The battle of the sexes continues to rage on – we see it on TV in every other sitcom, in the movies, and worst of all – in our daily lives, with about half of all marriages in the U.S ending in divorce (in Israel – about a third). Some of us are so used to it that we don’t even expect anything else, and we just go along with the crowd. But there still are people, like Karma, that refuse to accept the age-old divide between men and women as a given, necessary and unavoidable part of life. This post is written for those people who still believe in, or yearn for an open, honest, intimate relationship with the man or woman they love.
A few days ago (well, it was a few days ago when I started this) Karma, author of the JuBu Quest Blog, wrote a post about gendered relationships, which ended with the following question, put to us, her readers:
“Is this really it? If I want a heterosexual, romantic relationship, then I have to be treated badly with the hopes that I can eventually "train" the guy?Here's my question to you, all of my fabulous blog readers out there: Are you (or have you ever been) in a relationship that didn't follow this? Give a girl a better model!”
First of all I would like to assure Karma and anybody else that may be listening in on this conversation that there is an alternative to endless maneuvering and power struggles. There is hope and there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The big question is how to get there.
My wife and I have traveled on such a path and although I cannot say that we have solved all of our problems, I do know that we have come a very, very long way from the type of relationship that Karma describes, the typically hurtful, mutually destructive bond between two people that love each other, but have no idea how to express their love in a healthy manner.
Our full story is too long and complicated to recite here, and much of it is not relevant to the question Karma asked, so I’ll limit this post to the bare essentials which boil down to one thing – choosing the correct theory.
Why is a theory of relationships so important?
Because we are saturated with information. We are subjected; from the moment we are born, to an endless stream of information regarding relationships between human beings, and especially as regards to relationships between the sexes. So I believe our problem is not lack of data on the matter, but how to understand everything that we have learned about the subject. That is what a theory does – it organizes the available data into a meaningful pattern. A really effective theory, will explain all or at least most of the available data in it’s field. A good (scientific) theory also allows us to make statements that can be verified empirically, which means, in plain English, that if we have a good theory we can accurately predict future events. This is more difficult in human affairs than in a high-school physics lab, but it is not impossible.
A good theory of relationships between the sexes should explain why men and women behave differently in relationships, and in what ways. It should also explain the striking similarities that can be found between them – after all every battle must have rules that both sides follow, even if they are not written down anywhere. What is the source of this implicit agreement and what is written there? A good theory should be able to explain all relationships – the successful ones along with the ones that fail, and, in fact, it should be able to predict this failure or success. Such a model would also enable us to understand the ins and outs of our relationships with our loved ones to the extent that we know how and why they work the way they do and therefore we also know how to fix them.
I think I know of such a theory, and we have used it, my wife and I, and still use it to great effect both in our own relationships and also in our contacts with other people, and in understanding the troubled world we live. I am talking about the Imago Theory.
I have already mentioned this theory in a previous post, and I intend to finish the first part of the Repairing Israel Series with a thorough explanation of this theory and it’s many useful applications. So here I will just give a short overview, keeping in mind Karma’s original question – does it really have to be this way and what are the alternatives.
About Harville Hendrix
Imago theory is the creation of Dr. Harville Hendrix who started life as a priest’s assistance, and a pretty successful preacher, but did not find this attractive enough. Hendrix studied psychology, obtained a license and practiced for years, working mainly with individuals and groups. When he had to deal with couples, he used the accepted practices of conflict-management, and individual treatment. But when his marriage failed, despite his best efforts, something inside him snapped – he decided that come what may, he must understand how this happened to him. Hendrix started reading all he could about the subject of marriage and discovered, to his surprise, that not much was written about it in the annals of psychology. He proceeded to find out for himself, working with hundreds of couples throughout the years and combining the findings from several different branches of psychology, mainly Freudian, Jungian and Behaviorist theories – he came up, in the beginning of the eighties, with what may be termed “a unified theory of marital relationships” that actually works, which he called the Imago Theory. For Hendrix “works” meant that a very significant amount of couples in his treatments were not getting divorced, and those that did stay together were reporting significant improvement in their marriages.
Later, Hendrix successfully applied his theory to single men and women and also to parents assuming, correctly, that it would be useful to anyone, in any station of life, who wishes to understand himself and his relationships with other people and especially for those who wish to improve or to establish them.
