This Changes Everything




From the Introduction:

This work is about how democracy overtook and transformed psychology. It's about the deepest truths we know, the ones that save our lives, the ones we go to college or turn to great authors, wise friends and psychological experts to learn. It's about what makes love grow and what weeds love out and implants fear and contempt.

It's about why expertise too often turns out to be a sort of verbal karate that experts use to prevent us from asking our deepest questions or to keep us from bringing the truths we know into the realm of expert knowledge. So it's also about how a powerful political system cuts us off from our own deep knowledge, and about how we can build and keep up a personal and political resistance that links power to love....

Relational psychology is the way the women's movement and other human rights movements of the 1960s moved into psychology. It is about how our ideas about psychological development and mental health have become democratic, and it came from questioning authority - most important, questioning ideas about difference and relationship....

The book in your hands is both a political history of these ideas and a how-to book. It describes a ground state of human being, a state of active connection to people that is essential for growth and creativity and even for clear and accurate perception.

It is a manual for co-creating relationships that integrate perception and inspire better connections. It teaches how to recognize the best-connected times of our lives and how to use those relationships as guides to more connection.

It also teaches how to catch yourself and other people in the act of disconnecting, both along the victim's range of dissociation - from micro to macro, from the simple daze of spacing out to dissociative identity disorder - and along the perpetrators range of dominant disconnection, from teasing put-down to racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, rape, homicide, and war.

You can talk to a relationships. You can listen to a relationship, and what it tells you may transform your notion of what information is. You can learn that if people are using information for hurting, for power, to see what they can get on other people, you're in the politics of dominance. And if people are using information to care and get closer to people, you're in the politics of mutuality.

Often both kinds of politics are going on at the same time, and one kind is in charge or in the open while the other is underground. You can lie to a relationship. You can break and kill a relationship. You can also join the underground and resist attempts to violate relationships. And relationships can heal....

Relational psychology ...acknowledges power imbalances and treats them as political rather than natural. It underlines the huge role that force and the threat of force played in twentieth-century psychology and culture, and it details another way of living, a culture and tradition of equality, mutuality, and freedom....

On good and bad relationships:

"You can never have too much of a good connection," Miller has said. But what about all the bad connections, in which people don't listen to each other deeply and as equals and don't respond with honesty that calls forth more honesty? The relational-cultural theorists of the Stone Center are asked constantly, and have been for as long as they have been presenting their work: How can they say that human growth hinges on relationships when so many relationships are destructive traps that block development? But the relational-cultural theorists say that only good relationships can teach you to limit the damage from bad relationships or, if need be, end them. "You don't just leave a bad relationship; you need good relationships to help you leave bad relationships," Jordan said at a colloquium in 1999. (p. 161)

Loving v. falling in love:

The cliche moment many Westerners recognize as containing this simultaneous expansion of relationship and authenticity - being true to oneself, being real, being the best one can be, and being with someone else so powerfully that it feels as though you are part of each other - is the moment of falling in love. But falling in love can involve inflation and projection that really have little to do with the other person. We can fall in love with someone we make up. We can fall in love with an image or an idea of someone else. But we can't have a good relationship with an image or an idea. (p. 177)

On relational sex:

The pleasures of sex in particular expand and intensify when sex is part of a mutual, mutually responsive relationship - in just the same way that the pleasures of speaking expand and intensify when we move from debate to heart-to-heart talk. "Sexual intimacy, literally becoming naked physically and psychologically with one another, can provide the most incredible arena for exploration, discovery of self and other, and pleasure," Jordan writes. It seems a fairy tale to discuss relational sex without talking about the omnipresent political pressures that endanger, mock, co-opt, commodify, and corrupt it. On the other hand, the Song of Songs is a very old book: there is an ancient tradition and culture of healthy relationships in the West, a tradition in which sexual pleasure is a common form of relational pleasure, reflected in the fact that an ancient, intensely erotic poem is included in the Bible among its most sacred texts. (p. 185)

On anger:

....Anger erupts whenever one participant in a relationship is treated as less powerful and less equal than the other. Anger in unequal relationships is a shout for help by the relationships, because such a relationship can't be fully alive or honest - can't be authentic - for either member.... Pressure not to express anger that is aroused by perceived injustice falls on almost everyone. Both men and women in our culture are taught to misdirect anger, though in different directions, Miller says. Boys are taught to move anger into aggression or to suppress it, and women are taught to express anger only on behalf of others or to suppress it. Girls, it appears, are allowed to get away with anger, at least for a while. (p. 192)

On voice and self:

A voice has to be listened to. Relationship, listening, empathy are built into it. But a self requires no other, no listener. So the concept of the self allows the illusion that it is possible to live without relationships. (p. 199)

On "holding:"

The effort to hold relationship across disagreement, to stay with someone in unknown territory, comes out of another kind of care, a kind of care that keeps relationships going when there isn't any apparent common judgment, common experience, belief or reason to keep it going. (p. 212)

