Have you ever noticed how much Memory has in common with Prophecy? Both are imaginative abilities to see what is not present as present. Memory sees the past as present, prophecy sees the future. The common ground seems to be the use of the imagination. I mean “imagination” not in the loose sense of “making things up,” for neither true memories nor true prophecies are “made up,” but rather in a more strict and literal sense of the term, that is, the ability to create or recall or represent images… to coin a silly neologism, imagination is our ability to imaginate.

 Goldbart and Wallin’s work on love and relationships depends on an understanding of this mysterious human ability. The introduction of Mapping the Terrain of the Heart introduces us to their central concep of an “inner map.” The inner map is the sum or collection of experiences as they are represented in our psyche, and has inordinate influence over selves individually and in relationship.

How is it that experiences, which are “outside” of us, end up inside of us? Well, that is how memory works, you might say. Again I ask, How then is it that experiences, which are outside, become memories, which are inside? When psychologists have puzzled over this question, they had not choice but to coin new terms like “Internalization,” which refers to this mysterious process of storing memories and experiences in the psyche. From page 2 of the introduction: “…When a baby is lovingly held and nurtured by her mother on many different occasions, her repeated experience of secure intimacy will be internalized. That is, it will be imprinted on her inner map as a highly evocative image: a powerful meshing of memory (“Mommy holds and feeds me”), sensation (her body’s so warm and cuddly”), and emotion (“I feel perfectly cared for, completely safe”).”

It is interesting, as well as important to their project, to note that “the inner map” includes not only bare or blank memories, as is perhaps the more common conception, but also sensations, emotions. It may include neutral memories but it definitely includes emotionally- or sensationally-charged memories. 

How does our inner map (something that was created in the past and lives on in the present) effect us in the present and the future?  “Briefly, the process unfolds as follows: First our experiences in relationships that matter to us are “recorded in the form of emotionally charged images. Second, these uniquely personal images collect to form the internal map that represents for each of us the external world of intimate relationships. Third, this inner map gives us our own idiosyncratic orientation in love. It tells us what love is and what it can be. It establishes our expectations of ourselves and others in love. It influences our reactions to and interpretations of current and past experiences… And most important, it determines how freely we make use of the six innate abilities that enable human beings to fall and remain in love.” (p. 3, Introduction) 

 How do we change our inner map? The first step is to become aware of it. The inner map, according to Goldbart and Wallin, has so much influence over us precisely because it is unknown to us. It is “behind” our conscious view. It is as foundational and contextual for us as the room in which I am sitting as I write this, or in which you’re sitting as you read. If only we could wake up to the inner map which is already inside us and exerting influence, then we might begin to be able to take an active rather than passive role in forming the map and, consequently, the influence it exerts.

So how do we become aware of it?  “…In our individual love relationships we… have the oppurtunity to become aware of aspects of our inner map that are usually invisible to us. Whenever our reactions to our partner don’t fit the facts, we may wonder if these reactiosn don’t have more to do with our internal world than our external reality. 

“Consider the experience of Emma, a twenty-six-year-old journalist struggling to make her new marriage work. She and her husband are out on a Friday  night, hoping for a respite from the tension at home. They’ve just left a movie theater and are crossing the street together, both relieved to be absorbed in conversation about the film. Facing her husband, Emma is blind to an onrushing care headed straight for them, but her husband sees the danger in time and pulls Emma out of harm’s way. Suddenly aware of the peril from which he’s just rescued her, she reacts to him with… rage. At the curb after their near-catastrophe she yells at her husband, ‘can’t you ever let me take care of myself?’  She knows her reaction doesn’t fit the facts.

“This is what eventually came to light: Unaware of it, Emma had been responding to her husband in terms of her most disturbing images of her parents’ marriage. She had seen her mother as controlled and infantilized by her oversolicitous father. In Emma’s view, her father was responsibile for her mother’s bitterness over having never realized her own potential. With shock, Emma now realizes that she’s been angrily acting out with her husband her fear of reliving her mother’s life. The blatant inappropriateness of her reaction to her husband’s help opened her eyes to her destructive conviction, based on her parents’ example, that a man’s help is always disabling.”

 For Goldbart and Wallin, experiences like this, wherein our reaction to the present moment doesn’t seem to fit, usually indicate that the past is overbearingly making itself heard in the present moment. These give us an opening into ourselves that, if followed, will lead to our inner map.

Of course, awareness of the inner map does not automatically change it to be more accurate, more liberating, more beneficial. In fact, once we are aware of old habits and expectations, changing them is not the immediately and indisputably desirable thing to do. But awareness is a necessary condition. Without it, choosing to change is impossible. 

