How We Subconsciously Pick Love
This post is about your buttons…
The buttons that get pushed by the expert of your buttons.
Because they know which button does what more so than in their own cell phone buttons.
And they press firmly with that index finger.
Years ago I attended an Imago couple’s conference lead by psychotherapist Harville Hendrix. It was around the time my then fiancé Neil Strauss and I were trying to fix our relationship after I caught him cheating with a friend of mine. You can read more about how that unfolded in Neil’s last book The Truth, which ended up as a New York Time best seller.
Neil and I were relationship seminar junkies, we attended countless conventions, talks, and lectures. It was a specific handout that Harville Hendrix gave out at his Imago seminar that would leave my jaw open, for days. Because this piece of paper that was handed out to me made me realize things about my life I would have never been able to see on my own. It flashed my entire history of relationships in my face and made me see the patterns I continued making since childhood.
What’s is Imago?
Imago therapy—meaning “image”—refers to the “unconscious image of familiar love” is based on the relationship work of psychotherapist Harville Hendrix and his partner Helen LaKelly, developed in the 1980s and based on the theory that feelings you experienced in your childhood relationships are bound to come up in your adult relationships. There is a strong link between early childhood experiences and frustrations in adulthood.
So in a nutshell, adulthood is a continuation of unmet needs in childhood. That’s because childhood experiences shape the way you communicate, behave and respond to others during adulthood. For example, a person that grew up with highly criticizing parents will likely grow up to be very sensitive to the criticism of others, especially that of a partner. Someone who was abandoned and or neglected by the opposite sex parent will likely have fear of abandonment in their personal relationships.
It would make sense to immediately see the red flags as soon as we meet a potential new partner and walk the other way. But unfortunately we are attracted to those red flags. It’s what we know. They are not red flags, they are flags that say “home” written on them. We want what is familiar because that’s all we know. We tend to default back into a protective shell, the shell that was first constructed during childhood. It’s comforting.
The first thing parents teach us is love. We see the interaction between parents, as the best example of what love should be. If our parents were attuned to our needs and wants, provided warmth and safety, and the feelings of well-being were continuous then we would feel whole. It can also be the other way around, when parents give us false empowerment as children and we become the caretakers of their feelings and emotions, they give a sense that your parents where there for you but in reality this is a form of abandonment. They were physically there for you but mentally not available for your needs because their needs were more important.
This can also make you feel like intimacy and love is a duty and a chore. Leaving you feeling enmeshed in your relationships, and guess what? The most shocking part about this is that our partners are often a frankenstein version of our parents.
The Making of Frankenstein
If you are in love with a woman or a man, or if you are single think about your last relationships. If you start to dissect all the positive and negative characteristics, they will start to remind you of both your mother and father not as they are today, but how you saw them in your childhood. So in short, the relationships you are having now as an adult, or the past relationships you had if you are single, that just means you are just looking to recreate your childhood experience so you can get it right this time and experience healing and growth.
Unconscious attraction: projecting, and provoking
According to Hendrix, we tend to pick our partners, through unconscious attraction, projection, or provoked attraction. We may project attraction, even if our partners don’t have any of the characteristics our parents had, instead our partners may be exhibiting a behavior that triggers the way we felt growing up. We may also be projecting those characteristic traits onto our partner in order to re-create the childhood experience. Thus, if we didn’t feel heard growing up, we may project on our partner that they are not a good listener, even they actually are.
Provoked attraction is when we provoke our partner until they exhibit the negative behaviors of our caretakers. Even if they are a good listener, if we complain about it enough, we may provoke them to not to listen. Thus whether we pick, project, or provoke, we are trying to re-create our childhood so we can change it.
So what this means is that even if we didn’t choose our spouse, we will see or create in them what we need to relive our childhood. Hopefully at the end of this post you become aware of the patterns that you are creating, because you single handedly hold the keys to change.
After filling out this sheet, I looked at my then fiancé and realized he was both my mother and father. I suddenly realized that a lot of the reactions I was having didn’t come from him actually not cleaning his dishes, it was deeper than that. This helped me thoughout my marriage because I was able to identify some of the triggers, and instead of redirecting anger towards him, I would understand that it came from a past trauma. Suddenly it didn’t matter if he was on his phone during dinner, my father was constantly at the dinner table with a book, and my mother always bickered at him to put it away, my father would react by walking off the table. Seeing them argue as a child made me feel often uncomfortable and ignored, because now none of them were present to have a meal with me. One was gone, the other one angry.
So I became understanding and compassionate with Neil. I didn’t let that really become a big deal.It was my fear of being abandoned at the dinner table that would make me react and thus push my buttons.
It’s just a useless button I was carrying around, like that of a moto jacket. So many buttons, no real purpose.
Without further ado! Let’s see what your Frankenstein looks like:
Notes: Take your time; you have to have at least 45 minutes free to do this worksheet. You have to think about your childhood and how that made you feel so it’s not easy to do it in 5 minutes.
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