The theory for singles attempts to explain why we are single, why we choose, consistently, the same kind of partners, why our relationships with these partners fail consistently, and how we can begin correcting our choices, our behaviors and our future relationships by understanding how we were wounded by our caretakers, and treating those wounds even before we get involved in an intimate relationship.
The Barebones of the Theory for Singles
Imago theory states that we are born with a natural, free-flowing connection to the world, with a natural path of growth that, if followed, will enable us to be complete, fulfilled human beings. According to the theory there are several known stages of growth, which, if overcome correctly, enable us to proceed to the next stage of development with the necessary knowledge and skills (both emotional and physical).
If our primary caregivers do not enable us to follow this natural path – then we become wounded.
(Primary caregivers are in most cases, but not necessarily, our parents. I will use both terms throughout)
Stages of Development
There are six developmental stages, which I am not going to explain here (for an excellent summary see the table on this site). The important thing to realize is that these stages re-occur all our lives and therefore we have the chance to Repair our wounds all the time, given the will to do so, the ability, and – if we are in a loving relationship – the willing partner.
What is a wound?
A wound occurs every time our caregivers were consistently inattentive to our needs
or incorrectly so.
For instance, the first stage of development, called the Attachment Stage (from birth to 18 months),
“requires that the parents be available to the baby, give him warmth, and do so in a trustworthy manner – this means giving the baby what he needs when he needs it, even if this causes you (the parents) discomfort.”
(Quoted from the Hebrew version of “Giving The Love That Heals”, the Imago guide for parents).
If the parents are neglectful, the baby will feel unwanted and rejected, and he will become an “avoider” – generally avoiding contact with other humans. If they are inconsistently available, the baby will feel abandoned and will do his best to cling to whatever human is available, whenever he is available, thus becoming a “clinger”.
(If they are available in a reliable and warm manner, the baby will develop a secure attachment, and he or she will be free to continue to develop in a normal manner.)
So a wound is a deviation from the normal course of development, and will manifest itself in the way we feel and behave, in the type of personality we eventually develop, and in general – in the diminishing of our abilities, relative to our potential.
Imago theory has found that there are two distinct personality types resulting from our childhood wounds.
Two Personality Types: Maximizer and Minimizer
Our childhood wounds incurred during the various stages of development are the foundation of two main personality types, which are central to the theory. The first type is called “The Minimizer”, and he (or she) is characterized by the following traits and behaviors:
Denies his own needs, denies his dependence, stifles and limits his feelings, has clearly defined, rigid personal boundaries, keeps people away from his territory, self-centered and self-directing, thinks and acts in an obsessive manner, reveals precious little of his inner world, tries to control others.
The other personality type is called “The Maximizer”, characterized by the following traits and behaviors:
Expresses her (or his) feelings to the world, exaggerates her feelings, tends to be dependant on others, obsessively open and subjective, lets other people into her private space, clings to others, too generous, personal boundaries are undefined, focused on the outer world, asks others to direct her, unsure of herself, focuses on others, acts on impulse, usually surrenders to others, and manipulates them.
These lists were taken from the Imago guide for singles and obviously they are but rough approximations. Many of us have much more complicated behavior patterns, and usually we are able to implement different behaviors, as befits the situation. However, it is true that we usually have a tendency towards one or the other, and it is also a fact that the worse our wounds are, the more extreme and limited our behavior patterns will be, and the closer we will fit the prototypical Minimizer or Maximizer.
The personality types are further complicated by the fact that we may have been wounded in different areas of life.
The Four Areas of Life
Imago theory divides life into four areas – sensing, feeling, doing and thinking.
Sensing includes everything connected to our senses – touching, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smelling. Our ability to engage in each of these sensing activities – eating, making love, feeling the breeze on out\r skin and the sunshine on our faces- may have been diminished because of childhood wounds.
Feeling includes our ability to feel the whole range of emotions, to accurately discern our own emotions when they occur, and express them appropriately, and also the ability to empathize with other people, and make them feel that we identify with them.
Doing includes all the activities that involve, well, doing things in the world – from housework to building houses, from driving a car to applying make-up. Most of our lives are dedicated to doing things, and usually if we are not doing we are thinking.
