February 3, 2012

Give your relationship a shot of power: connection and self-reliance (2 of 8).

I’ve identified 12 Elements of Power – 6 yin/yang pairs – that describe how human power works, diagnose where it goes funky, and guide us to gentle self-correcting mechanisms to get our power flowing smoothly and sustainably again.  Last week, I posted an introduction to the Elements of Masculine and Feminine Power.

In this article, I’ll introduce Connection and Self-Reliance, the Elements of Power that relate to how we establish our identity.

How We Establish Our Identity:  The Power of Connection and the Power of Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance (Photo credit: K. Sawyer Photography)

Popular theories of developmental psychology (namely Erickson and his ilk) posit that as we grow up, we individuate – become more our own people.  As I see it, that happens and is a good thing.

But feminist psychologists, especially Carol Gilligan and others, recognized that little girls weren’t “doing it right” and theorized that individuation isn’t the only way to develop a healthy sense of self.  We might grow into strong pillars of autonomy, understanding who we are by how we stand on our own…. Or we might also grow into strong webs of relationships, understanding who we are by knowing how we’re connected.

I say, it’s both, and that people of both genders are happiest, healthiest, and have the best relationships when we know who we are both with self-reliance AND with connection.

The Power of Connection

Connection is our capacity to cultivate relationships, connect to our bodies, the earth, our emotions, and the Divine, however we conceive It.  In relationships, connection is the ability to find the “we,” the third force between us, and to deeply feel into our partner’s inner world.

The Power of Self Reliance

Self-reliance is our capacity to stand on our own two feet, to be independent, take risks, make things happen, and exert control. In relationships, self-reliance is the ability to feel our own sensations, thoughts, emotions, and desires, and to hold our own shape even as we create tremendous closeness with another.
Both these Elements of Power are good things – especially when they’re active and integrated with the other.  When we’re both connected and self-reliant and flow back and forth between these two aspects of our identity, we’re able to feel and benefit from both these truths:

– We are part of a larger whole – with the entire universe and, in relationships, with another person
– We are solitary, unique, and powerful in our own right, a singular expression of that vastness

The fantastic things in life can all be traced back to the exercise of one or more of the 12 Elements of Power.  And the messed up things we do to ourselves and each other can be viewed as distortions of one or more of the Elements, as well.  The good news is that power is self-correcting:  All we have to do when something goes wonky is activate the complement of the Element of Power we’ve been overusing.

Your relationship would benefit from your activating more of the Power of Connection when:

– Your partner tells you “you’re not hearing me” or “I don’t feel understood” or “you seem distant”
– You feel like you need to “earn your keep”
– You’ve been thinking “I’m too _____” or “I’m not _______ enough” for the relationship (and these are qualities of yours, not reasonable behavior changes)
– You’ve been numb, out of your body, or otherwise kinesthetically disconnected from yourself
– You’re trying to control your partner’s experience of you or of life rather than granting them their own individual experience
– Your partner is offering you their needs, opinions, or assistance and you’re not, in John Gottman’s words, accepting influence

Your relationship would benefit from your activating more of the Power of Self-Reliance when:

– You’ve been spending so much time together you’re driving one another batty
– You realize you’re missing people, hobbies, or practices that were nourishing for you but that have been neglected in favor of time with your partner
– You’re feeling insecure, like you don’t know what you’d do without the other person
– You look to your partner (or to others) to tell you the right thing to do, say, think, or feel
– You’re “on their lap” emotionally: before you ask for what you want or set a limit, your mind and emotions race past your own sense of what’s appropriate to “how are they going to respond?”

How else do you see the Power of Connection and the Power of Self-Reliance showing up in your relationship – in either clean or distorted ways?  What questions do you have about these Elements of Power?  Next week I’ll be back with the next pair of Elements: Sensuality and Pragmatism, which relate to how we set priorities.

Till then, love with power!

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