INTIMACY IN A PERSON-CENTERED WAY OF BEING:
DO WE DARE?
A Paradigm for Change
Ruth Sanford and Barry Witz
I approach with a shiver of anticipation having a part in this international sharing of our "nicest thinking" about the basic philosophy and theory of the Person-centered Approach which has evolved from Carl Rogers' Non-directive Counseling to Client-centered Therapy to the Person-Centered Approach to Interpersonal Relationships. My choice of subject grew out of a remark that Carl made not long ago, that he had written very little about intimacy. I was unbelieving. It was when I began to reread A Way of Being, On Personal Power, and Client-centered Therapy that my initial response was affirmed. As I read Carl's work, as I observe and live in intimate relationships, I find that intimacy in its inclusive sense is very close to the center of the person-centered approach.
Having been reminded by one of my most effective counselors, my daughter, that the form of the presentation should be appropriate to the content, I chose to work with a learning partner, colleague and friend in developing this paper. We have chosen to work together and to include some of our work in its original form.
It is our intent to share with you, the reader, not only the product of our work together, but the process by which it has grown. A part of the process has been to read about intimacy, primarily within the person-centered approach, talk about, it, record our dialogue, listen to ourselves from outside ourselves as if each of us were both the experiencer and the listener, the sharing one and the one shared with. Each began to hear self and the other more clearly.
One day we said, " Aha! The product and the process are one. This is a part of intimacy. We are being together, working together, deeply accepted, deeply accepting, committing ourselves to deep Understanding. We are exploring with our minds. We are with surprising frequency entering into the experience of the other as if it were one's own". As we listened we heard that we were not trying to change the other or become alike in our thinking or arrive at a single "right" definition. We were enjoying and being stimulated by our diversity and using it to clarify, enrich, expand the limits of our thinking and experiencing. When we were confused or unclear in our communication we were wil1ing to stay with our confusion or lack of clarity. If insight came later we found pleasure or excitement at the discovery of a new connection, And in the process, creating communication which flowed quite freely, were finding deeper levels of intimacy.
In what setting, what kind of background was this way of being together possible? Over a period of years our relationship has evolved from that of Client/therapist to graduate student/supervisor, to friendship, to learning partners in a person-centered learning community, to co-facilitators of a graduate course," A Person-Centered Approach to Interpersonal Relationships" in a large graduate School of Education. The course is a living out of the process itself while studying the philosophy, theory, new developments, research
and applications -a learning by the whole person. Both the power and the responsibility for learning are shared by the 11-crofessor", facilitators and learners, including the translation, by the learners, of feedback and self-evaluation into a grade which satisfies the Registrar. We have learned from reading synthesis papers written by participants and listening to evaluation tapes, that without exception every one has felt a closeness, a feeling of being heard, understood, valued which they had not experienced before.
Over a period of four years we have moved from a clear recognition of roles as therapist/client toward a free-flowing wav of being in all aspects of our interaction; increasingly we have been bound by no expectations. From that freedom has grown a flexibility which purists in any one discipline might say could not work.
For us this is a new, fresh dimension in progression from therapy to long-term intimate professional relationship and friendship. If such a blending and flowering is possible in an intimacy which has not involved the physical, sexual intimacy of marriage or lover partnerships, it would seem that our experience presents implications for the nurturing of intimacy in marriage and lover relationships as well.
In my experience, deep sharing of sexual fulfillment in intimate relationships enhances the intimacy and makes possible the release of greater creative power in the whole person - if the expression of sexuality is part of other aspects of an inclusive intimacy which 1 find illuminated, if not defined, in the principles of the person-centered approach to inter-personal relationships.
In this paper we have chosen ourselves as our primary sources, trusting that we are the most accurate and trustworthy sources of information about us and our experiencing of intimacy in a person-centered way of being.
We are inviting you to be present at parts of our dialogue which has continued over a period of several months, and in so doing to become, with us, a part of the process by which this paper has grown. Reading a paper presented in this form may be more difficult, requiring an active involvement similar to empathic listening, entering into our experience. We have not distilled for you or organized in logical sequence the ideas and experiences presented here, choosing rather that you be present, if you will, in our incomplete search for clarity.
