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Anger vs. Abuse; Using Imago to Keep from Crossing the Line

IMG_4924A comment on a post last week got me thinking, when are we really taught the difference between healthy anger and abuse?  How do we express our anger appropriately?  Luckily, I have had many years of practice and learned from some of the best trained experts in the field, so while I definitely have not perfected it, I do know about it.

The most  amazing work on fighting fair is based on Imago Therapy / Imago Principles.  It was developed by a man by the name of Harville Hendrix, and I have learned from a number of brilliant therapists trained by him including Rick Brown, who has appeared several times on Oprah.  It is an actual type of dialogue, and while it is extremely difficult to get the hang of doing and you often feel silly doing it, the world of relating in business, marriages, and family relationships can open to you if you practice.

I know personally my ADHD gets in the way of me fighting fair, because I am so impulsive and reactive it is hard to sit still in a fight and listen to someone else while I might be perceiving they are criticizing or blaming me.  I have found using the imago principles are amazingly productive in my way of relating to others when dealing with touchy situations.  So while I think they are particularly helpful for those with ADHD, all can benefit.

Some general rules for fighting fair:

1.  Don’t use the world ‘You’.  Stick to I feel, etc.

2.  Make sure you are using your ‘Please Pass the Butter’ voice.

3.  No shaming, blaming, or criticizing.

4.  Mirror, mirror, mirror – validate and empathize

5.   If you are too upset to speak, say you are too upset to talk about this right now.  I need a break for x amount of time, is it OK if we get back together at this time to finish this talk?

6.  No name calling.

So what is abuse?  Abuse is defined as anything that is harmful, injurious, or offensive.  It is my guess we could all be classified as abusers, the extent or severity of abuse is what gives cause for concern.  Even the smallest invalidation of feelings, ‘shame on you,’ or poking fun can have serious consequences on someone else feeling loved from you.

Anytime we engage with someone when we are very angry or scared, it is likely we won’t use the above method and instead revert to our reptilian brain of protect at all costs.  Often times our memory distorts things during periods of great distress as well.  So in a perfect world we would take a break and really feel / process the anger ourselves without talking to the person that triggered it, and come back only when we are ready to speak in our ‘Please Pass the Butter’ voice.

The dialog process you would then use is imago, and it is well described on this video.  Even Alanis Morissette thinks it is fantastic.  Even if you are not in a relationship, learn the principles and try it out with people and see how you grow, the relationship grows, and possibly even the other person grows.  There is something incredible about suspending values, judgments and beliefs and simply hearing others.

So the answer to crossing the line?  It’s hard to say where that line is, but as you start incorporating imago principles you will see your relationships and the way you relate transform from any level of abuse to pure love.

Does anyone have any experience with imago?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Christina Spicuzza

Anger vs. Abuse; Using Imago to Keep from Crossing the Line

Kathryn Goetzke

I own a company called the Mood-factory (, a company that creates products based on how sensory experiences effect moods. I also run a nonprofit for depressio, iFred (, we are working to change the brand of depression. And yes, I have ADHD, along with PTSD, major depressive disorder, and a host of other challenges, opportunities, and gifts.

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APA Reference
Goetzke, K. (2010). Anger vs. Abuse; Using Imago to Keep from Crossing the Line. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Jun 2010
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