Of all the places I expect to find great relationships insights I confess Justin Timberlake was not at the top of that list.
However his song Mirrors touches on one of the most interesting and elusive themes in relationships which is the concept of the lost self.
In short the lost self is the part of ourselves we had to cut off in order to survive in our family of origin. A common example of this is when men are socialised to ignore or diminish their feelings. For instance a little boy who cries when hurt may well be shamed or ignored, while a little girl is more often hugged and comforted. Now there are two important points to note. The first is that the needs for comfort are human needs not male or female specific. Secondly the dominant child brain during this formative period tends to operate in the continuous present. What this means is that the part of us that holds those unmet needs still longs for them to be met and we bring these unmet needs into our relationships. Incidentally you can see this in operation at any Big Boys toys show – what you have is a bunch of 8 or 13 year olds (in 50 year old bodies) running around oohing and aahing about the shiny red car etc.
Now when it comes to love we tend to fall in love with someone who holds important parts of our lost self. For me as someone growing in a highly logical thinker family I adapted by tending to ignore my emotional, empathic side. So I tend to fall in love with deeply empathic emotional women – my child brain that controls a lot of the attraction process is looking for someone who is able to help me access those lost undeveloped parts of me. My partners tend to value my calm, stable problem-solving attitude and find it very relaxing and stabilising. Which is a great deal of fun in the honeymoon stage of relationship when they think I am the most wonderful man on the planet.
However in the power struggle stage when they are upset with me I find that very distressing and I tend to cope by getting very logical and trying to fix things – they percieve that as cold and unloving. Then the disconnect happens as they (caught up in their child brain) try to get my attention by being more upset and emotional e.g. “You always, do this, you don’t love me at all, you never listen etc”. Then I (also caught up in my child brain) try to get them to calm down by explaining that they are being illogical – because I heard every word they said (they are yelling after all); and of course I love them (or why would I still be there); and of course I listen because otherwise I couldn’t respond (duh). Unsurprisingly my ‘helpful’ advice doesn’t work because they are responding emotionally. They don’t feel heard, they don’t feel my love, they don’t feel my understanding because if I heard their emotional message my eyes would soften, my face would show care and concern and I would move towards them with a hug and a response like, “Wow you sound so upset, lets make a cup of tea and sit down so you can tell me all about it.”
You can read more about the lost self in Imago Relationship Therapy founders Harville and Helen LaKelly Hunt’s book Receiving Love
In part 2 we will look at Symmetry – watch this space