By being in this way transparent, we hope to be known as we are, to be open to your responses. In this way the process of knowing and being known, an intimacy in itself, can continue.
More Introductory Remarks
I feel quite excited as 1 welcome you to share our experience. I may not be physically present in the community 4hich will be the forum, but whether I am present there or not, my hope is, for some continuation, encounter and expanding of our present understanding of Intimacy and the person-centered approach as we are presenting it in this paper in the form of responses from some of my old friends and friends yet unmet. I acknowledge that what I truly value on the following pages ( many of them pieces of our dialogue) comes from the richest source of my learnings: The people in my life. As this international community forms, I would like to include you, the reader, among them.
In our experience of being and working in this partnership together I have come to understand a person-centered approach to intimacy as facilitative as a taoistic bi-polar harmonically opposing flow between myself and the other in our constantly changing, mutually arising selves.
Our experience in intimate partnership seems responsive to some hypotheses and questions offered by Carl in A Way of Being regarding separate and multiple realities and communal and societal relationships. He has asked if we " can afford the luxury of having 'A reality ? " Or can we " have a community or society based on this hypothesis of multiple realities (and) ... a common commitment to each other as rightfully separate persons with separate realities". For me these questions are important for personal, dyadic and planetary " intimacy".
In our experiencing of a person-centered way of intimacy we have both facilitated and been facilitated by our separate realities. We have affirmed our commonality and confronted and ultimately prized our diversity. Our process has manifested our potential for expanding our individuated end shared experience. My sense of intimacy has come to include a rhythmic synthesis of mind, body and spirit with that of my partner and a deeper appreciation of the facilitative value of empathy, congruence, acceptance and understanding.
In trusting and celebrating our unique manifestations of our self-actualizing tendencies, we have gained a fuller more expanded sense of our share in the formative and entropic tendencies, holistic manifestations of universal rhythms.
We have experienced constant change. To a high degree our relationship has evolved organismically rather than being limited by rigid internal or external expectations or boundaries. It has helped me to understand that person-centered intimacy thrives in freedom and is nurtured by my commitment to my own personhood and the evolving personhood of the other. I feel somewhat brave to be participating in relationships as open systems - with all of their perturbations and dissipations, always transforming themselves into new and more complex ways of being.
As we progressed in our work together our experiences returned us to Carl's "Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships" wherein he posits the individuals need for positive regard as a reciprocal process. This is an important factor in our way of being together.
I also feel excited and challenged by the question of whether this need is innate or learned. I feel vulnerable as I acknowledge that my experiencing of myself causes me to believe that my desire to feel positive regard for another is an innate part of me, of my actualizing tendency and of the formative tendency as well. I enjoy ending my introduction with a question.
At this point I feel quite complete as I express my very special love for Ruth Sanford.
Therapy, Facilitation and Intimacy
Barry- I have heard you make a distinction between therapy, facilitation and an intimate relationship; in a love relationship you are there more wholly for yourself in equality with the other person but in facilitation or therapy you are there more for the other.
Ruth- I think I have used that more in connection with therapy, which is akin to facilitation in a group. I can be there more intensely with a person for a limited time and can put aside my own needs for a time, unless they are very strong. In that case I have shared them, with the client, but not in detail. I could not sustain the same high degree of intensity as in therapy, in a long term intimate relationship.
B- You can experience that degree of intensity sometimes in a personal relationship but in a rhythm.
R- For me there are periods of being more actively with a person, and then periods of rest.
B- And in a therapeutic relationship you are calling upon yourself to create a heightened opportunity, during the course of an hour.
R- And express my own need only when I feel it would be facilitative of the other person as well. I find it always quite surprising to the client because it "isn't done" by a therapist, but when I have done it the relationship has been enhanced.
B- You mean the sharing of something deeply personal.
R- Or even saying, "I can't be with you right now" or " I'm not hearing you. Just wait a moment or two and !Ill be able to hear you better".
B- So you are being congruent.
R- I am also being empathic with myself.! believe the same can be true in a long term personal relationship; - I can say, "I can't right now, but I really want to. -1 can't deal- with this right now because 1 am feeling very confused myself".
