Owing to the principle of dualty, to the natural polarization
of energies, to the need for adaptation, we develop certain subpersonalities
rather than others and a great potential within us remains unaddressed or
denied. Our psyche nurtures numerous subconscious facets, and so much wasted
resources. What is unexpressed, not chosen—without placing any value judgment
upon it—represents something we more or less disown that could be called our
This is like the dark side of the moon, the unseen part of
our personality. We comprise a gigantic array of energies and possibilities, but
we use only a limited part of them. It is as if we were a symphonic orchestra
reduced to half the musicians, to a limited number of instruments and tunes.
Attraction-Repulsion, Duality, Self-Protection
‘Falling in love’ is largely induced by the pull of
qualities that are dormant in ourselves and shining forth in persons we are
drawn to: the other sex, an ‘affectionate parent,’ some trait in the other that
fulfils us. What we desire and over admire, is always something that is
underrepresented in our own psyche. And if we start to rely solely on the other
to compensate for our undeveloped facets, we are in danger of imbalance and
dependency. The moment we feel hurt or insecure, whatever the reason, we
immediately begin to reinforce our protective resources and survival strategies:
the ‘strong and supportive partner’ now turns ‘rigid and controlling;’ and the
‘carefree optimist’ he has fallen in love with… now becomes ‘highly unrealistic
and unreliable.’ Both escalate in opposite directions! We can defuse such
relational time bombs by integrating and developing aspects of the other’s
resources which are somewhat enclosed in the shadow of our own psyche. The
‘strong and supportive’ can learn to be more relaxed and the ‘carefree optimist’
can learn to be more grounded.
Whether negative or positive, our projections on each other
are the expression of these polarized dynamics. If we do not become conscious of
them, they might very well, in time, endanger our relationship by pulling us
into a power struggle.
Attraction-repulsion… is a dance between two ‘arrays of
subpersonalities. ‘They are total opposites,’ people say about a couple: the
dancer and the businessman, the shy man and the alluring woman, the prince and
the shepherdess. Political parties, countries, co-workers, friends, children in
the same family… illustrate this dance of contrasting forces. Parents hope that
their children will walk in their steps, but ‘adaptation to’ triggers
‘demarcation from…’ Thus an over religious father might incite a delinquent
child; a captain of industry incompetent offspring; a poor illiterate worker,
children with university careers; an over devoted mother, an egotistic
youngster. When we are confronted with energies we disclaim, we start to fight
them and join up with their opposites.
Evolving Through Relationships
The people we meet, the partners we are attracted to, the
persons we condemn, have developed orchestral sections, play instruments, we are
unfamiliar with; they sing tunes we don’t yet know how to sing. Evolution wants
us to expand and balance our repertoire, to uncover those ‘vistas of body and
soul’ which up until now we have ignored and left out. Evolution is about
‘learning from’ and ‘relating to.’ If we fail to integrate - at least at
homeopathic doses - what the other has developed and vice versa, our unexpressed
energies will turn against us. Yet, on the other hand - if we give every energy
a chance to bud and bloom in a measured way inside us - they can become
wonderful assets, leavens of creativity.
It seems that life obliges us to complete and differentiate
ourselves through our encounters. In other words we are bound to become more
conscious by learning from each other’s energies. We are challenged to be the
disciples of what we don’t know yet; apprentices rather than victims or welfare
recipients in our partnerships. Attraction-repulsion is mostly perceived and
interpreted as ‘different and therefore desirable’ or inversely as ‘different
and therefore fearful or loathsome:’ ‘It’s wonderful’ becomes: ‘It’s
sickening!’ It should be noted that whatever side we choose, we are in fact
programmed by conforming to a model or by taking the opposite stance. We develop
as a willing or as a rebellious offshoot of our familial, social, cultural and
religious environment. This may be why we often have so much difficulty to be a
true expression of ourselves.
Evolution is about balance and not about power contests.
Energies are not toxic as such: they become damaging when we exaggerate one way
or another! Watering plants is necessary, but they can suffer and even die from
too much or not enough water. Eating is good thing, yet we
do die from over eating as well as from starvation.
Reaction Is Not Action
‘Becoming aware’ is more than just turning an hourglass
upside down as happens in revolutions; this can help us to capsize an unbearable
condition, but will fail if a balanced construct doesn’t follow. Reaction is not
action. Reaction only propels us to the opposite pole. Awareness centers us,
allowing new ways of being and doing, new ways of relating to each other. Every
relationship, be it in conflict or delight, is thus an extraordinary catalyst
for comprehensiveness and growth. But this comes with a condition: not to think
of attraction-repulsion as ‘magic data…’ of love, marriage and parenthood as
‘innate knowledge,’ but to use them as grounds for conscious learning. A
relationship has to be cultivated and built; cultivated with love, built with
common sense. This includes a commitment to honesty, to communication; to
being rather than to having.
