Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Carol Dixon, welcome to Fresh Perspective. I’m very excited to have you with us and look forward to what you are going to share with us – all the big lessons and deep wisdoms (laughs). Is that a word, wisdoms? It is now.
Now it is (laughs). Now it’s a word.
But welcome. Thank you so much. So, I thought I’d kick off with a question that you will definitely know the answer to, and move to questions that you might not (laughs). The first one is, what do you do, and why do you do what you do?
Okay. So what do I do? Oh, Francois, I have multiple roles that I play. I am an Imago therapist and psychologist. What I do most of the time, is I work with couples. Using the Imago therapy process to assist them in their relationship and to either deepen a good connection or to heal a connection where there may have been a rupture. You know, there’s been some challenges in their relationship. That is the majority of my work. However, I also work with other kinds of pairs. One that I’m particularly passionate about, is working with parents and older children. So teenagers and older, to again develop that connection, deepen the connection, heal any ruptures that they may be experiencing in their relationship. The main reason I do this, the parents and the children, is because of what I call upstream prevention.
Yes, that was very interesting when you shared that with me earlier. So explain what you mean by that.
Upstream prevention is so that we equip individuals within their relationships to develop strong, deeply connected relationships. So that going forward when they start moving into adult relationships, that they actually have the tools, the skills, the experience, the know-how, to make their own adult relationships strong and healthy. But also, so that any kind of wound that has occurred during their childhood, that we’re already starting to make an impact on the healing of that wound, and not wait until later down the line when it’s starting to affect their adult relationships negatively. They already have done a lot of work in the space of the parent-child relationship. And you know, that’s not to say all parents are bad. Parents predominantly are really trying their best. They have amazingly good intentions. They love their children. But unfortunately, because we’re not perfect as parents, we make a lot of mistakes. And often we unintentionally wound our children in areas that kind of plays out later down the line.
The upstream prevention is so that we prevent downstream problems. Even more specifically for me, one area that I’m really so fired up about is with fathers and sons where fathers have perhaps been involved in behaviours and activities that really have not served themselves, their family or their children. We can talk about that a little bit more later. But the profound impact that the Imago process has had on this relationship, and the healing that can happen, and the strengthening of the relationship. To prevent what we call generational wounding, you know, that thing where the sins of the fathers are visited on one generation after the other. That we can actually stop that in its tracks.
Okay. I wanted to interrupt you there. Can you give three lines about what Imago is, and what you mean when you say that?
I assumed that was kind of a given. Imago is a form of therapy that recognises that we have been influenced and affected profoundly by our childhood experiences and the environments in which we grow up. These experiences then affect how we relate as adults in our adult relationships. What Imago does, first of all, there’s a very powerful theory. But what is significantly unique about Imago, is the tools that we teach therapists and facilitators to work with couples, families, so that they develop the relational kinds of skills that can improve their relationships and heal. That’s in a nutshell, I hope.
Thank you. Yes. Many people who listen to this might not know or understand what Imago is. I just want to go back to what you said about working with fathers and sons, and upstream prevention. If I understand correctly, what you mean is that you work with the parents and the children, older, like teenagers and older, to help them heal some of the wounds that might have occurred growing up. Because that will help them once they have a romantic relationship down the line.
What are some of the things you’ve seen happen with the fathers and the sons?
With the fathers, I find that there are many men who have completely against their own desires, and they almost feel like it happens to them, they end up hurting their families. Sometimes physically. You know, we’re talking about domestic violence and men who become so enraged with their feelings of powerlessness and frustration, and there’s a lot of factors that go into these feelings, and they just don’t know how to communicate. They don’t know how to share what’s going on inside of them. The only thing that they know how to do, is to just express their rage and their anger physically. And they have huge remorse. Enormous remorse and guilt after this, and shame that keeps them stuck in a cycle of self-worthlessness. So many of them come to therapy, pretty much on their knees, begging, I need help. It’s hard for them to do their own work, it’s very hard. But there are some incredibly courageous men out there.
