As a new member of the Shine team I was pleased to be invited to write a few words on the theme of relationships – a juicy subject if ever there was one, and something I think about quite a lot!
To have a relationship there has to be someone/ something ‘other than’ that being or object, or else there is only an undifferentiated mass. In our very early existence as single cells we were one, dividing into two, then many cells.
Lao Tsu, d. 531 BCE, famously not a biologist, had this to say:
Tao produces one
One produces two
Two produce three
Three produce myriad things
Myriad things, backed by yin and embracing yang
Achieve harmony by integrating their energy
The I Ching describes the first principle as masculine and the second as feminine, but our first relationship is with our mother, and of course how that goes has a huge impact on the rest of our lives. Bowlby explained that from an evolutionary perspective, we need a secure attachment with an adult from which to safely explore the world. Few people will be surprised to hear that even the best parents get it wrong at least half of the time. Sometimes mummy gets tired or sick, or can’t afford the Star Wars Lego set. Luckily, most attachment figures shamble through some kind of damage-limitation and making-good process, and most of us emerge into adulthood relatively unscathed.
Even in some of the worst cases, where the parenting fell far short of good-enough, we can do much in maturity to self-heal. This takes courage, faith and persistence, but I believe it’s achievable, to some degree or other, probably most efficiently through a combination of counselling, bodywork and group work. There are three main features of the internal working model: (1) a model of others as being trustworthy, (2) a model of the self as valuable, and (3) a model of the self as effective when interacting with others.
Issues of this type are not our fault, which is why most people, quite understandably, go for the ‘ignore it and hope it goes away’ approach first. But finally we are our own responsibility, and this type of thing can only be swept under the carpet for so long before tripping us up.
A therapist holds her client in ‘unconditional, positive regard’ – whatever has gone down historically, the experience of having someone we trust and respect consistently appreciate, respect and support us over a period of time has a powerful and positive effect on the way we talk about ourselves to ourselves. Rinse and repeat enough times and eventually it gets assimilated, and this healthier mind set leads to better interactions and experiences.
This is where good bodywork really comes into its own, helping us to refurbish our internal model, supporting us to clean up any residual diffuse and nameless pain, sorrow or (most toxic of all) shame. We are, above all, physical beings. Positive touch is nourishing on a primal level, any hurt going back to a pre-verbal stage of development or originating in an interrupted process, can resolve with ease, in silence, without us having to ‘dig about’ in it.
I always think we are each of us like diamonds, with many facets, and each of our relationships speaks to a different side of us. Don’t we all have that one particular friend who is the only one who ‘gets’ that bit of us? Or who our other friends don’t ‘get,’ or get along with…? And one who doesn’t think like us, but we love anyway, all the more because they challenge our assumptions about the world we share. It is through the sum of these relationships that we know ourselves. Left too long in isolation we lose touch with reality, becoming lost in a hall of mirrors.
My Movement Shiatsu teacher Bill Palmer talks about our ‘Inner Committee’, how we are not one self but a group working together, with different ideas and approaches brought to the fore according to circumstance, an idea that will be familiar to students of Gestalt. Certain voices and body parts or muscles/ muscle groups, seem always to domineer and others are seldom heard (ah, the quiet voice!) I’m always really interested – and grateful – when I find someone especially annoying, because it invariably points to an area I need to do a bit of work on in myself, an opportunity for growth and self-improvement, according to my own taste and preference. This harmonising happens holistically, so working with a physical manifestation will sometimes require or even trigger psycho-emotional recalibration. Where someone is technically being annoying but I’m not unduly bothered by it, it usually means I don’t suffer from that particular issue, or think of it as an issue, or I’ve already addressed and gone beyond it. I’ve got a brilliant technique for that, feel free to ask when you see me!