Relationships are something we all have in common. These affiliations, whether it is with family, friends, work colleagues, imagined communities such as social media groups, and people we don’t know well in real life but somehow form connections with. For example, a bus driver you interact with on a frequently travelled route or the till person you seek out and chat to, when buying your weekly groceries. How we relate to people is a foundation, whereby we narrate the world around us but also where we belong in the greater scheme of things. Just as these interactions are used as a conduit that helps us maintain a sense of belonging, tethered to something bigger than ourselves; relationships are also ever transient due to the nature of new relationships forming, others falling foul to slow degradation and some ending abruptly. All these scenarios and outcomes cause shifts in our experience, therefore, having the power to adjust our feelings and mental state.
Recently, I have been reading about relational psychology. A branch of psychology that focuses on improving a person’s awareness of the role of relationships, and patterns that can occur within those unisons, that can be both positive and negative. This approach supports an individual in increasing more positive connections with people around them, therefore, cultivating stronger and arguably healthier relationships. In doing so, it is likely to improve well-being and a lessening of distress, which often cause feelings of disempowerment and lowering of belief of self-worth. There is a rather to-the-point quote by Sigmund Freud that frequently circulates on social media that says something along the lines of, ‘before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by arseholes.’ This quote is in keeping with a relational psychological standpoint.
In my quest for more information, I stumbled across an author, and spiritual influencer, Teal Swan. In one of her vlogs, she plays a game with her viewers. The game contains three questions:
1. What is your favourite colour and three deep reasons why?
2. What is your favourite animal and three deep reasons why?
3. What is your favourite form or body of water (such as ice, rain or sea) and three deep reasons why?
To reiterate because it is important, the person being asked is to give contemplation and to look beneath the surface for the answers to the question. ‘Just because I like it’, does not possess to the depth of response required. If you would like to play along as you read, write or type your answers now. If you were doing this with another person, observe their reactions to the question and how they answer. We will come onto this later, the reason. It is commonly known that humans, generally, are predisposed to associate things with other things and at times these links can be advantageous to better understanding yourself. Especially for those who struggle to be introspective. This type of activity seemingly can tap into your subconscious and reveal realisations and feelings that may help you resolve an issue you are facing.
If participating in the game, please take some time to think carefully and continue reading once you have completed this task. Otherwise, please read on.
So, you or another should now have three answers for each of the three questions above. Relational psychology deems that the person answering, is answering about something different entirely. Allegedly what is being responded to is:
1. The truth about how the self is seen by them.
2. The truth about what they are looking for in others.
3. The truth about how they view their own sexuality.
By analysing either yourself whilst answering or observing the other person completing this task you may pick up on patterns or behaviours and this provides further perspective. For example, not being able to decide on three deep responses to ‘what animal do I like?’, suggests that perhaps you aren’t sure what you are looking for in others. Likewise, if you are unforthcoming with deep reasons e.g., why green is your favourite colour, this could suggest that you don’t like to be pinned down to one version of yourself. You perhaps on any given day see yourself differently, dependent on mood or experience. These responses are insights into an area of the brain that can be largely inaccessible for some.
I am not suggesting this game or the words of Swan to be suited to all. However, taking into consideration the possibility of relational psychology opens the potential for you to improve relationships in your life to be mutually beneficial, and a potential by-product is enrichment of your present circumstances. Furthermore, this approach is fully inclusive, it does not discriminate against race, age, sex, gender, disability, or socioeconomic status. Therefore, the benefits have the potential to be far-reaching.
It is important to include discussion regarding relational trauma. Although associated, the word ‘relational’ in the context we have been discussing is different by definition. Just to be clear, if there is any relational trauma with those that are close to you, this is not a recommendation to begin building bridges with a person who has previously abused and neglected you by using relational psychology principles spoken about in this article. Particularly, relationships with a caregiver in the early years of childhood contribute to defining the sense of self and provide blueprints for relationships, thereafter. Individuals with these sorts of experiences tend to continue struggling with boundary setting and invariably find themselves in ‘unhealthy’ unions as an adult. Sharing of these experiences and healing from relational traumas of this nature does need to be carefully explored with a healthcare professional.
If you would like to continue your relational psychology journey, I have placed below some website recommendations. Enjoy!
Relational Therapy | Psychology Today United Kingdom
Relational Therapy: What Is It, Key Concepts, Benefits, What To Expect & More (calmsage.com)
Relational Psychology: Walking Through The Woods (iheartintelligence.com)