What is the price, and what is the payoff, for “remaking the map”? Once we become more familiar with our inner map, we are able to begin taking a part in its ongoing development, if we so choose. “Our defenses serve us well. When the alternative is to feel overwhelmed, our defenses may represent the best possible solution under what feel like impossible circumstances. Rachel’s defenses kept her pain within manageable limits and enabled her to continue loving her father [who had insulted her when she was crying by calling her a “cry baby”]. But the same defenses that got her through this episode and others as a child became part of her style of self-protection as an adult. In certain settings these defenses were still useful. In others (we saw their impact on Rachel’s marriage) they were more of an obstacle than a resource.”

“The individual defenses we use in love take many forms. A partial catalog: We may blame our partner, forget what distresses us, grow distant from uncomfortable feelings, deceive ourselves and/or change our sense of reality with drugs or alcohol. But whatever form our defenses take in love, they usually have both a price and a hidden payoff.”

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. Andrew Johnston July 14, 2006 at 4:28 am

    “The inner map is the sum or collection of experiences as they are represented in our psyche.”

    Does this mean that the inner map is a sequence of experiences that have been recorded in the soul or are these experiences the raw material that the soul uses to produce an inner map?

    If the latter, what is the nature of this process? It would seem to proceed mechanically since it is apparently not governed by the mind, at least principally.

    My wife and I started reading this book a few days ago.


  2. Does this mean that the inner map is a sequence of experiences that have been recorded in the soul or are these experiences the raw material that the soul uses to produce an inner map?

    The relationship between the two, experience and inner “map” is hard to define, and the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

    I want to say that the experiences, which are varied and continuous, find a simplified or at least consolidated unity by the time they end up “inside” a person. Eg., the sound of the keyboard as I’m typing plus the feel of the keys plus the taste of Ben & Jerry’s ice creme in my mouth are all distinct experiences occuring simulteneously in the world and occuring as a single conscious experience in my mind (or self).*

    Supposing this is right, I want to try to answer your question, “is it mechanical or governed by the mind?” I think “mechanical” is closer to the truth of the two, though “passive” might be a better third option. The mind more or less passively receives experiences. With work and time it is more and more possible to govern with intention and intelligence what kinds of experiences hit you, and how they are interpreted and “stored.” But originally, and by default, the process is completely passive, or mechanical.

    *OK, but suppose that model is wrong… and we have reason to believe that it is: How do a variety of experiences “convert” to a simple experience? The variety of sensations, sentiments, objects etc. (in the world) convert to a unified conscious experience (in the self). Multiplicity cannot become unity, without losing something essential. Therefore the model is lacking something.

    Your other half of the dichotomy is that the experiences are raw material which the soul uses to produce an inner map… Um, can you flesh this possibility out more?


  3. By the way, very exciting to be going through such an insightful resource with your wife, the person with whom it is most relevant and most potentially helpful! I’d love to hear how your studies and conversations are going…


  4. Andrew Johnston July 14, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    The book give an example on page 3 in which a woman has a tendency to feel good about her body as a result of the pleasure that her father took in her athletic activities. I would say that the tendency to feel good about her body is not the same thing as the collection of images that gave rise to the tendency.

    If a tendency to act or feel a certain way can be altered (in a limited way) without adding or subtracting any images of the type that gave rise to the tendency then the tendency could not be the sum of the images. Rather the images would be a cause of the tendency.

    If I understand you correctly, you ask in your post what governs the translation of experience into images. My question was “What governs the translation of images into habits of acting, feeling, and interpreting?” Do you agree that the second question has content, or is it asking what governs the translation of a thing into itself?



  5. My question was “What governs the translation of images into habits of acting, feeling, and interpreting?”

    This seems like a distinct and valid question. Here is my first attempt at an answer:

    Once we have experiences that are “coded” into our mental map, we then use this map as a guide through future experiences. Faced with the everchanging present moment, we reference this map in deciding how to think, feel and act. Though the map is of the past, we use it as guidance as we walk through the constant stream of new situations and experiences.

    The crucial ability, the ability on which the book depends, is the ability NOT to look exclusively at the map of the past when dealing with the present. The crux of the matter is that when I am facing a current conversation with a loved one, a current crisis, a current challenge, I am able to make a NEW choice with how to behave.

    The internal map, which amounts to a map of the past, can still serve as a starting point. It can still serve as a reference and a tool to provide context for the present situation. But it need not determine the future.

    So the short answer to “what governs the translation of images into habits…” is simply the free will of man, which he often exercises in the repetition of previous choices, though he need not do so.


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