What Your Daydreams Tell You About Your Relationships

Sep 20, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

In episode 120 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, titled Understanding Narcissism More Deeply with IFS, I introduced you to four characters, two of whom were married – Thomas, who presents with overt narcissism and Juanita, who manifests patterns of covert narcissism. In last week’s reflection, Gently Approaching What Underlies Problematic Daydreams, we looked at how Thomas’ daydreams and fantasies were related to his parts – how they were fueled by unmet attachment and integrity needs.  We discussed the gentle approach IFS offers, allowing Thomas to work more cooperatively, collaboratively, and gently with his parts in his efforts to do internal work and find healing through authentic attachment.

Today, we turn our attention to Juanita’s parts and the impact of her unmet needs on her imagination and daydreams, mediated by her parts. And we consider how parts, daydreams and fantasies impact the marriage of Juanita and Thomas.

And why are we doing this?

For the sake of being entertained and to satiate our curiosity about the inner lives of two fictitious figures, like reading a psychological thriller? No.

To analyze the dynamics of their daydreams to merely further our intellectual understanding of the working of the human mind? Non.

As primarily attempting to figure out ways to stop sinning interiorly by restraining our parts from motivating problematic daydreams? Nein.

By understanding Juanita’s and Thomas’ inner experiences and the subsequent impact on their marriage, we may find insight into our own internal systems and our relationships. We can begin to make sense of the ways that unmet attachment needs make it more difficult for us to accept love and to love.

Ultimately, this weekly reflection is about helping you to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole being, and your neighbor as yourself.  The two great commandments.

Let’s break that down.

To know and to love

St. Thomas Aquinas insisted that in order to love God and our neighbor, we must love ourselves in an ordered way first.  In episode 98 of the IIC podcast titled Self-Love: What Catholics Need to Know,” I addressed how much confusion this concept of self-love causes in so many Catholic circles.  Is self-love sinful?  Or is self-love not only good, but essential? In that IIC episode, and in my October 5, 2022 weekly reflection, St. Thomas Aquinas: You Must Love You. First, I made the case that it is imperative that we love ourselves in an ordered way. Otherwise, as Aquinas taught, we will love ourselves in a disordered way as outlined in the October 19, 2023 reflection Examples of Bad Self-Love and the Consequences.

And to love yourself, your must know yourself.

And most Catholics don’t know themselves very well at all.

Self-knowledge vs. knowing about oneself

We Catholics know our resumés, the things about us that are “noteworthy.”  We hold our autobiographical information; we can recount historical facts and whimsical memories.  But so much of who I am remains outside of conscious awareness, outside of the intellect’s capacity to understand, outside of the will’s ability to influence, at least directly.

Most Catholics operate from day to day under the regulation and control of a few protector parts, a management team, whose efforts keep most inner experiences suppressed in the unconscious, forging ahead with life, moving along with at least a kind of pseudo-stability.

Why?

Because what’s down there in the unconscious threatens us. It frightens us. It’s scary.

Our management teams work hard to protect us from shame and terror.  Though these intentions are commendable, the resulting psychological tension and internal dis-ease seen within so many Catholics cannot be ignored.

In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, trauma therapist Bessel van der Kolk explains,

 As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.

Courage, humility, mercy, and love

To own the whole truth about oneself is a tall order and perhaps seemingly unnecessary for day-to-day survival and worldly success. But for a sense of thriving and a sense of living up to one’s true potential, a deep sense of knowing oneself is crucial.

The saints realized this truth.  When assessing themselves, or reflecting on their deeper knowing of themselves, the saints’ language or expression of this self-knowledge follows a similar pattern. Do they speak of amazing health, perfect self-control, and impressive internal order? No, rather they courageously observe their own disorder and express the desire for ongoing correction, greater internal order, and healing.

The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, offers many examples of a saint knowing her own self in an authentic way, as seen in paragraph 1406,

Today, the Lord gave me to know that He would never abandon me.  He gave me to know His majesty and His holiness as well as His love and mercy towards me; and He gave me a deeper knowledge of my wretchedness.