B- I think there is an expectation that both the therapist and the partner should be able to hear deeply all the time.
R- To me it is very important that I don't expect myself to be deeply empathic, fully congruent or to feel unconditional positive regard all the time or I am at fault. It's just that I feel best and more effective when I can be in those ways with a person, and getting better at it.
B- For me intentionality is important; a therapist or a partner who acts within the person-centered approach has the clear intent to be real, to respond intuitively with an empathic understanding of the other. I think part of the underlying philosophy is that our relationship with a client or other is not only non-directive toward that person, but
non-directive toward ourselves.
R- Im not sure I understand...
B- To me it's the difference between a methodology and a way of being.
R- If I'm trying to decide what approach or method would be-suitable, I am not with the other person. On the other hand it can mean that I have been so well indoctrinated with a variety of techniques, exercises, ways of establishing, rapport that I have difficulty unlearning them or it might mean that I am trying to outguess the other per-
son or manipulate.
B- That is what I meant.
R- When I think of the person-centered approach as a way of being, I keep asking the question what part can one learn, or cultivate? Which are skills and which are attitudes?
B- I believe the best way to learn it is to experience.
R- It's like becoming attuned. I was just thinking of it as tuning an instrument. You were talking about metaphors.
B- Go with that a little more.
R- It sounds like something very subtle, like hearing a note or a melody and learning to tune an instrument so that the sound comes out as you heard it. Or when I'm trying to paint a watercolor of a landscape, I'm often "way off" but if I become more sensitive to the colors I'm using and how they flow on the paper and what happens when I do certain things, then I can come closer to capturing at least the feeling of that landscape and perhaps the way it looks to me. And I might not be able to tell someone how I did it. If I then said to you, 'This is how you paint a tree" and you followed instructions, it wouldnt be your tree. By sharing with you my perception of what 1 see and feel, I become more able to see and to communicate clearly and we both become better at what we are trying to do.
B- You can share the way you experience that whole piece of life, and I can experience it by being with you.
R- I'm trying now to relate that metaphor to what we were saying the other day about those moments of transcendence in a therapeutic (or other) relationship by way of openness to the other, being open to the other. You used the term "keeping the channel open." It could be a tuning in to the message of the- other.
B- You are the instrument.
R- The other person can also be the instrument. That's where the attuning comes in.
B- So the sound is being sent from one finely tuned instrument to another.
R- And receiving a response.
B- Take in the sound and respond with my own resonance.
R- I believe active listening can be learned! It is a discipline and an art.
B- Can congruence be learned?
R- It can be practiced if 1 become more and more aware of my realness. It can be experienced. But can it be taught?
B- I feel that in some way I have learned the ways of congruence from you, because you have been congruent with me. It has also come about through my readings about congruence in Carl's writings. 1 understand cognitively what congruence is but I can know it only in terms of my own experience. And unconditional positive regard - 1 can read about it and think about but unless I have experienced receiving it myself I can't truly give it to someone else. 1 think if unconditional positive regard can be taught at all, the way of teaching it would be to feel it and give it to the other person.
R- A shared experience, deeply shared, "deeply understood, deeply accepted", and I would add, deeply valued. Carl was writing about conditions in a relationship which bring about change. To me it is a statement about conditions for intimacy as well.
B- if we were to define intimacy, would that be yours?
R- Define? I'm not sure. But this is what 1 wrote when 1 first began thinking about intimacy and the Person-Centered approach:
Intimacy is a way of being with another person, a reaching for the outer limits of possibility for that relationship in which two persons can be in a state of openness and trust, while plumbing the deep inner reaches of shared experience. That is two movements at once. It may be primarily an intimacy of minds probing the unknowns of the universe or of human potentia1, baring and sharing the keen exercise of their intellects, the joy of exploration. it may be in the wordless mingling of composer and artist in the creation of a symphonic performance. in moments of transformation when the therapist "locks in" or "enters the experience of the other as if it were his own", they are transparently open in an intimate relationship. I have seen that happen between Carl and a client in a demonstration session, in half an hour. The client experienced a shift which is positively affecting her life. Intimacy is not usually defined this way.
