Living, as we do, in the part of the world focused mostly on individuals, it is easy to miss the power and strength of belonging to human and animal relationships, the earth, the Spirit, and even oneself. It is true that doctors, lawyers, financial folk, therapists, and most professionals principally occupy themselves with individuals. They/we are missing something—big time.
It is no surprise that we are the loneliest of people on the planet.
In the midst of this trend to individualism is arising an astonishing awareness to medical and other health-oriented professionals (but no surprise to most of humanity): the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of us as individuals is directly correlated to the degree we experience strong bonds/connections with others, the planet, Spirit and our inner selves.
Take, for example, the emergency personnel in New York City who responded on 9/11. Personnel who were able to open up to at least one other human being (spouse, close friend, family member, etc.) are today doing well. In fact they have become even stronger people than before, and far better than those who did not likewise share, emote or work through their trauma.
As it turns out, couples are in a far better place to work through trauma, and other unhelpful patterns inherited from their families of origin, than they are by working with an individual health practitioner or therapist. By a wide margin. Of course many couples will need assistance so that they can facilitate such mutual healing and growth. But it is these healthier relationships that offer the crucial safe container, one that enables positive changes to an individual’s functioning.
As I have often said, “We are wounded in relationships and we heal in relationships.”
While I firmly believe that health practitioners are needed in our society I also believe that families, groups, couples, appropriate faith groups, and other such units are in a better position to offer us hope. Indeed before the 60’s our stronger sense of belonging and community gave us greater health than have all the experts and professionals since. Certainly the percentage of the population needing psychiatric help was far, far lower then than it is today. Yes, we live in a far more complicated, busier world than was true just 50 years ago. However, today’s demands on us as individuals and the lack of real support is most certainly a bigger factor in our ill-health, physically, mentally and spiritually.
I am increasingly asking myself: how open am I to receive support from others, to invest myself in meaningful relationships, to “waste” time just being? When all is said and done and I have arrived at the end of my life, what will I look back and identify as having been most important to me? I strongly suspect it will be the relationships of all kinds through which I have grown.
May this summer be a time in which your sense of truly belonging blooms like a spring flower.
Ian Gartshore is a relationship therapist and an emerging relational being.