Relationships are a very important part of our lives. We spend most of our waking hours in relationships with different people - at work, with friends, and most importantly, with our families. And, yet, despite spending so much time with other people, most of us have a very vague idea of what a relationship should look like. We can feel if something is not right in our relationships, but many times we find it difficult to put into words what exactly is wrong , and therefore we often fail to correct them, or to get what we really need. If you feel this way too, then maybe the following passage will help you. A clear and concise definition of a healthy relationship, if I ever saw one:
The Core MessageRegardless of anything else the parent wants to accomplish with his child, there is one purpose that transcends all others. The parent wants to deliver, and have his child hear, this core message: You're okay. You have permission to be who you are, to be fully alive and express your aliveness, and to experience connection with others and to that which is greater than yourself. Everything the conscious parent does in words, through body language, and in action backs up this central message of okayness…This core message lets the child know in many different ways that he is honored and valued as a separate person and that his basic needs will be met. This is the ulterior motive the parent has every time he talks with his child.
(Giving the Love That Heals – A Guide For Parents, p. 105)
This seems to be a very good working definition, and Imago theory makes clear that this applies to everybody, no matter what the age. We all have a need to be affirmed, to feel safe and okay, because that is a basic human need. If we accept this premise than we have an excellent benchmark for all our relationships – with our parents, our lover, and children. Friends and co-workers too. The question we must ask ourselves if we truly care about these people and about ourselves is this: are we getting the feeling that we are okay, just as we are? Are we permitted to be and feel alive in these interactions? And also, we must question our own behavior – are the people we care about receiving such a message of affirmness from us? Do we even want to give them such a message, are we trying to?
Feeling okay in a relationship means , for instance, not feeling afraid. Fear and okayness are two opposites. If you are afraid of your parents, or your spouse then that is a sure sign that the relationship is not healthy, at this point, for either one of you. The same goes for intimidation – we may feel intimated by authority figures, especially at work (many therapists enjoy intimidating their patients too). This is not a healthy place to be, psychologically. Such relationships ruin our self-confidence, and without that we have nothing on which to build upon.
If you are a parent and your child fears you, then you may want to revise the way you interact with your children. Raising a child in fear is probably the worst crime that a man can commit without being punished for it by society. Hopefully one day this will change and we will become aware of the disastrous affects of emotional abuse, but until then it is up to each one of us to take responsibility for our interactions with the people we care for. This is doubly true when it concerns the defenseless children who have no choice but to accept whatever is given them, be it love or abuse.
We can start Repairing the world right now, just by doing this exercise – checking to see if we feel okay in our relationships with others, and if we are giving others that feeling. Just focusing on that can change a lot, but if you wish for a more systematic way to improve your relationships than I recommend, once again, the series of Imago books written by Dr. Hendrix, each one containing a review of the theory along with many exercises that you can do on your own:
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
You can also check out some of my own explanations of the theory here.
Whatever you do - I wish you good luck on your journey. Feedback is welcome, and so are questions and revelations .