‘Community is a synthesis between mutuality and individuality. The truer the community, the more solid the individuals within it. To put it another way, people best achieve individuality in a true community and they create a true community only when they have achieved individuality.
Mystified religious communities are bonded by toxic shame, loneliness, fear, and insecurity. The members have failed to achieve selfhood, and, therefore, are enmeshed with one another. Members give up their will and mind for the sake of absolute security – including a guarantee of a safe passage to heaven after death. Mystified religious communities are collectivities and not true communities.
Mystified religious communities engage in monologue. The authority figure is the one who speaks. There is no real dialogue, no interest in new ideas or new ways of doing things. Matters are never openly discussed. This crushes individuality and makes personal development and growth impossible.
Soulful religious communities are bonded out of individual choice. Soulful religious communities engage in dialogue. They are willing to discuss different points of view. Growth comes through deepening insight and understanding.
True community is not a static entity. It is a living organism, which struggles, makes mistakes, and is willing to change.
We need community because we are social by nature. Our lives began with a mirroring face, a relationship. This primal scene was internalised and, if we managed to achieve healthy separation, became a model for establishing all other interpersonal bridges.
If we were not able to separate, we created a fantasy-bonded self-to-self trance. When we are mystified, we seek a sense of infantile security. Mystified people are not capable of real human community because they have not truly separated and established an identity.
The great benefit of a soulful religious community is that it safeguards a demystification. The community creates a context for feedback. Subjective experience is submitted to the community consciousness. The community demands our presence and provides us with real interpersonal contact. As we know and love the others in our group, we experience their unique maps of the world, and each time we experience a new map we become more than we were….. We feel like we belong and we overcome the aloneness that came with the achievement of separation and identity.’
Creating Love: The Next Great Stage of Growth – John Bradshaw
The writer thinks this has a much wider application than the religious community context about which John is writing. Our society is full of formal and informal collectivities based on mystification, and held together with ‘toxic shame, loneliness, fear, and insecurity’. Judgement, blame and shame meted out to those perceived to have transgressed, or perceived as different; compliance and conformity from those remaining within the collectivity – with the ever present coercive threat of the same treatment if they step outside the requirements of ‘authority’. Those requirements involve sticking to external locus ‘rules’. For some, this model becomes internalized, and they will fight for it with a passion. Others conform through fear. As John comments, such a paradigm:-
‘…crushes individuality and makes personal development and growth impossible.’
The sad reality is that, in our current cultural climate, for the most part we do not support healthy separation or individuation. What is inherently a challenging journey becomes almost impossible in many of our existing social and personal contexts. Without support for the emergence of selfhood, we reach adulthood disconnected from our own deeper experiencing and lacking true community. Without a meaningful or reliable sense of personal identity, we inevitably struggle to form healthy relationships with others (or the planet we live on).
It is, of course, hugely challenging to create true community in such a reality. None of us are immune to our cultures, and we bring cultural expectations (and our mystification) with us into whatever our contexts may be. This service is made possible by the therapists who volunteer here, and we have often described ourselves as a community of therapists – albeit a part-time community, of diverse people, with diverse day jobs, where most of the administration is done by 2 or 3 volunteers with the time/willingness (and therefore many operational decisions are also made by those people). So there are some structural and practical realities, which mean we do not operate as a co-operative or a democracy, although individual therapists have considerable autonomy in their client relationships. And, just as we work with those who come here on person-centred principles, we also work with each other on person-centred principles.
Our in-house supervision is a non-hierarchical, peer-peer, collaborative exploration of the supervisee’s therapeutic work and process. It is founded on values around supporting internal locus and engaging in dialogue. In this, there is a close parallel with therapy – in both supervision and therapy, part of the intention is to expand frames of reference, exchanging fixed perspectives and partial views as much as possible for the ability to walk 360 degrees around whatever we are looking at, so extending the range and meaningfulness of our available choices. It is only possible for any of us to do that where we feel safe enough to explore openly – again, just as in therapy, supervision is predicated upon the supervisor’s offering of the core conditions, in order to create a sufficiently safe basis for emergence.
Person-centred supervision gives priority to supporting the supervisee in their own awareness, personal development and growth – which directly and substantially impacts the depth and quality of relationship they are able to offer in sessions. We invite presence, and authentic engagement. At best, this allows for feedback and real interpersonal contact, just as John Bradshaw describes – which creates a basis for working through whatever may arise, even where that involves uncomfortable feeling, relational tensions or conflict (inevitable in any authentic relationship).
The more intractable difficulties tend to arise if the therapist brings in with them a level of mystification, insecure identity and strong external locus – especially if concealed behind an effective surface presentation of what they think is required of them. We are careful in our selection process, and inevitably there are times where we/the therapist concerned make a mistake, and someone comes here who is not in a place to want to – or be able to – engage in what John Bradshaw terms ‘true community’. That creates a potentially damaging situation for them and for us. We think this phenomenon was in part what led to a profoundly distressing and harmful conflict with a couple of ex-colleagues/therapists in 2012. It has led us to conduct a substantial review of how we choose therapists; how/whether we offer training placements; feedback from our therapists; and their involvement in how we operate. All of that is about – so far as we can – creating an environment for demystification, and so true community.
Here’s the link to John’s book:-
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994