It’s February and we will soon be celebrating Valentine’s Day.
Even though it’s become too commercial in my opinion, I do enjoy certain aspects of it. We are social beings and the need to belong is deeply ingrained in us even though some people who are considered introverted might experience that need as less important. Bottom line is: we could all learn more about relationships and how to make them more loving, harmonious, and peaceful. Many of us grew up in dysfunctional homes, and even though our parents did the best they could, relationships have been confusing, even painful.
I am no exception. Due to early abuse and trauma, I developed chronic anxiety and depression in my late teens. It got to the point to where I was suicidal. I have been blessed to have always been surrounded by friends and people who were there for me, as my parents were not able to provide the love and affection I needed and craved. This was especially true because I am very sensitive and emotional. I always thought that I just needed to find the right person and all my pain and loneliness would disappear. How mistaken I was! I kept attracting abusive and narcissistic men, even addicts, including my ex-husband, who is also the reason I moved to the US.
Fortunately, I’ve always been resilient and determined, so things finally started to make sense after working with several therapists, coaches, and healers… especially learning about the Imago approach.
I learned how my past and the way I dealt with my negative feelings subconsciously attracted these kinds of men. I was on a mission not only to heal myself, but also, to understand why I keep attracting unhealthy men in my life. I had a hard time being on my own due to my abandonment issues. Certainly, it was not a conscious decision to date these men. I came to understand that since I perceived my father as weak and passive (as he didn’t stand up for me enough when my mom was abusive to me), I was never attracted to “nice,” easy-going men. Passion was missing. I came to understand that my childhood wounds needed healing so I could change my story of being a victim.
Furthermore, I also learned that the wedding is one thing and marriage is quite another. Many couples I’ve seen in my clinical practice spent too much time, money, and effort to create expensive and elaborate weddings, but hadn’t spent enough time understanding each other. Never discussing the important things such as children, in-laws, finances, and most of all, how to communicate needs, concerns, differences of opinions, and negative feelings.
I wanted to share with you some tips on how to get started recognizing the image you have and want in your relationship. You can learn more by reading Harville Hendrix’ book, “Getting the Love that You Want,” which is my main resource for working with couples.
According to the Imago approach, we get attracted to people that remind us of our caregivers, usually our parents.
We might think we are attracted to somebody because of their physical appearance, but that is only on the surface. If we look deeper, we will find that we are attracted to their positive or negative traits, and even characteristics that we had repressed, such as being assertive, which is especially true for women. That’s why for years, I attracted partners who reminded me of my mom because she was often angry, critical, and verbally and physically abusive. On the positive side, I also wanted to be with somebody who was intellectual and loved literature, just like my mom.
If you are curious about what brought you and your partner together, or you want to do things differently, here are 3 tips that may be helpful for recognizing your relationship imago:
Think about your childhood.
What are some of your frustrations and positive memories? What did you enjoy as a child? What made you upset, sad, or angry? What did you do as a family and what values were important in your family? Do you still want to experience the same in your current relationship? Share with your partner why it’s important to you.
Think about your parents’ (or caregivers) positive and negative traits.
Some suggestions: caring, hardworking, good provider; as well as critical, negative, unavailable. Do you find that any of these cause disagreements or hurt in your current relationships? Pay attention to what you are arguing about most. I always tell my clients if they have a strong emotional reaction to something it’s usually 90% about their past relationships. Also think about what you needed most as a child (love, attention, praise?)
How did you deal with hurt, anger, and disappointment in your childhood?
What have been some of your strategies? Did you shut down; yell back; run away, or maybe become rebellious? Do you continue to use some of these strategies in your current relationships? Are they still serving you? If not, it’s time to change. Many times a professional is needed as some of those wounds and beliefs are deep down in your subconscious and not easily accessible.
Once my clients understand this, their next step is sometimes an eye-opener as they are able to identify their “imago.”
They learn how to better communicate their needs and change their maladaptive and unhealthy ways of responding to what is sometimes an innocent remark from their partner. We all have wounds and triggers. To heal them we need to first be aware of them.
Wishing you fun and joy in your relationships.
Happy Valentine’s Day!