B- You are defining intimacy as evoking a relationship of mutual trust and openness and sharing the deep inner experiences. Are you implying that is usually thought of as relating to sexuality?
R- Yes, in legal terms, and quite often in general conversation.
B- This says a lot about our culture.
R- So we have been limited by this distortion of a sense of intimacy, just as we are limited and crippled by a societal distortion of what sex and sexuality mean, or can mean, in relation to the wholeness of a person.
Wholeness in Intimacy
B- One of the paradoxes for me is that in the moments of letting go and being with that other as if I am that other, I am also in those same moments most deeply in touch with my own selfhood. To become intimacy, a relationship needs to celebrate and nurture the separateness, the wholeness of each person in the partnership. As you say, there is a rhythm of being together and apart.
R- What you just said about wholeness of each person reminded me of what I wrote about the concept of romantic love '. "You are the only one in the world for me", makes me feel frozen in time and space. It says to me that we were created to complete one another rather than for being who we are with the freedom to become more and more our own unique person. It says to me that I am not a complete person; you are the other half of me. In what direction, then, can 1 grow without splitting myself, ourselves, apart? In an intimate relationship, each of us needs to have and to develop a sense of self so that neither gets lost. Then the relationship becomes more than the sum of its complete parts. Now we are getting into mathematics!
B- There is risk in that.
R- That you might not find or maintain "the closeness if you are open to losing it rather than losing yourself
B- That is the risk. It feels like a courageous act to attempt to facilitate a person-centered relationship over a period of time..
R- And the more intimate it becomes, the greater the risk. You can risk the losing of something very rare and precious, if the other chooses to grow in a different way, or to do it apart. This is very real for me. Yet I find that when I dare so to risk in a very intimate relationship it usually becomes richer. I also know that it might change end 1 would feel loss and deprivation.
B- Each day that I love and grow I leave something behind, something that I cherish.
R- What I was doing was to recognize a contrast between nurturing an intimate relationship and accepting the traditional way of seeing a love relationship as "falling in love". That expression means to me that the one who "falls" is giving away control, becoming powerless and less than her/himself. How can an intimacy between whole persons be nurtured under those conditions?
B- It is the feeling of incompleteness that generates fear of loss, a
dependency which is a form of slavery, perhaps mutual. My choice is limited then. I can keep myself within me or can enslave myself to another.
R- If that were true of a close relationship of which I am a part, I would feel very protective of my possession. I would be wanting the relationship to be exclusive or I couldn't stay in it.
B- Possessiveness and jealousy, yes. Carl in On Personal Power (page 54)
makes some very clear statements about jealousy in marriage and quotes Rollo May, "Jealousy characterizes the relationship in which one seeks more power than love," and the O'Neills, "We do not believe jealousy has any place in an open marriage." Carl admits to more uncertainty and poses his own question about the origins of jealousy. Does it result from cultural conditioning or has it some basic biological foundation? Carl continues, "To the extent that jealousy is made up of a sense of possessiveness, any alteration in that feeling makes a profound difference in the politics of the marriage relationship."
R- It has been my observation that many long-enduring exclusive marriages are not marriages of intimacy. Two persons can live together for thirty years and not understand, accept or value one another. They may live in the same house and create children, and essentially be strangers or enemies or competitors, with damaging results to all concerned.
B- Then a marriage or partnership in which intimacy is valued has, in Carl's words again, permanence only if partners are committed to each other, are in good communication with one another, accept themselves as separate persons and live together as persons, not roles. This is a new and mature kind of relationship towards which many couples are striving:
Commitment in an Intimate Relationship
R- I have trouble with the word commitment. Its Commitment to one another as a "forever" with which 1 have difficulty. But saying, "This relationship is very precious to me and I commit myself to grow, encourage the other person to grow and to nurture a deepening intimacy in our partnership. That, for me, is the kind of bond, commitment, which I choose.
B- That is the kind of commitment you and Niel have been living in your marriage partnership.
R- Yes, and some people have had a very hard time with that. I feel that the culmination of the kind of intimacy which we have nurtured for many years has been reached in our agreement for Niel to go to Thailand with the Peace Corps for two years while I stay here and go on with work which is very important to me.
