How might Harry’s past affect how he is as a partner and parent today?

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The first three parts of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s bombshell documentary have dropped on Netflix, with Harry talking about growing up with his mother Diana, Princess of Wales.

While Harry says he internally blocked out many memories of his mother – who died in a car crash when he was 12 – he does remember the intense media scrutiny she lived through.

“I saw things, I experienced things, I learned things – the pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution,” he says in the first instalment of the six-part series, directed by Oscar-nominated Liz Garbus.

Seeing their mother in pain would have had an effect on both Harry and his brother, the Prince of Wales, suggests BACP therapist Lindsay George, who has not met the couple.

“The impact on the boys at that particular time would have been huge, because their mum is their primary carer, she would’ve been the nurturer,” she explains, suggesting it would have had a particular effect because of their gender.

“Boys come from a place of wanting to protect, so it would have been quite traumatic for them growing up, seeing their mum distressed.

“There would have been a lot of confusion around that, in how his mum could be treated like that, or how his dad is not quite as emotionally available. So there’s often a response to that as a child, because we need to make sense of things.”

For George, what Harry experienced as a youngster would go on to shape his role as a partner, as “our relationships essentially start in our family, and that becomes our blueprint for our romantic relationships at a later stage”.

Harry with his mother in 1995
Harry with his mother in 1995 (Martin Keene/PA)

“The only way we can control those feelings [as a child] is to control it in our present day,” she explains. “So he would have naturally gravitated towards women that he could protect.

“And he would have wanted to try and separate himself from the stereotypical ‘male’ of the royal family – emotionally unavailable, the stoic, don’t deal with your feelings, carry on regardless kind of thing.

“And for him, it sounds like his mental health over a period of years suffered, because he didn’t quite know how to identify himself.

“So trauma lives on, in relation to how he is in his romantic relationships, how he behaves and how protective he is of Meghan.”

George believes this desire to protect can be clearly seen when Harry announced he and Meghan were stepping back as senior members of the royal family in January 2020.

“That’s him taking control of the situation and saying, ‘This isn’t right, I’m not putting up with this. I can’t allow my wife to be treated like my mother’. So there’s that attachment of looking at his wife, making sure it doesn’t happen to her and extricating himself from the situation – and her and his children, because he’s creating a completely different path.”

Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The documentary is giving a behind-the-scenes look at Harry and Meghan’s relationship (Duke and Duchess of Sussex/Netflix/PA)

This is an example of the united front the Sussexes put forward, according to George: “Because they come from a place of equals, which is a really different place to what he was brought up as.”

George also said Harry’s past hasn’t just shaped who is he as a partner, but could also have an impact on his parenting style in raising Archie, three, and Lilibet, one.

In the documentary, Harry and Meghan talk about how they are both products of divorce, with the duchess saying: “There’s so much from anyone’s childhood that you bring with you into the present. Especially when you’re the product of divorce.”

Harry adds: “What’s most important to the two of us is to make sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes that perhaps our parents made.”

The Sussexes with baby Archie
The couple are parents to Archie and Lilibet (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“We often stand on the shoulders of our own parenting, and we decide we’re not going to be like our parents – we’re going to be better than our parents. Everybody does that naturally.”

George suggests a major reason the couple have released this controversial documentary is for Archie and Lilibet.

“They’re role models for their own children. There’s something really important there, which is they want to be perceived by their children as good parents.

“They want to be perceived in a way that they see themselves, which is as a strong, emotionally available couple – and that’s different to how his mum and dad were, because they were very separate, and they were very disconnected.”

George recommends looking at the BACP’s couples collective booklet for advice on how to navigate relationships.

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