In the introduction to Doing Imago Relationship Therapy in the Space-Between, Harville, and Helen state quite boldly at the outset…
“We have a stealthy purpose in writing this book! … We think a fundamental cultural shift is underway in how we look at the world, at our view of others, how we interact with them, what suffering is, why we suffer and how to respond to it, and how to go beyond surviving to thriving … Our intention is to introduce this new worldview as the theoretical foundation of a couples therapy called Imago Relationship Therapy, and to show, through the concreteness of a therapeutic process, the relevance of this new perspective to how we live everyday life.” (p.1)
Introduction to Imago Theory
As I have said many times before, Imago is the Latin word for image. Imago theory understands that as children, we form an image, albeit unconsciously, of the person who loves me, who takes care of me and who will meet all my needs. This is the template we will be drawn to as our intimate partner in adulthood. Because our parents or caretakers weren’t perfect, just as we are not perfect, inevitably that imprint has both positive and negative characteristics.
In the romantic love phase of a relationship, it is the positive qualities and traits that attract us. Inevitably the negative traits are there as well. Couples end up in a second stage of the relationship called the power struggle. “The purpose of this book is to understand these patterns in all intimate relationships and to describe what can be done about them to help couples move from an unconscious relationship to another stage that we call conscious partnership.” (p.2)
If you are a bit of a doubting Thomas about Imago theory – here are a couple of questions you might ask yourself. Those of you who are in a relationship, why with the person you are with? Most men will have met other women before settling with one, just as most women will have met other men. So, of all the possible partners you could be with, why the two of you? A good question when you think about it. But here is the other question. Can you remember the first time you met your partner? Everybody I ask that question to can!! I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but I can remember 50 years ago when I met my partner. So what is going on? I think unconsciously we recognize someone familiar. I can’t prove it, but I see it every day.
Harville and Helen’s great insight is just that – we tend to be attracted romantically to someone who to some extent matches the Imago – the imprint or image – we already have in our heads of the person who loves me, who takes care of me and who will meet all my needs.
While their book Doing Imago Relationship Therapy in the Space-Between focuses on couple therapy, they believe there are wider implications that “will be implied and referred to, and appears as a vision and proposal in the Conclusion”. (p.3) (Probably another book in the making.) Their present concern is to present their perspective. “A structured process that we think can encourage dialogue in the service of replacing an unconscious relationship with a conscious partnership and an individualistic culture with a relational civilization.” (p.3) The wider implications they refer to hint at ideas to encourage a more “relational civilization” as opposed to the more individualistic civilization which is paramount today.
Imago: A New Way of Thinking
“As in intellectual system, Imago theory is a new way of thinking about ‘relationship’ itself. It proposes that being-in-relationship is our primary reality. Or, to put it another way, there is no ‘being’ outside of relationship. We are not only relational creatures, possessing relational interests and needs, we are our relationships; we are ‘relating’. It is our nature. This perspective differentiates Imago theory from other psychological and therapeutic systems that place ‘self’, with relational features, as primary reality.
As we will discuss later, the ‘self’ that has been the foundational construct in Western psychology and therapy. It was modeled after the separate and unchangeable atom in classical physics. As a complement to the idea of the separate self, the self as being-in-relationship as our primary reality is rooted in quantum cosmology about how the universe works, and in quantum field theory which posits ‘reality’ as a ‘field of energy–information-awareness’ in which every ‘thing’ is interconnected and connecting.
Looking Through the Quantum Lens
We believe that looking at our world and at ourselves through the quantum lens has profound implications for revising our view of ourselves and how we need to interact with others, and also offers a process for doing it – deeply impacting how mental health practitioners conceive of and do our work.”(pp.2-3)
They spend a good bit of time on the notion of perspective and I’ll expand on that next week. In the mean time I encourage you, the reader, to reflect on your own perspective. We all have one whether we are conscious of it or not. They go on to say:
“In our opinion, as therapists, it is extremely important that we know our perspective, because we cannot NOT have one; and it is important that you know yours, because you cannot NOT have one. You may or may not choose to join the Imago perspective, but it is important that you know you have one and are intentional in selecting it.
What all this means for us is that we want to acknowledge that Imago is a lens through which we look at couples and interact with them. Before we get into an overview of Imago theory and practice, we want to take a short detour to describe that Imago lens through which an Imago therapist looks at the client couple and the therapy process. We call it Imago ‘metatheory’.”
I’ll start there next week.