Please accept my free gift… this 18 minute video about the hidden dyanmics under conflict.
Some ideas are so threatening that they appear dangerous when we first encounter them. Such was the ideal I was introduced to in my paperback copy of Getting The Love You Want. About halfway through, I was so overwhelmed that I tucked it deep into the bookshelf, thus attempting to place its radical suggestions far, far away from my conscious mind.
It was the 1990s in Chicago and I was 23 years old. That stack of books would move with me and my then boyfriend (now husband) from Chicago to Austin, Texas all while this little book. Stephen and I had driven a U-Haul from the University of Texas (where we first met), to building just two blocks from the Rock-and-Roll McDonalds. Our college futon now resided on the 23rd floor of high-rise apartment and it was there that I had just learned the idea that there were deeper, unconscious reasons that I fell in love with him. This kind and artistic man was the love of my life, but this book suggested there was more to it! This book suggested that my negative and most challenging experiences with Stephen had similarities to the negative experiences of my family, and most disturbingly to my brother’s unhealthy use of marijuana.
This shook me up pretty badly.
Another radical suggestion was that my boyfriend’s behavior and my complaints about it were more about me and my history than about him! Outrageous! I shut the book rather forcefully as if the paperback book cover could contain such revelations. Well you are probably not surprised to learn that it could not.
We cannot unlearn an idea when it resonates as true — no matter how uncomfortable.
The revelations made a home in my stomach as that same boyfriend and I broke up, started dating again, got engaged, got married, moved back to Texas, and started a family. My gut held that tension as I began a graduate program in Marriage and Family therapy all while nursing our 14-week-old baby boy and rushing to pump after my class so I could make it home without a disaster.
These revolutionary ideas followed me as I attempted to formulate my own ideas about how I would help couples as a new therapist. It was in graduated school that I learned that the mind-blowing self-help book I had read a decade earlier had spawned a global clinical movement. There was even a training and couples counseling certification called Imago Relationship Therapy.
I was finally ready to unpack my discomfort. Driving to meet an actual Certified Imago Counselor aptly named Charlie Love, Stephen gripped the wheel and asked me nervously, “Is there something I should know?” We had a home remodelling project happening along with a brand-new baby and I was recovering after a severe bout of postpartum anxiety, but I reassured him that this was strictly professional curiosity. Stephen didn’t have much time to question such an absurd assertion.
It was in therapy that he confessed to me that for him our marriage was deteriorating faster than our home was improving. We committed to stop the remodeling project and begin the Imago marriage work. After just six sessions of Imago therapy, my beliefs about our potential as a couple began to shift to being optimistic, and it was only then that I realized he was not the only one who had been losing hope. After three years of using Imago for our relationship and attending a couples’ workshop with Dr Hendrix and Dr Hunt, I decided to pursue the clinical training for myself.
Professional Growth & Certification
An Imago Faculty member, Wendy Patterson, a dozen other therapists and I sit in a circle to end our third 4-day weekend of the Imago Basic Clinical Training (BCT). We are abuzz with our new friendship bonds, a set of practical clinical skills, and the feeling of confidence that comes when you risk showing your work to your colleagues and they like it! I was ready to tackle working with couples, but more importantly I had deepened my understanding about the importance of using the tools in my own marriage and what was actually happening in the space between us.
After Wendy returned home, our group met with Pat Love, a Master Level Imago Trainer, for ongoing consultation. Sitting in the presence of her wisdom deepened my sense of competency. The couples in my practice began to experience the magic Stephen and I had enjoyed as the connection became easier to get back to. Conference by conference, I continued to develop my abilities through advanced trainings with different Imago Faculty members. I learned how to apply the theory and techniques in my work with individuals seeking to find relationships, parents raising children, adult children and parents, and family and business partnerships.
With each training I began to appreciate the profound depth of the theory. As a passionate learner, my energy for the work was renewed again and again. And as much as I appreciate the professional development, it was the personal work of living into Imago’s theory that has proven to be the most meaningful for me. Personal Growth Stephen, our 8-year old son Magnus, and I arrived in Denmark for the 2011 Imago conference where I have registered for an advanced pre-conference course called “Characterological Growth.” We have just experienced many magical days in Tivoli Gardens and the Legoland Amusement Park where we were equally as enchanted as our son. Everything looked pretty ideal on the surface, but inside I was struggling in my marriage. We stopped seeing our Imago counselor quite a few years earlier and although Stephen was then in recovery, I was still challenged by the lack of transparency that was still present in our relationship.
On one hand we knew an amazing kind of love that was both sweet and passionate, but on another level, I was struggling to forgive him (really to accept him) and he was struggling to change. So, I found myself at the Imago Conference seriously questioning the future of my marriage and with a raging hangover of imposter syndrome.
How can I be here as a couple’s therapist while I am deeply questioning my own marriage?
It is important to loop you in to the reality that I was adopted by two people with little ability to know their emotions. They used a parenting book by Dr. Spock to guide them on how to raise me. As an example, I was on a strict feeding schedule so I was often fed when I wasn’t hungry or underfed depending on my little body’s changing needs. I responded to their lack of attunement and the early disclosure of my adoption as if I was still an orphan. I worked hard to ‘earn’ my place in the home while I frequently tried to run away.
