Harville Hendrix

Cases of Mistaken Identity

<Nov. 26/10>

Been meaning to write about this phenomenon for a while.

A dream I had last night made these thoughts come to the surface as soon as I woke up & recalled it. I’ll spare you the details, although it’s a rather oft-repeated theme in my personal dream life.

Everyone has heard about “cases of mistaken identity.” I think an awful lot of us are victims of the phenomenon, yet with little or no conscious awareness of it.

What I’m referring to, to cut to the chase, is that I think large numbers of us relate to our spouses/partners as though they are the mother or father with whom we had such vastly emotionally complex dealings as children. If you are one of the lucky few on the planet who had a “perfect” childhood, with “perfect” parents, in some lovely Waltonesque or ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family, well – hey, 2 things:

  1. Lucky you! You’re about as common, I suspect, as the long-extinct dodo bird!
  2. You probably won’t understand what the heck I’m talking about here.

I don’t really need to say a whole lot about this. I think we all have to wrestle with this in our own way, on our own time.

I personally seem to have a pretty intimate acquaintance with the phenomenon – from inside out & outside in & 6 ways to Sunday, as they say. I’m not going to share any particulars, because making this “personal” is not my point. I’m talking about it because of its seeming-universality. It seems to be something an awful lot of us are wrestling with, one way & another…

Most of us come from dysfunctional families. It seems a lot of us have lives in which there are a fair number of “elephants in the room.” I’ve had my own gutwrenching experiences with elephants – & I’ve lived with some… & I think there are plenty of them around.

I occasionally see folks whose elephants are so gigantic, they look to be squeezing the life out of the human beings who are trying really, really hard to skirt around them without winding up on a psychiatric ward (& I’ve seen enough of psychiatric wards, what with one job & another I’ve had over the years, to know that there isn’t liable to be much help found there).

It’s painful to watch this stuff from the sidelines (even more painful to be right in the midst of it, of course!!) – & I’m a much bigger fan of joy & possibility & singing & changing the world than I am of numbing pain & misery & scarcely being able to breathe for all the neurotic nonsense one is having to dance around on a daily basis.

So…good luck, everyone. All of us! Wouldn’t it be cool if we’d all work on creating a personal life (& world) in which, if there must be some “elephants in the room,” at least they are small ones? Here’s to baby elephants!


p.s. I guess you could say that one of the purposes of our lives is healing. Seeking (& working on) our own healing & all the while, as we work to heal ourselves, helping to heal everything & everyone around us. The planet itself too, of course – since we humans are maybe something like the planet’s eyes & ears & hands & legs (& consciousness, but…oh dear me, if I get going down that road, I’ll never get stopped!)

p.p.s. I was about to suggest some books I think can help couples who think they might want to understand & wrestle a little with the mistaken identity “elephant.” Two I can recommend are Harville Hendrix’s Getting the Love You Want & Martin Rovers’ Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships. (John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is a pretty helpful read as well. & Byron Katie’s Loving What IsFour questions that can change your life is indeed potentially life-changing!)

p.p.p.s. Some fascinating authors on the subject of consciousness & perhaps the uniqueness of human beans – I mean beings – are:

  • Thomas Berry
  • Matthew Fox
  • Sister Miriam MacGillis
  • Tom Harpur
  • Eckhart Tolle

& oh yes, I could go on… (Check here for lots of great book recommendations.)

Since the personal is indeed political, there is lots of useful spillover from one to the other with all of these books, of course.

'Quote of the day' with this post: “It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” – J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

Get Over Yourself!

<Aug. 6/09>

This phrase keeps coming up. A good friend of mine introduced it to me, as I recall. She & several other friends are (or have been) in relationships with very…hmm…shall we say, challenging men.

Actually, I don’t know whether I know any women whose men are not fairly challenging.

And before any male readers become offended, I consider most women to be pretty goshdarn challenging too. I spent too many years having women up on some kind of fancy pedestal – but the pedestal cracked & broke, pretty much – & we’ve all fallen off.

Seemingly, we are all challenging – male, female & otherwise.

And too, I do encounter the odd man or woman who looks to be not terribly difficult or challenging. I, however, seem to gravitate toward both women & men who are, you might accurately say, a “handful.” Needless to say, I’m a handful myself. No worries, readers, I’m in no denial whatsoever about that.

Well. As I say, this “Get over yourself” phrase has been in my head for some time. I’ve never dared actually say it to anyone, although I will admit to having been tempted on more than one occasion.

I heard an interview with Gordon Pinsent on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio recently. He said that his wife used to occasionally tell him “Gordon, get over yourself” – & I note that he said this without any audible resentment in his tone. It seems their relationship permitted this degree of forthrightness.

