Imago therapy is so groundbreaking because it is a completely new way of looking about yourself, your partner and the forces that have brought you together. It teaches you how to listen, and how to finally be heard.
The Imago theory states that we are subconsciously attracted to partners who embody both the negative and the positive traits of our parents. We are unintentionally trying to recreate our childhood. Initially in a relationship, we are attracted to partners who mirror our parents. Soon, those similar traits begin to produce a need in us to change our partner, or make new demands on them.
So as a woman, if you had an absent or neglectful father, you will seek out partners who are distant, who you may not be able to read or predict, and will always leave you feeling insecure. The problem is that when you fall in love with this type of person, and commit to them for a lifetime, your relationship turns into a constant battle in which you feel needy and starved for attention, and your partner pushes you away.
In addition, your partner may have grown up with overbearing parents, who shared an enmeshed relationship with their children. In this case, your partner is attracted to you because you are enmeshed, overbearing, and want attention constantly. However, they are pushing you away because they are rejecting the behaviour that they grew up with, much like you are trying to heal your inner, neglected child.
A female client of mine, who came from a neglected household as a child, once said to me: “I feel like a bottomless pit. I need my partner to provide all of the love I didn’t get as a child.” This is a lot of pressure to place on your partner. He came from a family who was over-involved, so each time she needed love from him, he would push her away. This was a constant battle, when they had never realized that they were just reacting to their response to childhood wounds.
When a couple is in a counselling session, or arguing, only 10% of what they are arguing about is the present issue. 90% of what they are fighting about is based on their emotional triggers from childhood wounds. When your partner is needy and too involved in your life, you push him or her away. What you are subconsciously doing is rejecting your upbringing.
The important part to realize within the Imago perspective is that we can heal our childhood wounds, but we heal them through our partner. Our parents can never restore us because we are no longer children.
For example, the woman who felt as if she needed her partner to make up for the love she lacked as a child, would often become upset when her partner would leave during an argument. She felt abandoned, and subconsciously, these feelings took her back to the times when her father would pass out after drinking, or her mother would be working late. She experienced the same fear and loneliness she felt as a child, and as a result, would become extremely angry and needy when her partner returned.
After discussing this issue in counselling, we were able to uncover her real fears: that 90% lying under the surface. In order to heal her wounds, she stated that if her partner explained to her that even though he was mad, he would return in 20 minutes, or even an hour, she would know that he was coming back, and she would not experience those abandonment fears. She wanted that time frame, because she needed to know that he was not leaving her.
Through that process of healing, she could become less needy and more trusting, and her partner could grow closer to her, without rejecting those emotional triggers from his past.
Working with a therapist who uses the Imago process helps to reveal your childhood wounds and the emotional triggers that cause arguments, distance and sadness in your relationship.