Thinking includes the ability to calculate, to plan, to imagine, to understand and articulate abstractions, and also the ability (or disability) to engage in conversations with ourselves, inside our heads.
We may have been wounded by our caregivers in any of these fields, in very specific manners. For instance, if you have been wounded in stage one by neglectful parents and you have become an avoider, that means that your ability to be with other people, empathize with them, and let them empathize with you has been hurt. That is a wound related to the area of feeling.
An additional twist to our personalities and to the kind of wounds we may suffer is caused by the way our society assigns the areas of life by gender.
Wounds, Gender and the Areas of Life
Western society has traditionally allocated the areas of feeling and sensing to women, while demanding from men that they be doers and thinkers. Feminist literature has done an excellent job in exposing and publicizing the various everyday practices, which encourage us, from the moment we are born, to adhere to society’s demands.
In many cases this means that our parents themselves are under pressure to raise us according to the perceived norms and values of the society they live in – and I’m not sure I can blame them for that. However, many people have suffered greatly because of this.
Imago theory holds that we are all born with the ability and even the necessity to express ourselves fully in all areas of life. Limiting our expressions according to gender can really mess things up. As men we are not expected to display our emotions, but if you are a woman you are considered a cold-hearted bitch if you don’t. Women are not expected to be able to drill precise holes in the wall, but men may be ridiculed if they don’t know how to. Actually – the list of grievances is probably endless, and many others have already pointed them out.
What is important here is to realize that the way society perceives gender, influences the way we grew up and the way we were hurt, and also will become part of the difficulties we are going to face if and when we decide to heal ourselves.
The Wounded Man and Woman in Our Culture
You may have noticed by now that in our society men are generally encouraged to be minimizers, and women are generally encouraged to be maximizers. Society has long decreed that men will be doers and thinkers and women sensers and feelers. These combinations therefore are very common in our society, and also in popular culture.
The first masculine minimizer image that comes to my mind is the Marlboro Man and the second one is Dirty Harry (my personal boyhood hero) – two rugged, lonesome men, who cannot express any feelings, except rage. I imagine if I was born a generation earlier I would be reminded of the rugged lonesome, silently, raging men who starred in the Westerns, (the late Western classic The Good The Bad and The Ugly comes to mind) and if I was born a generation later I would probably have posters of the indestructible John McCLane or The Terminator on my bedroom walls. All of these male cultural icons are lonely men (or robots – not much of a difference…), tough, unfeeling people, who if they actually are in a relationship, cannot help but ruin it. They are great doers and thinkers, but they cannot feel or sense if their life depended on it, except in the limited patterns that our society allows for men: mainly, expressing anger which usually develops into some kind of violent physical contact with other men, which is about as sensuous as these guys will get, unless they are having sex with the woman du jour, in which case we will never know if they felt or sensed anything because, like the average minimizer, they are not about to let anyone into their own private world, and they also aren’t going to express their joy and ecstasy, or any other feeling in front of other people or, for that matter, in front of themselves.
In the past decade or so this pattern is definitely changing and we can now see male role models who are less extreme in their behavior patterns.
There are of course maximizer men, although I suspect they are much less common in popular culture. Mel Gibson in What Women Want is an excellent example of this type of man – he is impulsive, expresses himself freely, focusing on the world outside him, and letting other people into his own personal space (his ex-wife and daughter). In the movie he is matched up with Helen Hunt, a perfect example of a woman minimizer. It is interesting to note that a male maximizer cannot be as outgoing and emotionally expressive as a woman maximizer would be, and a woman minimizer also cannot go the extremes that men can – she is still expected to be pleasant, unselfish, and open with others, and if she isn’t – she is a bitch, a label that causes much pain for Helen Hunt’s character.
There are plenty of examples of Women maximizers in our culture. Every housewife in every TV series is a good example, (and there are many such examples) and of course the long line of passive women who wait for their hero husbands to come home, and in the meantime take care of the house and children (possibly the only area of doing that women are encouraged to engage in).
The image of the perfect woman as housewife is also fading in our culture, or at least has become more complex.
I think it would be worthwhile to analyze movies and TV series using the Imago theory and I do plan on doing that in later posts. I’m thinking especially about examining The Nanny, but I will welcome other requests.