Because of my experiences, on a deep level I carry in my body a sense of not deserving love and an irrational belief that I am not good enough to belong to anyone. So here I am in Denmark taking Stephen’s lack of attunement personally and wondering what to do. Sitting in Maureen Brine’s Advanced Characterological Growth course, I re-learn that this personal pain around feeling unlovable will likely be reactivated by a wide range of behaviors in any close relationship. Leaving Stephen wouldn’t necessarily let me avoid this “orphan pain.” Of course, I could choose to find someone new and hope that it would not arrive in my next relationship, or I could begin to take some personal responsibility to learn more about how this pain works in my relationships.
This healing story still drifts in and out of my consciousness… but when I can fully own it, Stephen and I do better.
Teaching the Couples Workshop
Some of my colleagues from Characterological Growth and I decided to train as workshop presenters. Less than a year after Denmark, I met Maureen Brine in South Africa where she would once again be my instructor. As I delved deeper into the Imago theory, I moved away from concerning myself about why I chose Stephen and became more interested in how he holds the blueprint for my growth, another profound concept. I love personal growth “stuff” and this was an exciting re-frame to explore in our relationship. Imago’s theory says that through my relationship, I can reach my fullest potential as a human being, but only if I’m willing to listen to what is happening within our struggles. With every workshop I teach, or we teach together, I discover more and more about how I push parts of my immaturity and other lost parts into him, our relationship and most importantly, how this impacts Stephen.
Mentoring in Imago
In 2014 Ben Cohen came to train in Austin, Texas. I asked him to help me create a new cohort of Certified Imago Therapists (CITs) in Texas. In 2018 Maya Kollman joined the project to teach Advanced Imago Courses to the Imago communities of Texas. Part of the joy of Imago for me is learning from so many brilliant clinicians and having brilliant professional mentors! Through Wendy, Pat, Maureen, Ben and Maya I learned how my past painful experiences cut me off from parts of myself. In Imago we call these shadowed selves, our “lost parts.” By reclaiming these aspects of myself and stretching back into them, I can become the best version of myself.
By knowing more about Stephen’s pain, I can be inspired to stretch to become the person Stephen needs me to be (the parts I have lost) in order to heal his own painful stories. For instance, to kindly ask Stephen for what I really want, I have to work to feel good enough about my “deserving” to have my needs met — and move into the parts of myself that are vulnerable (definitely lost!) Please don’t misunderstand, we still live with our childhood pain… it rears up without warning and we get stuck. We are passionate people who fight and make up, and then fight and make up again! But, with Imago we get stuck far less often and we are getting better at owning our pain as our own, versus blaming the other.
Joining the Faculty
In 2019 I was invited to join the Imago Faculty as an Associate Faculty. This began several years of training just like all of the levels of professional development. I welcomed the opportunity to assist faculty members in their courses before I would begin to teach. This is how I found myself walking down a charming cobblestone street in the tiny Dutch town of Vilsteren, in the heart of the Netherlands.
As I turned onto the wide dirt path, I felt a mix of excitement and terror. I am about to meet four new faculty-in-training colleagues and our mentor, Rebecca Sears, an internationally renowned Faculty Member. Over the course of two trips to Holland, Rebecca and my colleagues lovingly helped me to understand how an awareness of my lost parts will help me become a better faculty member. My mentoring taught me to open my heart more fully in order to live and teach from this place of love without judgement Maya calls it “surrendering to love.” In 2022 I was honored to be certified as a Clinical Instructor and begin to offer my gifts to the Imago community.
There are many, many more stories I will share with you if you choose to join this Imago community. You and I may find ourselves sharing a laugh someday soon – maybe in a foreign country or online. You may have begun your journey by then, or perhaps it will be your very first step in a clinical or facilitator training.
If you would love to learn more about your own unfolding story, then I believe you can stop your search for a professional home and join us for a training!
In the meantime, here is my gift to you…a 18 minute video (subtitled) about the hidden dynamics in conflict.
An internationally recognized speaker, teacher, leader, and the developer of her own theory on intuition that includes a 9-trait model for Highly Intuitive People, the Invalidation Wound, and narcissism as an adaptation in highly sensitive and intuitive children. Michelle has been teaching the clinical training for Clinicians of Color since 2021 (we begin during Black History month each year) along with Linda Lewter and others she is mentoring towards leadership and faculty. She started a training for those who identify as Sex Positive in 2022. These trainings create a special space for those who have a specific experience, unique culture or identity, as well as those who work with relationships that have faced the pressures and trauma of marginalization. Michelle is a Certifeid Group Pracitioner and Fellow in the American Group Psychotherapy Association. She frequently lectures about talking about money and honing intuition in groups. She has lead weekly process groups since 2009 and a weekly process training group for therapists since 2018 and utilizes these skills as a trainer. Michelle has trained in: Voice Dialogue, EMDR (certified since 2009), Sensory Motor, Group Psychotherapy, Modern Analytics at The Center for Group Studies, and Imago! (of course). She is a PhD candidate at Daybreak University conduction research on the Imago Clinical Training to see if the training has an affect on the beliefs of the therapist. Michelle worked in Human Resources and Staffing for Dell Computer Corporation and also teaches the Imago Professional Facilitator Program to professionals wanting to apply Imago concepts to their teams, organizations, in their classrooms, and more!
TRAININGS BY (Michelle)
The Art of Imago Supervision Training (Part 1 of 2)LOCATION: Washington DC , Alabama , United StatesDATE:STARTS September 27, 2023
Characterological Growth: Parts Work for Relationships Advanced CourseLOCATION: Playa Grande , Guanacaste , Costa RicaDATE:STARTS March 4, 2024