B- Honoring your mutual commitment to your separate personhood. For me, the formal ritual or legal commitment relates more to fear - it is a way of protecting oneself against loss.
R- Feeling that we must stay together because we promised, or acknowledge that we have failed. Not so common as it was twenty years ago. We have been talking about the "necessary and sufficient conditions" for creating intimacy in a relationship. That's a famous quote, with a different ending!
B- Are they the same as for bringing about personality change? Can it be as simple as-that?
R- Not simple. I almost saw a simplistic difference, but even as I began to speak of' it, I saw another similarity. I was going to say that in a therapeutic relationship, especially, there may be a wide disparity between the degree of empathy, positive regard and congruity in the two persons involved whereas in a marriage or intimate personal relationship both would be more nearly equal in their person-centered skills and attitudes. As I look more carefully, 1 see that in marriage or closer relationships of different kinds the disparity may be as great, but with only one person aware and sufficiently committed to nurturing the process of creating or sustaining intimacy, the other can change as well. It is more subtle than the client-therapist relationship, more complex and, in the long run more demanding. As the relationship grows and expands, the disparity may become less. It may be a very long and painful process and may not bring intimacy to fruition. That is part of the risk. But, in my experience, if intimacy flowers under those conditions, the rewards are beyond imagining.
To me the capacity to love and be loved is crucial, the sense of self which can accept love as well as give love. We are back to the sense of self and "Where does that come from?"
B- I want to explore the sense of self which you just brought up, but I
am still with the differences between the therapeutic and the on-going love relationship. 1 think that the sharing of common interests may be one of the differences. In a deeply personal or love relationship I believe a certain amount of shared philosophies, interests, joys, ways
of being are important, with an acceptance of limitations and diversity... a celebration of diversity. But I wonder if it could be based entirely on diversity. I wonder if a long term intimate relationship based entirely upon trust, empathy, congruence and unconditional positive
regard between persons otherwise completely diverse could exist.
B- Where would empathy come from? Or the willingness? Essentially there
has to be willingness to nurture the relationship. And with complete
or almost complete diversity, how would it be possible for either
to enter into the experience of the other as if it were his/her own"?
B- Diversity can be very stimulating if you have something more to go with it, but I'm coming back to the belief that in order for a long term intimate relationship to be facilitated the potential for sharing of interests, joys and life experiences must be present.
R- I think we are saying that something more lasting and substantial than an initial "falling in love" is essential as a potential for intimacy. I accept that. For me, lasting friendships and professional relationships have been based on wide overlapping, areas of common interests and values. If this weren't true in a deeply personal relationship
as well, I would find only physical sex or common tasks to hold us together - not really satisfying. I would need to go outside to find nurturance for all other parts of myself. That doesn't feel like intimacy to me.
B- Nor to me - Im ready, to go back to "the capacity to love and be loved."
R- When I spoke of that I was referring to love in its deep, inclusive sense, capacity for growing into or in love. In Client-Centered Therapy Carl wrote, " 'Love' has here perhaps its deepest and most general meaning that of being deeply understood and deeply accepted." He was presenting one hypothesis regarding the process of therapy, and yet I believe that love in this sense is essential to intimacy - at least the intent to become more accepting and understanding. Now I ask again where does the capacity to love and to accept love come from? Does an apparent lack of this capacity in some persons mean that they can never enter into intimate relationships - a fear that some of my clients have expressed. Why do some persons find loving so easy and others find it difficult or "impossible"?
B- I was about to say that I was born with it, but I'll ask a question: Are we born with potential for loving or, are we born loving? I am not sure. We were born with the organismic potential, the gestalt of loving; focused consciousness of loving is developed in interaction with significant others.
R- Born loving? Right now I am believing that human beings are born with the potential for love and the urge to reach toward realizing that potential. The opportunities for touching or being touched by significant others can encourage growth toward that potential; denial of such opportunities can hinder or render inoperative the inherent tendency. I very much want to explore your question further.
