Imago Love


By: Erin Schriver, M.Ed., M.S., PLPC

When couples find themselves at an impasse, it’s often their own relationship blueprint coming into play. According to Dr. Harville Hendrix, we subconsciously carry with us into our current relationships, the image or “Imago” we have of our primary caregivers. Fortunately, those Imagos are comprised of both the positive and negative characteristics of our primary caregivers. Unfortunately, the source of impasse is a direct result of those negative characteristic traits. As Drs. Hendrix and Hunt explain, problems in relationships arise after the illusory veil of new love falls away on purpose. It is by internal design that we are attracted to those who bring up our own unresolved issues so that we can resolve them and become whole. When we are left with facing qualities in our partners that trigger our subconscious childhood wounds, we are given an opportunity to work through them, sometimes alone or sometimes with our partners. Drs. Hendrix and Hunt believe “old hurts are reactivated as we realize that our partners cannot or will not love and care for us as they promised.” Not because they’re mean, just because they’re human. At times, this can feel like too much for our optimistic hearts to bear; the very people we choose to quiet our innermost storms are turning out to be human! They are flawed too: sometimes grumpy, seldom playful and often chattier to the neighbors than to us. These imperfections were once sexy and familiar but eventually become unattractive and trigger us for a trip down bad memory lane. On this trip, our primal brain reacts to those current triggers causing us to feel angry, criticized and unseen. The key is to go ahead and feel those emotions with full awareness that those feelings are not about our partner, but unresolved emotions from childhood. Those unresolved emotions are sneakily causing visceral reactions we can no longer ignore. Those emotions require deft manipulation of our amygdala to link to those wounds to the here and now; to demand air and emotional triage. Our job as adults is to be our own triage unit: doing the work to stop blaming our partner, our parents or ourselves for pain that occurred in the past, due to people simply being imperfect and therefore loving imperfectly. It’s a hard mirror to look into, but when we can forgive our Emmy-Award winning reactions or ostrich-like avoidance tactics, we can begin to understand where they’re originating, so that we can start the true work of learning how to update our love blueprint. Identifying, acknowledging and processing those extreme emotions, with a mental health professional, can be crucial to helping a couple remain accountable for processing of their own life experiences. Assigning blame to another is avoiding the solvable issues underneath our own surface. If we think we can also avoid the system by choosing someone unlike our primary caregivers, we are trying to override a primitive brain that has memorized early experiences with the precision of a teenager in love; no detail too small for revelry. In its own effort for personal homeostasis, our primal mind is a teenager post breakup, playing sad songs blasted on repeat until our conscious notices. While we subconsciously choose a partner who reminds us of where the pain is the deepest, we also select those partners who may also be in a unique position to help heal that pain. Each of our Imagos stands a chance of becoming a healing participant in our journey to feel whole, but ultimately, it is us who must do the work for ourselves.

Erin Shriver specializes in adolescents and couples. She also works with clients experiencing trauma, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.

Erin utilizes CBT, DBT, mindfulness, art in therapy and tenets borrowed from Somatic Experience. She considers herself a creative partner in the therapeutic relationship she builds with clients; infusing humor, art and neuroscience in collaborative treatment plans. She believes the human spirit can and will transcend difficulty with the proper support and psychoeducation in place. She loves working with clients who have a commitment to learn new skills, develop a healthy sense of self and incorporate these experiences into a life filled with meaning and purpose.

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