The Wounded Man and Woman in Real Life
As you might expect, real life is a little more complicated than the picture portrayed and glorified in popular culture. In real life, there are girls who are raised to be like boys, and there are men who have been raised to resemble girls. Some women have such natural ability in the areas of thinking or doing that they cannot be held back by their wounds, although their abilities may be hindered by them, causing them, for instance, to be guilty that they are not the typical housewife, while being wildly successful in their professional field of choice. The same goes for men who have natural abilities in the areas of feeling and sensing that cannot be held at bay, despite their parents, or society’s misgivings, and they too pay the price for their abilities.
An additional, interesting twist occurs as a result of circumstances. Our ability to express ourselves is limited not only to specific areas, and to specific ways in each area, but also by specific circumstances. For instance, men, in general, are not supposed to express their emotions freely and openly, except for the one – anger. But even then, the expression of anger will be constrained according to our specific wounds. Some men will be able to express anger under any circumstances but most will limit themselves to directing anger at their subordinates but when they have to express their anger towards women – they cannot do so, preferring to sulk and be silent. For other men it will be the opposite. Some may feel comfortable to be angry with their close friends, but not with strangers, some may be extremely violent with their women, but otherwise will be timid – and the variations are endless.
The degree of anger, and the force of the anger we are allowed to express will also vary in each instance. For women it is the same – they are not supposed to express anger except under very specific circumstances in very specific ways – they may be angry at their children, but not in public, and not at other people. They may be allowed to express anger with their husbands, but only by shouting, and not by wrecking the house or hitting them.
If we would take every possible expression of life, and intersect it with the different constraints and circumstances, which rule them, we would see the complex mosaic that is our personality, and we would also be able to better understand our fellow man’s behavior.
If we do this we will also understand the way we behave in our relationships with other people, and especially with our loved ones.
The End Result: The Image of the Healer
When we grew up we may have been wounded in the various stages of life, in various areas of life, in many instances receiving wounds according to the gender of our parents and of course, our own. The end result is a complicated, detailed pattern of wounds that form our personality, which, actually, is as much a strait jacket as it is a tool that allows us to be ourselves.
According to Imago theory this pattern of wounds forms an image, which has been recorded in our unconscious. This composite image consists of the personality traits of the person from the opposite sex, which has the ability to heal our childhood wounds. Since this image is derived from our own wounds this means that this person will also bear a surprising, not to say frightening, resemblance to our parents, combining characteristics of both of them to form the exact person we need in order to get the love we need, the love that can heal us, and free us. This person will also be as adept as our parents were in hurting us, stepping unknowingly on all of our sore spots, exactly like we will be doing to them – because we are their mirror image too.
In short – in order to heal our wounds we need love from someone that resembles the people who wounded us, but that also has the ability and the need and the desire, even if unconscious – to heal their own wounds as much as we do.
How does this work? Where is the image stored? How can we meet and recognize our true love, and most importantly is there a way to avoid all the pain and conflict involved in a relationship of two wounded people?
Imago theory tries to answer these questions.
The Structure of the Psyche in Imago Theory
According to Imago theory, the image of our partner is stored in the primitive brain, the part of the brain that we have inherited from our animal ancestry. This part includes the reptile brain and the limbic system – which together are responsible for all our life functions, physical as well as emotional. The rational, thinking part of our mind with which we usually identify ourselves is called the “new brain”, the cerebral cortex, and it has little to do with our survival (for more on the brain see here)
Yes – you heard that correctly. Our thinking processes our way too slow to be trusted with our survival - for that we have our instincts and impulses, and they are very active from the minute we are born, helping us decide what is going on, and if it is a threat to our lives or not. The primitive brain also decides how to react to the changing circumstances – we can flee, fight, surrender or be paralyzed. Most importantly, this primitive part of the brain has no temporal boundaries – what happened twenty years ago when we were babies is not only close at hand – our emotional reactions to those events are also near by and can be activated in seconds, by triggers that are similar to the original ones. The primitive brains never stops functioning, and it is therefore alerting us all the time to threats on our lives, and also telling us how to react. If the perceived threat is great, than the reaction will be swift and harsh, and mostly out of our control, even if we are already responsible, respectable grown-ups. As far as our primitive brains are concerned – we are still children. So it is no surprise that many times we behave like one.
