Relationships Are Inside

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by Nicholas E Stratas

As we live and experience life, events thoughts and feelings are recorded inside and forever, barring physical damage to our Nervous System. These events, sometimes simple sometimes extremely complex, come together inside and become connected to make one unified and integrated human being leading to autonomy. In some people these events may continue to seem separate, be walled off, go underground and develop a life of their own. Life experiences internalized include everything that comes in through our sensorium, people who are in our lives, how they behave, what they do, what they say, how they say it and what they seem to think and feel. In addition experiences get molded over time and ongoing experiences. We internalize our experience of key persons such as mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son and others. In addition to people and other living systems we also take in the inanimate world around us. This process goes on unconsciously and about experiences about which we may not be aware as well of course those experiences of which we are aware.

Children frequently misperceive that relationships are attached to the other person and this misperception may go uncorrected even into adulthood. Thus we may “miss” someone not physically present. We may feel “lonely” when no other human being is physically with us. As we grow we learn to comfort ourselves, to manage our own needs. This happens very naturally beginning in infancy. When for example mother puts us on a schedule for feedings and it comes near time to be fed we may cry and if mother is very late most of us eventually comfort ourselves with the internalized thoughts and smells of mother and milk and/or perhaps with a diversion or with our thumb. Many a parent has resisted running to the infant’s cries and later sneaks in to see what has happened that the baby is quiet. The baby has begun to self comfort with self behavior or internalized experiences of self and mother.

When we are together physically, the “relationship” is not in the space between us — it is in each one of us. My relationship with you is in me and your relationship with me is in you. Thus there are two experiences of the relationship and while these may be close they are not the same. Through repeated sharing of ourselves with a particular person we get clearer and closer. Of course the “other person” is in our external world. Our perception and the internal representation is inside us. So it is important, as individuals change, that information be shared so the inner experience continues to be representative of the other person. Otherwise it is possible after being apart that we may be surprised at each other or even disappointed. It is important to take care of these internal relationships.

With many men it is as if the part of the program that has to do with relational work is missing. While men may act and think they are more independent than women, in fact “Independence” is simply a reaction formation to “dependence”. Women on the other hand, biologically, psychologically and socially are designed, developed and reinforced in their relational needs and tasks. Women, biologically prepared to have another life within themselves, become aware early of their capability to bear children. As a little girl grows up she is encouraged to “play with” and “take care of” dolls, play toys, siblings and in dysfunctional families even the parents. Boys on the other hand are encouraged verbally and nonverbally to be their own person and are allowed their distance while parents generally stay much more active and connected with girls.

We are able to stay in touch with that part of us which is the internal representation of another person. Even if that other person is not physically present, we continue to feel close, to enjoy being “with” that person, even to have new experiences and to “take” the other person with us. We have all experienced the phenomenon of being away from a given person for a period of time and then when we meet it is as if we have never been apart. The more we keep the other person with us in our thoughts, the more we develop the relationship. The further we keep the other person from our thoughts the further we distance the relationship.

When we are thoughtful about our internal world we are never “lonely”, we have the constant companionship of all the experiences and people in our life. When we feel close to our self and are integrated internally and therefore autonomous, we are close to and well-connected with other people. The next time someone says “I’ll miss you” we can respond with “you are with me”. The next time you are alone and feel “lonely” you can go inside and find someone or something special to you. To reinforce the internalization of special people we can think about them, picture them, dialogue internally with them. Thus if in early life a parent was absent physically or metaphorically we can flesh out an internal parent from our own experiences and so protect and nurture ourself.

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