The saints’ courage to discover and come to know who they are stems from their felt sense of the authentic love and enormous mercy of God.  A deeply held conviction that they are beloved little sons and daughters of God and Mary and that God and Mary love them anyway, despite their sins, faults, and failings, fuels this courage for self-knowledge and internal discovery.

In other words, the saints’ attachment needs and integrity needs are primarily met by their spiritual parents, by their primary parents, God our Father and Mary our Mother.  I present the arguments for this critical reality of God and Mary as our primary parts in my August 23, 3, 2022 reflection, Who’s Your Daddy? Confusion Over Our Primary Parents.  Therefore, the saints can bear to see who they really are – both in the amazing aspect of being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in the image of God – and the difficult aspect of all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and can lament with St. Paul, O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24).

Attachment needs and integrity needs

We, as saints-in-the-making, need to know and name our unmet attachment needs and integrity needs so that we can voluntarily offer those unmet needs to our primary parents in relationship. These needs were discussed at length in the September 6, 2023 reflection titled Your Daydreams Reveal Your Secret, Unmet Needs, but let’s briefly review, starting with the attachment needs:

  1. Safety: A felt sense of safety and protection in relationship
  2. Recognition: Feeling seen, heard, known, and understood
  3. Reassurance: Feeling comforted, soothed, and reassured
  4. Delight: Feeling cherished, treasured, delighted in by the other
  5. Love: Feeling the other has your best interests at heart, holds a position of benevolence and beneficence toward you

In addition to the five attachment needs, we have these five integrity needs:

  1. Survival: My need to exist and to survive
  2. Importance: My need to matter in the world, to be significant
  3. Agency: My need for autonomy, to be able to exert influence on others and to make at least a small difference the world
  4. Goodness: My need to be good in my essence, in my person, to experience a sense of ontological goodness, not just that my actions are functionally useful
  5. Mission: My need for mission, purpose, and a vision to guide my life

If we are out of touch with our attachment needs, if these integrity needs are buried in our unconscious, we will be ill-equipped to govern ourselves in ways that meet our deepest needs.

And here’s the rub: Sinning and habitually destructive behaviors happen when we attempt to get our legitimate, normal attachment and integrity needs met in disordered ways – we substitute lesser goods for the ultimate, or greater good.

Reviewing three roles of internal parts

As we discussed in last week’s reflection, an IFS understanding of the three main roles parts take on in our internal systems are exiles, managers, and firefighters.

Our exiled parts are the most sensitive ones who carry burdens of shame, grief, anger, abandonment, deprivation, worthlessness, fear – all the effects of unresolved attachment injuries and damage to our integrity.  Because other parts of us are so threatened by the intensity of the exiles’ burdens, they keep those parts banished in the isolation and loneliness of our unconscious.

Our manager parts work proactively and strategically to try to keep everything in our lives running smoothly, suppressing the intensity, chaos, and disruption caused by the unmet needs, the pain and distress of our exiled parts. Like prison guards, our managers keep the exiles secured in the locked cells of our unconscious.  Various managers play different roles, including to control, plan, schedule, ruminate, criticize, hide other parts, inhibit emotions, avoid conflict, and seek approval.

Our firefighters blend and take over in perceived emergency situations.  These emergencies arise when our managers’ prison guard vigilance breaks down and an exile escapes from the jail cell in our unconscious, rising up to blend with our innermost self and flood our system with the intensity of his or her distress.  The firefighters react, taking drastic action to stifle, numb, disconnect or distract us from the intensity of our jailbreaking exile’s distress.

