Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Imago/Coupling ... Rules of the Road ... From Harville Hendrix

You have relied on yourself to find your mates and partners. The days of arranged marriages etc are over. We take what we get or so we think. There is a place deep inside each of us that wants to guide you in your search for the ideal mate, someone who will both resemble your caretakers and compensate for the repressed parts of yourself. You like every one else has relied on self and the thought of freedom of choice to handle this aspect or better said relied on an unconscious image of the opposite sex or the ideal work mate or ... and that image has been forming since birth. This is called the Imago ... Latin term for 'image.'

The Concept of the Imago: It is for all practical purposes, a composite picture of the people who influenced you most strongly at an early age. This may have been your mother and father, siblings, or maybe a babysitter or close relative. But whoever they were, they were, a part of your experience and your brain recorded everything about them … the sound of their voices, the amount of time they took to answer your cries, the color of their skin when they got angry, the way they smiled when they were happy, the set of their shoulders, the way they moved their bodies, their characteristic moods, their talents and interests. Along with these impressions your brain recorded all your significant interactions with them. Here is the important part, your brain didn't interpret this data; it sim-ply etched them onto a template.

It may seem improbable that you have such a detailed record of your caretakers somewhere inside your head when you have only a dim recollection of those early years. In fact, many people have a hard time remembering anything that happened to them before the age of five or six-even dramatic events that should have made a deep impression.

But scientists report that we have incredible amounts of hidden infor¬mation in our brains. Neurosurgeons discovered this fact while per¬forming brain surgery on patients who were under local anesthesia. They stimulated portions of the patients' brains with weak electrical currents, and the patients were suddenly able to recall hundreds of forgotten episodes from childhood in astonishing detail .

Our minds are vast storehouses of forgotten information. There are those who suggest that everything that we have ever experienced resides some¬where in the dark, convoluted recesses of our brains.

Not all of these experiences are recorded with equal intensity, how¬ever. The most vivid impressions seem to be the ones that we formed of our caretakers early in life. And of all the interactions that we had with these key people, the ones that were most deeply engraved were the ones that were the most wounding, because these were the encoun¬ters that seemed to threaten our existence (literally a death threat to the observer).

Gradually, over time, these hundreds of thousands of bits of information about our caretakers merged together to form a single image. The old brain, in its inability to make fine distinctions, simply filed all this information under one heading: The People Responsible For Our Survival. You might think of the imago as a silhouette with few distinguishing physical characteris¬tics but with the combined character traits of all of your primary caregivers.

To a large degree, whether or not you have been at¬tracted to someone depended on the degree to which that person matched your imago. A hidden part of your brain ticked and hummed, coolly analyzing that person's traits, and then compared them with your rich data bank of information.

• If there was little correlation, you felt no interest. This person was destined to be one of the thousands of people who come and go in your life with little impact.

• If there was a high degree of correlation, you found the person highly attractive.

This imago-matching process bears some resemblance to the way soldiers were trained to identify flying aircraft during World War ll. The soldiers were given books filled with silhouettes of friendly and enemy aircraft. When an unidentified plane came into view, they hur¬riedly compared the plane with these illustrations. If it turned out to be a friendly plane, they relaxed and went back to their posts. If it was an enemy aircraft, they leaped into action.

Unconsciously you have compared every man or woman that you have met to your imago. When you identified a close match, you felt a sudden surge of interest.

This is all hidden behind the scenes so to speak. It happens as a natural process without our thinking but and here is the important part it has far more influence in the day to day doings of our life then most would care to admit. All aspects of the unconscious mind have this unknowingness of process in common, after all you had no awareness of this elaborate sorting mechanism was there or that it was operating in your life. There is a place where you can catch a peek at it in action, in your dreams.

• If you reflect on your dreams, one thing you will notice is that your old brain capriciously merges people together.

• A dream that starts out with one person playing a part suddenly has another person filling that role; the unconscious has little regard for corporeal boundaries.