I get quite emotional when I think about it because I’ve witnessed men, big, huge, strapping men, on their knees in tears. Begging to have this terrible history erased in their lives. And so mindful of the impact that it’s had on the people that they really love, especially their children. And their greatest fear is that this will be passed on to their sons. So, you know, they can do a lot of individual work, and work towards changing their behaviour, taking responsibility, try to repair the damage. But a piece of that, that I often find missing, is the actual engagement with the child. And they do try, they may go to their boys and say listen, what daddy’s done is not right, and I don’t want you to be like that when you grow up. They may go as far as that. But that doesn’t always do enough, because unfortunately, children download what they see. They don’t have a filter to stop that when they’re young. They just see it, and it gets downloaded, it gets internalised.
That is why we find down the line as adults, you know, these men snap, and often they themselves have been exposed to abuse, or they’ve even witnessed their fathers abuse their mothers. And they’ve made concerted decisions, I’m never going to be like that. I’m never going to do this. And unfortunately, they find themselves doing it. Why? Because they haven’t had a process where all of that downloading of behaviour that has kind of instinctively, kind of like a form of brainwashing in a way, that they haven’t actually had that healed.
So the step for me that I think is vital, is to have these men sit with their young boys and start a process of dialogue where they can really listen to what their boys’ experiences have been, and offer them a corrective emotional experience. Where the boys can experience what it feels like to be in a different kind of relationship with their father. What it feels like to be in real connection. What it feels like to experience love and compassion and empathy and validation for their feelings, which is what their fathers never had, and could therefore never give. It’s kind of really giving them that space, that safe space, and very sacred space, where they can connect at that level. I witness the profound empathy and compassion and connection that happens in this space.
That is so, so amazing. I grew up with a father who had – who was like two different people. Most of the time, he was a guy with a great sense of humour. He was a great teacher, so he was always teaching me something, but in a mentorship way, guiding me, asking me questions. You know, why do you do it like that? Oh, I see – that happened now, why do you think that happened? Helping me to think and solve problems.
But on the other hand, he could be very aggressive and reactive and unfair. Also, he struggled with alcohol his whole life. I can just imagine the impact that something like this would have had on my relationship with my father, but also with my wife and my children. Tell me if this is true, but I imagine the amount of growth and healing that you go through when you do this with the dialogue and the process that you facilitate with your father, is exponentially faster, bigger, deeper than it would be when you do it with a partner or a therapist down the line.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that it’s in real-time. So it’s the real relationship. You know, one of the things with – and I don’t want to undermine any kind of therapy because I think it’s also needed and necessary, but – you think of a young teenager who’s having problems at school, and you know – they’re acting out. Of course, they get referred to a psychologist or a social worker to try and deal with their behaviour, and the focus is all on their behaviour and what they’re doing wrong and how they’re acting out. How they need to start behaving properly.
They start sharing with the therapist their relationship with their father, particularly, perhaps. And the therapist is now governed by confidentiality issues, and what do they do next? They kind of try to support that youngster in individual therapy. It doesn’t often go beyond that. Maybe they might sort of work towards getting the father in, to talk to the father if they get the child’s permission, which is obviously often not granted, because they’re terrified that, you know, once the father hears that they’ve been disclosing information about the family, there’s going to be repercussions.
I’m guessing even if that is granted, the father being willing to have that kind of conversation.
Yes. So I think what this does, is that you’ve got a willing father. And that is very important, that the process starts with the father saying, I want to do this. I want to make it right. I can see that my child’s behaviour is a reaction to what has been happening at home, and I need to take responsibility for this. I need to step into therapeutic shoes. Instead of the therapist doing the healing with the child, the father gets to be the facilitator. So they don’t have to go through the training of becoming a psychologist or a therapist, but they have a process of facilitation where they can actually learn how to reach the heart of their child. And have the repair done in that relationship so that the child starts to feel worthy and validated and valued and safe again.
Makes sense. In learning to do that, I’m guessing that’s a big process for the fathers as well.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a healing process, but it’s also, you know – I just see these men going, I wish somebody had done this with me. I wish I had known about this. I wish I had discovered this earlier. So much damage could have been prevented. We do this in two different ways, Francois. The one is individual, with individual pairs, so a father could come to me and bring his son, and we do it as an individual process with the two of them. We also do the workshops, where we have – it’s called a generational workshop, and we have pairs of a parent and a teenager, or a parent and even adult children. It’s never too late. I mean, that is the downstream repair, but it is never too late to do that.
One of the things that I have noticed, is the witnessing process. When people witness the healing journey in other relationships, it has quite a profound effect on the way they experience themselves. And it’s almost like they’re looking in a mirror, and they can see themselves in the behaviour, and through the feelings of the other people that they’re witnessing. This often makes them go, oh my word, I never saw it like that. So it creates a different lens through which they see the world, which is very profound.
