Relationship therapy definition through the Imago lense

November 6, 2020

Hendrien v.d Bijl

Relationship therapy definition through the Imago lense

Imago is Latin for “image,” referring to an “unconscious image of familiar love.” We choose partners who feel familiar because they remind us of our early caregivers.

Imago Relationship Therapy – Did you know you started to create your image of what love looks like from the moment you opened your eyes when you entered this world? From the first moment when our life started, we started to see, experience, and learn what love feels like and we realized how we need to be to receive love and feel safe. In order words, we see that our attachment experiences with our caregivers as children shape what we think love should look/ feel like and play a big role later in our lives when we are searching for a life partner.

There a lot of different relationship therapy types you can consider when you want relationship support. But to give you more of an idea of what this therapy type has to offer, Jordan Green, @Thelovetherapist, wrote a beautiful piece to describe this relationship therapy method:

“Intimate relationships tend to bring up old relationship wounds and patterned behaviors since we tend to pick partners that feel familiar to us. Our minds gravitate toward familiarity because it feels comfortable, we know how to navigate it, and it feels safe to let our guard down. This is why childhood feelings of abandonment, suppression, criticism, or neglect often rise in committed relationships.

Imago relationship therapy is a type of relationship therapy designed to help conflict in relationships become opportunities for connection and growth.

The Imago Dialogue is a tool to help couples create safety and structure in their communication. It helps you to understand each other’s feelings & “childhood wounds” and validate & empathize rather than resorting to anger and reactivity. Through helping each partner to feel heard and understood, it brings healing and, if needed, opens to door to effective problem-solving. Rather than learning how to fight better or avoid conflict, it encourages couples to lean into conflict to use it for exploration, curiosity, and learning.

⁠However, this tool is only a means towards an end: transformation. The transformation helps to facilitate is a change in perspective about each other and your relationship so you can view your partner with acceptance and compassion rather than judgment.”

So, what we see is that from the moment we entered this world we started to take in information and started building an image of love. What love looks like, how it feels, and how you need to be in order to receive it. We are not born as fully capable and knowledgeable human beings, we must first learn how to express ourselves and what parts are allowed or not allowed to express. We obtain this kind of information while looking at our social environment. How the people around us act and behave for us to grasp it better.

In other words, from a very small age, you look at how dad reacts to mom when she enters the room. Does he look up and talk to her or does he turn up the TV volume? How does Mom react when dad comes home late from work? Does she argue with him about his priorities or does she talk to him to come to understand what his reason may be? How do they talk to each other, especially when one of them made a mistake or is upset about something? How do they react when one of them tries something new or wants something different? How do the people around you react when you tell them you love them or that you don’t agree with their opinion? How are you treated when you failed at something or even when you succeeded greatly in another? What are the messages you received when you cried or got angry or even happy about something? Was it messages which made you feel as if you are allowed to express who you are or did you feel shame or fear for certain parts?

What we see is most people react from a part of their brains, which we call the reptile brain, which is a very important part of the brain, but the function of this part of the brain is purely for survival. And to survive in this world you need to protect yourself from any danger that could arise. When we are exposed to something that makes us feel as if we are in danger, we will react in a way which will protect ourselves at all cost. Now the thing is that our brains sometimes get confused with the degree of danger. Because this part of the brain is very important when we are confronted with a life or death situation such as being robbed, falling off a cliff, or getting in an accident or when you come across a lion while being on a safari. Then this part of the brain will take charge and help you to protect yourself from the danger you are exposed to. But when we are confronted with something which is making us feel uncomfortable, our brains sometimes can get confused about the discomfort and the danger. The discomfort usually exists because of messages we received throughout or lives which in return caused pain. Like for instance, if you grew up in a place where tears were not accepted- men don’t cry- and you get confronted with a situation where your partner or even your children cries- you start to get uncomfortable- because of the messages you received- and you start to feel like you are in danger because it feels as if your survival is being threatened with these tears- and then you start to protect yourself. You do this by trying to get rid of the danger- by saying things like “Stop crying”, or walking away or shutting off. Another example would be if you grew up in a place where having different opinions caused conflict, and the messages you received was that you are not smart enough to have an opinion at this table, later in life when you are confronted with either someone asks you your opinion on something or either bombard you with their opinion, you will feel as if you are in danger and you need to survive by fighting it, fleeing from it, or freezing at that moment.

If most people react from this place everything starts to seem dangerous and when things are experienced as dangerous you go into survival mode and you try to fight it – then the relationship is not possible. Because as soon as someone is doing/ saying/behaving in a way that triggers this part of yourself, you will try to get rid of it. And we try to get rid of it through criticizing it, blaming, judging, suppressing, or even just ignoring it.

But life is not interested in keeping you in that mode. The goal of a relationship is to get you back to your full aliveness. And full aliveness refers to where you feel safe enough to show up with all of who you are. Not just the bits and pieces which are easily accepted by others, but to be able to show up with even the parts you were told- no one is going to love you if you are like that, to show up even with those parts. Imago relationship therapy believes that you will attract someone who is going to 100% recreate that space where we grew up. If you had a distant father, you are going to attract someone who is also going to be absent. If you had an over-emotional mother, you will fall in love with someone who cries about everything or gets emotional about anything. You will attract someone whom your unconscious will choose because of the familiarity. But your unconscious did not choose it to recreate your nightmare, even though it may feel as if you are reliving your childhood wounds, the meaning behind the pain is different. Whereas if our parents or our social group caused us pain because they were not aware of it or even just projecting their stuff on us. The partners that we choose will also hurt us in similar ways, but this time the agenda is to go and heal that pain. To go and change those painful messages we received as children that we are not wanted, good enough, smart enough, or maybe that we are too much and no one will ever like us if we continue to show up in that way. We need to go and change those messages.

How we change that, how we get back to full aliveness is to do the work of Imago relationship therapy with your partner. This type of therapy will help you to go and discover your Imago – how you decided what your image of love is supposed to look like- and how we rather can go and create a safe environment, where our reptile brains are not taking over, but where we can go and discover the real reason we attracted the person that we did, to find the gold in our conflicts and frustration and use that through the method of the Imago Dialogue to move through to the phase of transformation where we can change our idea of how love should be in a healthier way. To start and create a healthier, conscious, connected, and safer image of love where you can show up and express all of who you are, together.

If this interests you and you would like to learn more about your Imago, how to find the growth opportunities in your relationship conflicts, and also how to transform to invite each other back to full aliveness rather than just re-wound our partners please feel free to contact us to book your session today.

Missed our previous blog posts?

What is creating your relationship Nightmare?

Why you are allowed to have a happy life and a happy marriage

Learning to do relationships effectively