We are all relational people. It is within relationships that we grow and are healed, and are hurt. There is an age old saying, “we are hurt in relationship, we are healed in relationship,” which I heard for the first time in Sandra D. Wilson’s book Hurt People Hurt People: Hope and Healing for Yourself and Your Relationship. It’s a powerful statement from the seminary professor and spiritual director who has witnessed how people fall into the trap of repeating the hurt done to them by inflicting it on others. They continue a devastating cycle. It is something that we have to face head on or it will negatively affect all of our relationships. She says, “our deepest wounds come at the hands of those we love and trust” and if we do not deal with this early trauma it is a seed that will grow to dominate how we deal with all of our closest relationships in our lifetimes.
We are the Product of Our Past
Alister McFadyen, in his book The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships, provides some theological grounds for these ideas of relationship. McFadyen points out that we are products of our relationships, but that we are still individuals, and that somehow our “individuality, personhood, and selfhood do not refer to some internal and independent source of identity, but to the way one is and has been in relations.” This aspect of being, McFadyen points out, does not develop on its own, but grows within our relationships. Both who we are and our dynamic within relationships is the product of our past. Our “selves”, our identities are shaped through patterns of communication that surround us.
Relationships are a paradox or are an axis with ever changing weights. There is no way to sustain a balance because relationships are constantly navigated. At any given moment we bring up new material. This is inevitable because we are all a universe of unconscious material, processed or unprocessed. We have been and continue to be affected by every element of life and the patterns of interactions with others. We then carry those experiences with us that either enhance our relationships or derail them.
What is Your Relationship Stance?
We are social beings and we have to be understood in social terms, not just inter-personal terms but also intra-psychic terms. We all have a certain stance or dynamic towards and within our relationships in life. Each stance carries within itself conscious and unconscious meaning and develops out of our early development as human beings. These relationships are based on what I will call imprints, which are interactions with people or objects that we carry with us that determine our ways of being and interacting within the world. These interactions and their origins provide the rich soil to be toiled within the therapeutic relationship with the client. We have to understand how these early imprints continue to affect us today as we are all inevitably the products of our relationships.
Relationships with a stance towards dominance, are characterized by controlling or subjecting the other to our ideas and desires. Strong elements of unchecked power. Within this we view relationships as someone to ‘win’ at. Within submissive relationships it is the other way around, we let ourselves be controlled by another. In doing so, we strive to meet the others needs at the expense of our own.
Next is the withdrawn stance, this stance could be described as one where affection is withheld and a pretending that one does not value the company of others. This stance usually comes as the result of numerous failed attempts at relationships whether healthy or unhealthy.
Lastly is the cooperative, or what I like to call the collaborative stance, which is the continual goal of therapy. Within this stance we carry with us an attitude of giving and receiving without counting the cost. We are constantly exploring the differences and similarities while also making room for one another. We are reciprocal, always minding the space of others and our, own knowing that each person has their own needs. Lastly we work together offering our best for the greater good.
Dealing with the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
In the relational psychoanalytic process, we look at how to self actualize within the context of a committed intimate relationship. It starts with the mutual recognition of both partner’s subjective experience One has to be aware that the “relationship” has a mind of its own apart and interdependent upon both partners. Time must be taken to attune to these very complex subjective experiences of each partner. Ingrained within every soul is the need to be seen for all that we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Every person needs for what is true within their experience, while reinforcing that no-one has a clearer view of what is right. What is “wrong” arises from each individual’s past and is created by all.
Slowing through the reenactment of personal history the dormant elements are revealed. All of these submerged aspects must come to the fore within the context of a caring accepting relationship. We can then begin to work with what it is that is inside without feeling shamed but in an environment of care. No acting our only acknowledgement of the others challenges. This allows for a greater capacity for self-actualization in the presence of another. We begin negotiating seemingly irreconcilable aspects of one’s self. Facilitating each partner’s capacity to attune to and support ones “introspection and personal growth.” That which needs to be negotiated between partners, has to first be negotiated within each person.
Sticking Things Out?
There is immense pressure in our era, amidst the continual statistical climb of divorce rates, to strive for the perfect relationship at all costs. Adding to the pressure is the age old value and history of ‘sticking things out’ with someone no matter what. But if we are in a relationship with a hurt person or if we are the partner doing the “hurting” nothing is going to change unless the hard work gets done. I advocate doing the work together to build longevity into relationship’s that might otherwise become another divorce statistic.