What are some of the big discoveries that you see fathers have? What are the big aha-moments for them in terms of their own baggage, or shame and guilt, the things you mentioned before?
I think one of the main ones is realising that it’s okay to have feelings. And it’s okay to have vulnerable feelings. It’s okay to be vulnerable. I think this comes up time and time again, that the past is all about hiding your feelings, being strong, not allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Because if you’re vulnerable, you are weak, and then you are liable to be hurt. To not being strong, and being labelled as all sorts of things. So it’s that awareness of men expressing feelings, and being vulnerable, and being okay with it. Being safe with it. I think that’s one of the most profound experiences that they do have.
I think also just realising that I can listen to my child. It’s not going to take away my power as a parent if I actually listen to what my son or even my daughter, is saying, and validate their experience. It doesn’t mean that I’m undermining my position as a parent. Parents often find it very difficult to really deeply listen to and validate their child’s experience when it may be very different from their own. Because they’re afraid that they’re going to have to give up some kind of parental position here. And there are lots of reasons for that, but I think that’s a very profound thing, is – oh my word, when I sit down and listen to my child and what they have to say… they get blown away by the wisdom and the capacity the children have to express themselves, and you know, their ideas.
Could you talk about what you mean by validation? Validating the child’s experience or feelings? What does that mean?
Sure. Maybe I should say what invalidation is first. Your child comes home, for example, and says, Dad, I want to get a tattoo. And Dad goes, What? Are you crazy? That’s ridiculous. Never ever are you going to get a tattoo. Not over my dead body are you getting a tattoo. The child says well, why? Why can’t I? Everybody else is. Then Dad says, well because, in this house, we don’t do things like this. Because I say so. And because that’s a really stupid idea. So that’s very invalidating of the child’s desire.
Validation would sound like this: Okay, well let’s talk about it. Tell me – I’m curious as to why you want a tattoo. Then the child says, well Dad, everybody, all my friends have got one, and I feel left out. Dad responds, Okay. So I’m hearing that you feel left out. That makes sense. It makes sense that you want to be a part of the crowd, that you want to fit in. It’s one of the most important things as a teenager, to fit in. This is becoming your extended family. Of course, you want to fit in, you want to feel you belong. That makes complete sense that you would want to do that. That’s validation. It doesn’t mean you agree. It’s not agreeing and saying okay fine, go and get a tattoo. You may have to follow it up with all right, well let’s look at what are the benefits. Can you think about some of the things that – maybe, my perspective of why a tattoo might not be such a good idea? You’d be surprised how your kids know you so well. They’ll be able to quote exactly why you think it’s not a good idea (laughs). Then you validate that. So it’s really finding that place where you can give them the message, you matter. Your needs matter. Your point of view matters. Even if it’s different from mine. I can hear you, and I can hold that space for you while we engage in a process.
That makes a lot of sense. What are some of the changes you witness in the children? What happens in their world, or what are the challenges, or skills they have to develop to be able to also be in that space with their fathers?
Initially, I think there’s a lot of tentativeness. They’re very scared. Very, very anxious to open up and to share their experiences and their feelings, because –
Does it differ when they’re younger to when they’re older?
Yes. The younger the child is, the less fearful they are.
The less? Wow.
Yeah. Younger children – for me. That’s my experience, you know. Younger children seem to be more open. They have less history of being shut down. You know there’s that song by Cat Stevens, I think it goes something along the lines of the moment I learned to speak, I was told to shut up. So I think younger children haven’t had a long history of being invalidated and being told that Dad knows better, Mom knows better, you know nothing. I think as they become closer to their teenage years and beyond, they start realising, actually, I am very different from my Mom and Dad. I have very different thoughts. But they’re too afraid to share those, because they go against the flow, maybe. They go against the status quo. They go against the rules of behaviour that parents have been trying to teach them all these years. So that’s one thing.
The other thing is, children do not actually want to be disloyal. They don’t want to threaten their parents. They really don’t. So one of the things I find in individual therapy with children, is they don’t want to snitch on their parents. They’re very loyal towards their parents. For a child to speak to a parent directly and say, living with you is tough. You hurt me in this way, and you’ve done this that’s made me feel very unsafe. It’s a fear that’s like, oh my goodness. I’m not allowed to do this. I can’t speak at this level. I’m not going to be heard, I’m going to be punished. So there is – they have to overcome that anxiety, and it has to be very safe for them to start the process.
