Issue 97 –
Where Has Love Gone: Part 2
Bonding Patterns in Primary Relationhip
Hal & Sidra Stone
We start with the basic premise that bonding patterns are a natural part of all relationships and that in their positive form they generally go unnoticed. As people become more aware in their personal lives, living these bonding patterns full-time becomes less acceptable. More and more people today are not satisfied with this kind of relationship.
with Awareness and Aware Ego
When problems begin in a relationship, there is usually an ignition of the negative aspect of a bonding pattern. Once this pattern is ignited, there is generally a fuel that provides the basis for its continuing emotional intensity. As far as we can determine, the ignition system for these negative bondings is some injury to the vulnerable child. Its feelings are hurt; it feels abandoned; it feels endangered; it feels left out; it is fatigued or hungry. When we are unaware of these feelings, that is, when we are not conscious of this kind of uneasiness or injury, then we move psychologically into some kind of power place and identify ourselves with a powerful self.
So we see that vulnerability is the key to the understanding of these bonding patterns. The vulnerable child provides the ignition and a good part of the fuel for the emotional charge. There is additional fuel, however, that operates to maintain the fire and heat of negative bonding situations. The additional fuel is the system ofdisowned selves that operates between two people in a relationship. Whatever we disown is carried by another person. Those things that we resent, reject, despise,and judge in other people are direct representations of our disowned selves. These disowned selves that we carry for each other in relationship become the basis for much of the passion that we see in negative bonding patterns. Let us see how these considerations apply directly to the realm of personal relationships.
Bea and Al have gone to a party and both have had a fair amount to drink. Al flirts outrageously with a woman there. When they come home, Bea is quite withdrawn and very angry underneath. She also feels foolish, because she has no respect for jealousy as a natural feeling. She is very much identified with the idea of being a free spirit and allowing Al to be whatever he needs to be. This is the first time in her life that she has ever felt jealousy with a man, and it is anathema to her because it smacks of possessiveness. Possessiveness is the last thing she wants to be accused of in her relationships!
From our perspective, there is yet a deeper issue that lies underneath the jealousy, and that is her vulnerability. Bea does not like to be vulnerable. She will go to any lengths to avoid it. To admit jealousy is to admit vulnerability. Her primary selves do not permit this to happen, so whenever she feels vulnerable, her power sides come into operation. Her power voice is her free spirit voice. It says to her, “You have to be strong in relationship. You and Al both have the right to be exactly who you are and you need to support each other in this process. If Al is turned onto another woman, so be it. That is what he needs to do for himself and you need to support him in that process. Jealousy and vulnerability are signs of weakness and show a problem with self-esteem. They have no place in a good relationship.”
On the other side is Bea’s vulnerable child. The feelings that come from this place are very different. The child would say to her something like this: “I feel bad. I love Al and I feel terrible when he flirts with someone else. I feel like he’s abandoning me.”
The child side of a person is needy and vulnerable and, as we shall see over and over again, is typically disowned in personal relationships. By being disowned and not being allowed the chance to be expressed in relationship, this child side goes more deeply underground, where it becomes increasingly needy and vulnerable and begins to exert a powerful effect on one’s life. When this child becomes too powerful in this disowning process, it can take over the personality and produce a person who is totally vulnerable and is always the victim in relationships.
There is another self in Bea that her power side does not like at all, and that is the rage that lies underneath her jealousy. Generally speaking, vulnerability lies at the deepest level, and rage is really a reaction to the vulnerability. The rage side of Bea, were it given the chance to come out, would attack Al or scream at him or let him know in some powerful and overt way that she was enraged with him. Bea’s power side is inexorably rational, as we have seen. Anger is considered unseemly behavior and is definitely taboo. The problem in this interaction is that her power side is not able to handle the situation. Her vulnerability is too great and so is her rage. The more she has to block and disown these feelings the more crippled she becomes and the more she falls into the victim role with Al.
On a theoretical level, Al is committed to the same view of relationship that we have described above. His flirtatiousness at the party came out of his commitment to the idea that in a relationship, both people must be able to do what they need to do for themselves. In this instance, the flirtatious behavior was supported by a considerable amount of alcohol, and now that the whole thing is over, Al feels guilty toward Bea. If there is anything in the world his power side hates, it is to feel guilt in relationship to a woman. What is worse, Bea has gone into a withdrawal. At first this withdrawal has to do with the victim daughter who feels hurt and betrayed. Soon, however, this shifts into the negative mother who withdraws her energy and becomes quite punitive. All of this happens without a word being said.
Al and Bea are now moving very quickly between father I daughter and mother/ son in their bonding patterns: Al is shifting from the guilty son to the punitive father who resents feeling guilty, and then back to his guilty son as Bea becomes more punitive and withdrawn. Basically, he feels terrible. His guilty son just knows that he has done something wrong and is truly terrified of Bea’s punitive mother.
