Upon starting therapy, Sam described himself as a loving, devoted, and concerned husband, while Sarah described him as micro-managing and controlling of all aspects of their lives. In contrast, Sarah characterized herself as spirited, emotional, and the one who brought love and laughter into their lives, while Sam viewed her as irresponsible and childlike. Both Sam and Sarah vehemently disagreed with their partners’ perceptions of themselves. Sam and Sarah’s perceptual disconnect is experienced by many couples in conflict.
One may wonder: do Sam and Sarah even live in the same house? How can it be that she describes him as the polar opposite of his self-perceived persona? How is it that she vehemently denies his descriptions of her? Assuming that neither party is lying about themselves, let’s examine how this disconnect may transpire.
When you look at the moon, sometimes it is fully lit; other times you can see a segment of the moon, maybe a half or a crescent; still other times, there is no moon to be seen. No matter our view of the moon, however, in reality, the moon remains an unaltered full sphere.
The visible and hidden aspects of the moon serve as a great metaphor for understanding our personalities. We all have both good, positive qualities as well as bad, negative qualities. Sometimes we are aware of our good qualities, and we are very proud of them (the shining parts of the moon). Believe it or not, we are often blind to many of our good qualities. But those good qualities exist, even if we cannot view them (the invisible parts of the moon).
Here’s an extreme example: I once spoke with a very depressed man who told me how incompetent and worthless he was. I was shocked to learn from a family member that he had just been promoted to a top executive position at his firm. He truly was blind to his positive strengths.
In a less dramatic way, I am sure you must have received a compliment about yourself, which you had never recognized as a special, valuable trait that you possess.
We also all have flaws in our personalities that we can own, accept, and excuse. We have all heard people say things like: “I know I have a temper, but…” or “I’m such a procrastinator, but…” We acknowledge and accept those limitations since they do not threaten our core image of ourselves.
We, however, have blinders for our negative qualities that do not fit our core image of ourselves, the dark side of our moon. Our partners, however, know us better than anyone else. They can see those things about us that we cannot admit. So when Sarah says: “You are always so controlling,” he says, “What are you talking about, I’m not controlling!” Sam obviously cannot see the dark side of his moon, a part of himself that he cannot acknowledge. But it’s there!
Or when Sam says, “You’re always so irresponsible, and you make ridiculous decisions that ruin us,” and Sarah replies: “No way. You’re just so controlling!” chances are very good that he’s tapping into a characteristic that she cannot accept.
Psychotherapy provides a safe environment for assisting people in identifying the dark side of their moons/personalities. In addition, psychotherapy gently challenges the extreme positions of each person in the conflict. Thus, when either person emotionally states: “You never listen to me” or “You always control me...” we know that extreme positions are being held. We help couples balance out their perceptions of their partners, as well as themselves. Thus, each person is encouraged to “see” those times when his partner has made wise decisions, or when her partner has acted in a non-controlling manner.
Psychotherapy is a safe forum that allows you to be heard and validated, so that you can remove some of your blinders, allowing you to view more aspects of your full personality. Then, you may decide if those qualities truly serve you, or if you’d like to work on modifying them, so that you enjoy a life filled with healthier connections, relationships, and peace of mind.
Dr. Tamara Sofair-Fisch is a NJ licensed Psychologist with practices in West Orange 973-669-3333 and Lawrenceville, NJ 609-883-2577. In addition to helping numerous individuals and couples, she teaches and trains licensed therapists in her unique approach: Mapping and Mastery of the Inner World. To learn more, visit www.RelationshipSolutionsNJ.com or contact her at [email protected]
By Tamara Sofair-Fisch, Ph.D.