Conquering the Comparing Mind with Imago

“And so as I walk under the deep, glittering twilight, the snow crunching under my boots, deep, frozen
snow, as thought I were breaking through the glass covering a hot bed, and in fact, for the first time
since the accident I realized that until the moment we smashed into that transport truck at ninety
kilometers an hours, I believed, no , I felt, that other people were all far smarter than I was, far more
moral than I was, far better looking than I was, far more … that everything people had was more perfect
than what I had, that they had all been born with a little pearl at the bottom of their cup, whereas what I
had at the bottom of mine, from childhood on, was a feeling of guilt.“

Ditto to that!

Allow me to say “Ditto” to that. Although what rested at the bottom of my cup was not “guilt” so much
as “shame.” Shame. This has meant for me a feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that I was liable to say exactly
the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. From an early age I felt different than others. I perceived
myself as usually less than, less popular, less successful, less socially graceful. Less, less, less, all down
the line. The best way to manage this feeling was, of course, to hide it. And, if I could hide myself, not
just the feeling, then that would be even better.

No one knew

I ended my high school career as the school’s valedictorian. However, I was secretly prouder – or at least
certainly happier — that almost no one knew who I was. That awareness provided a deeper feeling of
safety than my high GPA. Valedictorians at my high school were not required to give a speech at
graduation. While it’s true that my photo was published in the local newspaper, it was alongside the
photos of all the other valedictorians and salutatorians from every high school in the area. My little
square black and white photo was just one of many others occupying the front page of the metro
section. You might wonder how could I feel less than if by an objective standard – grade point average —
I had in fact bested everyone else? It was easy in this case. The real valedictorian had died the year we
graduated, so while I was valedictorian, it was only because of a tragedy.

Better than…

This week, my sweetheart, the love of my adult life, was interviewed in a famous, if not, the most
famous newspaper on the European continent. Alongside the Q & A was a photo, a rather old photo
from at least a decade ago. He sent me a link and was expecting some warm and positive words back
from me, or at least, perhaps a thumbs up emoji. Instead, I asked where did they get that picture? With
my words and my tone, I recognized a voice from childhood, but perhaps more to the point I recognized
the part of me that was triggered. The part of me that wanted to be better than not less than. My
partner has already published a shelf of books which he authored or coauthored, and now he was
excelling yet again in a new arena.


My partner told me he was hurt, and unlike other times, when I’ve said something hurtful, I didn’t look
surprised. I didn’t suggest that I was only joking and imply that he needed to work on his sense of
humor. Instead, I suggested we do an Imago dialogue. I made myself available to listen to how he was
hurt. I listened; I mirrored; I validated; and I empathized. And, I confessed that I was jealous. I talked
about how I felt less than. The empathy that I gave was returned. What might have caused – in the
worst case — a days-long rupture resulted instead in greater emotional intimacy.

I never dreamed possible.

This occurred late afternoon on Sunday evening all before dinner — in our living room without the help
or cost of a therapist. Yes, we had invested earlier in months of Imago therapy both before and after our
wedding as well as in an in-person Imago workshop. Through the Imago process, we picked up
important relationship tools, the most important of which have been dialogue, appreciation, and
relationship vision statements. In subsequent blog posts, I will explain how each of these has nourished
our connection and gave me a life that I frankly had never dreamed was possible.

*Excerpt from: 1 Bohumil Hrabal, All My Cats, translated by Paul Wilson, Penguin Classics, 2020