Juanita’s parts, her daydreams and her relationship with Thomas

Let’s begin to look at Juanita’s parts, the unmet needs they carry, and the impact of her internal system on her relationship with her husband Thomas.  Remember from IIC episode 120 that Juanita struggles with covert narcissism; you don’t need to listen to that episode to follow this reflection, but it does provide some background information.  For a review of the Internal Family Systems approach to understanding parts with an authentic Catholic lens, check out episode 71 of the IIC podcast titled A New and Better Way of Understanding Myself and Others and episode 73 Is Internal Family Systems Really Catholic?.

Juanita’s exiles and their fantasies

Juanita has an abandoned part who experiences intense emotional pain and distress and who carries the weight of abandonment and isolation, feeling victimized, frightened, hopeless, needy, deprived, lost and at times not even human.  This part’s emotional experience is pre-verbal, an effect of neglect she suffered as an infant, and thus not well articulated – not yet put into words.  Juanita’s abandoned part has a diffuse sense of identity, feeling very hollow inside and questioning her own existence, wondering if she is a no-thing.  This part feels chronically insecure, bearing the burdens of neglect and feeling neglected by God the Father.

Juanita’s abandoned part holds deep, unmet needs for affection, nurturance, and love, especially from a father figure.  From the moment they met, this part idealized Thomas’ competent manager part, seeing him as a savior figure with the power to redeem her from her felt sense of nothingness and restore her sense of dignity.  While dating Thomas, Juanita’s abandoned part fueled most of her daydreams focused on a growing infatuation with Thomas.  Scenarios played out in her imagination included Thomas as a strong, reassuring protector, her safety and her well-being guarded by his love and attention. Reveling in Thomas’ delight for her, the honeymoon phase’s daydreams offered temporary relief and a sign of hope for her abandoned part.

Juanita also has an angry part – this angry part is both an exile and a firefighter.  Because Juanita’s manager parts are so threatened by the intensity of her anger, this angry part is almost completely suppressed.  The angry part wants to protect the abandoned part from being betrayed and wounded again, focusing on her integrity needs for survival and to really matter to others, to not be exploited again.  When this parts senses that Thomas is self-absorbed and doesn’t see her, and when Thomas’ parts are trying to use Juanita to provide admiration and other narcissistic supplies, it starts to rise up.

When Thomas’ faultfinder and intimidator parts are attacking her, either directly or indirectly, Juanita’s angry part rages at them, but is usually held back by other parts who fear that the marriage will fail and the relationship with Thomas will be lost if the angry part were to lash out in rage – this would be humiliating to Juanita, and she would be a terrible failure as a wife and as a human being.  Thus, in daydreams, her angry part imagines blaming Thomas for all her troubles, swearing at him, cutting him down, punishing him in various ways, and harming him in the way he has harmed her. The overarching theme of these vindictive, aggressive fantasies’ is “See how you like it.” Juanita’s angry part is trying to meet her integrity needs for agency and importance.

Juanita’s angry part can also become directly aggressive when it blends and takes over, leading to an occasional raging battle with Thomas, including episodes of hitting him physically. Far more often, however, this part engages in passive-aggressive guerilla warfare, subtly criticizing and demeaning Thomas in real time, and falling into frequent fantasies about seeking retribution and getting even with him.

Juanita’s managers and their daydreams

Juanita has a primary manager, her approval seeker who is very focused on gaining approval, recognition, and attention from other people. In order to protect her from deep-seated insecurities held by her abandoned exile, this part greatly desires to fit in with other people. Her approval seeker assumes that Juanita’s value and worth depends on other people recognizing her as desirable and worthy of attention and admiration.  This part is highly sensitive to rejection, perceived lack of approval, and inattention.  The approval seeker’s dependence on others’ opinions leads Juanita to make decisions that are ultimately not in accord with her personal integrity and dignity which inflames her angry part.  Juanita’s approval seeker believes that giving others what they want is the primary way to love them and is the way to please God.  Juanita’s approval seeker works tirelessly to get her attachment needs for felt safety, recognition, and reassurance met by doing what the other person wants her to do and it silences and suppressed her angry part.

