I am struck by the consistent and ever-present theme that relationships are essential for growth and development.
Walking through the woods I come upon a cairn: those sculptures that are carefully constructed of delicately balanced stones. They mark the place where others have been before you and guide you in a direction on your continued trek. As you travel past, you might add a rock of your own making the cairn a dynamic structure. As I’ve travelled on my trail as a licensed professional counselor such “cairns” have dotted the landscape simultaneously providing me with an ever expanding foundation that informs my work and serving as a navigational guide leading me in a direction of other possibilities. I revisit these ideas often assimilating the old and new and reincorporating them into my work.
Pausing and reflecting upon this path of professional and academic inquiry I am struck by the consistent and ever-present theme that relationships are essential for growth and development; that we yearn for genuine connections and that they are essential to our well-being.
Scholars at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute have developed a deep understanding of human relationships called Relational-Cultural Theory, with the fundamental premise that relationships are the central organizing feature of a person’s development and that a healthy sense of self develops within growth fostering relationships. Their work delves into the study of what makes for growth-fostering relationships.
In their book, The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson describe a critical component in a relationship called “attunement.” Attunement is a posture that communicates to another that, “you are interested in what they are feeling inside, not only what they are doing on the outside.” Attunement helps another “feel felt - to know that they are not alone.” Siegel and Bryson explain that, “we don’t want our children to hurt. But we also want them to do more than simply get through difficult times; we want them to face their troubles and grow from them.” Establishing this sense of connection through attunement is paramount for emotional growth.
In yet another field of study, care ethics, the focus is on the caring relationship. As Dr. Barnett, Head of School at St. Edmund’s Academy eloquently writes, “care ethics concerns itself with the caring relation, an attitude emphasizing attentive listening and responses that resonate with the child’s experience.” It is within the context of caring and relational connectedness that we feel heard and valued and, in which, growth occurs.
In recent years, interest and resources have culminated in a staggering proliferation of brain research. Amazingly, the research continues to point to the notion that human beings are wired to connect. In his interview with Krista Tippett of the Onbeing podcast, Dr. James Doty, neurosurgeon at Stanford University says that “when you connect with others and you have an open heart, and you embrace the other as you, your physiology works at its best.”
In our very own neighborhood, Fred Rogers deeply understood that we all learn and grow best within kind, caring relationships.
And so, the list can go on - so many compassionate scholars arriving at the same understanding about relationships. Should you be yearning to further your own understanding about relationships, I’d like to share these resources or “cairns” with you:
The Jean Baker Miller Training Institute: Research related to forming healthy, thriving relationships - www.jbmti.org
Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child.
www.onbeing.org with Krista Tippett - Dr. James Doty - The Magic Shop of the Brain
Mr. Fred Rogers, The World According to Fred Rogers: Important Things to Remember
Martin Buber, I and Thou
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ
Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott, Positive Discipline: The classic guide to helping children develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving.
Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.
Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning - www.casel.org