Sense of Self
R- Even before Client-Centered Therapy, Carl did a study with Kell and McNeil at the University of Chicago - on "The Role of Self Understanding in
the Prediction of Behavior, which has a bearing on the sense of self and the capacity for closeness. The population samples used were two groups of disturbed children and young people. The researchers found, in two Parallel studies. that the one factor which had the most affect on social adjustment - being able to form relationships and make positive contacts with others - was --their concept of self, and that sense of self is alterable by some form of therapeutic relationship
I go back to my own experience, and I believe that because I was loved and knew I was loved as a child, it is easy for me to love and to accept love. It was given to me freely as the air, as being alive. I was not even conscious of its presence. Apparently it wasn't necessarily the people who shaped my values, or taught me what I should know or disciplined me, "for my own good", it was a person who was just with me in funniness and joy and magic and storytelling and jokes - it is my father I remember with feeling, with all of his flaws and what some people called his lack of "character".
B- I hear that what mattered was how you were able to feel about yourself when you were with him - free to be yourself. Unconditional positive regard!
R- And showing as his sadness and feeling of defeat. He showed me all that.
B- He was congruent with you so you could be real with him, and feel valued.
R- For many years this was not in my awareness. Now those feelings are floating up to the surface.
B- I relate your own sense of awareness with what Carl has written about focused consciousness. "What part does awareness have in this formative function? I think of a large fountain , broad-based, with only the tip intermittently illuminated with the flickering light of consciousness, but the constant flow of life goes on in the darkness as well." *
Being in an intimate relationship helps me to increase or expand my focused consciousness.
R- That little peak of awareness precedes the insight which moves further into the dark parts not known or remembered by me. We learn well together.
B- I sensed both the excitement and the fragility of your discovery. One of the things weve been able to give each to the other has been a real support for each other's personhood. It's more than positive regard;
it's a joy in the others evolving and growth. Joy in your actualizing tendency. That's the magic.
R- I see you being that way with Ari, entering into her fantasies, her fun, and respecting her regardless of her age, accepting and prizing her as she is.
B- And anger is a part of acceptance. Remember earlier today you were .speaking of your anger for your mother and how long it took to work through it because you felt such a strong love and attachment at the same time? I realize that one of the things l have been able to do is to facilitate my daughter's expression of anger for her mother and to me, knowing that she can still love and be loved.
R- You are giving her a wonderful gift.
Grief, Separation and Change
B- It is so important to me that I can express hurt or a sense of violation, as well, in a close relationship and be heard. Not comforted, but heard. And from experiencing the loss of a partner, I know how important it is to express my grief and be heard in my grief by the
other. When I feel that a trust has been violated - even a perceived violation - I feel a sense of loss. Then it's really essential, for me, that the partner be able to hear the grief I feel in that loss.
R- Just hear it, without trying to fix it. I remember being with you through the loss of a loved partner, and well-meaning friends who tried to warn, reassure or advise you only added to your hurt and confusion. Fortunately your partner, even in the separation, could listen to you. But suppose that she couldn't or wouldn't.
B- Then your acceptance and understanding as my therapist would have been even more important in reaffirming my sense of self, healing and trusting myself to give love again - be able to accept it and feel love for myself.
R- You suffered deep wounds that needed time to heal and grieve. As I say this I am remembering pain that was very, sharp and deep when a close relationship ended suddenly. I felt loss and grief; I also felt anger that I had been used. I believe the healing process took longer because at that point we had no open communication.
Grief seems to me to be a more significant factor, but anger is part of it.
When in a close relationship, I feel that the other is telling me how I feel or should feel , or- that I should express my feeling In a certain way, then I am angry. I feel unheard and. pushed, get stubborn and resentful. That is damaging to an intimate relationship, particularly if either person is unaware of what is happening-between them.
When you felt unheard you were feeling isolated in your own world and the person who was important to you had no idea what was going on
And what hurt more, didnt care. When that happens, I am very tentative with my trust until I can feel accepted the way I am. I am realizing that it is very important for me that I express my anger and hurt and tentativeness and that I allow and be allowed time to heal and trust.
Time to bridge the estrangement, the lonely distance that is so frightening, so that each of you can believe that the other will not necessarily leave - that you are willing to stay and work it out.
