Seeds, Fields & Mirrors
“What you are looking for is already within you…..you already are everything you are seeking.” Thich Nhat Hanh
The need to transform
People seeking change through couples’ therapy often feel there is a lot at stake. When a key relationship such as with a partner or spouse feels shaky or unreliable, it is hard to be one’s best self. Most often the starting point for couples’ counselling is conflict, and in Imago we seek to turn the conflict into healing and growth: we see conflict as change wanting to happen. Imago Therapy offers couples a uniquely focussed means to create change in their relationship and to become ever more securely rooted in the compassionate insight that can lead from the pain of isolation into the joy of connection. Two things tend to prevent change-for-the-better. One is the lack of a framework within which to understand the dynamic relationship between two people who love each other. The second is old relational habit where the unseen influence of past relationships, (most notably with parents or caregivers in childhood) can create obstacles to connection in present day relationships. The hidden potential within the adult intimate relationship is that it can serve as a wonderful living laboratory within which change can grow. To tap into the incredible potential for change that two people can create together in their relationship is an astonishingly powerful intervention.
The poet Rumi writes: “out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there”. In Imago Relationship Therapy we create a non blaming space for a new and safe form of conversation. The unique Imago tool is to teach couples a different form of communication from the get-go. There are various forms of good effective relationship therapy, but in my experience it is Imago’s ‘mirroring conversation’ that is the game-changer. An Imago therapist teaches couples how to take a trip across an imaginary bridge into the land of the other. With the therapist as guide, each visits each in their unique world and vulnerable experience can be safely shared. We shine a gentle light into each person’s world: self-recognition and illumination of deeper currents inevitably emerge. Each member of the couple begins to understand with much more depth what it is like to be the other person, and also about one’s own inner landscape. This creates a new sense of self and other and the experience of the relationship becomes transformative.
We have our neurobiology on our side!
We are social animals, wired for connection with others. When relationships feel shaky or uncertain our defences step in. Obstacles in relationships are almost always based on the need for self-protection; they are never the desired destination of our deepest longings nor do they reflect the wishes of our truest selves. At base level, however, we must stay safe to survive and the sympathetic nervous system which resides in us all privileges danger over any other consideration. Hence when any kind of ‘unsafety’ is experienced we are primed for fight or flight responses. This is unquestionably useful if we are about to be run over by a speeding car, or being pursued by a sabre tooth tiger. But in close relationships, when a lack of connection is sensed, our need to protect ourselves and the relationship often results in barriers which have the effect of closing the relationship down. Partnerships will often feature individuals with different ‘obstacle styles’: one person may tend to go very quiet – into a shell like a tortoise, and the other to become very assertive – more like a tiger. There will be good reasons, often stemming from childhood, why particular defensive behaviours have evolved for each person. When this can be understood we begin to make sense in each other’s eyes; and in place of a battleground, we have the opportunity to move into the safe field of connection. It is in this place that human beings feel most authentically themselves, and most capable of loving and being loved. The capacity to create a safe connection between two people is biologically wired into us, and lifelong. ‘Neurons that fire together wire together’ as Dan Siegel, best-selling author and creator of Interpersonal Neurobiology tells us. The neuroplasticity of the brain transforms safe conversations into neural connectivity. The experience of being seen, understood, validated and loved by you creates transformation into the me I long to be.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”