This article was written for and appeared on the Therapy Toronto website on March 5, 2013
by Wendy Mae Kirk
In early 2001, I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop for “Getting the Love You Want” in Toronto. It was a couples’ weekend workshop for people with deaf partners, and was funded by the Ministry of Health. My relationship at the time was on its way out, and didn’t survive the next few years, but in the process, I fell in love with Imago.
The education to become an Imago therapist, at that time, was mostly available in the United States, and I was a single parent with two children, who were too young to leave on their own. I just wouldn’t be able to afford to go and do the training, and I contented myself with that, but I incorporated some of the features of Imago into my ongoing therapeutic practice. Fortunately for me, a few years ago, I was able to take the training locally, and I’ve found it so helpful in various parts of my life, as well as in my practice, and in understanding my past. Somehow I had always known that my past experience deeply affected my present responses to life, and in the 1990’s, I had been in a quite short-term relationship that had brought amazing healing into my life during that time. It felt like all the pieces had come together in my life, at the right time.
So, I should probably explain a bit about Imago, although this only barely touches the surface. The basic premise of Imago is that in our childhood, when we are growing up, our caregivers cannot possibly give us everything that we need, and out of those losses that we experience during that time, we form an image in our subconscious mind of who we are looking for in life to help heal that pain. That image is the Imago.
Later in life, we subconsciously seek out partners that fit our Imago. At the beginning of every relationship, after we have subconsciously used these criteria to pick someone to be with, we project ourselves onto our partners, and fall in love. There are lots of lovely bonding drugs that are released in the body during this phase, and people are very euphoric. It can last a very short time, or up to three years. It usually lasts until the commitment level is increased, and then the couple move into the power struggle. The good news is, that’s exactly where they should be. The bad news is, it’s work to get through the power struggle to the other side, where you enter a period of deeper, enduring love.
Imago helps you understand how you contribute to your part in the power struggle, and teaches you how to connect your relational patterns with events that happened earlier in life, and assists you in making different choices. The process teaches you how to talk to your partner so you can be heard, and to hear what they are saying as well, through a series of dialogues that involve active listening and mirroring. These skills can be used in intimate relationships, and in other relationships in your life. The process of dialogue helps people stay in their rational mind, instead of moving into a reactive fight/flight place, and work through issues as they arise. There are a number of relationship deepening activities that can be done as well. There are also a series of activities for people that wish to investigate why they relate the way they do, whether they’re in a relationship or not. I have found the process very helpful personally, and professionally.
Building empathy for one another is a hard, but a necessary part of the process. Many people are afraid that if there is space in their own lives for “otherness” they will somehow become lost themselves. This is not the case. The truth is that creating space and acceptance for others allows you to be more truly yourself, and allows you to reclaim parts of yourself that you have disowned or lost earlier in life. Learning to be who you were meant to be allows you to rest into being yourself, and being able to forgive yourself for not being perfect, and then accept others with their own faults and foibles.
Relationships are wonderful journeys with the possibility of great healing and wholeness. Sometimes people leave the relationship as it enters the power struggle. Many people live the rest of their lives in the power struggle. Both of these situations cause a great deal of pain and suffering for everyone involved. I don’t want to give the impression that there is never a time to leave a relationship – there is – but with some work, many relationships could work out that are currently being abandoned. Working through the difficult times to get to a deeper place is challenging, and very rewarding. This is what I would hope for you.
“For one human being to love another human being, that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”
Rainer Maria Rilke