September 29, 2003
We run into problems emotionally when our primary relationships are damaged or insufficient. Emotional health is dependent on healthy relationships. What is a healthy relationship?
All social mammals tend to have very interactive relationships with regular, friendly, physical contact. Aboriginal people living according to their original culture tend to be very close, attached, communicative, and openly affectionate. Since all social animals, humans included, tend to operate as a single "group mind," affection and close communication keep the interconnections of that "group mind" active and open. A connected group is able to deal with challenges and crises much more efficiently than a group that is disconnected by conflict.
When a close, respectful relationship with our parents, family, and tribe is disconnected, the pain creates similar disconnections within us. These inner disconnections create inner conflict, which is a major sign of emotional illness. When an entire society is infected with this, the culture often becomes one of physical and emotional distance and formality. If the population at large is infected, these symptoms of illness are seen as normal. Being emotionally and physically reserved becomes a virtue, and being emotionally and physically open becomes a vice.
Welcome to the modern world.
Connection is the healing path for disconnection, but modern society frowns on it. The professions of psychiatry and medicine create institutions, practices, and practitioners to heal emotional health, but they tend to do so in a cold, formal, "professional" way. This very practice and environment is, in itself, an expression of the illness.
People cannot heal these "wounds of distance" by being kept at a distance. The safety of certain types of boundaries are necessary in the healing process, but human contact and closeness in relationship, as the original human way of being, needs to return. That is health.
This creates a great dilemma for people who facilitate emotional healing. We exist in a society that has created moral, professional, and legal structures that maintain the illness by disallowing human closeness and friendly interaction. Clients are supposed to come to a rigid time slot, sit in a chair, talk, and leave. Although even this type of limited interaction can be helpful, we need more. To be fully healthy, we need to be fully human.
And so, some therapists take a more revolutionary stance. We not only allow closer emotional and physical contact in session, we allow other contacts and communications between sessions. We do not fulfill our personal needs for friendship with our clients, but we are not afraid to be friendly. We support the development of relationships between feeling-oriented people. We support a larger community that contains these relationships. We are also part of this larger community.
This approach is a bold attempt to restore the structure of human health - a connected tribal group relationship. It is monumental in its scope and daunting in the face of our collective illness.
We are moved by a genetic drive to heal, and although the challenge is great, it will not go away. Being wounded, at times we will get confused, we will doubt ourselves, and we will make mistakes. That is life.
That is part of being human.