Maybe we are coming at commitment in a different way here. Caring enough for the relationship to wait and let the other heal.
A person who works with couples, or others in close relationships, needs then to focus on and help clarify the loneliness of separation and the importance of trusting their potential for moving back to closeness.
R- This is the point at which many relationships end. There may be a need to go outside the relationship for focusing.
B- And fear of letting an outsider in, almost a fear of losing that person to another lover.
R- The question then is, can each let go of power over the other.
B- In doing that I have experienced the intimate relationship ending, and grieved for the loss.
R- As you became more whole in yourself, you knew the hurt, you felt deprived, you grieved and you were angry, but you know that you would be O.K. and you cam to an awareness, even in your deep grief, that it would not help to rush into the arms of someone else. You chose to find your self first.
B- It took me a long time to learn that separation or dying can be a part of moving toward a more complex level of life. But being able to trust puts a different light on separation, which is a kind of death. I remember that I vas very angry with you when I had been in the midst of feeling hopeless and despairing for a long time and you said that one day I would be able to feel less pain and more joy. That was hard for me to hear!
R- I did not know until just now how angry you were.
B- I wasn't furious but I was angry.
R- Angry that I had taken something away from you?
B- At that moment I was feeling that it could never be. I was living with my grief, accepting it, familiar with it. Now in retrospect, I felt that at that moment you didn't understand, and yet in the month that followed what you said was a significant reference point for me.
P.- But at that moment I was a per-son who was teaching you.
B- You were making an assumption about what I would experience. This
stands out in my mind as it happens so rarely with you.
B- Earlier I heard you my that you believe romantic love can stand in the
way of true intimacy , that an aspect of romantic love for you is the idealization of the person and if I am romantically in love with you, I will see only part of you and I won't accept your personhood; Ill be awestruck and blind to you as a creature of frailties or flaws.
R- Yes, the kind of love exemplified by the Victorian poets in novels and in movies, particularly from Hollywood - and in present day love songs. The implication is that something is wrong if I don't feel that way.
Sexuality And Surrender
R- You raised a question about one facet of intimacy, the physical sex act, and surrender.
B- When you spoke of intimacy, I related it to sexual intimacy.
R- Entering into the experience of the other as it were my own?
B- And being fully real.
R- That, to me releases and permits real spontaneity, which is quite different to me from surrender. At its best it is a transcendence - going beyond what is happening in each person separately.
B- I have experienced that as a part of person-centered intimate relationships as well as in physical sexual union.
R- Sexuality and transcendent experiencing are a part of intimacy in its many inclusive aspects. If sexual union is part of an intimate relationship, another dimension has been added, an even fuller experiencing of the whole person.
B- I have felt that deep and full sexual intimacy to be very spiritual, almost like being in a holy place.
R- And a fun place!
B- Yes! Joyous!
B- The way we have been talking about surrender reminds me of how some people have interpreted person-centered therapy, an being non-directive or laissez fairs. The therapist's role is to acquiesce.
R- Or simply reflect, and surrender her/his own personhood in the client/
therapist relationship. We have just touched into the myth of passivity, of not taking responsibility - "anything goes". Surrender and let it happen, is farthest from my understanding of the person-centered approach.
B- It might be helpful to clarify the differences between responsibility and expectations. In many relationships, persons have expectations, and give the other person responsibility for meeting those expectations.
R- Meaning that I can be responsible for myself but I can't, or won't be responsible for you or for meeting your expectations.
B- But don't we assume that we have a responsibility to help maintain a facilitative environment for our relationship to flourish? Ultimately we have the freedom not to make that choice, but if we choose to, our intent is to engage each other responsibly within the relationship.
R- I am responsible for my part in creating a climate of growth within this relationship but I cannot be responsible for how the other responds. I am responsible for taking my power without exerting power over the other. Sounds simple and direct - but is so complex in the doing!
Being in a person-centered process, in any interactions with others, but particularly in intimate relationships, is, to the best of my ability, being congruent, empathic and positively regarding towards the other and myself. This seems to be the essence of my commitment.
R- That is trusting the self-actualizing tendency, and not getting in the way of the other.