This is especially evident in life-threatening situations, and getting close to another human being, falling in love, and becoming intimate, definitely falls under that category. This explains why we react so badly in these situations – fighting when we want to soothe, sulking when we should speak, shouting when we would be best served by listening. Since both the image, and our reactions to it are usually completely unconscious, we will have very little control over our behavior in these situations, and we will react automatically, in a predetermined pattern until the relationship runs it’s course, for better or for worse. The only way to avoid this is to become conscious of the image, and the reactions it triggers.
What Triggers Us- our unconscious personality
Hendrix describes the process of growing up as a pruning – we slash away the offending parts of our personalities so that our parents and society in general will accept us, so that we may feel secure. What is left and what we present to the world as our personality is called The Fake Self.
Luckily it is impossible to actually cut off these parts – they still remain with us, waiting to be recovered. Some are still conscious, and they comprise our Hidden Self. We may have been taught that handling our genitals is forbidden, and yet we still masturbate secretly. Perhaps we were taught that intelligent women don’t get married, so we read in our beds, in private, and we don’t tell anyone about it. All the behaviors and emotions that we allow ourselves to display secretly, hiding them from others but not from ourselves, comprise the hidden self.
However, many parts have been buried so deeply that we have forgotten about them. Perhaps, as children, we liked to sing or dance, but this was disapproved of to such a degree that the mere thought of doing such things has been completely banished from our minds. Maybe we were punished so harshly for speaking loudly or spontaneously, that we have been shut up forever, forgetting that such a possibility exist for us. All of our abilities, all the different ways we have to express ourselves which have been erased from our consciousness continue to exist – as The Lost Self.
But even here not all is lost. There are things that we do not know about ourselves, and yet are easily observable to our friends and acquaintances. Men famously have a habit of picking their noses or scratching their genitals in public, and yet will continue to deny doing so, even when given clear-cut evidence. Perhaps as a compensation for having to be silent all the time you have a tendency to silence other people and to try to control their expressions, an obvious tendency to your friends, but one that you will deny. You may hate music and dancing, although you will deny it when you are invited – and refuse to go. All of our traits that we deny but are obvious to others – comprise The Denied Self.
I think that now we have enough pieces of the puzzle to describe the whole picture.
What Happens When We Fall In Love
As single people we yearn to re-establish our connection with the universe, and it’s boundless energy. We yearn to live to our fullest abilities, to express ourselves fully. If we cannot do so – we will seek for other people to do and express everything that we cannot. Ideally, we will seek for a partner that can do so for us. Therefore, inevitably, the person we will be attracted to will complement us in many ways. If we are maximizers, our partners in life will inevitably be minimizers. If we are doers and thinkers, our partners will be feelers and sensers. If we cannot express our emotion, our partner will do it for us, if we are afraid of people, our partner will be a friendly person, and if we are sensuous people , and enjoy eating and having sex - inevitably, our partner will not.
So when we first meet our partner – when we fall in love – our primitive brains recognize that the man or woman before us bear the complementary traits that we need to fulfill ourselves- and also to heal ourselves. It also identifies our partner with our parents since, emotionally, they will be very similar. That is why we suddenly feel like babies again – we feel like we felt before we were banished from Eden – connected, taken care of, basking in the bliss of unconditional love.
What we tend to forget is that our partner feels exactly the same way, and that therefore we are – for him (or her) – the ideal, long lost parent who will kiss and heal all their wounds and making everything all right again.
In Imago theory this first stage in the relationship is called The Romantic Stage. It is a great time, and countless works of art have been dedicated to describing it. Unfortunately, It never lasts. If we are wounded it simply can’t. We are not the parents of our partners, and we didn’t expect to become the mothers or fathers of twenty-year-old babies (or older, as the case may be). The first burst of energy we receive from our fateful encounter will carry us a long way, but one day it will begin to dissipate, and old habits, physical and emotional will creep back.
It is true that we need someone to express our emotions for us, but if it were so easy for us to accept – we would be expressing them ourselves. Actually – this part of our personality is part of our lost self, banished from our consciousness because it was mortally dangerous to us. Now that “us” includes our partner, and her continuous emotional displays seem, all of a sudden, not charming and cheerful, but exaggerated, crass, and worst of all – we feel threatened by them. Our primitive mind knows that emotions are dangerous, and forbidden – and they must be stopped, and that is what we try to do, thus beginning the second stage in our relationship – The Power Struggle.
