See if you can find any parts of yourself in what he’s talking about here…
Dr Hendrix, you’ve said that people in love are masters of projection. So do you think it’s possible for us to ever really see the other person? Or, even in relationship, are we kind of only engaging with ourselves?
I think we do see the other. It certainly doesn’t start there, though.
It starts with a projection onto the other, of both the idealised and the unacknowledged, disowned, de-idealised aspects of yourself, so that romantic love appears to be pretty much an illusion, in terms of knowing who it is that you’re relating to.
And then the power struggle happens, in which you try to extract yourself from your partner’s definition of you. That produces a tremendous amount of anxiety in both people.
But otherness doesn’t show up until you engage in a process – this is where I think dialogue becomes such a powerful intervention.
When you dialogue with a person, which means that you have to listen and not judge what you’re hearing, you don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to accept it and realise the fact that this is another reality.
The rule of the dialogical process is that eventually you start to experience anxiety: ‘Do you really think that?’ ‘I didn’t know you think that.’ And you eventually ‘get it’ – yep, they do think that.
And the anxiety, we’ve found, slowly dissipates when you begin to see that your partner is actually not you.
That is the process of differentiation of self from other, and the process by which the healing actually occurs. Otherwise you engage in not only a projective process but a coercive process, to make your partner live inside your projections, which creates an illusory relationship.
But one of the big pieces of the work is that you have to ‘get it’ – that your partner’s not you. And here’s how you do that.
What we’ve learned is that the most rapid way to move to otherness is to eliminate negativity, because negativity, as I’ve observed it, is an unconscious mechanism to maintain the illusion.
Negativity coerces you into being in my projection, and when you’re not, I have to tell you how badly you’re doing. So if you’re strongly rebellious, you’ll fight me back, and if you’re not, you’ll collapse back into the way I want you to do it.
But if you take the courageous position of surrendering judgement and accepting at face value the self-presentation of your partner, you’ll go through enormous anxiety that will ultimately give way to interest.
So what we do to stimulate that is ask couples to replace judgement with curiosity. Instead of saying: “Where did you get that idea?!” you can just sort of say, “Wow, tell me about that idea – where did it come from?” You’re curious.
And when you have curiosity, your partner doesn’t feel attacked anymore, so they become more self-disclosing, and through that self-disclosure, through the other, people discover themselves.
But there’s a part of self-disclosure that people feel incapable of while they feel anxious and defended, so the dialogue process is one of differentiation for me, and self-discovery for you. Equally, when I’m in the self-disclosing position, I find out about me, and that I’m not you…
Self-discovery appears not to be the path that we thought it was for several years: the idea that I can see you because I know who I am.
It turns out that if I get clear about who you are, that I can then see me better; that it’s an ‘outer-inner thing’ instead of an ‘inner-outer thing’.
It’s like love. Most people say, ‘Don’t you have to love yourself before you love others?’ I haven’t seen anybody do that.
I have seen people say, ‘OK, I’ll make your life important to me’ and when they start doing that in an unconditional way, they begin to experience changes in themselves… If I just tell myself I’m a good person, take care of myself and feed myself well and love myself and all that, somehow that never gets to otherness. You get really clear about a range of you, but there’s a part of you that you don’t discover except in engagement.
Then again, perhaps you might discover another part of you in Part 3 of this interview, the final installment. Join us.