Two things have been going through my mind since then. One was, “Boy, I wish I’d been able to say that to ––– sometimes! Maybe it would have helped.”

Secondly, I think maybe we all need to think about how this phrase might help us all. Never mind just women saying it to the men in their/our lives; them saying it to us, too. All of us saying it to everyone. All of us saying it to ourselves. Surely we all need to “get over ourselves,” hmm? At least some of the time.

I think we are all hobbled at times by our ancient resentments & grudges & even, in some cases, our repressed (& perhaps unacknowledged) rage.

We let our “old stuff” keep us tied up in knots. All – or at least most of us, I think – do this. Yes – I’m talking about all of us: female, male & otherwise.

I think there are women among us who don’t always (or maybe ever) recognize our/their own “stuff” – our own baggage – & since I’m one of them, I’m not really pointing any fingers here. I’m guilty of it too. Definitely.

Any regular reader of this blog will anticipate my coming up with a recommended book or two, & you’re right on the money. I think there are a few that could help lots & lots of us.

I think it would be most, most helpful for men to read Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, by Calvin Sandborn, & I think women should read it too. It seems to me an enormously important & very, very helpful (& practical) book. If your library doesn’t have a copy, why not buy one & donate it? Or buy two, one for you (& friends), one for the library.

I think a lot of women would do well to read The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, by Harriet Lerner. I think lots of us are walking around with a lot more anger than we care to acknowledge, & that we might do well to “wrestle” with that a little.

I also suspect tons of us would benefit from reading The Opposite of Everything is True – Reflections on Denial in Alcoholic Families, by William Crissman. (I believe the book is out of print, but you can always find even out-of-print books through Amazon or abebooks.com or an independent bookseller who really cares about serving her/his customers well). This book has certainly been very, very helpful for me, & since lots of us have/had alcoholic parents, I think it’s potentially useful for lots of us.

I’m going to keep musing on this “Get over yourself” phrase. In what ways do I need to get over myself? How am I being hobbled by old “stuff” – anger or old resentments &/or even shame? (shame is very, very corrosive indeed. John Bradshaw has written a book called Healing the Shame That Binds You, & I suspect it would be pretty useful reading for anyone for whom shame is a serious player).

Maybe we can all muse on this “getting over ourselves” business. I’m not so sure saying it out loud to anyone is really a good idea – it would take a pretty special relationship for this phrase not to sound pretty accusatory. I think we all need to be pretty gentle with ourselves, & with each other. After all, we’re all in the same darn boat, hmm?

Special note for women readers: I think a lot of us do some pretty crazy things sometimes. We’re very quick to throw darts at the men in our lives, but what about our own stuff? Some of us can be mighty petty, cranky, & even downright mean.(1) Lots of us are control freaks, it seems to me. Maybe instead of hurling accusations at these (admittedly very challenging) men in our lives, we could ask ourselves what our own “stuff” is. Our own ancient childhood “wounds” & knee-jerk reactions that sometimes have more to do with “ancient history” – old family dynamics from childhood – than with what’s happening right now. We too are often in denial about our contributions to our relationship problems & challenges, hmm? That’s what I think, anyway, for what it’s worth. However difficult or challenging our men may be, two wrongs don’t add up to a right. They never did

As I wrote in my as-yet-unpublished book Letters to Rebecca Musings on motherhood…& feminism & patriarchy & female/male relationships & the state of the world, I believe it is usually the women who set the emotional tone in families. I also believe we are often leaders – & I feel strongly that our leadership skills (& our integrity) are very much needed in our families (& the world) right now.


P.S. The books recommended here in no way cancel out or supercede any of the other authors I so frequently recommend: Pema Chödrön, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser, Joanna Macy & Eckhart Tolle. They are all enormously helpful (& very compassionate & inspiring) writers.

P.P.S. Books I’ve found very helpful for understanding some of the challenges faced by couples are Getting the Love You Want – A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships, by Martin Rovers & Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray.

P.P.P.S. The book Brain Sex – The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel, is most helpful in gaining understanding of the actual brain differences between the sexes.

P.S. # 4: Women Who Run with the Wolves – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés – has been pretty helpful to me on the subject of rage & forgiveness. Chapter 12 – “Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness” is, in my opinion, brilliant – & very, very helpful.

P.S. # 5 (Sheesh!?) In packing up my book collection in preparation for moving, I’ve come across yet two more books I’d forgotten about that are real treasures: Care of the Soul – A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday LifeSoul Mates – Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, both by Thomas Moore.

(1) Some of us seem to me to be the best way I can think to describe it is real “pieces of work.” We really are. I say this with great compassion, because I know all too well that we don’t get to be that way without a heck of a lot of hard stuff having happened to us along the way…