Something quite amazing happened this week. Becky was on the floor playing with the grandkids while I was sitting on the couch enjoying a visit with their parents. Suddenly, a balloon popped. Twenty-five month old Maggie immediately stopped playing and slowly stood up silent for a few seconds. Then, raising her arms in the air, she softly said, “Somebody hold me.” Becky had been watching her and was aware that the balloon had startled her. She reached out and wrapped her loving arms around Maggie, held her up for a few moments as any loving grandmother would do, then she set her back down and Maggie went back to playing.
When I realized what I had just observed I was astounded. The balloon popping frightened this little 2-year-old girl. Yet she wasn’t overwhelmed with the flood of fear, which might have been demonstrated with screaming and uncontrollable crying. Instead, she was able to recognize her need in reaction to the balloon popping, regulate that need, and put it into words by way of a request, “Somebody hold me.”
Now, for a little background: Our daughter Kim and her husband Dirk, Maggie’s parents, have been using the Imago Dialogue process with mirroring, validating and empathizing with Maggie from the time she was born. Before they teach or discipline her, they mirror what she says by repeating back to her and telling her that she makes sense. Then they take whatever corrective measures they need by redirecting her thoughts or by helping her find words to express herself. So here is a two-year-old who rather than just crying when the balloon pops has learned to process the need she has and put it into words: “Somebody hold me.” Her parents, through this process, are teaching her that it is okay to ask for what she needs.
One very difficult task for many people is to express their needs to their partners. We tell ourselves stories like, “I don’t want to be a bother,” or “Nobody really cares about me,” or “I shouldn’t ask for help.” So what we do instead is simply complain, feel frustrated and sometimes “cry like a baby.” Perhaps it is because crying is how most of us learned to express our needs and we were simply not taught to express them with words.
What is interesting is that most of us have partners who really would like to do those things for us that would help us feel more loved, secure, important and cared for. The good news is that it is never too late to learn something new. It is okay to ask for what you need. You can help your partner learn to express those needs by mirroring, validating (“you do make sense”), and empathizing. This is a simple yet profound process. But more than a process, it is a very different way of being with your partner that helps in the transformation process from the old unconscious way of being to letting the genuine conscious you emerge.
With thanks to my friend and colleague, Dr. Tony Victor, for his article. Tony and his wife, Becky, have been on a relational journey over the last 38 years. It has been the best of times and the worst of times. Together they have faced life’s adversities as well as life’s blessings.
Dr. Victor is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. He is a certified Imago Therapist, Advanced Imago Clinician, Certified Imago Consultant to therapists and a Certified Imago Couples Workshop Presenter. He is also a Fellow with the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. His training and professional experience reflect a variety of psychological and theological foundations. His early training and experience included a Doctorate of Ministry in Pastoral counseling and a postdoctoral three-year clinical internship in psychodynamic psychotherapy with an emphasis on object relations and family systems theory. His later training included certification and advanced studies in Imago Relationships Theory. Today Dr. Victor specializes in Relationship Therapy.