You may be able to recall a dream where your spouse suddenly transmutated into your mother or father, or a dream in which your spouse and a parent played such similar roles or treated you in such a similar manner that they were virtually indistin-guishable.

Self: I have a problem

Dream: Here let me show you.

This is the closest you will ever come to directly verifying the existence of your imago. But when you do the stemming exercises especially in the off hand you will have a chance to compare the dominant character traits of your mate with the dominant character traits of your primary caretakers, the parallel that your unconscious mind draws between spouses and care¬takers will become unmistakably clear.

Let's take this information about the imago and see how it adds to our earlier theories of attraction.

The question that I'm frequently asked when I talk about the uncon¬scious factors in mate partner selection is this: how can people tell so much about each other so quickly?

Are We Soul Mates?

The reason that we are such instant judges of character is that we rely on what Freud called “unconscious perception.”

• We intuitively pick up much more about people than we are aware of.

• When we meet strangers, we instantly register the way they move, the way they seek or avoid eve contact, the clothes they wear, their characteristic expres¬sions, the way they fix their hair, the ease with which they laugh or lie, their ability to listen, the speed at which they talk, the amount of time it takes them to respond to a question—we record all of these characteristics and a hundred more in a matter of minutes.

• Just by looking at people, we can absorb vast amounts of informa¬tion.

• When I walk to work each morning, I automatically appraise the people on the crowded sidewalks.

• My judgment is instan¬taneous:

A. this person is someone I wish I knew;

B. that person is someone I have no interest in.

I find myself attracted or repulsed with only a superficial glance. When I walk into a party, one glance around the room will often single out the people that I want to meet. Other people ¬report similar experiences. As a police officer on Hwy Patrol, I could pick out which cars had booze in them while cruising at sixty-five miles an hour and be right. A Free Lunch ... bet with my partner... depended on the “call” being right.

Our powers of observation are especially acute when we are looking for a mate/partner, because we are searching for someone to satisfy our funda¬mental unconscious drives.

We subject everyone to the same intense scrutiny: is this someone who will nurture me and help me recover my lost self?

When we meet someone who appears to meet these needs, the old brain registers instant interest.

In all subsequent encounters, the unconscious mind is fully alert, searching for clues that this might indeed be the perfect mate, or soul mate ... New Age red-herring phrase for an attempt to understand what was unnoticed consciously but felt deeply.

If later experiences' confirm the imago match, our interest climbs even further.

On the other hand, if later experiences show the match to be superficial, our interest plummets, and we look for a way to end or reduce the importance of the relationship.

Not everyone finds a mate or partner who conforms so closely to the imago.

Sometimes only one or two key character traits match up, and the initial attraction is likely to be mild. Such a relationship is often less passionate and less troubled than those characterized by a closer match. The reason it is less passionate is that the old brain is still look¬ing for the ideal ‘gratifying object,’ and the reason it tends to be less troubled is that there isn't the repetition of so many childhood strug¬gles. When people with weak imago matches terminate their relation¬ships, it's often because they feel little interest in each other, not because they are in great pain. ‘There wasn't all that much going on,' they say.’ Or ‘I just felt restless. I knew that there was something better out there.’

At this point in our discussion of partnering, we have a more complete understanding of the mystery of attraction. To the biological theory and the exchange theory and the persona theory and family systems dynamics theory I have added the idea of the unconscious search for a person who matches our imago.

Our motivation for seeking an Imago Match is our urgent desire to heal childhood wounds.

We also have new insight into conflict:

If the primary reason we select our mates is that they resemble our caretakers, it is inevitable that they are going to re injure, stumble over, and be blamed for awakening some very old and sensitive wounds; when we sink into this quag¬mire of pain and confusion, need and control, called “the power struggle” that is a sure sign That History’s Strange Tale is unfolding before us, actually better said, deep within us.


Amber flame burns clear in the night.
Pain and Strain pushed out of sight

Caring is lost
In history's strange tale

Life's just the Past made present in detail

No one sees that Amber flame
It slowly consumes
And leaves only pain

It smiles

Neil Douglas–Tubb (1993)

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