Deep within herself, Bea may intermittently experience a twinge of the discomfort of her vulnerability, hurt, and jealousy. However, this cannot be handled because it is all disowned, and so back she goes into the withdrawn and punitive mother. This is the dance of relationship, the dance of bonding. All this is going on between Bea and Al and not one word has yet been spoken. These shifts occur with amazing speed, which is one reason why it is so difficult to identify the patterns. One can move from guilty child to punitive father to needy child and back again in a second, with no real awareness that this process is going on.
What is the way out of this dilemma? What is the passage to some greater degree of freedom? Again, the way out is the process itself. We do not tell people to let it all hang out. We do not tell people to express all their feelings. Obviously, over time we need to learn how to share more of who we are in our relationships. People are very different however, and learning how to share ourselves is very different for each of us. The trick is to develop an awareness that is not part of the transaction that is occurring between two people. Once there is an awareness that is separate, it is not long before the aware ego also begins to separate, and soon there will be some choice as to what happens next.
Both Al and Bea have additional work to do. Bea needs to discover and separate from her primary self and begin to embrace her disowned feeling selves, those that have to do with vulnerability and rage and jealousy. Once she can embrace her power and rationality with one arm, and her emotional selves with the other arm, she can then begin to move into a position where she can initiate a new kind of communication. There is no self that is inherently good or bad; the task is to become aware of and embrace our different selves and learn how to express them through an aware ego. This process is difficult to describe, since it involves tuning into the feeling of what someone says as well as the content.
If Bea were in touch with her vulnerability and did not need to hide it, then her communication to Al might be something like this: “I’m feeling very upset with you and with me. I feel angry and jealous. One part of me would like to kill you and another part feels hurt and another part feels like all of this is nonsense and another part just wants you to hold me. I feel terrible.”
Al, too, needs to separate from his primary rational selves and to learn to embrace his disowned feeling selves. If he were able to communicate these, he might say something like: “I certainly do feel attracted to other women, but the truth of the matter is that I love you very much and I need you a lot. Surprisingly enough, there’s actually a part of me that feels very guilty about flirting, even though I talk so big and strong about doing my own thing. I sometimes get scared of your anger, and I even am afraid that you might leave me because of it. When I get fearful that way, another part of me gets very angry with you.”
Please understand that we are not advocating what one should do or say. We simply want to point out that when we can separate from our primary selves, we suddenly have many more options available. If we tell Bea that her problem is that she needs to express her anger, then she expresses her anger and this may be very freeing, but if that anger is channelled through the punitive mother in her, it can do more damage than good. We do not know what people should do or say in a particular instance, but we do know that when we can accept these different ways of feeling and being and learn to communicate them with some degree of awareness, relationship becomes much richer and more textured.
The inability to communicate the feelings of the vulnerable child is the primary source of problems and disruptions in personal relationships. Of course, as we pointed out earlier, the answer does not lie in totally identifying with the vulnerable child. People who follow that route become victims in relationship. The key is to be aware of the vulnerability that lies within each of us and to be able to communicate its reality while still being related to the power on the other side. To say to another person: “My feelings have been hurt by what happened this evening and I really am feeling very bad” is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of empowerment.
Being powerful in relationship means being identified with the parental side and disowning vulnerability. Under these circumstances one learns how to express oneself, how to be very direct about things, and how to get what one wants or needs. It is obviously very important to develop this side of oneself, because if this is not available, it is very easy to be a victim.
Being empowered, however, means something entirely different. It means being related both to the vulnerable and the power sides and being able to communicate with both of these selves present. This is an important thing to be learned by all of us who are trying to establish a more conscious system of personal relationships. Being in touch with power allows us to get things done and be successful. Being in touch with vulnerability allows us to be intimate. Being identified with power brings authority in the world and a loss of intimacy in relationships. Being identified with vulnerability brings a loss of power and a guaranteed identification with victim status.
The power and destructiveness of negative bonding patterns are awesome. When they are fully activated, love flies out the window and one’s partner or friend can feel like a hated enemy. These are conditions of high stress and pain; some of the deepest moments of human suffering occur during these times. The possibility of verbal escalation into full-scale warfare is very great during these negative bondings. Once a certain point is passed in a bonding interaction, any semblance of awareness disappears and each of us reverts to the law of the jungle.
In thinking about bonding patterns, it is important to keep in mind that, generally speaking, the development of awareness is after the fact and not before. We have to live life and then become aware. If we try to do it the other way, we kill our passions. In a strong bonding pattern, people might yell and scream at each other or become icily silent and cutting and, for us, this is all perfectly natural and inevitable. It is only afterwards that we can begin to examine the interaction to find out what the triggering mechanisms were. This examination will introduce greater consciousness into the relationship, but, despite that, we may be sure that before long another conflict will escalate into war games and we will go through the process again. However, with time, the aware ego begins to enter earlier in the transaction, to have more choice, and to exert a far greater influence over what happens.