AuggiePeters_NewBornSession-67It’s often said we cannot “go it alone.” We all need someone to believe in us, to stand by our side when we’re not our best self, to lift you up. It’s just as important to know when to let go. Today’s post from Mental Health contributor Tala Ciatti examines our universal need for one another, and how these relationships affect us physically, mentally, emotionally. As someone who often withdrawals when times get tough, I’m taking notes. – Kate

If life is calmer when rooms are calming, and if the act of dressing can be mindful, and if moods can be affected by a wall color, then it’s no surprise that having a solid support system helps maintain a sound mind and emotional wellness. I believe this, as a counselor and as a human. We were built to connect, at our best when we are supported and supporting. A naturally therapeutic environment is created when we interact honestly and intentionally. The data is there and the stories are real, but I hesitate to open up the topic – even in my own little Word document – because authentic human relationships can be JUST SO DIFFICULT. Complex. Gray. Maybe for you too.

Who is “holding you?” Someone is…possibly many someones. Unless you are terrifyingly isolated, there are friends, family, acquaintances or colleagues who lift you up, offer perspective, and influence your understanding of the world. Usually, this has a positive connotation – my people, my tribe. In some cases, a community can yield a negative influence. To maintain health, we do well to take stock of who is around and how they impact us.

In his work The Evolving Self, psychologist Robert Kegan works from the general notion that “the person is more than an individual” – we develop and make meaning of our experiences through interactions with others. We were built for connection, and we aren’t meant to go it alone in this thing called life. But what makes up a good network? Is there hope after college and before the nursing home for organic and productive community to flourish?

Kegan built on Donald Winnicott’s idea of holding environments and described three main things that he believes are necessary for us to be well supported. A good holding environment, according to Kegan can hold us well, let us go, and stick around:

Holding on  A social circle can literally “hold on,” providing physical comfort and protection. Those in our collective can also hold us by recognizing and confirming us as we are, offering practical and emotional care.

Letting go  The purpose of a positive holding environment isn’t conformity or confinement. We aren’t at our best when we are “kept” or spoon-fed. Instead of filling our every need or allowing us to stagnate, helpful relationships encourage us – push us, even – to grow as independent and responsible individuals.

Staying put  According to Kegan, a helpful “culture of embeddedness” will be there for you. (You know: “When the rain starts to pour…like I’ve been there before…clap clap clap clap.) A good circle will remain, and provide continuity as we venture out into bigger circles and other experiences.

I think about this concept often. I spend too much time in my own head trying to sort out relationships or the lack thereof. I always almost give up. Then, I am brought back from despair by someone in one of my holding environments. (Kegan called it.) I get a call from a friend who has a knack (in her personal life and amidst her work in the business sector) for initiating and sustaining authentic relationships, and I ask her how they are possible. She speaks of things that are simple but not always easy: Scheduling time for a phone call, making a practice of writing (and mailing) handwritten notes, using technology without apology for quick conversations or texted life summaries, using the time available to stay in touch until more time is available, saying no to things that damage or detract from wellbeing. I listen to another describe the way she approaches building community as her family moves (across the world and quite often), and am inspired by the fierce sense of purpose this easygoing friend employs. I make an appointment with my counselor and compare: friends can be therapeutic, but shouldn’t be expected to be therapist. New to town, I gratefully receive a personal invitation to meet up with a distant acquaintance and am challenged in my belief that social media is a place to lurk, but not connect.

When I am tangled up in theory, relationships are overwhelming. In reality, they are possible, and they are happening, with honesty and intentionality. And they are necessary: without confidants and mentors, I am prone to drift. Holding environments offer a safe place to land for celebration, for shambles, for growth and development.

I want to know how you do this…or if you believe its possible. How do you find and maintain the relationships that hold you well, let you go, and stick around?

Image by 2nd Truth

BY Tala Ciatti - September 7, 2016

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September 8, 2016 8:29 pm

This is a great post and really needed it. I struggle with relationships and find I am constantly making new ones or losing them. Most of the time I end up giving up too but often wish I knew what it took. Thank you for this post.

Studio Aveline –

September 9, 2016 10:12 am

I’ve struggled as well. I usually don’t feel very safe and end up not really being myself in order to gain some control. I’m working on learning to trust. Trust that they will “stay put”. But even if they don’t, I have to be okay with that.

September 11, 2016 8:52 am

I’m usually the person that tries to keep up with relationships. I make the phone call, nag them over text to face time and avidly try to meet my friends in person. I’m currently in a masters program with a class of only 8 people and although I love them all in a way I know which people can benefit me in a healthy way and which ones won’t. Most times I feel isolated because I choose not to interact all the time with the people that distract me, but then i remember that I have true friends that I… Read more »

October 10, 2016 5:03 pm

Hi Tala, what a well-timed and wonderfully complex exploration. I am so fortunate to have been pulled into two incredibly supportive holding environments, and over the past few years have met more and more women who are such need of space and time for intentional, trusting, safe, supportive conversations. It’s like we are all so connected, but so disconnected from these real spaces in real time where we can share, listen, and be heard. The timing of me finding this post is such synchronicity. Next week I’m running a kind of social experiment that will bring 50 women together to… Read more »

April 22, 2017 11:08 am

It’s like we are all so connected, but so disconnected from these real spaces in real time where we can share, listen, and be heard. The timing of me finding this post is such synchronicity. Những bó hoa đẹp nhất.

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