On mothers and daughters:

....While current theories said college-age women should be trying to separate from their mothers, most of the undergraduates in their study considered their mothers friends; these young women reported that they were struggling not to separate from their mothers but to stay connected - to maintain close, honest relationships with their mothers while they developed into adults and then as adults....Their goal was equality, not separation. (p. 223)

On the discovery of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome:

....An awareness that rape, incest, child abuse, and war had profound and long-lasting destructive effects on all of their victims - and on all of their victims' relationships, on all of the people who loved and lived with victims - moved from the women's movement into psychiatry through Herman's work, and that of other early feminist psychologists and sociologists, and allowed her and her colleagues to work in intellectual territory that only novelists and artists had inhabited before. (p. 264)

On violence:

Violence is a kind of "acid rain" in social environments - "an ecological threat to a community's ability to offer its members safe haven," Harvey writes. Seeding this rain of destructions, "racism, sexism and poverty can be thought of as environmental pollutants - i.e. ecological anomalies that foster violence and threaten to overwhelm the health-promoting resources of human communities." On the other hand, ‘economic well-being and community-wide regard for pluralism and diversity can be understood as ecological contributors to violence prevention" - as it were, clean air and clean water for social environments. (p. 273)

On perpetrators of violence:

Most perpetrators who commit crimes that traumatize their victims have no feeling that what they have done is wrong. Whatever moral sense they have has become completely cognitive, linked to ideas or opinions about what is just, or good for boys and girls, never linked to that integrated, empathic, relational sense of not wanting to do harm. Herman notes the widespread observation that perpetrators lack empathy and quotes a study in which "only 14 percent of offenders expressed remorse or regret for their actions." (p. 275)

On "male relational dread:"

Boys start to lose the relational mode - tears, empathy, tenderness, creativity, and curiosity in relationships - at a very young age.... This theft of love from little boys is a profoundly political rite of passage, during which boys learn that their mothers are powerless to stop the cultural police who shame, tease, hit, beat and lock them away from being relational and that the relational way itself leads away from power and success.... Although our culture allows girls to go on practicing the art and science of relating with their mothers and others, girls, too, begin to learn they are spared because they simply aren't considered important enough to be forced to be non-relational, and that in fact their relational skills may make them targets for abuse by powerful men and boys who are close to them.... Men, harboring "relational dread,' may feel afraid of what being at a loss with actively relating women may do to them; so men may fail to notice that women fear their greater power. (pp. 288-89)

On the relational view of mental illness:

Bergman, like the other relational-cultural theorists, is saying psychological dysfunction originates and resides between people rather than in them, more like wars and enmity than illness or disability. (p. 291)

On power and PTSD:

....People who commit violence that causes trauma are often living out an extreme masculine stereotype of toughness or are using intimidation to enforce political dominance. And some of the aftereffects of trauma look a lot like that very masculine stereotype, but they only take that form in the people who develop post-traumatic disorders and are in a political position to dominate. The post-traumatic disorders of people who have little or no political power don't resemble machismo; PTSD in subordinate people makes them look like sissies, wimps, or borderlines. {p. 301)

On "Doing Good and Feeling Bad;"

When children who have parented their parents grow up, they fit very smoothly into the hybrid kind of work relationships in which the boss may act relational in order to get some of the zest, will to action, knowledge, self-esteem and solidarity that come from good relationships or to benefit from an underling's relational skills, but without any real or lasting mutuality. These are vampirish relationships, where the more powerful person bleeds the relationship of energy and vitality, intent on using relationship as a feel-good experience rather than as a means of fostering growth, and then walks away feeling full for the moment, leaving the weaker person feeling robbed or used. (p. 321)

On relationships in trauma and recovery:

Atrocious relationships, relationships that feature prolonged and repeated abuse accompanied by threats of more abuse if the victim doesn't lie about it, tie people into the agonizing knots Herman calls complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Along with other relational therapists, Herman discovered that these knots can begin to come untied in healthy relationships, including a therapy relationship, in which the healthier, more powerful person uses her knowledge and skills to benefit the victim and encourage truth telling. Just as relationships have the power to destroy people, they also have the power to heal them. (p. 340-341)

On forgiveness:

....Forgiveness is a relational process. "‘I forgive you' is the response to a heartfelt apology and request for forgiveness," Herman says. If the apology is never made, the process of forgiveness cannot take place. And "genuine contrition in a perpetrator is a rare miracle," Herman writes, after decades of experience. For a victim to attempt to forgive a perpetrator who never asked for forgiveness, or who is unrepentant and still lying and refusing to admit any wrongdoing, would be an empty exercise, like kissing oneself in the mirror. A trauma survivor needs to tell her story to "an open-minded, compassionate witness," her therapist, her closest friends - and to other survivors in therapy or support groups - until she realizes that she needs to mourn the fact that she will probably never be asked for forgiveness. (p. 353)

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