Voice Dialogue’ and Relationships
The Bonding patterns
Owing to the principle of duality, to the natural polarization of energies and 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 shadow. 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.
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 each 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.
The ‘Bonding Patterns’
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.
The ‘double lemniscate’ was devised by Hal and Sidra Stone, the originators of ‘Voice Dialogue,’
to illustrate the dynamics of positive and negative ‘bonding patterns’ in relationship, particularly in couples.
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 reciprocity.
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.
Original drawing. Adelheid Oesch
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 ‘Holding Environment’: A Womb of Unconditional Love for our Inner child
If we engage into a practice of active self-relating by becoming our own conscious holding environment, 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.
As a couple, let each of us create a ‘holding environment’
for our ‘Inner child.’ This will be a way out of painful co-dependency.
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.
Whether negative or positive, our projections on each other
are the expression of still unconscious dynamics.
Let us work on it together, so as to create
‘less suffering and more intimacy and joy.’
Le peintre Benn (1905-1988)
© 2017 by Adelheid Oesch