Women of course feel the same. His silent, aloof demeanor seemed so mysterious, so attractive in the beginning. His lonely brooding, his ability to say nothing for hours and be at peace with himself, his independence - all of this charmed you. Yet, after a while it begins to bother you – after all, why does he have to be alone all the time? Doesn’t he like me? Doesn’t he want to be with me – you ask yourself time and again?
Most women are trained to be with people at all times, waiting on others expectantly. Being alone was strictly forbidden, and you have forgotten the need to be alone and even how to be alone. So inevitably you found the ultimate loner. You need him, but you cannot stand him because being alone is life threatening. You do not know how to be alone, and you don’t want to be alone. But your partner, who has the same wound – but the opposite defense – must be alone and feels threatened when you cling to him. He feels suffocated, and, internally, he really is. You try to change him, and he tries to change you. You fight, and make up and fight again. You are in the midst of the power struggle.
As a single person what happens next in the relationship does not concern you at the moment. However if you read all the way to here you are probably interested in what to do in order to avoid this kind of situation, especially if you have already experienced it. For you, there is only one choice, as Socrates said – know thyself!
Know Thyself – The Imago Guide For Singles
The image of our healing partner is hidden from us in the primitive brain. The parts of our personality that we are missing, that we need to recover in order to be fully human – are also hidden in our unconscious, in the hidden self.
And yet, if we want to understand ourselves and our behaviors within our relationships – we must know these things. We must know what threatens us, what triggers our uncontrollable reactions, what causes us to distance ourselves from the people we love, and ultimately ruin the one thing we really long for – an intimate relationship. We must delve into the hidden, forbidden parts of ourselves, and bring back from the depths a new awareness.
Ordinarily this is an extremely difficult task. The average clinical psychologist has been trained to unearth these secrets in a lengthy process that can take years, and cost a fortune, and he will tell you that there simply is no other way. He will be right, but he will also be wrong.
You can start your journey of discovery right now, and you can begin to heal yourself right now. You can discover the image of your partner, and if you begin to heal yourself you can actually change this image, and be attracted, and attract to yourself, a different kind of partner, one that is less wounded then your original choice.
These things are possible; not easy – not at all – but definitely possible. The healing process can begin today, but, and in this your average psychologist will be correct – becoming fully healed will take a long time. From my experience, this does not matter too much. Once you actually realize that change is possible, that there actually is hope for something better – life, if not perfect, will be much better.
The first step in this long and fateful process will be to buy the Imago Guide for singles called “Keeping The Love You Find ”. In this book, Hendrix gives a full, detailed description of the theory, accompanied by many exercises which will help you discover who you are, what parts of your personality have been lost, and what kind of defenses you have developed throughout the years. The principle behind these exercises is simple: “discovering the unknown with the help of the known” a phrase and practice which I learned from reading one of Moshe Feldenkrais’s books.
In terms of Imago theory this means that with the help of the exercises in the aforementioned book we draw a map of ourselves. One part of the map is clear to us, consisting of everything we know about ourselves – the fake self, and the hidden self. Since we know, at least in general terms, what is supposed to be present in the full personality – we can connect the dots. In other words – we will recognize that we are minimizers, which means that we actually need to learn the opposite behavioral patterns – those of the maximizer. We will discover obvious holes in our abilities in certain areas. Perhaps we cannot cry, or do not know how to be angry. Some things about ourselves will be easy for us to acknowledge, others we will not discover the first time we do these exercises. What is important is that we will find areas that we can begin to work on immediately. For this there are also some very good suggestions in the book, and you will probably be able to think of many different “drills” yourself.
In any case – the process itself is fascinating and very rewarding. Be sure, whatever you do, to save all of your exercises even if they seem to you, at first, hopelessly incomplete or ridiculous. Reading them again after enough time has past is an experience you will not want to miss.
One of the most important points that Hendrix makes in this guide for singles is this – being single is not a punishment from God, on the contrary, it is, or at least can be, a real gift. This can be a time for self-discovery, for rapid development, for recovery from our wounds, for preparing ourselves properly for the next stage in our lives – a loving relationship with a life partner.
