships, even into adulthood. It is the reason why so many good mentoring, caring relationships with a young person who has a negative relational template seem to become ‘ruptured’ or ‘sabotaged’. People often think that this is intentional, but this is far from the truth. The abuser has damaged the idea that the young person is deserving and worthy, so they will unconsciously behave in a way that allows them to ‘prove’ they are not worthy of your attention or love.

The good news is that research on neuroplasticity shows this can heal. A Negative template can become a positive one.

The way to do this is not to blame the child or young person for the rupture. To understand why ‘it is happening’ rather than why ‘they are doing this’. 

Next we gently persistently care (“Guess what? I’m still here, I still care”). By not rejecting the young person (or child or adult) we slowly demonstrate that they are indeed worthy.

This in itself may mean the person will attract partners that are not abusive in adulthood, that genuinely love them, and that they wont continue proving that they are not deserving of a good life.

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