Photo of J'aime ona Pangaia

Bonding Patterns

by J'aime ona Pangaia
Copyright 2013

Take some time today to consider some of your important relationships. Whether it’s with your spouse, your adult children, a work colleague or supervisor, a mentor, or a close friend. As one of the teaching in Voice Dialogue, we have the ability to consider how our inner selves relate to the inner selves of others.
These selves often interact in a way that is reminiscent of the original, archetypal parent - child bond. A parent archetype in me, run by a particular self in me, interacts with a child part of you, who is likewise operating from a particular self. That’s the basis of ‘bonding patterns’ in relationships. Both people in a relationship have parental and child positions from which their inner selves are relating to the parent - child positions in the other person. As the Stone’s put it, these can be experienced as a ‘positive’ bonding pattern (it feels safe and supportive to the parent and child selves in us), or a ‘negative’ bonding pattern (it feels awful to all the selves.)

Bonding patterns diagram  Hal and Sidra Stone

The upside of a positive bonding pattern is that sense of safety and support. Everyone is being nice and considerate. Everyone is following the (perhaps semi- conscious) rules for the relationship. A parent side of us is care-taking (even somewhat sacrificial) and supportive and a child part of us is appreciative and content. The downside is that we will go to great lengths if necessary, to avoid any confrontation or unhappy or irritable reactions. We have to suppress those parts of ourselves that don’t live within those rules of the ‘nice’ relationship.
As the Stones say in their book, “Partnering,” “You can count on the negative bonding pattern to break the positive bonding pattern. When we say negative we do not mean bad anymore then we mean good when we talked about the positive bonding pattern. What we mean is at the negative binding pattern feels dreadful, simply dreadful. Just as a positive bonding pattern does not allow us to express any negativity towards our partner the negative bonding pattern does not allow us to express any positive feelings towards them. Sometimes it doesn't even allow us to have positive thoughts about our partner. At its most extreme, negative bonding pattern can lead to separation or divorce. This, however, is not our solution of choice. Frankly, we think that separating from the negative bonding pattern rather than from your partner is a really good idea alternative. How do you go about this? You learn from your own bonding patterns and work out ways of dealing with them.
The first thing for you to do is to understand that the negative bonding pattern like the positive bonding pattern is perfectly normal. There's nothing wrong or dysfunctional about negative bonding patterns. Everyone has them even though this doesn't make them feel any better. As a matter of fact, the negative bonding pattern can feel so bad that you doubt your own ability to function in the world. It may feel so bad that you would rather end the relationship than continue it if it is going to cause you to feel this unbearable psychic pain.
The negative bonding pattern usually feels catastrophic, insoluble. It reminds you of how impossible all relationships are. It is an all-too-familiar pattern! First you learn to trust people and then they, like all their predecessors, disappoint you. At this point relationship can be so painful that it barely seems worthwhile.”
What is this way that the Stones are talking about, to ‘work out ways of dealing with them.’
Basically, it starts with examining your self. When we’re in a fixed positive bonding pattern, usually the only impetus we have for this kind inner examination is when we begin to realize that somehow, a kind of stale, predictability has entered the relationship. We feel bored, or stuck, or that the energy for the relationship has gone flat, like a soda that has lost its fizz. Or we begin to have fantasies about other people - they look like they’re living a much more interesting life!
Our impetus in a negative bonding pattern IS the pain and sense of betrayal. It can also be that particular vibration of hurt self-righteousness. The OTHER person is a problem and if only they’d see that and change, everything could be better. Or, somewhere, we begin to notice our desire to punish that person, to equalize the pain. If we are mindful, we can use these unpleasant feelings to alert us to our negative bonding pattern and consider this a time for self-examination.
Who am I being in this dynamic with him/her? What selves are these? We want to identify who are the selves who are operating in the parent aspect of the bonding pattern and which selves are in the child aspect. The next question is to ask, what are the disowned selves of mine that this person is operating from? In other words, what do you judge about this person - these is the disowned selves. This is a good time to practice with the “People Who Bug You’ exercise. This is outlined in detail in my book An Introduction to Voice Dialogue: Finding the Benefit of People Who Bug You. Lastly, we feel into “what is the underlying vulnerability that has been driving my primary selves?” What is the underlying feeling we’re carrying around our needs, such as our need for connection, or space, or our need for order and predictability or our opposing need for novelty and change? Again, in my book you’ll find a chapter called The Principles of Nature and Psyche that outlines various underlying needs we have that our vulnerable selves either feel fear and pain around, or feel safe and at ease around.
The bonding pattern, when examined like this, gives us a roadmap to where to take our selfwork. From here, the next step is to use the wonderful method of Voice Dialogue facilitation. This facilitation work aims at helping us to separate from those primary self systems (both the power and the vulnerable aspects). By ‘separating,’ we mean fully experiencing them through the facilitation work and then bringing in one’s own non-judgmental awareness of them. This awareness, which dispassionately accepts them without rejecting or identifying with them IS the mechanism that cultivates that separation from the idea that this particular self IS who I truly am and who I must be. From this Awareness, we feel no need to protect, maintain or abandon any self; it just is there, one of many. It likewise has no need for others to see us that way either; no need for others to protect that self or care for it. It just is there. We also get facilitated in the selves that the other person has been expressing. How does or might this kind of self live in me?
This leads us to the Aware Ego Process - a state that includes the experience of selves energetically AND the state of dispassionate, accepting Awareness. In those times when we have an Aware Ego process happening, we can embrace, honor and make some degree of conscious choice with all the selves who have been in the bonding pattern. Even the ones the other person had been expressing. We begin to have better boundaries, more multi-faceted honesty and the ability to hear that kind honesty from the other person. We also feel more acceptance of both our selves and the selves of the other person.
This doesn’t mean that all our selves will ‘like’ each other. Remember, some selves are simply the antithesis of another self, like yin and yang. But in the Aware Ego process, we can better hold and separate enough from those opposite selves that we can then express our differing needs and our true affections.
Why do this kind of inner work? It’s difficult, sometimes scary, it can ‘rock the boat’ and it deflates all that juicy righteousness. Well, consider the alternatives. Positive bonding patterns, while nice in the moment, when held in a fixed way over time, deplete any real intimacy. We become simultaneously little children craving total care and responsible parents for life in the relationship. Those fixed negative bonding patterns also rob us of any chance of intimacy, they hurt, and we also suffer from being an angry person who has to end relationships in order to stay ‘safe’
Here’s another reason to do this kind of inner work that relationships bring: whatever it is in us that calls us forward to be a more whole human being. That yearning for wholeness comes from the very core of our being. The more in alignment with that flow to the on-going expression of Source/Wholeness/Soul, the more fulfillment we experience in our short little lives.
Here’s a link to a page from Drs Hal and Sidra Stone’s webpage you that will take you even further.