How Singles Can Benefit From Preparing Themselves
If you do your homework you eventually will come to realize the following things, which will help you immensely in your next relationship and also in your life as a single.
1 – you are a wounded human being. It is your responsibility to understand in what ways you were wounded and to start the healing process, even before you meet someone you love.
2 – your partner in the relationship is no less wounded than you are
3 – in the relationship, you are hurting your partner just as much as he or she is hurting you, even if he or she don’t show it – remember, they (or you) were probably trained to hide their feelings, perhaps even from themselves!
4 – When your partner is hurting you they are not doing it on purpose, – they are just defending themselves from a life-threatening situation, triggered by yourself (and vice-versa of course). What is important is not who is to blame – neither of you are since you didn’t raise yourselves. The main point is to realize that you do not have control over your reactions, and to start dealing with this reality– within the relationship.
5 – your partner is your child, just as you are his or hers. Both of you are not only each others children, but also each other’s parents, besides being, occasionally, adult human beings. This means that you have a chance to repeat your childhood successfully, and also a chance to learn how to be a parent that doesn’t wound his children – before they are even born.
6 – finding a partner that you love is just the beginning – it is by no means the end of anything.
7 – likewise, marriage is just a beginning. You now realize that you do not ride into the sunset and live happily ever after immediately after the ceremony. You know that now the real tough part begins.
8 – you do not fear working on yourself, or working on the relationship – you have already been through some things and you know you can handle it.
9 – you know that somewhere out there is a partner for you, someone that will love you and cherish you so much – that he or she will be willing to walk with you this most difficult path of healing. And you will not, and should not settle for less, no matter how many people tell you differently. The fact that they are stuck and have failed in their relationships does not by any means obligate you, even if we are talking about your parents.
10 – the partner you fall in love with is exactly the partner you need. He or she are your destiny, no more and no less. You have much to learn from each other, you know this, and accept it.
11 – your wounds can be healed only by a willing partner. Therefore, sooner or later, your partner must engage willingly, sincerely, and consciously in the process of healing. An imago relationship cannot be sustained by one partner, and it is not the sole responsibility of one participant.
I’m sure this is only a partial list – there are many more important points that could be made, but this is at least a beginning. Additional suggestions are welcome.
This short (well, I tried) summary of Imago theory should be taken as just that – a brief and incomplete overview. It is also colored by my own experiences, although I did tried try to give an accurate presentation of the theory. Therefore, if you are interested in learning more, I heartily recommend reading one of three basic Imago books that I have already read, beginning with the one best fitted to your current station in life.
For singles: “Keeping The Love You Find – A Guide For Singles”
For couples: “Getting The Love You Want – A Guide For Couples”
For Parents: Giving The Love That Heals – A Guide For Parents
My wife and I started on the couples guide and continued to read the other two. We enjoyed them all and learned a lot from each one.
I also found the website of Alan Williams’, an Australian Imago Therapist, very helpful, and especially his IntroductionTo Imago Theory.
Oprah Winfrey had Hendrix on her show and there are some very interesting videos on her site, with Hendrix explaining the theory and answering questions from the audience. See this page for all the videos.
Getting the help of an Imago therapist is probably also not a bad idea although personally I have never been to one. Both my wife and I have managed quite well with the book, and the various exercises, although we do have a lot of prior experience in these sort of self-help and development projects.
How to find the right therapist for you is an important subject which I plan to address in a future post.
Questions and comments are welcome.
What This Means For MatchMakers
When all is said and done, we still have to find our partner.
Personally, I believe that God will find you the partner you need at the appropriate time, although, to be honest, I certainly did not believe in God when I was single. Anyway, there will always be people who, for whatever reason and out of no fault of their own, need help in finding a match, and there will always be people or institutions to help them.
Finding a match is, by all accounts, an arduous and extremely unpleasant task. Physical terms like height, hair color, and build do not begin to tell the story. Some people look for a certain status, and will not settle for anyone with less than a graduate degree. Others search by income, place of birth or religion.
If you have read this post closely you will realize that all these considerations are at best extremely vague approximations of the image hidden in our unconscious, and they are really very poor indicators of what we actually need, since our needs our matched by our wounds.