Fueled by the deep, unmet attachment needs of her abandoned part, Juanita’s approval seeker fantasizes that if Juanita is just gratifying enough to Thomas, if she is just compliant enough with his wishes, if she makes herself exactly who he wants her to be, his heart will open to her, he will idealize her again, his love will once more flow over her and everything will be all right. Her approval seeker imagines harmony and unity, but so often receives exploitation and rejection.

In Juanita’s sex life with Thomas, her approval seeker allows him to act in ways that other parts of her (especially her angry part) find degrading and violating, ways that are unattuned to her as a whole person, such as when Thomas focuses his attention on her breasts to the exclusion of the rest of her as a woman and his wife. These occasions leave her feeling ignored and abandoned repeatedly.

Juanita’s inner critic tries to protect her and keep her on the “straight and narrow” by insisting on unrealistically high standards of acting, thinking, feeling and especially pleasing others in order to meet her integrity needs for survival and importance.  This part exerts pressure for near-perfect performance in untidy arenas (such as loving) leading to inordinate attention or hyper focus on minor details and persistent rumination about past mistakes and perceived failures.  Juanita’s internal critic dominates her conscience, examining her in terms of the rigid rules and “shoulds” about what she needs to do to be accepted and loved.  This part takes on the harsh voices of the parts of others who have been critical of Juanita, including her parents, a teacher, and her husband. In her imagination, these voices are heard again and again, as if on autoplay, a constant reminder of all the ways she’s “not enough.”

Juanita’s hiding part who conceals from her the intensity of other parts’ experience, keeping them out of her conscious awareness to prevent her from being overwhelmed with the intensity of sadness, grief, anger, fear, disappointment, and other unpleasant emotions.  With good intentions, the unintended consequences of the hiding part’s efforts make it much harder for Juanita to know her whole self, especially her whole heart. This part’s concealing work makes it difficult for others to know Juanita deeply.  This hiding part also tries to hide other parts of Juanita from God, seeing them as unacceptable to Him.

Juanita’s hiding part fantasizes that everything will be OK for Juanita if she doesn’t rock the boat, carefully presenting only the parts of herself that are gratifying and acceptable to others.  Juanita’s hiding part loves Hallmark movies and finds herself fantasizing about being the lead lady in the simple and romantic story lines. Imagining she’s flawlessly beautiful and attractive, in a relationship with a handsome man with no real difficulties be resolved in the relationship and with a gloriously happy ending.  All of her needs for security, for admiration, for recognition, for being delighted in, for a sense of goodness and beauty are met by the rest of the cooperative cast. Included are the pleasures of (somehow calorie-free) gourmet homemade Christmas cookies and rich hot cocoa enjoyed around a crackling fire in a spotless, meticulously decorated home, enjoyed without a hint of discord.

Juanita’s firefighters and their fantasies

Juanita has an avoider who, when her abandoned part is activated and breaking out, withdraws from and avoids other people perceived as potentially triggering her angry exile. Her avoider jumps into action to prevent an opening of the floodgates of distress and rage or the overwhelming sense of isolation, loneliness, and shame. When this avoider firefighter is activated, Juanita flees from the threatening situation or relationship and withdraws into herself, desperately working to keep the angry part from bursting into flame and scorching her relationships with others.  Juanita’s avoider part numbs Juanita out, disconnecting her from all her emotions.  Her avoider does not generate impulses to fantasize or have daydreams – rather, she works to shut down Juanita’s feelings and thoughts and to numb her down, pulling her toward becoming emotionally and cognitively inert and mentally “playing dead” to avoid being condemned, punished, or further harmed by angry or critical others.

When her angry part is activated and breaking free, another firefighter, Juanita’s self-punisher directs that anger back toward herself, judging and condemning herself in harsh terms.  Her self-punisher sees Juanita as the only safe person upon whom her own anger can be discharged.  This part can also join with the critical and condemning parts of others, trying to join with them and bond with them in condemning herself.