Hal and Sidra Stone propose a simple yet highly accurate
model of the way in which our respective Inner families of
subpersonalities interact, confront and balance each other. One of
their ground breaking books, ‘Embracing each other,’ is entirely dedicated to
this subject. They portray in it what they call the bonding patterns.
They describe how, as couples and partners, we attempt
to find the ‘good parent’ we need, or try to compensate for the ‘insufficient
one’ we had, and how we get caught into painful struggles between powerlessness
and control, dependence and rebellion. They outline
the energy flows between two people; they draw our attention to the underlying
unmet vulnerability that feeds our conflicts. We tend to experience emotional
bonding as the child or as the parent of the other.
And we will experience this as heavenly or unbearable,
depending on whether we feel accepted, loved and in security
or disconnected from each other and on our way to disenchantment. Bonding
patterns can be understood and worked on, in a way that is clear and easy to
understand, by using ‘Voice Dialogue.’
Our ‘bonding patterns’ are largely based on those
experienced in childhood. A compliant and obedient little girl facing an
authoritarian father might develop into a soft and tender woman married to a Don
Juan or to a domestic tyrant, who has buried beneath his show off, a
frightened child that has suffered from an absent father or an
unreliable mother. Whatever the
prevalent figure or the strategies that fashioned the complexity of our
personality, this surely concerns the battle for survival, love and identity,
and therefore our ability to succeed in life. Whether we compete for love or
compel somebody to please us, we protect our ‘sense of me’ and our favored
values. We try to prevail… by mastery, by controlling ourselves and others. We
try to survive by fight or flight or playing dead; by seduction or compliance,
or by our strictness and our harshness; or by some irresponsible attitude.
Paradise and Fall
Our love carries the hope of finding the perfect corollary,
the ideal half, the missing part, the ‘one and only and forever,’ who will never
judge us, never discard us. And indeed - at least to begin with - falling in
love is paradise. It is a blessed time very like the Garden of Eden before the
Fall, when we had no knowledge yet of good and evil; first love always unveils
our shining self: a blue cloudless sky. Our Inner critics, our Inner
judges, our Activists and our Perfectionists are out of work
and on vacation. There is a maximum amount of security, non-judgment and mutual
trust. This is a time when our Inner children feel totally blissful and
reassured, accepted and cherished as they want to be. It is a time for games and
laughter, for untroubled intimacy, for a renewed and everlasting wonder: the
wonder of feeling One with self and other.
Fairy tales hardly ever talk about what happens later. This
might be because life requires from us to procreate and to obey its laws. So
they just end by: ‘They got married, had lots of children and lived happily ever
after.’ But our everyday life tells a different story. Our growth towards
maturity holds us accountable; invariably we get challenged by new learning and
by the necessity of evolving towards more consciousness.
Opposites seek each other, but this
shouldn’t mean taking merely advantage of the other’s assets or taking them for
granted. It shouldn’t mean accusing each other of betrayal when the
quality that at first supported or enlivened us, deems us now to be in reality
the other’s greatest flaw.
What we discard or leave uncultivated always ends up by
turning against us, unless we integrate it to a certain extent. To achieve this
however, we have to deepen a self-awareness that allows us to embrace the needs
and soothe the hurts of our own Inner child, rather than projecting
unconsciously onto the other and the outside world the whole task of caring for
them. Dependence is the natural state of the child, but once we are grown up
this should not be the driving undertone of our bonding; such expectations and
demands around our unmet hunger for love and recognition tend to severely
endanger our relationships. Beneath divergent ways to find their place in life,
partners carry similar childhood wounds. Because both are suffering from
analogous fears and wants, both will sooner or later fail to respond to each
other’s hopes: two empty baskets never made a full one! Both remain alone, both
feel deprived. Sometimes one of the two will sacrifice himself/herself/ to the
wellbeing of the other, overlooking his/her/own needs, however justified. But
this surfeit of ‘giving’ creates inner starvation and resentment for lack of
Because we see others through our own desires and rarely for
themselves, we often cease to perceive them as
persons, as subjects. We unknowingly start to treat them as objects,
as mere commodities to be consummated or shaped to our liking.
