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Fear and Relationships IV  

Last month I talked about how fear based on not feeling the connection we want and need in our primary relationships can contribute to the extreme negative feelings and behavior that sometimes happens in those relationships. This month I address another issue. In addition to needing to feel connected to others and part of something bigger than ourselves, we humans also have a need to be recognized as unique individuals. These two drives are very important to us but often are in conflict with each other. The drive to be an individual and the drive to be part of something else often come in conflict.

Western society, America in particular, often pushes the value of being an individual more powerfully than the value of being part of something larger than ourselves. We tend to be an individually focused society rather than a community focused society. Sometimes that translates to people having a fear that connecting too much to someone else will damage their individuality and as such, somehow make them less of a person. When this happens the fear of losing that individuality can also contribute to extreme reactions against one’s partner. The most extreme expression of this is when one feels like loving someone is actually a sign of weakness.

One of my favorite teacher/supervisors when I was a young, budding therapist introduced me to the concept of a Holon. His name was Doug Breunlin (thanks again if you are reading this Doug, it has been a most helpful concept) and he references Arthur Koestler as the originator of the word. It is taken from Greek and refers to something that is both a part and a whole at the same time. It really captures the dynamic that I wrote about earlier. We strive to both be a whole individual on our own and to be a part of something bigger than us through our connection to other people. This doesn’t happen in any more intense way than in our connections to our primary intimate partners.

Here is the key. It is to recognize that both drives are equally important and there needs to be a balance between them. In reality being strong in both areas enhances the other area. Being a strong individual enhances connections to others and a healthy connection to others enhances individuality. If this kind of fear is causing problems in a relationship it is a cue that more work is needed to develop one’s sense of self as an individual. If connection threatens individuality, some individual growth is called for.

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