Creating Successful Relationships: Relationship as Teacher

With the help of Voice Dialogue you experience and begin to manage or moderate the many fascinating characters, sub-personalities within you. You understand that some are highly developed and powerful (Primary Selves) while others are unknown, latent, and repressed (Disowned Selves). The Primary Selves often emerge in childhood to protect you from experiencing too much pain, hurt, or shame; and to help you succeed in life. The Vulnerable Child (who actually feels these emotions) is one of the most Disowned Selves in the human psyche. When something happens that affects this sensitive, emotional part – he/she starts to feel – your Primary Selves automatically react in ways that defend you, claim some power in the situation, and keep you from being overwhelmed by feelings. They shut down the Vulnerable Child and lock him/her up in a dark place inside.

Why is this important information to have in creating successful relationships? First, you realize that you are not dealing with ONE person. Rather, you are having a relationship with the many Selves that live within the other person. So are they with you. This can be a bit overwhelming at first; however, it can also be a relief, because it makes sense. Of course your partner behaves differently at different times! Different parts of him/her are “who he/she is” for that time. With this understanding, you can stop expecting that your partner, parent, child, etc. will be consistent and predictable. Second, you realize that, as stated above, when an event or interaction triggers their underlying feelings – a set of Primary Selves will jump out and do whatever they can to keep those feelings buried and get some control over the situation.

Relationships change forever as you experience the implications of this basic knowledge: when someone is angry, judgmental, sarcastic, withdrawn, cold and distant, or being controlling – there are deeper feelings going on of which they are unaware, and their other Selves desperately want to keep it that way. Until there is an Aware Ego Process that can separate from the default Primary Selves and look to the underlying feelings to determine what is really going on, the two of you will enter into what is called a Bonding Pattern.

For example: Peter goes out to dinner with his wife Jean, and some friends. His Primary Selves are: Extroverted, Intellectual, and Self-Absorbed. His wife, on the other hand is more Introverted, Emotional/Intuitive, and Sensitive to Others’ Feelings and Needs. At dinner, Peter is loud and monopolizes the conversation. As the evening progresses Peter notices that his wife, Jean, is quiet and uninvolved. Jean’s behavior triggers Peter’s vulnerability (his hidden feelings from childhood).

Deep inside Peter believes that he is not good enough and doesn’t fit in. His Primary Selves became his way of countering these feelings and making him seem confident and the life of the party. So, when Jean is not nodding and acknowledging Peter’s brilliance and feeding him her attention and energy, his wounded child inside starts feeling the pain of those negating beliefs. Peter, being unconscious of his feelings (thus his Outgoing, Bragging, Rational Selves), isn’t aware that he is vulnerable and sensitive to Jean’s quiet and withdrawn demeanor. It is like a button is pushed and Peter’s Protective Primary Selves come roaring out. He doesn’t really see Jean and her feelings; he sees his Critical, Disappointed Mother (of childhood.) This is a natural phenomenon called projection. To defend against this projected critical mother, Peter becomes the Judgmental Father – accusing Jean of purposely trying to ruin the evening for everyone. Peter’s Judging Father actually attacks Jean’s Inner Vulnerable Child. Jean carries the deep beliefs that she has no value and mustn’t be too visible (or something bad will happen to her), and must defer to others to survive.

Jean’s reactive self automatically emerges to limit the pain of Peter’s attack on her Vulnerable Child. She actually withdraws or pulls her energy back even further. Although this seems like Jean is being totally the victim, she is actually claiming some power in the scenario. The part that pulls her energy back further is Jean’s Abandoning Mother. It actually is a power play, even though it looks so passive. Pete’s Inner Child feels even more abandoned and these long-held feelings threaten to leak into consciousness. This is completely unacceptable, according to the Primary System of Selves, and they escalate the difficult interaction. Jean and Pete are well into what Hal and Sidra Stone call a ‘Bonding Pattern.’