This then becomes an open door to abuse, a bottomless pit or a labor of
Sisyphus: what we get, what we give, will never be enough!
I Am Right and You Are Wrong
Survival commands us to reject or avoid anything that could
impair our sense of security or leave us powerless. Often enough, the very first
obstacle will eventually cause our initial ‘honeymoon’ to be shaken up.
Integrating the arrival of the first child, financial and professional problems,
health issues, events affecting our family circle… can destabilize us.
That is when our vulnerability, the Sensitive Child inside us – so at
ease with a couple in love! – becomes afraid. All too
soon we feel hurt, betrayed and threatened. All too soon we each run to our own
defense system and survival skills to protect ourselves. Suddenly we close down,
we turn into blamers; we are thrown out of the Garden of Eden, only to
tumble into a world of inner and outer division and conflict. We clad ourselves
in vine leaves or else we use sex to make up!
Already wearing a bulletproof vest, we pull down the visor
and refuse to communicate except when fully armed.
This is when our positive bonding patterns turn
inside-out like gloves. What was uplifting is now perceived as depleting. Our
vulnerability has been affected. We feel under pressure. We witness a muscular
return of our powerful, protective subpersonalities. And that’s not all.
What was underrepresented in ourselves - which is also the very quality we liked
so much in the other - will now defy us. In response to fear and pain, our
resources take on their most excessive expressions. Going to extremes they
become noxious. ‘This tender, spontaneous, playful artist is now an
absentminded, daydreaming, incompetent wife. This trustworthy, generous and
reliable entrepreneur transforms into an authoritarian, controlling oppressor.’
Both throw accusations, suffer, feel let down. Intimacy,
bonding, trust, love, go underground. The dancer has not taken care to integrate
the structural qualities of the entrepreneur she married and now feels
threatened by the very things she once sought in him and that reassured her; she
now spurns them! The entrepreneur has relied on her for joy and charisma and has
omitted to integrate the flexibility, fantasy and spontaneity that enlivened him
at her contact. Indeed, we are meant to learn, grow and expand through each
other, and not to just feed on each other.
Our hidden pains and needs are the powder in the barrel.
And what sets it aflame is our unmet vulnerability defended by the sudden
eruption of our polarized power and survival selves. With the
strong comeback of such defensive-offensive tactics, we start to throw
responsibility, blame and guilt on ourselves and each other. The Inner child
withdraws and with it our spontaneity, sensitivity, creativity, our capacity
for bonding and our joy for life.
The selves that embody our skills and
values represent the ‘legislative power’ in our psyche; the Critic, the
Judge, the Warrior, act as an ‘executive power,’ they are the military and
police protection. We need to discern the
subpersonalities that fight and suffer in our bonding patterns.
Whoever is sensitive, hurt, unseen, unheard and
powerless inside us, will retreat into our psychological fortress, behind the
walls that now separate us from each other. Our
Powerful Voices are in a state of war; at some point, our pain, loss,
frustration, could well submerge us and our Disowned Voices might
explode… It is war or depression, not love.
Becoming a Womb of Unconditional Love for
Our Inner child
Yet, if we engage into a practice
of active self-relating by becoming our own conscious holding
we will lift the hidden impact of our needs and
apprehensions from our and the other’s shoulders. We can learn ‘tangible
self-linkage’ with our Inner child, by means of touch,
wording, self-mirroring. This has to be built on a resolute positioning as
one's own reference and care taker. And this will also help us to
become mature parents for our biological children and supportive
equals for our partners. Let us not burden others with our own load of
suffering, any more than we want them to do so. When
our transferences and our ensuing subconscious
requirements become what steers, shapes and controls our relating, it almost
always ends up by seriously jeopardizing it. But once we become aware of an
excess of mutual dependency and start to take responsibility for ourselves, we
can build ‘conscious relationships’ that are honest, caring, happy, passionate,
intimate, fruitful and long lasting.
To be aware of our Inner families of selves, to
become a ‘conscious and loving harbor’ for our Vulnerable selves, to
balance the dance of our Power selves by integrating our Disowned
selves, are some of the most fascinating and enriching potentials of ‘Voice
Dialogue’s vision and practice.
Let us work on it together, so as to create ‘less suffering
and more joy.’
Copyright © 2017 by Adelheid Oesch
All reproduction rights reserved
D.W. Winnicott's (1890-1971) pediatric work with children and mothers,
and his ground breaking concept of the ‘holding environment.’ A concept
he extended from mother to family and the outside world, in terms of the
ever-widening circle of family and school and social life.