Also, children often don’t know how to articulate it. They don’t know how to put in words. Especially boys. Girls are pretty... you know, there’s definitely a difference between boys and girls. Most boys find it really difficult to articulate what they want to say. This is another reason why they don’t share what’s going on inside of them, because it comes out weird. Then they’re like, no, that’s not what I meant. And the parent says, well, that’s what you said. To which they'll respond, no no no, it’s not exactly. So it’s a process of discovery. They discover their voice. That is the most profound change in children. They discover their voice, and they discover what it feels like to speak from their truth. From their place of, you know, essence. And that it is okay to do this. It’s all right. You’re going to be safe.
That’s huge. In my early twenties, I did a lot of work in orphanages. I just wanted to comment on the loyalty thing that you mentioned in children always being loyal to their parents. I spent time with these children, and I know some of their stories, and their parents, and what’s been done to the children, why they were taken away. But when you talk to the children about their parents, they never say a bad thing. All the parents were great. The best parents ever. But you know the back story. That was so sad and almost shocking to hear them talking about their parents even though these horrific things have been done to them by the same parents. That loyalty really, really runs deep. Maybe you can comment on how we also rather disown and disassociate with parts of ourselves to keep that connection with our parents.
Absolutely true. If you get a message constantly that something about you and the way you live your life, or the way you think, or the way you feel or express yourself is not really acceptable – it creates an experience of incompetence in that particular area of development. So you don’t feel secure, you don’t feel confident to express that part of you. An example – and it’s not just with parents. It’s society as a whole. I remember when I was quite young, I really wanted to join the school choir. I thought that this would make me so happy. I loved singing. I went along and I joined the choir, and I was told very soon that I’m tone-deaf and I cannot sing. It was done in such a way that I was so ashamed. When I then went home and shared this with my family, and they all laughed and said, yeah, you can’t sing. You absolutely can’t sing. So I shut down. It’s not that I wanted to be an opera singer or wanted to make a career of signing. I just enjoyed the experience of singing.
But I shut that down and I stopped enjoying it, even on my own. Even going and swinging at the bottom of the garden, I used to go and sing and swing. I stopped doing that. Because I started hearing myself with a critical voice, that, you know, this sounds terrible. So I stopped singing. What could have been developed – I could have developed some capacity there, maybe. I didn’t have to be, as I say, a star. But I could have developed some capacity to sing in tune and enjoy it even more. But I shut down that part of myself that, if in public I start singing because everyone else is singing, I could feel this dread and shame overcome me because I knew that somebody’s listening to me and I’m sounding terrible.
I mouthed the words and I didn’t sing. And it’s such a joyful experience to sing. Even if you are tone-deaf. Who cares? But that’s what happened.
Yeah, it doesn’t matter. The experience of singing is still a positive experience and lifts our mood.
Exactly. Also, not only that, I could have developed if I had been in the choir. You know, it’s something you can learn, to improve. Maybe not be brilliant at. But improve. But because I was so shut down and almost frozen in that area of my life, I just didn’t have the confidence and the freedom to express that part of myself. So that’s an example of how the messages that we get as children about ourselves, about the way we do things, the way we think, the way we engage with the world informs us in a way that makes us shut down those parts that don’t get the freedom to be expressed. That doesn’t mean that as parents, we mustn’t set boundaries. And that we mustn’t help children learn that certain things in society are not going to serve them. It’s not okay to pick your nose in public, you know. It’s really not okay.
It’s not going to serve you when you’re on an aeroplane or in a job interview. Not going to help you make friends and influence other people. It’s a balance between validating the child’s essence without shutting them down, and it’s also not helpful to overexaggerate a child’s – a particular quality that a child has. The other thing that I experienced as a child, is I got a lot of feedback about being a ballet dancer. I used to do ballet, and I was told by lots of people oh, you’re going to be an amazing ballet dancer. You should do this on the stage. This is a career. And actually, I wasn’t that good. I really wasn’t that good. But I thought I was. So I started pursuing, after school, I started pursuing ballet as a career. I found out I didn’t have the suppleness that I needed. I just didn’t have that.
