A key insight of Imago theory is that unconsciously we tend to be romantically attracted to someone who has some of both the positive, but also the negative traits of our early caretakers. That person can look very different on the outside, but don’t be surprised when similar negative feelings to ones you had as a child, crop up in your present day relationship. This is how the past continues to affect the present.
The Past Affects the Present: An Example
I had a great example the other day in the office. A woman shared with her partner about an issue she had. It was not about him, just an issue, but she expressed a good deal of energy around it. He listened well and mirrored back what he heard her say. When it came time for him to respond, knowing how competent she is, he said something like: “Oh don’t worry, you can handle that, it is nothing”. Immediately her whole demeanor shifted. I saw it and so asked: “What just happened?” And she said: “I felt dismissed!”
Feeling Dismissed as a Child
Because I know how the past does affect the present, I asked her: “Did you ever feel dismissed as a child?” “All the time,“ she said. “I wasn’t listened to. What I had to say wasn’t important, etc.” Because this same scenario had happened before, her unconscious reactive response had been to shut down. Her husband would get frustrated because he didn’t know what happened and this would cause them to possibly not talk for a couple of days. If this is making sense type in yes in the comment section.
What We Realized
As we unpacked what had happened, it was very clear, that it had not been her husband’s intention to dismiss her. He was actually trying to support her, because he knew, in fact, she could handle anything that came her way. But her old brain picked up on his words, or his tone, or his look, or on something and shut down. Remember, your lower brain is always on the lookout for danger; it is just trying to keep you alive, but because it has no contact with the outside world, it doesn’t differentiate between your partner and a real threat – if it senses danger it defends.
As a child, what were you going to do if the adults in your life didn’t pay attention to you or “dismissed” you? Your choices were limited. As an adult, and as you become more conscious, you can begin to make different choices about how you respond and that is what this couple did. They committed to a different approach the next time a similar situation arose; they would handle it differently. In order to do that, however, they needed to talk to each other about what had just happened, in a safe way, without either party getting defensive, which is also what they did.
How The Pieces Fit
Do you get a sense of how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together? The past does affect the present because you are partnered with someone who will activate old wounds. Your old brain, while just trying to keep you alive will react if it senses danger. Hence the need to find a way to talk with your partner safely. Next time we will look more closely at the non-negotiability of safety in a conscious relationship.
If you have questions or want more information please type yes in the comment section and I will get back to you on Messenger.