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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2011 22 humiliated by having to depend on her financially. Their leisure time is out of sync because Kent’s work is seasonal and he has more free time in winter, while Muriel has more time for family life in the summer. They came for therapy because they hadn’t had sex for three years. Muriel says she doesn’t “trust Kent emo- tionally anymore. He just doesn’t really talk to me, seems to be an- gry or aloof all the time. I don’t enjoy his company.” Kent says he “feels rejected and judged by her. everything I do spontaneously just seems to fall short. I don’t like who I am when I’m with her and I don’t think she appreciates anything about me anymore.” I can feel their passive aggression—their withholding, criti- cism, stonewalling, and implied contempt for one another. It’s uncomfortable to be in their presence because they seem not to like each other. What could be happening with such well-mean- ing, upstanding, and careful people that they have become alien- ated in a marriage that seemed very promising when it started? eMoTIonaL HaBITS anD pRojecTIon We all develop habitual emotional patterns in our earliest pair bonds (with a mother, a father, or other caregiver) that keep us from clearly knowing, seeing, feeling those experiences that threaten us emotionally. and we must surely have seen our ear- liest beloved—our original caregiver—in an idealized way be- cause we had to trust that person (no matter how untrustworthy she or he might have been) to relax into our own being as an infant. It’s no accident that many fairytales begin, “once upon a time there was a King and a queen.” From our earliest fantasies, we develop later wishes for a perfect partner, our “other half ” who will see, know, and accept us unconditionally. as we mature through childhood and perceive some of the reality of our actual emotional circumstances, we form a psychological immune system sometimes dubbed “defenses” through which we perceive just enough reality to keep going safely, but often not enough to change our views of who we and others are. This, plus our early idealizations, causes us to form hidden emotional templates that get us into muddles and troubles later in life. When we pick a partner or come to know our new infant, we begin with an “idealizing projection”—assimilating the other person to our own emotional and perceptional needs, often feel- ing the other will somehow complete or heal us. projection, a psychological term, simply means that we impose our own hid- den template on the ways we perceive another, especially when emotions are charged. Idealizing our beloved is a normal part of falling in love. But the other person must eventually fail to measure up to our idealization because another human being cannot be a figment of our emotional imagination. If she or he tries to be, that person sacrifices her or his development, autono- my (self-governance), or identity. our beloved should break our heart in clarifying how she or he is different from what we hoped and prayed for. The broken heart of disillusionment, and the power struggles that ensue, are the first opportunity for us to truly know our beloved. obstacles to doing so abound, however, because idealiz- ing projections quickly morph into devaluing and fearful projec- tions once our beloved falls off the pedestal. at that point, we begin to relate to the other per- son in terms of our most unhealed and wounded emotional and perceptual templates. Like Muriel and Kent, we may feel betrayed. The person whom we loved now seems to fail or reject us. as we did when we were children, we feel powerless and then we do what we can to protect ourselves, like retracting our interest and intimate contact. Take Kent, for example. He grew up as the younger son of a father who was a very successful architect. unwilling or unable to express love directly, Kent’s father was distant and aloof with his children although kindly and protective. Kent admired his fa- ther’s success and apparent gentle kindness. But his father never praised Kent or seemed to see what was favorable and creative in his son. Kent suffered greatly and never felt he measured up. now Muriel has stepped into the internal spot of Kent’s father. Kent shrinks away from her advice and suggestions because he feels she disapproves of him. unconsciously, Kent feels that Mu- riel forces him to choose between his autonomy and her love—a double bind in which he is damned whichever way he turns. al- though Kent is unaware of it, this double bind repeats what he experienced with his father. From Muriel’s side, she was the competent and ambitious first daughter of a mother who had drug and alcohol problems and never found a way of life that worked. Muriel’s mom was warm and affectionate, but she was irresponsible, disorganized, and often turned to Muriel for advice. now that Kent resists Muriel’s ideas about family and communication, he has stepped into the internal role of her mother, leading Muriel to see him as irresponsible. Repeatedly she says that Kent “won’t stand up and be a father.” She tries to give him the same kind of advice that seemed to work with her mother. Because Kent is aloof now, Muriel also feels rejected (a contrast to the warmth she’d felt when she helped her mother). The most painful part for Mu- riel, though, is that she feels superior to Kent, as she did with her mother: she feels as though she knows and understands life, their children, and the world better than he does. This is a bit- ter pill for both Muriel and Kent. The projections creating the biggest obstacles for this couple are from the parents of the op- posite sex of the partner, making Muriel and Kent unsuspecting of their strong tendencies. The broken heart of disillusionment, and the power struggles that ensue, are the first opportunity for us to truly know our beloved.