What Patrick Melrose Can Teach Us About Inner Child Therapy

9781447253525the patrick melrose novels_13I do not watch much television these days. However, occasionally something catches my attention and Patrick Melrose has certainly done that. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, The Patrick Melrose Novels are a series of semi-autobiographical works by Edward St Aubyn. Set in the upper crust world of English aristocracy, the story spans Melrose’s life from a small boy to a rather dysfunctional adult. It takes place in such places as  his childhood home in France, later in London and New York. The books have been recently adapted for television, it really is enthralling viewing and Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent in the lead role, extending his considerable acting abilities to the limit. I am sure it also paints a fairly accurate picture of that particular social scene at the time of social climbing, privilege and old fashioned upper class thinking.

Interesting as that is in terms of the novel, the real crux of the story is how Melrose deals with the effects of an abusive childhood. Sexually abused by a emotionally distant father who lived in a different world and neglected by a self absorbed mother, Melrose found solace as a child in the wonderful nature around the chateau in France where he grew up and in solitude, physically and emotionally. Later in life, he turned to drugs, alcohol and promiscuity to ease the pain of his childhood memories and self talk that he recognized as critical thinking from his father. The depression he felt in these times was vividly portrayed.

In terms of his psychology, it is fascinating to see how his childhood never really leaves him and despite all attempts to rid himself of its influence, he never quite succeeds. There are interesting parallels drawn between the distant relationship he had with his father and how he struggles awkwardly to connect with his own son. Additionally, Melrose displays many of his father’s characteristics in later life. Especially, when he returns to his childhood home as an adult and a father. The dysfunction is truly generational.

Despite trying to distract himself with marriage and children, the demons return when he is disinherited by his mother who gives her fortune to a suspect charity. He falls , once again, into a downward spiral of alcoholism that seemingly costs him his marriage. His fall from grace is apparently terminal and there seems no way back. At the time of writing, the finale is due in a week.

One might find consolation in this wretched story in the fact that it could be seen as a figment of the author’s imagination even though it is semi-autobiographical. However, I have much evidence to call upon from my work as a therapist to suggest that there are many people struggling to deal with the rigors of growing up with their parent’s blueprint as their only form of reference on how the world works. Many have turned to drugs, alcohol and sex to self medicate.

While watching, I was reflecting strongly on the methods I use to help people with such issues, this being primarily inner child therapy and internal family systems therapy (seeing thinking as a system and as a group of individual parts that work together and in conflict) and how effective they can be. I left the thought with the increased conviction that such therapies are not only useful but indeed, essential if we are to connect in a meaningful way with our childhood wound that the inner child carries.

This is truly deep work and takes patience and a conviction to carry it out. It is difficult in the fact that anyone doing it is suddenly confronted with issues that have been subdued for as long as they can remember. Doing non-dominant hand writing and drawing taps into a part of the mind that is child-like and I am always astounded by the emotional reaction it causes and the surprises in store. Coupling this with an analysis of critical thinking “parts” that often consolidate dysfunction but isolate the adult from the childhood pain, can in time bring tangible results.

I have always been of the opinion that emotional triggers and outbursts that include excessive crying, rage, anger and silence are a relic from our pasts, as is any form of addiction. Helping your inner child to finally develop and grow up can be one of the most rewarding experience one can ever go through. It might be one that anyone who wants to have a family goes through as a matter of course!

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