Two weeks ago I went to Antalya, Turkey, to attend the World Conference on Psychology, Counseling and Guidance, and to give a paper called “Two in a Room Together: Yoga Breathing and Psychotherapy Alleviate Anxiety.”
Attendance was affected by the volcanic ash that closed many of the airports in Europe, but the spirit of the conference was not diminished. Almost all the presenters repeated two messages: the need for maintaining individual identity while connecting globally, and the superior strength of empathic democratic process over authoritarian methods.
These two messages weren’t mere words—they were demonstrated on a daily basis when people sat down to eat together, walk in the beautiful grounds of the convention center, or relax and just talk.
There were very few Americans in attendance. Most people were from Turkey, Iran, North Africa, and the Middle East. The first evening I happened to join a group of psychologists and educators from Iran. We were all a bit stiff at first, worried how international politics might affect international relationships on the individual level, but we were keen to get to know one another and eager to explore theories. I was delighted when they mentioned object relations theory and Winnicott as a favorite theorist—he is my favorite, too.
I made friends with a couple from Russia who specialized in motivation theory. I attended a really wonderful presentation about developing employment opportunities in South Africa. The embracing theme of this presentation was the “holding environment”—in other words, Winnicott again, using psychodynamic theory to help people establish who they are in the world, how they want to live, and how to develop their careers, starting from the ground up.
As I write this, the global holding environment doesn’t feel so secure. The economic situation seems frail in the US and abroad, and many people are out of work. The environment has been severely compromised by a serious oil spill that is polluting much of the US shore line. Volcanic ash continues to halt some air travel and a dangerous bomb was almost released in Times Square. Nevertheless, this past Sunday was Mother’s Day in the US, Father’s Day is coming, and it was International Children’s Day when I was in Turkey—days to celebrate life and be grateful! It’s nice to be reminded to feel thankful on special days—and every day is special.
I have Parent’s Day dreams, global dreams. First of all, I think we’re all mothers and fathers, regardless of our gender and reproductive or parenting histories. I think we each bear within ourselves the seeds of connection with others, the ability to be empathic and to give care, and the possibility of envisioning other people’s thoughts and feelings. Most of all, we contain the sure knowledge that others are as real and as human as we are. Many philosophies and, I think, all religions emphasize connection and kindness. Each of us has something unique to give, and each of us embodies latent possibilities.
As a therapist, I am repeatedly taught how much we all have in common, that what I hate in myself I can see all too easily in others, and that when I recognize the many sides of myself and tolerate all parts of myself, I can tolerate and love others. So I plead for kindness and honesty.
Object relations theory holds that human relationships are the primary motivational force in life, that babies are born seeking connection. We try to relate fully with the other, learn to hold ourselves, and the other person, with respect and compassion, with appreciation for individual differences. Just as we are all mothers and fathers, we are all newborn babies, too, seeking to be close with others, to be held, to hold, to be safe, to help others feel safe— and to create holding environments on individual, familial, local, and global levels.
These are my global dreams:
1. That we can feel our connections with one another.
2. That we remain individuals.
3. That we can be individuals and connected to others at the same time.
4. That these connections are honest and compassionate.
5. That we can be patient and playful.
6. That we can act personally, individually, and collectively, to put these dreams into action on local and global levels.
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