Why do we do this work?

 

It is our belief that the current cultural context perpetuates stratification and isolation. Since late summer 2006, we have been working together to develop tools to support individuals and groups in building mutually empowering relationships. We offer workshops, facilitation, consultation and support groups as a means to perpetuate relational awareness and connection.

Why are relationships so important? How are we affected by the cultural context?

Experience has taught us that it is through connections with others that we, as humans, can grow and change. While this may not seem like a radical idea, traditional psychological theories place more value on the development of the independent self as compared to the creation of mutually empowering relationships. It is not only psychologists who seek to nurture the separate self; capitalists wish to do the same as well. As long as people feel that they are “missing something” consumer-driven market economies will create products to fill the void, and thus prosper. With that said, it becomes clear that we are not personally flawed for having relational difficulties. Instead, our cultural context should be held accountable for supporting isolation and disconnection at the expense of our relational development.

The history of isolation in the United States dates back to colonialism. In Constructing the Self: Constructing America, Philip Cushman writes, “The 19th- century American white identity strategy was based on the psychological processes used to define “the other”. It is difficult for the young, increasingly diverse nation to develop a consensus as to what “the self” was. It was easier to develop a sense of what the self was not–the supposedly lazy, stupid ‘negro’ or the supposedly heathen, savage Indian (Cushman).” The “us versus them” dichotomy reflects a power dynamic perpetuated by Western capitalism in order to keep people divided and disempowered. It is manufactured, sold and bought throughout the United States; and with the advent of globalization, throughout the world. Thus, it is extremely important to bring this awareness to our interactions. This may assist us in reducing power struggles, competition and unnecessary hierarchies. In doing so, we strengthen our relationships and increase the potential for authentic connection.

Where do we go from here?

We have concluded that the best place to start is with ourselves and the people closest to us. We focus on creating and maintaining growth fostering relationships. Our work is grounded in Relational-Cultural Theory, a psychological theory that argues that connections with other people are the source of growth for all people and disconnections are the source of major problems (Miller and Walker 2004). We are trying to make R.C.T. applicable to all people, regardless of their interest or knowledge of psychology. We believe that by increasing our relational awareness we have the potential to alter the current paradigm from one of isolation to connection.

What are we doing?

We have facilitated a number of educational workshops and community support groups, written pieces and appeared on the radio to encourage people to think about their sense of connection and disconnection. We pose questions like: “What is happening, in the interaction, when you feel connected to others,” and, “How did you feel and what did you notice about the other people you were interacting with?” These questions support participants in exploring and naming the feelings they associate with connection. We also spend time looking at the ways we experience disconnections. Collectively, we come up with methods to transform disconnection from a place of isolation to one of stronger connectedness.

We don’t often take the time and space to name our feelings. Instead, we work at our jobs, create our art, take care of our children, pay our bills, and try to survive in a cutthroat capitalist society, which pushes us to put our emotional needs aside in order to keep the consumerist machine going. We stress the importance of identifying, developing and maintaining mutually-empowering relationships as a way to nourish ourselves, our friends, our families, and our groups.


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