Why do we put so much effort into the relationships we have? Since the beginning of time, people have been fascinated by the answer to this question. We all cherish the feeling that comes with being joined to another person. We are social creatures, and it is seemingly difficult for us to function when we are by ourselves. We are conditioned to believe that when we are alone, there must be something wrong with us, that we are flawed, weird, or undeserving. This conditioning comes from society, family, and culture. We are encouraged by these factors, among others, to enter into romantic partnerships and maintain them, and it is expected of us that these partnerships will bring us joy. But what if we are not always aware of the reasons why we are attracted to the people we are and the motivation to get involved in a relationship with them?

In IFS therapy, we work with protective parts to allow us access to our exiles. Sometimes, we look for people consciously or unconsciously, to help us with our parts and exiles. We look for people who remind us of the caregivers we had and the relationship we had with them. We sometimes think that if we can fix this person, we can fix our past. If we can make this person love us, it has all been worth it. Freud called it “repetition compulsion’. The condition known as repetition compulsion occurs when an individual has an unconscious urge to relive a traumatic event from the past. However, this compulsion will not assist you in overcoming the traumatic experience and may even make things worse. It takes place when you engage in traumatic behaviours from your past, despite the fact that you are aware that they are harmful to you.

If a child grew up with a parent who cheated on their partner, that child may develop a compulsion for repetition similar to infidelity. When the child grows up, they might continue to act in this manner because they believe it is typical of their age group. They may deceive their partner by cheating on them, or they may continually surround themselves with people who betray their trust. It’s possible that this behaviour is an unconscious attempt to make up for the pain that they experienced as a child by making their partner suffer. Choosing to remain in a relationship with a partner who cheats on you, is emotionally abusive, or is physically abusive as a means of coping with the trauma you’ve experienced in the past is another option.

According to Freudian theory, narcissism can also play a role in repetition and how it affects relationships. This is one of the ideas that underpins psychoanalysis. It’s possible that you want to see the narcissist as loving because their behaviour is familiar to you from your own history, which causes you to make choices that are detrimental to your health and wellbeing.

The offspring of narcissistic parents frequently experience feelings of guilt because they are held responsible for things that are not their fault. If something like this happened to you as a child, you might be more likely to date narcissists as an adult because you already have experience with the dynamics of these types of relationships.For instance, you might discover that you have a tendency to surround yourself with narcissistic friends, coworkers, bosses, or partners who have an impact on your day-to-day life.

In terms of codependency, the codependant experiences repetition compulsion believing they were the source of strife in their parental relationship. They feel that if they can fix their unavailable partner they can fix their flawed familial relationships. In this way, the repetitive compulsion feeds the codependency and frustration. No matter how many changes the codependant makes, their partner stays the same. The relationship spirals, just like the previous relationship, and the one before that, which further reinforces the codependent’s belief that they’re damaged goods. 

All of the above is driven by exiles.

Exiles, also known as child parts, may become trapped in the past, unable to move on from the pain and fear of their past experiences. The detection of younger parts that are locked away deep in the psyche can often be a challenging task. Similar to exiles, individuals who have experienced past traumas may feel trapped in a previous time, continuing to experience the same pain and fear. For those whose trauma occurred before they developed language skills, they may struggle to express themselves verbally. The parts that are delicate and young may carry various burdens such as fear, shame, and feelings of worthlessness. Parts that have been shamed, frightened, or devalued by the family or cultural context may be exiled. Due to their isolation, they may be unaware of any changes that have occurred since the initial trauma. The time capsule’s inhabitants seem to lack the ability to recognise the growth and development of other individuals, particularly those in managerial positions who have acquired new skills and expertise over time. Exiles remain completely unaware and stuck in the past. It appears that they are currently unreachable due to some sort of time distortion. This is why self-defeating behavioural and emotional patterns can be so persistent and difficult to overcome, even when we consciously want to change. And that’s why sometimes we may experience a sense of being fraudulent or not genuine. When certain parts are unavailable and unable to contribute their gifts to our overall personality, we may be limiting our full potential. The inclusion of exiled parts contributes significantly to creating an authentic atmosphere. Exiles remain hidden until they are activated, which can occur when the individual encounters a situation that resembles the original traumatic experience or even when they see it on TV. At times, an Exile has the potential to escape its confinement and overwhelm the individual with intense emotions such as sorrow or anxiety. In such situations, other parts may react with harsh criticisms that can be hurtful and demotivating (i.e. “You are such a baby!”, “I hate myself when I explode with anger.”, “You are lazy and useless!”).

Exiled inner children can have a significant impact on relationships because they represent unresolved emotional wounds and unmet needs from childhood that continue to influence our adult lives. These emotional wounds and needs can be traced back to when we were younger. These aspects of ourselves, known as our “exiled inner children,” were not fully acknowledged, validated, or nurtured while we were growing up, so they were pushed to the margins of our lives. Instead, they were frequently ignored, neglected, or even rejected due to a variety of factors including traumatic experiences, neglect, or emotional invalidation. This caused them to be marginalised.

When these inner children are cast out and their wounds are not healed, they have the potential to resurface in our adult lives in the form of emotional triggers, patterns in our relationships, and behaviours that are destructive to ourselves. They could be a factor in the challenges associated with forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Exiled inner children have the potential to impact relationships in the following ways:

Emotional reactivity: Exiled inner children frequently harbour unresolved feelings and unmet needs, both of which can contribute to emotional reactivity in relationship dynamics. It is possible for intense emotional reactions that seem disproportionate to the current situation to be brought on by triggers from previous experiences. This can lead to disagreements and misunderstandings with our partners, as well as make it more difficult to communicate effectively with them. Issues with attachment and insecurity: People who have exiled their inner children frequently struggle with profound feelings of insecurity and fear of being abandoned. In adult relationships, these emotions can manifest as possessiveness, jealousy, or a persistent need for reassurance. It can be difficult to trust others and difficult to form secure attachments when one is haunted by the fear of being rejected or abandoned again.

Exiled inner children may be the source of self-sabotaging behaviours that get in the way of successful relationship building. For instance, a person may pull away from their partner when the relationship begins to get too personal or emotionally vulnerable out of fear that they will be hurt or rejected. This can happen when things start to get too intimate. They may also engage in patterns of seeking validation or attention outside the relationship, which can erode trust and closeness in the relationship.

Emotional unavailability: When inner children are pushed to the margins of a person’s life, they have the potential to erect emotional barriers that thwart deep emotional connection and intimacy. These barriers frequently appear as a form of self-protection, with the intention of preventing the sufferer from being exposed to the pain and vulnerability associated with previous emotional wounds. As a consequence of this, people may have difficulty expressing their feelings, communicating their requirements, or being fully present in their interpersonal relationships.

It is essential to bring one’s long-lost inner children back home in order to build healthy and fulfilling relationships. The first step is to become aware of and accept their presence in the world. People can begin the process of integrating and healing these fractured aspects of themselves if they participate in healing practises such as psychotherapy, work with their inner children, or other such activities. In order to complete this process, it is necessary to provide the inner child with the care, love, and validation that they required in the past but did not receive.

Individuals can cultivate self-compassion and a deeper understanding of their emotional triggers by engaging in the process of healing, which also allows them to develop healthier coping mechanisms. As a consequence of this, they are able to cultivate more fulfilling relationships that are founded on self-awareness, empathy, and emotional attunement. Individuals can build a strong foundation for intimacy, trust, and authentic connection in their relationships with others by focusing on the needs of their long-lost inner children and attending to those needs.

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