I would characterize most relationships – certainly, ours was before Imago Relationship Therapy – as unconscious, old brain, and reactive. My partner would do or say something and my reactive response would be to shut down. Campbell and Grey help explain why this happens. If you think about it, all we have upstairs (in our brain) are memories and imagination. If my partner, whether intentionally or not, does something I deem negative, my reactive response is the fight, flight or freeze response. My upper brain, in trying to make sense of why my body is in this state, tends to go to the worst-case scenario. I know mine does.
The Storytelling Brain
They call it the storytelling brain, “the part of our wiring that concocts meaning.”p.64 “When the storytelling brain processes information, it will oversimplify and it will arbitrarily connect the dots based on past experience and past unfinished business – not on present reality,” p.70 and it makes up a story – I’m always last, my feelings don’t matter, nothing I do is ever enough, etc. “Partners begin to see each other through the filter of mistaken generalizations.”p.69 What stories has your brain made up?
A huge insight for me was when I finally understood a story I had made up. I tended to be the pursuer in our relationship. The story in my head was – why am I always the pursuer, why can’t she just turn and come toward me? The aha moment came when I realized, why can’t I back off a bit? It was just as hard for her to turn around as it was for me to stop pursuing. Guess what? As soon as I stopped pursing so intensely, it gave her room to move toward me, which is what she did.
Core Fears in Childhood
Earlier in the book, the authors had explained how core fears begin in childhood. Because most of the early learning of the child is non-verbal – tone of voice or facial expression – and because parents aren’t perfect and therefore don’t meet all of the child’s needs all of the time, the core fears of being abandoned or rejected or not important, get implanted early on. Then, when a partner does something similar, those same core fears get triggered.
A metaphor they use which I like is that of a sword and shield (the psychological terms are preoccupied or avoidant modes of behavior.) The sword attacks – you never, you always – and the shield defends – using logic, humor or distracting conversation. “Partners operating in the preoccupied or avoidant mode tend to behave in ways that bring about the outcomes they fear most.”p.94
Relationship Repair Solutions
Is there a solution? Again they recommend using the pause button. If partners can push the pause button when they feel triggered, they could ask themselves: what if I’m inaccurate in how I see this? What if my story is simply what I fear to be true? and they quote the adage – Don’t believe everything you think. They conclude: “We can learn to communicate in ways that get our real needs met – our need to know and be known, to love and feel loved.”p.97 but not by using the sword and shield.
From an Imago point of view, it is by using the Safe Conversation process that partners learn to communicate with each other, about anything, but in a safe way, which ensures our real needs are met.
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