5 minute read –
From the time we’re itty-bitty babies to full fledged adults with careers and bills to pay, we spend much of our time in pursuit of love—it’s how we were created. When we experience intense feelings of love, the pleasure centers in the brain are activated, triggering dopamine.
In other words, love makes us feel good. Whether we’re a child seeking out love from our caregivers or an adult searching for that one person who will make us feel complete and whole, our brains are always focused on achieving that feeling of love.
But how does your brain decide what love is in the first place? And how does this play a role in determining who you are and aren’t attracted to as you search for a romantic partner? To answer these questions, we have to go all the way back to your childhood.
Imago: An Unconscious Image of Love
In the late 1970s, Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt—a husband and wife who had both previously been divorced—sought to understand how and why people select the romantic partners they do. Through their research, they developed the concept of the “imago” and created imago relationship therapy.
Your imago is the unconscious image of familiar love that you develop early in life based on the positive and negative traits of your primary caregivers. Later in life, your imago is believed to drive partner selection. Dr. Jordana Jacobs eloquently describes your imago as, “a person familiar enough to feel like family, but different enough for us to maintain the hope that they can heal the wounds that very same family caused.”
Imago and Relationships
Your imago impacts your romantic relationships as an adult in several ways. First, by influencing who you feel attracted to, and second, by affecting your behavior once in a relationship.
Have you—or someone you know—ever met someone and just clicked? Upon that first meeting, there’s a spark, or chemistry, or whatever you want to call it, and it just feels right? That momentous feeling could be described as your imago recognizing a potential match. This person seems to fit the parameters of the unconscious ideal of love you carry with you.
It’s already special enough when one person experiences this feeling, but imagine if both people are feeling this? This feeling of instant, mutual attraction could be compared to the concept of soulmates, of finding your other half, and as it spurs that incredible, familiar rush of dopamine in both people, it feels like coming home.
Of course, depending on how your imago developed and how you’ve since grappled with persisting issues surrounding your early relationships, this could either be the beginning of a beautiful relationship or a tumultuous one.
Without diving too deep into attachment theory, there’s a whole body of research that suggests that our early relationships help us create unconscious working models for how relationships work. In other words, if you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you may be more likely to find yourself in relationships with narcissistic partners—the relationship dynamics simply make more sense and feel more familiar to you. As humans, we’re hardwired to find familiarity comforting and safe even when it isn’t.
Our early relationships also teach us a great deal about love—what it is, how the people who love you treat you, what you need to do to experience love—and from these lessons, you begin to develop a sense of self-worth. If as an adult, you still wrestle with feelings of abandonment or neglect, for instance, these issues will rear their heads in your romantic relationships and cause unwanted conflict.
Bring the Unconscious Relationship to Conscious
Learning that your romantic relationships are based on unconscious modes of behavior established in childhood might make you feel a bit hopeless, but like anything else in the mind, you have the power to reshape your imago. You just need to give it the time and attention it deserves.
By consciously examining the aspects of your imago that hold you back from having successful, fulfilling relationships, you’ll be able to begin healing these long-fractured parts of yourself and become the best version of yourself you can be. Not only will your future partner thank you for the time you spent taking care of yourself, you’ll also broaden your pool of potential imago matches when you don’t rely solely on external sources to make you feel whole.
Are You Ready to Meet Your Match?
Finding someone you want to spend the rest of your life with is never an easy undertaking, but thankfully you don’t need to do it all alone. At Sophy Love Matchmaking, we have decades of experience in behavioral psychology, deep professional networks among the most quality singles, and we are skilled in both the science and art of understanding a person’s preferences, goals, and desires. While you work on healing yourself, let our matchmakers help you find your perfect match!
Sophy Love offers comprehensive dating services, including dating concierge, matchmaking, and coaching, to help clients navigate the dating world with confidence and find meaningful connections.To get started with Sophy Love, visit our services and let us know how we can best meet your needs.