So again, it’s that balance of finding out what is the essence of your child. What is their real – who are they? And what do they want to express? And let them. Encourage. And at the same time, be realistic.
Which is a hard thing to do. Probably, the only way that I found works for me, or that I feel like I can be as successful a parent as I can be, is to engage with my child. To be curious about who they are, how they think, what they feel. Engage with that. That’ll give you more information to know how to guide your child. Does that make sense?
Yeah, absolutely. That is for every relationship. The curiosity. To stay curious, instead of entering into engagement with preconceived ideas. It’s really about staying curious about what’s there.
I couldn’t agree more, Carol. For me, the number one tool for relationships is curiosity. Not only about your partner or your child, but yourself. Being curious about why you feel certain things. Think a certain way, behave a certain way. I think that’s what’s sometimes hard for us to do, to actually try and access all the information that’s locked up inside of us. When you mentioned men and boys not being able to articulate, I think that’s why. We don’t allow ourselves to think and feel certain things. So we’re not used to expressing them, because we don’t really know that they exist, in my opinion.
So we don’t have access to that, so there’s no way that we can communicate that with important people in our lives. I wanted to ask you about the downstream repair as well. Could you talk about what that looks like? How is it different from upstream prevention? How do you approach it differently, if at all?
Yeah. I think one of the main differences – there are some similarities in the approach, but I think the main difference with the downstream repair is that it’s always going to take longer. It’s like anything where there’s an early intervention if there’s any kind of challenge in life. Take for example a child who has speech problems. If they get help and there’s early intervention for that, it means that their speech problems can be moderated and modulated and they can really develop the skill that becomes fluent going forward. However, if it’s left and it’s not dealt with, then they go for speech therapy when they’re in their thirties, for a stutter, for example. It takes a lot longer to actually do the work. There are so many ingrained behaviours, some of which are very unconscious. So that’s the first thing, is the link, the time that it takes. It’s also a lot more painful. There’s a lot more pain attached, because as much as we don’t want to behave in certain ways, sometimes it becomes our survival suit.
The way we survive our childhood becomes something that serves us as adults, we believe. So sometimes what we have to do, is differentiate between what is my survival suit, and what is my reality? My real essence of who I am? So one of my survival suits is to be very busy and to take control of situations, and be quite assertive in situations. That I learned to do as a child, because it served me, and it helped me to grow. It helped me to develop. However, it kind of a pendulum swings a little too far, and you know, being too controlling or too busy or too assertive is not going to serve me as an adult, particularly in a relationship with another strong individual. So I kind of have to undo a little bit downstream. Whereas upstream, I can learn that fixability and adaptability so that I can fluidly flow between keeping busy and resting, you know. Taking charge of situations and giving other people the freedom to take charge. The later you leave it, the less flexibility, adaptability there is, and the more time it takes.
That makes sense. Could you talk about that survival instinct, that survival suit? It does serve us, doesn’t it? It is important to develop survival skills. We need them. Without that, we’d be much worse off, and probably get a lot more damaged as we grow up if we don’t have those. So how do we learn when they are still applicable? When do we still use our survival instincts?
Your survival suit is not necessarily and instinct. I think there’s a difference between the two. The survival suit is really kind of like emotional protection that we develop in order to protect our vulnerabilities. And yes, they’re necessary, they’ve served us, they’ve often served us really, really well. So let me give you an example, Francois. A child growing up in a difficult environment where there’s some emotional abuse, not necessarily verbal abuse. But they learn, the best way to keep myself safe, is to go away. Go to my bedroom, find something to do, shut the door, be away so that I’m safe. That helps me to survive and helps me to deal with the pain that I’ve been exposed to. That’s great. That is a very good, intelligent decision for that child at that moment.
However, fast-forward down the line, every time that young girl, for example, engages in conflict, all she wants to do is go away and shut the door. She doesn’t know that there are other alternatives. So that’s the survival suit that no longer is serving them. The difference between holding on to your survival suit and knowing when to take it off is when it’s no longer serving you. You have to take it off in order to develop other ways of doing things.
How do you know it’s no longer serving you?
Well, because you’re going to find that it escalates the conflict in your adult relationship. You going away and shutting the door leads to disconnection with your partner and an increased level of conflict. You don’t feel happier and safe anymore behind that locked door. You feel alone, you feel lonely. You actually wish the person would come through the door and put their arms around you, but you don’t know how to reach out to them. Because your arms have been, you know, straight-jacketed in your survival suit. So it’s learning to let go of that, and reach out, and go okay. At some point, I have to give myself permission to reach out and open that door and go and talk, and go and engage, and go and dialogue, or find a process. I have to take as much responsibility for reconnecting as I’m expecting my partner to.