For example, when Thomas is dominated by his faultfinder and his intimidator parts and is browbeating Juanita, Juanita’s self-punisher joins in the bullying and condemnation of herself.  Juanita’s self-punisher is preoccupied with fantasies of compensation, atonement, reparations, and self-sacrifice in her efforts to help Juanita repair relationships with those whom she feels she needs to validate her existence and give a sense of mission and purpose to her life, stemming from her unmet integrity needs.  Juanita’s self-punisher also distracts her from the pain and distress of her abandoned part and the rage of her angry part.

Relationship trajectory: an important backstory

In their dating relationship, mutual idealization among their managers attracted Juanita and Thomas to each other.  Thomas’ competent manager, fueled by the unmet needs of his isolated part and his mistreated part, was so attracted to Juanita’s approval seeking manager and idealized her as a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful, trophy girlfriend who had good taste in men.  Juanita’s approval seeker in turn felt the “rizz” of Thomas’ competent manager, idealizing Thomas as ultra-intelligent, powerful, good, and capable of loving her into a sense of ontological goodness which her abandoned exile part so desperately needed.

I sense that most romantic relationships develop in this fashion – manager parts, driven by the unmet needs of the parts in their own system, seek parts in other people who seem to carry the promise of completing them, or rescuing them, or redeeming them or validating them. This process is unconscious – outside of awareness – because so many people don’t know themselves very well. Without this self-knowledge, the intellect cannot accurately comprehend internal realities and is consequently less able to perceive actual goods.  The intensity of poorly understood and badly regulated impulses and desires (what St. Thomas calls the passions) surges up and compromises the will.

St. Paul’s lament in Romans 7 makes so much sense:  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

As unrealistic expectations are disappointed and needs continue to go unmet, the relationship breaks down.

Thomas and Juanita moved from mutual idealization to mutual devaluation, the flip side of the narcissistic coin.  We can see how the disappointment inherent in realizing a spouse’s shortcomings — the inability to complete you, or save you, or resolve your unmet needs for a father or mother, or provide you with a missing sense of identity or integrity, or live with you in a Hallmark Christmas movie — is an overwhelming feeling for those in narcissistically-tinged marriages. The discord, devaluation, and disappointment lead to divorce, or to being emotionally and relationally alienated without actually separating, where distancing, dismissing, and other survival strategies manage to keep the marriage seemingly intact despite a deep underlying divorce. The two are no longer one.

Renewed commitment to our human formation

St. Augustine wrote in Sermo 169 that “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.”

And for those who are saved, they are saved in their entirety, in the fullness of their being – in all their parts, no part left behind, no part excluded from heaven, from beatific vision.

With this in mind, we can move forward in the work of our own human formation with determination and hope, reminded that our true parents, God the Father and Mary our Mother know us completely, and love us completely.  May our continued courage and critical discoveries of our internal systems enable us to draw ever nearer to a place where authentic love reigns inside and outside.

Check out our archive of past weekly reflections

As you know, this week’s reflection is the latest in a whole series on daydreams and fantasies, and for your convenience, here’s a list of those reflections in chronological order:

Did you know that all the back issues of our weekly reflections are available in our archive?  Stretching back to December of 2021, there is a total of about 80.  Check them out when you have a chance.

For a broader search of the Souls and Hearts resources — an expansive list — explore the Content by Subject Matter page.

Interior Integration for Catholics podcast

Episode 121 of the IIC podcast, titled Connecting with Your Own Narcissistic Parts: Experiential Exercise was released last Monday, September 18, 2023.  Recorded with a live audience, we started with 15 minutes of Q&A about narcissism addressing these questions:

  1. Does acknowledging our own narcissism makes us more or less vulnerable to exploitation by another person?
  2. Are children of parents with borderline personalities more likely to be attracted to narcissistic partners?
  3. What is “healthy narcissism”?

From the 15-minute mark to the 50-minute mark, we engage in an experiential exercise together to encounter and connect with parts of ourselves with narcissistic features.

Afterward, we debrief and share our experiences addressing these topics and questions:

  1. Can narcissistic approaches be helpful in certain situations or environments?
  2. Is narcissism the result of too much self-love or too little?
  3. How can we get normal needs for affirmation met in non-narcissistic ways?
  4. Why is it important to be gentle with narcissistic parts?
  5. Why do narcissistic parts often sense themselves to be aged 2, 6, or 13?
  6. Why is there such a “rush” or dopamine “high” when narcissistic parts receive the admiration and idealization that they seek?

Thank you

Thank you to the ten listeners who reviewed the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast on Apple Podcasts in the last two weeks – I am so thankful for your feedback.  I’d like ten more… or ten times ten!  You can leave a review for the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, even if you don’t have an iPhone or a Mac – here’s how.

Reaching out to podcasts

Speaking of podcasts, Dr. Gerry and I are pulling together a list of Catholic podcasts that host guests to better share the mission and broaden the outreach of Souls and Hearts – our human formation resources, the Resilient Catholics Community, the IIC podcast, these weekly reflections, and especially Dr. Gerry’s forthcoming book, Litanies of the Heart published by Sophia Press (and available for pre-order here).

Do you know of a Catholic podcast that might welcome Dr. Gerry or me as guests? Please help us out! We’re open to following your leads, so please email crisis@soulsandhearts.com with your recommendations.

And you if are a guest on a podcast and mention Souls and Hearts, like Souls and Hearts member Louisa Hall did on episode 29 of the podcast, This Whole Life titled The Parts of Me in Harmony: Internal Family Systems, with Kenna Millea, let us know.  We will give you a shout out in a weekly reflection.

Resilient Catholics Community updates

If you are interested in the St. Francis Xavier cohort, the RCC is opened for new applications from December 1 to 31, 2023, and programming will begin in March 2024.  Learn more on our landing page.

Be With the Word for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dr. Gerry and I invite you to our conversation about work in this week’s 38-minute episode titled Work Is Not a Four-Letter Word.  We discuss why work should not define a person, as is often the case today. Instead, we have to see that the dignity of work comes from the fact that it is done by an individual made in the image and likeness of God. You can listen to the Mass readings here.

Sharing is caring…

Souls and Hearts has no professional marketing or advertising professionals on our staff.  We don’t have a budget for such things.  Instead, we rely on you to help us get the word out.  In this highly digitized age with millions of websites, podcasts, articles, and blogs out there, it is so hard to rise above the noise.  Even with the increased technology and all the different means of communication that we now have, there’s no substitute for one thing:

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Please pray about who in your social circle might benefit from Souls and Hearts’ offerings – the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, Be With the Word, these weekly reflections, the RCC community, the Interior Therapist Community, the Litanies of the Heart,  the Initial Measures Kits, our resources page, our free online video courses — whose heart might be touched, whose souls might be lifted by your sharing something from Souls and Hearts?

Please pray about one or two or three or more people with whom you might share our content.   Dr. Gerry and I, and our Souls and Hearts contributors can generate material, but you are the one to share it.  Thank you for your help in this, it’s a team effort and you’re an essential player.

Spreading our wings because of your prayers…

Speaking of shares and prayers, I wanted to let you know how much you’ve already helped us.  Here are some milestones:

  1. The Souls and Hearts website is averaging more than 1000 unique IP address hits per day
  2. The Interior Integration for Catholics podcast achieved the 200,000 downloads milestone last month, is now averaging about 400 downloads per day, and is in the top 1.5% of all podcasts according to listennotes.com
  3. We have more than 3500 registered Souls and Hearts members who receive these weekly email reflections and many more who access them on our website
  4. Our Resilient Catholics Community has reached 250 members and continues to grow
  5. Expanding our paid staff

Thank you for making all these successes possible.  Please keep praying for us, prayer fuels everything we do in Souls and Hearts.  I am praying for you.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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