B- And not only acknowledging the entropic tendency but actually being facilitated by it.
R- What could be the tragedy or feeling of defeat at the ending of an intimate professional or friendly or love relationship can be an indication of growth on the part of one or both persons. It is so easy to feel that "the process'' doesn't work or that "we have failed" when changes or a reordering of priorities occur.
Rhythm in intimacy
R- You are aware that for almost two years I have been in the words of some of my friends, "hung up" on the subject of rhythm and I'm thinking now of intimacy as a rhythm existing between two persons who also have rhythms of their own. So when I was reading Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point recently, I noticed especially his interpretation of interrelationship as the rhythm of two persons.
" As in the process of perception, rhythm also plays an important role in the many ways living organism interact and communicate with one another. Human communication, for example, takes place to a significant extent through the synchronization and interlocking of individual rhythms. Recent film analyses have shown that every conversation involves a subtle and largely unseen dance in which detailed sequence of speech patterns is precisely synchronized not with minute movements of the speakers body but also with corresponding movements by the listener. Both partners are locked into an intricate and precisely synchronized sequence of rhythmic movements that lasts as long as they remain
attentive and involved in their conversation. A similar interlocking of rhythms seems to be responsible for the strong bonding between infants and their mothers and, most likely, between lovers. On the other hand, opposition, antipathy and disharmony will arise when the rhythms of two individuals are out of synchrony.
At rare moments in our lives we may feel that we are in synchrony with the whole universe. These moments may occur under many circumstances - hitting a perfect shot at tennis or finding the perfect run down a ski slope, in the midst of a fulfilling sexual experience, in contemplation of a great work of art, or in deep meditation. These moments of perfect rhythm, when everything feels exactly right and things are done with great ease, are high spiritual experiences in which every form of separateness or fragmentation is transcended."
R- Here again is what he has called "the dance of life", a perceiving of the human organism as a separate part of the organismic whole of the universe, separate but whole in itself, reaching its highest points of fulfillment in mutual interdependence with other wholes, in which intimacy appears as a microcosm.
B- That rhythm, dance of life, is inclusive of birth and death, creation and destruction, fulfillment and loneliness, love and violence what Carl has referred to as the dark side, as well as the light side.
A Postscript - Ruth Sanford
As we reread these selected parts of our dialogue, we are missing the fun, the lightness, the laughter, the joy, the moments of excitement and discovery as we found our way into a new-to-us idea, and our child-like pleasure as we played with words. We offer these as important ingredients in an intimately creative way of being together.
When in an intimate personal or therapeutic relationship I find myself trying to "push the (other's) river", I am reminded of Carl's words (A Wav of Being). But what I really dislike in myself is not being able to hear the other person because I am so sure In advance of what he is about to say that 1-don't listen. ... Only when I realize through his protest or my own gradual realization that I am subtly manipulating him do I become disgusted with myself. I know, too, from being on the receiving end of this, how frustrating it is to be received for what you are not, to be heard as saying something which you have not said. This creates anger and bafflement and disillusion.
I know when I try to share some feeling aspect of myself which is private, precious and tentative and when this communication is met by evaluation, reassurance, by distortion of my meaning, my very strong reaction is, Oh, what's the use ?'. At such times I know what it is to be alone". To me, this is an exquisitely clear statement about intimacy, and the rocks on which it can be broken.
I have been a partner in the same marriage for more than forty years. During the first ten of those years, I am now aware, we experienced very little intimacy; we were too busy trying to protect and take care of the other and to meet expectations. We have tried more and more as part of our loving to let each other be whatever we could be as separate persons. In this climate each of us has flourished.
As I have pursued the concept that a sense of self is the factor most closely related to the capacity for intimacy, and that a (positive) sense of self comes about by having somewhere in ones life experience a person or persons who see "that self" as having value and being valued, I feel lifted up! I can be a part of that progression in another, no matter in what kind of relationship. I feel that I am an active part of this world, that my being here makes a difference, that your being here makes a difference.
Looking back to where we set out on this present journey of discovery, it seems that by whatever route, we come back to: the person-centered approach is an approach to intimacy in whatever kind of relationship.
You are invited to continue:
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