This is what happens in Imago therapy. People begin to discover and differentiate between, what is my survival suit, and what is the real me? The real me is a lot more flexible and adaptable than we believe. The feelings of full aliveness that are reclaimed when we get out of our survival suit. It’s never going to go away. It’s always going to be there. We can go and put it on when it’s necessary. And when we are making a conscious choice to do so. Because a lot of the time, our shift into survival is an unconscious thing. It’s not sitting down there, going, okay, what is in the best interest of me, my relationship, my partner right now? Is it best for me to go away and close the door? Yes. Right now, it is. Therefore let me communicate that and do it. Sometimes it’s not in the best interest.
Yeah, it’s mostly reactive.
You touched on sitting in your room there, feeling alone and wishing your partner would actually come and talk to you. Maybe – could you please elaborate on what an open and a hidden wish is?
An open wish and a hidden wish – you want to me differentiate between the two?
An open wish is something that you’re really conscious of. You know that you want it. You’re clear. If you ask the question what is it that you long for, what is it you wish for, you can articulate it and you can speak it. A hidden wish or an underlying wish is something that we may not really be conscious about because we’ve disowned it. That’s part of the – because of those messages we got as a child, we disowned it. We no longer have access to it, we no longer have the capacity. And yet sometimes, it is visible to others, but it’s not visible to ourselves. It’s when we deny things. So the woman who goes into the room and longs for connection, for example, that she might be very conscious of.
But what she doesn’t realise, is that she’s quite manipulative. Because she will get cross – she goes away, she wants to be left alone, but she gets upset because nobody comes to look for her. And that she won’t own. She won’t say, I want you to come and look for me. I want you to come and find me. Because that wasn’t allowed. Go to your room. Stay in your room until you stop being angry. That’s kind of, some of the messages that she may have gotten as a child. Apart from a survival suit, it was always also reinforced. The unexpressed wish is the longing that we don’t know how to - or have the words for. And we don’t even know that actually we’re doing it sometimes, but it’s coming across in a very negative way. It’s a tricky concept, Francois. There’s lots of this information in Harville Hendrix’s books, Getting the Love You Want, and Keeping the Love You Find. Where this kind of underlying hidden disowned part of ourselves is beautifully explained.
Yeah. The open and the hidden wish is something that really fascinates me, because – if you think about what the person on the outside sees. Let’s use your example. When someone goes to their room and withdraws like that, it seems like they want to be left alone. So that looks like their wish. But actually their hidden wish is, come look for me. Come connect with me. I found when couples realise that and understand that, when partners are able to actually share that this is actually what I need in those moments – it looks like I need you to leave me alone, but what I actually need you to do is look for me. Come sit next to me. I try to be very specific about that.
And maybe you can comment on how you approach it but try to figure out exactly what the need is, and how you want that need to be met. So, come sit next to me. Talk, or don’t talk. Ask me a question. Hold me. Just hold my hand. Just sit there, be quiet. Exactly what is it that you need, you want your partner to do that will address that deeper need?
Yeah. Beautiful. Absolutely. The more specific, the better. If you imagine as a child, Francois – because we also have this ambivalence. A part of us wants to be left alone, and a part of us wants connection. As children, we’re pushed into making choices, because ambivalence is not something that’s encouraged. So you can’t be ambivalent. Make a decision. You can’t have both. You can’t have everything you want. Yeah, in practical terms that’s true, but a teenager one the one hand does want to be left alone, but they don’t want to be left alone forever. They want both, they want somebody at some point to go and see if they’re okay.
That fast-forwards to the future as well. At what point do you want…? It can be quite confusing for a partner, you know, as you say. You go into a room, you close the door. The message is, you don’t want me. So I’ll leave you alone. I can’t read you any other way unless you articulate that. It is about I do need to be left alone, I do want to be left alone for about ten minutes, but then I want you to come and find me, and find out if I’m okay, and engage with me and love me in this way. It is learning how to – and that’s where the curiosity comes in about myself. First of all, oh my goodness. I’m sending out all these messages that you must leave me alone, but deep down inside that’s not what I want forever. We get stuck in the rigidity instead of being flexible and fluid around expressing our needs and meeting the needs of others.
