INTImacy Interaction and Power
Intimacy, interaction and power is a practical method — or rather an approach — that was developed by the staff of In Touch Amsterdam. Its aim is to foster social integration at different levels, and to help people build and maintain healthy relationships with a special focus on close relations. Intimacy, interaction and power is inspired by psychology (such as System therapy, Gestalt, Esther Perel András Feldmár) and relies on the intercultural approach developed by Margalit Cohen Emerique. Its repertoire includes practical elements, mostly drawn from dance, movement, martial arts, fine arts and theatre as well as everyday rituals and activities like cooking, dancing or gardening. In its approach and working methods, Intimacy, interaction and power aims to tackle the challenges of close social relations in all their complexity. Beyond its main pillars — empowerment, intimacy and social interaction – there are a few other important elements that should be mentioned, such as process-oriented learning, fostering critical thinking, inclusion and systemic focus. As an approach, it can be used in different contexts such as pedagogy, therapy or training as well as in youth work or community building. In the following pages we discuss a few of the key components in detail.
The focal point of this approach is intimacy, this is especially so when the subject of the training is gender, relationships, sexuality. Whether it is a therapeutic process or a training, we do not provide one single definition of what intimacy is, rather, we try to explore the dynamics of close relationships. Intimacy is the terrain on which we are operating, where transformation happens and intimacy is the tool, or the language through which we connect. Whether it is training, a longer learning process, youth work or coaching, our aim is to reach a certain level of mutual trust, openness, respect and honesty in which we become able to share something very personal, and can even be ready to let our vulnerability be seen.
In this space, powerful new resources can grow. To reach this quality of togetherness requires a special kind of presence and a “loving” (accepting and understanding) attention. It would not be accurate to use the word “non-judgemental”; we all make judgments. Our aim is not to pretend that we don’t have them or to hide them, but rather to make them visible, available so we can work with them. This method is based on the belief that personal connection and shared personal experiences can effectively bridge huge ideological, cultural or religious systemic differences. We can empower ourselves by sharing our personal experiences, by giving access to our inner and common resources, and by getting connected to the inner worlds of others. We search for the positive intersections of power and intimacy, where we may discover a source of life energy, liberated means of self-expression, connection with ourselves and others. There is a “naïve”, idealistic or perhaps optimistic idea behind this method that we see the child in the adult; where there must be a place for honest and free expression of feelings and emotions. We believe that we need to access our resources and creativity which can help us to create and maintain healthy relationships with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us. We see intimacy not as a static feature of a relationship; instead as a quality of interaction that takes place in moments and that exists both within and without long-term commitment. In intimate moments, we can heal, conceive, learn, grow or transform. In intimate moments, we can connect with ourselves and/ or with others; we can get access to deeper layers of our life. Intimacy can happen between individuals or in a group. It can characterise a situation, a place or a process. Intimacy is in this sense more a quality or an essence than something we can create. Our aim is to create optimal circumstances to let it happen.
Intimacy and sexuality as a subject
An ‘Intimacy, interaction and power’ training does not provide a general or theoretical training on gender and sexuality. We always work with what is present: issues, sensitivities, questions, identities which are relevant in our group. Our aim is to keep the learning on a very personal level. Ideally, in a training, a pedagogical or coaching situation, but also in youth work, a certain level of intimacy is necessary, but it does not always happen. Still, with a certain level of respect and trust, we can learn a lot of other skills and practices that young people later can apply in their relationships. We learn together how to identify our own patterns and characteristics of intimate situations from our life, as well as spot unhealthy and unwanted patterns. We learn how to change the latter by setting boundaries, expressing emotions or recognizing and communicating our needs. In the training we do not learn from books but use non-formal, learning-by-doing methods. For some people, expressing emotions is done through talk; for others it is not. Bodies speak, too. Doing things together such as physical work, dancing, drawing, making music, sitting together outside or silently indulging in bathing rituals in the hammam can all be types of intimacy. We explore those very personal ways and moments which carry the promise of connection. Raising awareness of those multiple means of intimate communication and developing social and emotional skills are also part of this method. We use different ways of learning how to express emotions, how to become more aware of body language and how to communicate verbally about sensitive topics such as sexuality.
Power & Empowerment: Transforming power
In the social world, power is a concept with (at least) two very different meanings — “power to” and “power over”. “Power over” refers to the ability to limit the options of others. “Power to” refers to the ability of a person to change the circumstances of his or her life by creating and exercising options. Power is one of the core elements of this method. Power comes from the Latin word potere, which means “able”. But power goes far beyond mere ability — it can exert a lot of force. In society, the definition of power is our ability to make our own choices or to coerce. Sometimes power means standing strong, but sometimes it means choosing to step aside. Someone with power has (physical) strength or is in control of things. Sometimes power means having our say, but sometimes it means choosing to let others have theirs.
Power, in one way or another, is always present in all our interpersonal relations. It has its logic and dynamics in each of our relations; between a professional and client, among colleagues, friends, family members or between lovers. Even in a training room it is present, often in a hidden, implicit way, such as by being attached to certain identity positions (being a member of the majority society, for example). Disparities of power pervade our society, and not a day goes by when we cannot witness the real fallout of intimate violence. Power and emotions, even strong or negative ones such as anger, frustration, pain cannot be purged from human interactions, especially not among those who love each other. We need to understand the motifs behind strong emotions to be able to channel it to healthy expressional forms.