In the latest issue of ‘The Psychotherapist’ Dr Geoff Warburton interviews Dr Harville Hendrix, co-founder of Imago relationship therapy and author of “Getting the Love you Want”.
In the interview, Warburton asks Hendrix about his definition of love. Interestingly, the topic turns to anxiety.
According to Hendrix, love is a sense of safety and connection, generated when we are not anxious. In anxiety, we feel separate from others and busy trying to regulate it.
Anxiety originates as a result of disruptive connections to our caretakers in childhood, and manifests in response to present situations. In adulthood we attempt to regain this connection through relationships with others in our lives. In Hendrix’s words, “connection is not experienced in your head. Its experienced by being with others and not being anxious about being with others…You are loving when you are not anxious, it’s your nature”.
Existential philosophers talk about anxiety as an unconscious fear of death and ultimately of non-being (hence the role of religion in installing hope of life after death). Our ultimate fear isn’t however of abandonment or even death, but of not existing at all. So, in connection we come into being.
Hendrix goes on to say that empathy is built into our system, but the presence of anxiety results in an absence thereof. Empathy is vital in establishing and maintaining connection; however in situations of conflict for instance, when the survival mechanisms in the brain are activated through perceived danger, our focus shifts from connection to reactivity. Having myself taken part in Hendrix’s couple’s workshop, it was interesting to read that the whole purpose of these dialogue techniques is to create a climate of safety by switching the focus of attention from inner reactivity to your partner’s expression. The result is a balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
At the end of the interview Warburton asks, “could you say something about hate?” to which Hendrix responds by stating that hate and aggression are secondary symptoms of anxiety, as are most syndromes and symptoms. He finalises with: “If you help people explore their hatred, they become more hateful. You have to help them understand that they are just scared and then how they can regulate their fear. Then they become more connected and loving”.