Discover the reasons for your repetitive love patterns, love attractions and relationships.

It could be related to your childhood experiences and your first contact with love and care from your early carers.

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Imago Relationship Therapy was developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. They took many ideas from a broad range of psychological theory and therapeutic practice, and put them together in a unique way that emphasizes the mutuality of intimate relationships.

Imago teaches a way of communicating with your partner about what really matters in your intimate relationships — what you need to feel loved, cared for, connected, and safe. It can help you and your partner to ask for what you need from each other, and to give what you need to each other, to bring you into compassionate and empathic connection.



According to Imago theory, you are created in a state of connection and joy, whole and complete. It is inevitable that your childhood carers will fail to perfectly meet your needs, and you will adapt to those experiences.

For instance, during roughly the first year and a half of your life (the “attachment” stage), your developmental task was to establish a sense of safety and belonging as a foundation for your further development. If your carers were reliably warm and available (sufficiently responsive to your physical and emotional needs), you would have tended to feel safe, and you would probably have exhibited secure attachment to your carers (responded to separation from an attachment figure with some distress, but able to be calmed, and sought comfort from the attachment figure when reunited).

On the other hand, if your carers were cold and rejecting (unresponsive to your needs), you may have felt unwanted and rejected, and may have tended to withdraw from contact, not just from your carers, but from others as well. This interactional pattern is given the name “avoider”.

If your carers were inconsistently available to meet your needs, you may have felt abandoned, and may have been clingy to try to remain in contact with your attachment figures. This interactional pattern is called “clinger”.

Similarly for the later stages of development and carer’s behaviour, various adaptations could have become integrated into your personality. This sets you up for a lifetime of what I call malatropism (turning the wrong way in response to a stimulus), so that you act in ways that get you the opposite of what you consciously desire.

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Patterns of adaptation tend to take these forms —

Attachment Stage If Your Carers Are… You May Feel… And Tend to Exhibit…
0-1½ years “safety and belonging” reliably available and warm Safe secure attachment
cold and rejecting — “don’t be” unwanted, rejected — “I have no right to exist” withdrawal — “avoider”
inconsistently available — “don’t need me” abandoned — “I can’t get my needs met” holding on — “clinger”
Exploration Stage If Your Carers Are… You May Feel… And Tend to Exhibit…
1½-3 years “connected separateness” providing protective limits and encouraging exploration free to investigate curiosity
smothering, overprotective — “don’t be separate” smothered — “I can’t say no and be loved” distancing — “isolator”
neglectful — “don’t be dependent” neglected — “I can’t count on anyone” pursuit — “pursuer”
Identity Stage If Your Carers Are… You May Feel… And Tend to Exhibit…
3-4 years “sense of self” mirroring identifications and supporting assertions accepted for who you are an integrated self
selectively mirroring, controlling — “be what we want you to be” shamed, dominated — “I can’t be me and be accepted and loved” rigid, punishing — “controller”
deflecting and invasive — “don’t assert yourself” invisible, used — “I’ll never be seen, valued, and accepted” yielding, self-effacing — “diffuser”
Competence Stage If Your Carers Are… You May Feel… And Tend to Exhibit…
4-7 years “personal power” giving clear instructions and supporting efforts self-confident empowerment, positive risk taking
selectively praising and demanding excellence — “don’t make mistakes” punished, guilty — “I have to be perfect” competitiveness, limited praising — “competitor”
ignoring achievements and offering no guidance — “don’t be powerful” achievements are devalued — “I can’t be aggressive or express anger” manipulation — “compromiser”
Concern Stage If Your Carers Are… You May Feel… And Tend to Exhibit…
7-13 years “friendship” modelling and encouraging good friendships comfortable in relationships with peers healthy friendships, including a “best” friend
overprotective, disapproving of friends — “don’t be close” rejected, lonely — “I’m not lovable” lack of connection — “loner”
disapproving of autonomy and self-care — “don’t have any needs of your own” own needs are not legitimate — “others need me” taking care of others — “caretaker”
Intimacy Stage If Your Carers Are… You May Feel… And Tend to Exhibit…
adolescence “closeness and loving” supporting intimate relationships and sexuality comfortable with adult intimacy positive sexual and emotional partnerships
overly restrictive — “don’t grow up” controlled — “I am not trusted” rebellion, suspicion — “rebel”
conservative, rigid — “don’t be different” disapproval — “I have to do what’s right” self-righteousness — “conformist”

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It is important to note that these characterizations are not cast in stone. You could act like an avoider in one particular situation and feel safe and securely attached in many other situations and relationships. And patterns can change over time. I am talking more about tendencies that emerge during times of conflict or fear.


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