photo by Martha Stewart
This Changes Everything is Christina Robb's book about the new psychology of relationships that has flowed from the work of Carol Gilligan, Jean Baker Miller, Judith Lewis Herman and their colleagues. More than a decade in the making, both history and how-to, Robb's book is an invitation to engage deeply with relational innovations, discoveries and practices about empathy, voice, love, politics, gender, race, class, violence, incest, psychological trauma, treatment and recovery. Robb agrees with the psychologists she describes and advocates for their work. She describes their roots in the great democratic movements for social change of the 1960s and 1970s - the civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement - and treats their discoveries and insights as the basis for the first democratic psychology. Her book describes the psyche that is emerging from the long movement toward democracy that has characterized human civilization for the last millennium.
Gilligan, Lyn Mikel Brown and other former participants in the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development, observe the natural rootedness in mutual, equal relationships among young girls and very young boys. The Harvard researchers also find that boys at at the age of three or four and girls at 12 or 13 are intensely pressured by adults to give up their creative, empathic relational voices for more stereotyped, stilted styles - the boys to be tough guys with big egos who never cried or showed empathy; the girls to be nice and kind and self-denying. But the psychologists also observe a complex and creative resistance to this pressure among girls that offers broad and hopeful help for all people to build or restore democracy in their personal lives. Miller and her colleagues Judith V. Jordan, Irene P. Stiver, Janet L. Surrey and others describe the good things about good relationships - zest, clarity, increased knowledge about oneself and the others in the relationship, increased desire for relationship, and an increased sense of worth - and describe a system of dominance that bullies and belittles good relationship as well as a practice of mutual empathy that restores broken relationships. Judith Lewis Herman and Lisa Hirschman first discovered and investigated an incidence of father-daughter incest that was exponentially greater than the case-in-a-million reported in then current psychiatric textbooks. Part of her discovery was that incest was more likely in patriarchal families and less likely in more democratic ones, where mutual respect between parents and between parents and children was the norm.
Later Herman, advocating with Vietnam veterans, helped get Post-Traumatic Stress disorder accepted as a diagnosis and discovered a severe form, called Complex PTSD, that results from severe and prolonged traumatic abuse. She describes both the symptoms of the psychological trauma that results from criminal abuse and sexual assault, whether they occur in a patriarchal home or in a camp for political prisoners. She explains her system, based on teaching self-care in small groups, and psychotherapy with a respectful ally and witness, for helping victims of violence turn into survivors, as practiced with her colleagues at the Victims of Violence Program in Cambridge, MA.