We talk a lot about romantic love in this society. Poets and songwriters make it sound like the most wonderful experience we can have here on earth. But what is it really?
Unlike the kind of love that grows over time, and is based on actually knowing someone and appreciating their qualities, romantic love is based on projection. When we are young, we fantasize about growing up, falling in love, and living happily ever after like Cinderella. If we have a difficult childhood, these fantasies about finding our “knight in shining armor,” preoccupy us and displace anxiety and depression. Then these fantasies take on a “life or death” importance, and we go out into the world searching for the solution to all our problems–-romance with the perfect person. The kind that makes us high off of the chemicals released into our bloodstream when we are attracted and infatuated with someone.
When we actually do fall in love, we take everything we have stored up and project it on to someone who triggers our passion. This someone is our Imago. [Harville Hendrix]
The Imago is like a puzzle. As we are growing up, every time someone significant in our lives stimulates us, it becomes a piece of the puzzle–a subconscious memory. Even with our parents, this can be a sensual imprint.
At the end of adolescence, the last piece of the puzzle is in place and we have a picture of our Imago.
Most people who have suffered as children go searching for the Imago with a vengeance. When normal people meet their Imago they are attracted and, sometimes, they fall in love. Wounded people go nuts. Everything is magnified.
Normal people eventually discover that their Imago may leave a little bit to be desired, and seek out compatible people. One the other hand, some people get addicted to their Imago and pass up on others who might fulfill them in other ways besides the magic of passion.
My Imago was my father. He was an alcoholic. I was attracted to alcoholics, or at least taking care of them. When I got to AA, there were all these sober alcoholics and I was thrilled. My Imago was not just sexual. He was intelligent and well-spoken, but he was always wounded and unavailable like my dad.
In recovery, we must do an inventory of our Imago. We must put the negative things we can’t have on one side of the page, and the positive things we can keep on the other. We must then STOP projecting our Old Imago on someone and create a New Imago.
The hard part is becoming attracted to our New Imago. This is hard. It is like being told by the doctor that we can no longer eat sugar and have to start eating our vegetables. In time, we really do learn to love our vegetable and we live happily ever after in good health.
“Genuine love” is like this. [M. Scott Peck] It goes beyond romance and includes a healthy relationship with an available and compatible person.
Remember: An initial attraction is not enough. It is just a projection and a great “high.” But it will not sustain a relationship through the ups and downs in life.
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