So, what could be simpler for a matchmaker than to take the imago theory and use it to understand what kind of person she (or he) is dealing with? Obviously there is no point in matching a maximizer with a minimizer. There is also no point in matching doers and thinkers with each other. In fact, a good matchmaker will be able to map out a more specific profile of the clients and match them successfully, and much more quickly with the correct partner.
I can imagine a database of singles filed not according to physical or social specifications (although they should be included) but according to an emotional index, based on the imago theory. I think it would save many people a lot of time and money.
I’m sure I would have appreciated it when I was single, and desperately searching for the woman of my dreams. No description seemed to fit – I didn’t care about age, education, race or other social qualities. I knew exactly what I wanted but I didn’t know what it was called, I just couldn’t name it. I knew that I wanted certain emotional qualities, and I knew that I would recognize the love of my life when I met her, but how was I supposed to meet her? The world is a large place and I couldn’t just walk up to every woman and start a conversation (although I did do just that on occasion, usually with disastrous results). In hindsight, I know that with imago theory I would have had a much better grasp on my needs, and how to match them. I wonder how many singles desperately searching for their match feel the same way today, and how many could use the help this kind of matchmaking agency would offer them.
I’m giving this idea away for free, if anyone is interested, just tell me how it worked out…
Why Do They Hurt Us?
During our childhood we have incurred various wounds inflicted upon us by our caregivers. Some of you may have been wondering why our parents would do this to us. Why would people hurt defenseless, innocent human beings, who are their own flesh and blood? How is that even possible?
Well, there is incontrovertible evidence that it is so. Parents do wound their children, and they do so while loving them dearly.
The fact is that our parents our no less wounded than we are. In fact, in all likelihood they are even far more wounded than we are. They were wounded by their own parents, who were wounded too. They learned from their parents – your grandparents - how to raise children, they learned what is acceptable for babies and what isn’t. Some things they remembered as unpleasant and they have changed.
For instance my grandmother was extremely upset if her children did not eat what she herself thought was appropriate, when and in the amounts she deemed appropriate. My mother was traumatized by this experience and she never forced us to eat if we didn’t want to. So she is less wounded than her mother, although she never reached the point where she could actually enjoy eating, and she unconsciously conveyed to all her children that eating is a task, necessary to life, but not to be enjoyed.
And really that is the point – we cannot control what we do not know about ourselves. Therefore, if our parents did not deal with their wounds before bringing children into this world than inevitably we, as babies, will threaten them (The Imago guide for parents deals in great detail with this issue).
If our parents were taught that sensing is bad – they will freak out when we, as babies, touch ourselves, or enjoy eating, hugging, licking the floor – and god knows what else. At one point or another our parents will stop us, and even punish us, if we do not stop immediately, every time our natural behavior as babies touches one of their wounds.
My point here is this – if we are wounded, there can be no doubt that our parents are too and - second – since they are wounded, probably worse than we are – they cannot help us. In fact, they may be so wounded that will feel threatened by the very fact that you want to change, and may do everything in their power to stop you from healing your wounds.
Bottom line here - only we can help ourselves. If we are fortunate we will also find a partner to share our journey with. If we want our children to be fortunate – we will heal our wounds before we pass them on to our children, and finally break this endless chain of misery. After all it is written:
“In those days they shall say no more: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own iniquity: every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
Somebody To Love – A Secular Prayer
We have pointed out in this long post, the many things that you, as a single person, can do in order to help yourself. But prayer also has a place in our lives, especially when we realize how hard and difficult the road to healing really is. I am sure there are many prayers for singles in Judaism but I know none of them. Instead I offer you a song that I love to sing at the top of my voice. It has always touched me, and eventually, my prayer was answered. Maybe it will work for you too.
I’m talking about Queen’s well-known hit “Somebody to Love”, that perfectly expresses that very special, desperate yearning you may be feeling as a single. This is just one stanza:
“Got no feel, I got no rhythm
I just keep losing my beat
I'm ok, I'm alright Ain't gonna face no defeat
I just gotta get out of this prison cell
Someday I'm gonna be free, Lord!
Find me somebody to love
Can anybody find me somebody to love?”
The full lyrics are here, and you can hear a sample from the song here.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006