There are strong discourses around individualism and psychology has certainly played its part in strongly promoting this notion. Although the systemic therapists, family therapists and narrative therapists, have introduced an acknowledgement of connections into therapy, there remains a huge emphasis on the self – the discovering of, the expression of, the needs of, the true, the false, the destination of. I think that the metaphor of the self, while having some uses, has been elevated to a sanctified kind of position, which creates huge opportunities for failure. The individualistic quest on which we are meant to embark can make us feel very isolated and lonely as well as putting into the background the truth of how connected we are. Also the emphasis on individualism, has I think truncated individuality. If we were to foreground the importance and reality of our connectedness, things might be very different!
I think that we cannot but be connected in all sorts of extraordinary and far-reaching ways with all sorts of people. These connections may be latent or inactive for periods, but they still exist. When I think about the layers and depths and richness of connection that have made me who I am, I am amazed at how the ideas of individualism have often dominated in ways that have made me feel isolated and lonely rather than celebrating an identity that is so densely populated.
How do our homes remind us of the richness of our connections, even if, like me, we live alone? I love the round table that was a wedding present to my granparents. Some of my daughter’s paintings are on the walls. Gifts from friends are all around me. My friend Rosemary is very hospitable and invites lots of people into her home. She has a tablecloth on which her guests write their names. She then embroiders their names on the cloth. I have adapted her idea to my less industrious ways. In my kitchen I have a wall on which people who have eaten with me paint their names. There are a couple of names on the wall that represent people who I would hope never to see again! One of my names is of a dear friend who has died. Some of the names are family, some friends, some colleagues. Some are often in my home, some seldom. The point is that my kitchen wall is a reminder of the stuff of my identity – the people who have made me who I am. This is a very “in your face” kind of reminder. There are more subtle reminders of connectedness such as using particular colours to link the objects in a room, or groupings of objects that are somehow similar.
I hope that in psychology and in our homes, we are more able to foreground connectedness, which is the creator and enlivener of identity, and let the notions of individualism slip into the background.