Part 2 – Bonding Patterns in Primary Relationship continued

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.

Bonding Patterns

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.

Disowning Vulnerability

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 When they  come home,  Bea is quite  withdrawn  and very angry underneath.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.