A Bonding Pattern occurs when underlying feelings are triggered (child self) and power selves (parent selves) strike out in some way. The other party experiences an attack of some kind and their parental/power parts jump forward to protect the person from the pain of their Inner Child. These parent/child interactions are Bonding Patterns.

Rather than go inside and feel what is underneath his default, reactive parts, Pete’s Angry Father wants to take back the power between the two of them. He escalates by shaming Jean in front of the others, “I don’t even know why I take you anywhere! All you do is bring the rest of us down!”

Now, Jean, from the first moment of the dinner felt abandoned by Peter (one of her wounds from childhood), as his focus was on himself and impressing the friends. From Jean’s perspective Peter took over and acted as though Jean didn’t exist. Like Peter and most people, there is an internal taboo against actually experiencing her feelings of this pain of abandonment. So her protective Primary Selves took over: Withdrawn, Invisible, Uninvolved. These parts are trying to do what they’ve done all her life – protect her from experiencing her underlying pain. When Peter tries to engage her, it is out of anger and judgment. In that moment Jean is the disappointing, unavailable daughter to Peter’s judgmental and demanding father. They have slipped into a “Bonding Pattern.” This is where a parent – child interaction is triggered and two people go unconscious and react to each other in ways they most likely have used all their lives to protect their deeper feelings from being experienced.

When unchecked these Negative Bonding Patterns can go around and around; getting nowhere but creating more and more devastation and hurt inside both partners.

Once Jean and Peter become aware of the selves that are interacting and reacting, they can understand that those reactions are not the only possibilities available to them. In fact, there are many alternative responses that would be far more authentic and effective in the situation.

How would this look? If Peter, through Voice Dialogue, became aware that his Outgoing, “It is all about me” Selves were doing their thing. He could begin to separate from these powerhouse aspects. He, from the more conscious, objective Aware Ego Process, looks deeper within to ask, “Why have you (Primary Selves) taken over in this situation? What are you so concerned about?” They can tell the Conductor: “Peter has to shine to be respected and acknowledged by others. He must be the center of attention and keep everyone entertained so they will be grateful for what a good guy he is. If he doesn’t behave this way, they might see him for the weak, flawed, not good enough man he really feels he is.”

The magic of the Conductor is that it genuinely appreciates the Primary Selves and understands their underlying concerns for Peter; however because it is not attached or identified with these selves; the Conductor can turn to the other side – Peter’s Disowned Selves – and ask, “What about you? What would you do in this situation?”

The other side might say, “If I were in charge I would make Peter more calm and aware of others. I would invite them to join the conversation by sharing what is important to them, not him.” “He doesn’t realize that giving energy and attention to others also gets him respect and appreciation.” This gives Peter more self-knowledge and far more options as to how to respond in this triggering situation.

Another gift of relationships is that we mirror for each other some of our Disowned Selves. For example, Jean reflects Peter’s Disowned Selves – his pleasing, caring for others, kind Selves. If he could see that she is a mirror for the parts of himself he needs to meet and bring into his life more; he would be very grateful for the mirror and stop judging her for being different than his Primary Selves.

As Peter owns his loving, caring nature, Jean can begin to own her power sides. She can afford to take up more space, express her feelings and her positions and beliefs without fearing others’ reactions. The relationship has a chance to become much more vital, alive, interesting, and intimate. Their relationship becomes a very powerful teacher to help both become more whole and truthful with themselves and each other.

You can begin to see the amazing possibilities that open up in relationships as this essential process is understood and acted on more of the time. We do much less damage to each other; and in fact use these experiences as exciting opportunities for personal growth. And we end up much closer to the person with whom we had the pattern.

All of this takes time and practice; and it requires ongoing personal work to get to know the selves that operate in our relationships, those that are overt and those that affect us from the unconscious. Then, with a growing Aware Ego/Conductor you have much more choice about which inner selves would most serve you, the relationship, and your growth.

For much more about Voice Dialogue as a Relationship Tool, and Relationship as Teacher, see the following resources:

Making Relationships Work For You

The Dance Of The Selves in Relationship