What are some of the lessons, or what’s the impact that the work you do has had on your relationship, or relationships?
Sometimes I sit back and I ask myself that question because it can be quite subtle. But if I look back at myself and how I’ve changed relationally over the years, I certainly think – and maybe my husband or my children would be the best people to ask this question of – but I certainly know that I have quite radically changed, actually, in terms of being quite a rigid, very unconscious partner and parent, with very unrealistic expectations and demands. Very selfish, actually, when I look at it in retrospect. My husband has been my greatest teacher. I never thought that was ever possible. I’m a psychologist, I’m a woman, you know – we’re higher evolved beings. But I have really been able to stand back and look at him and think, oh my word, what a gift.
There was a time in our relationship where the power struggle was so bad that I just didn’t want to be around him, and I’m sure he didn’t want to be around me. It was really very uncomfortable in that power struggle time. But now I look at him and I’m so grateful because if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have grown. That’s what I’ve learned from Imago, is that the agenda of love is not happiness. It’s growth. And when you’re willing to grow and you open yourself up to the opportunities of growth that your partner invites you to – every trigger is an opportunity for growth. And when you live that, it’s freeing. I feel I’m a truer version of myself now than I perhaps ever have been. And there’s still work to be done (laughs). It’s never over.
(Laughs) What you mentioned about the happiness – actually, one of the major turning points for Nicoliene and I, is after having one of our typical fights where – you know, I still can’t remember what it was about even though that day made a big difference in our relationship in the end, but we were just kind of stuck. And I didn’t understand what she really was talking about, and vice versa. So I was like, okay. I have to go to work now. So I was on my way to do a session with a couple, helping them resolve conflict and connect and all of that. I was feeling like a fraud because I couldn’t connect now. Now I’m going to try and do this for other people. Which, looking back, I understand it’s okay because I am not perfect. But I felt like a real fake and fraud that day.
So before I got out of my car, I was just sitting there thinking you know what, I want to be happy. Something just clicked inside of me. It was like okay. What will it take for me to be happy, even when we have conflict? Even when certain things happen? What will it take for me to be happy? And the answer was growth, to put it plainly. It meant okay, how can I stay engaged during a conflict? Instead of doing the usual withdrawing, because that’s what I do. You know, I withdraw, or I start thinking and being analytical and very logical. My wife’s the opposite. What can I do to be happy even at that moment? That made a major difference because that took me to curiosity.
So now we both agree, Nicoliene and I, it’s about a year, maybe to years now, ago, that this penny really dropped for us, it made a 70% difference in our relationship. That big. Even though we’d done Imago before, and all kinds of other couples sessions, and guided therapy sessions, and workshops, and I’d been trained in all of that. Just that one realisation, that – what would it look like – I don’t know if you know Tim Ferris. He has this question that goes like, what would it look like if it was easy? And that’s kind of what that was. What would it look like if I could be calm and happy and content in those moments? So that was a big turning point for us. Carol, thank you so much for sharing all your great ideas, thoughts and work with us. Where can people reach you when they want to connect or learn more about what you do?
Francois, I’ve so enjoyed chatting with you, and thank you for that story that you shared. I do think that – you know, everything takes time. There’s a process to everything. There are no quick fixes here. Reaching me – I do have a website. It’s carol-anndixon.org. I am based in the UK at the moment, so I’m back and forth in South Africa when lockdown ends. So I am working in the UK for the next couple of years. I also am on the Imago Africa website, you can get my details there. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s probably the best way of making contact with me.
Thank you. And to end off today, what is one thing that you think you have a very fresh perspective on? What do you think you view very differently from how most people see it?
That’s a tough question, Francois.
I think that I have the capacity to zoom in on the real stuff fairly quickly. So when I work with couples, I think within the first two sessions, or when I work with people generally – and it’s not perfect – but within the first couple of sessions, we’re already into where we should be. So the process, you know – I think getting to the real stuff is important. Sometimes it does take a bit of time. But I think I have a way of doing that. Don’t ask me how (laughs).
Yeah, it’s my superpower. Label it and claim it.
All right Carol. Thank you so much. I hope you have an epic day. Much love.
You’re welcome. You too.
The book mentioned in this interview can be found on Amazon here: