Intimacy and power
„In my work with patients I stress that intimacy isn’t monolithic; nor is it always consistent. It is intermittent, meant to wax and wane even in the best relationships. There´s the intimacy between professionals and those the serve – doctor and patient, therapist and client, stripper and regular. While we expect to experience these discrete moments of recognition in ongoing relationships, they are not necessarily bound to any overarching narrative. They can be circumstantial, spontaneous, and without follow-up. I no longer look at relationships as being either intimate or not. Instead I track each couple´s ability to engage in a series of intimate bids tendered over time. ” Esther Perel
´Intimacy and power´ is a practical method – or rather an approach – being developed by the colleagues of In Touch Amsterdam. It has the aim to foster social integration at different levels, to help people to build and maintain healthy relationships with a special focus on close relations. ´Intimacy 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). Elements of practical, mostly embodied techniques from dance, movement, martial arts, fine arts and theatre as well as every-day life rituals and activities (like cooking or gardening) are part of its repertoire. In its approach and working methods ´Intimacy and power´ aims to tackle the challenges of close social relations in their complexity. Beyond its main pillars; empowerment, intimacy and social interaction there are a few more important elements that should be mentioned such as: process-oriented learning, fostering critical thinking, inclusion and systemic focus. As an approach can be used in different contexts such as in pedagogy, therapy or training as well in youth work or in community building. In the following pages we are discussing in detail, few of the key components.
INTIMACY AND POWER – THE FOCUS
In the focal point lies intimacy. We do not provide one single definition of what intimacy is, we rather try to explore the dynamics of close relationships. Intimacy as a terrain where we are operating, where transformation happens and intimacy as a tool, a language through we connect.
Intimacy as a terrain
Whether it is a training, a longer process of learning, social work or coaching, our aim is to reach a certain level of mutual trust, openness, respect and honesty where we become able to share something very personal, where we can be ready even to let our vulnerability being seen. In this space new powerful resources can grow. To reach this quality of togetherness requires a special quality of presence and a ´loving´ (accepting and understanding) attention. We would use the word non-judgemental, but it would not be accurate; we all have judgements; our aim is not to pretend that we don’t or hide them, but rather make them manifest and work with them. This method lies on the belief that personal connection, shared personal experience 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 shared resources, getting connected to others inner worlds. We search for the positive intersections of power and intimacy, where we suspect to discover a source of life energy, liberated ways of self-expression, connection with ourselves and others. There is this ´naïve´, idealistic or let´s say optimistic idea behind this method that we see the child in the adult; where must be a place for honest and free expression of feelings, emotions. We believe that we need to get access to our resources and creativity that helps us to create and maintain healthy relationships with ourselves, with others, with the world around us. We see intimacy not as a static feature of a relationship; instead as a quality of interaction that 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 rather a quality, an essence than something we can create. Our aim is to create optimal circumstances to let it happen.
Intimacy as a subject
Ideally, in a training, a pedagogical or coaching situation 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 we can apply in our relationships. We learn to identify our own patterns and characteristics of intimate situations from our life, distinguish unhealthy and unwanted patterns and learn how to change those by setting boundaries, expressing emotions or recognizing and communicating our needs. An ´Intimacy 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.
Intimacy as a language
For some people to express emotions is done through talk; for others it is not. Bodies speak, too. Being busy with physical work together, watching our favourite TV series, drawing, making music, sitting together in front of the building or silently indulging in cleaning rituals in the Hammam can all be the ways of intimacy. We explore those very personal ways and moments which carry the promise of connection. Raising the awareness of those multiple ways of intimate communication and to develop social and emotional skills is also part of this method. We use different ways to learn 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
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 our method. Power comes from the Latin word potere, which means “able.” But things with power are much more than able — they’re able to exert a lot of force. In society the definition of power is our ability to make our own choices or coerce. Sometimes power means standing strong, but sometimes it means choosing to step aside. Someone with power has (physical) strength or they’re 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, colleagues, among friends, family members or between lovers. Even in a training room it is present, often hidden, unreflected, being attached to certain identity positions (being a member of the majority society just to give an example). Disparities of power pervade our society, and not a day goes by when we can witness to the real fallout of intimate violence. Such as power, emotions, even strong or negative ones, such as aggression, cannot be purged from human interactions, especially not among those who love each other. Aggression is the shadow side of love. It is also an intrinsic component of sexuality and can never be entirely excised from sexual relationships. We aim to uncover dynamics of power and learn to express emotions honestly. The ´ideal´ partnership is said to be one of absolute equality. But the fact is that negotiating power is part and parcel of all human relationships. We recognize it most easily when it´s expressed outright. We try to make them manifest, to examine the tensions, and to redress the inequities. We look at the harmonious imbalances unique to each relationship. