We talk about ‘not judging a book by its cover’ all the time, but I have to confess, when I was asked by someone to read ‘The Dance of the Lion and the Unicorn’ by Mark Waller, my initial reaction was exactly that. I judged.
I tell you all this first, because I suspect some of you may well do the same. But read it I did. And rather brilliantly, in a superb lesson to me not to be so judgemental; it turned out to be incredible.
It’s about relationships. All of them. Looking at the way we relate to one another, romantically or otherwise. Let me explain.
The Lion and the Unicorn represent two very different human animals.
The Lion functions from a place of needing approval. They pick a parent early on as their main focus, usually one who is withholding approval or who is unavailable in some way; emotionally or otherwise. They confirm early on in themselves that they aren’t good enough, and set about re-proving this fact to themselves over and over again. They follow the pattern of seeking approval, recognition, acceptance and love throughout their later years. The Lion’s response to not having their needs met (or to receiving criticism) is one of defiance. The Lion can appear angry and ferocious, but this is to mask the deep pain of taking everything personally, and a feeling of not belonging.
The Unicorn functions from a place of needing safety. They too pick a parent early on as their main focus, but usually the one who is more emotionally volatile. They then set about confirming that they will never make anyone happy, if they try to do something they will fail, they will be shouted at and rejected. They then start a pattern of avoidance, avoidance of any and all emotionally demanding situations. They will either make themselves invisible and unavailable, or placate the other person, promising whatever they think they want or need to make them go away, even if it’s a lie.
These two very different beasts often find themselves in relationships together. The Lion erupts, and appears more obviously aggressive, but the Unicorn may well have passively aggressively orchestrated the Lion’s rage. People express from a place of fear or safety, most of our reactions in life, whether Lion or Unicorn, are borne out of fear.
What we learn as children becomes the blueprint for the way we function in relationships, and our instinctive reactions to things. Ultimately all of us, regardless of age, can still be governed by this very early blueprint.
This is no one’s fault. There is no ‘blaming of parents’ to be had here. We are all expressing from a place of childhood imprinted fear, whatever age or role we take. This stuff is almost all beyond control, and can form behavioural patterns in children who have had seemingly wonderful upbringings. Me being one of those very creatures.
I am a Lion, and made looking for the love and approval my focus from a very young age. Even though the people around me loved me dearly; they didn’t always display it in the overt ways (at the exact moments) that my little Lion was looking for and, being a Lion, I took that personally.
Feeling that my need for approval wasn’t met repeatedly, I then played out a myriad of self destructive behaviours over the coming years. All the while supporting and confirming the belief that I had no value and no right to love and be loved. This lovelessness and self abuse peaked with my 12 year relationship with my ex husband – a relationship that confirmed my low self esteem, lack of self worth and general lovelessness on a daily basis.
This book completely explained the very core of that relationship to me. My ex husband was indeed a Unicorn. He would placate, avoid and keep himself at an emotional and physical distance from me and everyone else. He showed us what he thought we all needed and wanted, but he never showed us him, when the real ‘him’ was the only thing most of us truly wanted.
My Lion sent a frequent message to him; I take everything personally, and don’t deserve to be loved and valued. You can therefore treat me however you like, because that is what I deserve. I will get angry, you will then see me as unreasonable and will have a bigger excuse to avoid me further.
Now don’t get me wrong, myself and my ex husband were two people that should probably never have been together. But in looking back on that relationship as a case study when reading this book it really came across as text book stuff. Our relationship ended of my choosing, when I chose a different flow for my life moving forward. I chose love. I took a monumental leap of faith and decided to start all over again, six years ago.
But for those of you reading this, let me share some of the practical solutions that the book gives for Lions and Unicorns living together in perfect harmony. Something that I look forward to exploring in my future relationships, both personal and professional.
Understanding where one another are coming from really is key to building the forgiveness and acceptance needed to form a solid partnership. Seeing one another as their vulnerable inner child, and feeling genuine empathy with the pain that they are re-living, over and over again. When you become truly aware of this pain in a person you love, your natural response will be one of compassion for the other person. Embark on a journey of self analysis together. Read the book. Learn where your behavioural patterns were formed. Share with one another. Learn together. Grow.
The book maps out the following practical stages to dealing with each scenario as it manifests:
Acknowledging the other person has a right their feelings and that, given their perception, those feelings make sense.
Accepting the other person’s defensive behaviour as being just that. Defence.
Taking responsibility for our own feelings, acknowledging that they are about us and our own pain, as opposed to this specific situation.
ASKING FOR OUR NEEDS TO BE MET
Once you have a platform of understanding between one another, asking your partner for help with your feelings, and help to meet the emotional needs that go with them.
“The problem is not your behaviour. It’s my reaction. When I react, I’m feeling pain. Will you help me with my feeling?”
I’ll let Mark Waller summarise;
“Once our pain is out in the open, we can finally ask for and get what we want in the relationship. If we’ve been yearning for approval, recognition, acceptance, importance, a sense of equality, specialness, or closeness, we can now ask for it and our motivation will be clear. If we want closeness without the pressure and discomfort that comes from taking responsibility for the other person’s happiness, we can ask for it. If we want to feel safe and close at the same time, it will make sense. If we fear failure and want support, if we’re jealous and want reassurance, if we’re intimidated or overwhelmed and want space, we can request it. Suddenly things make sense.”
I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds pretty good to me.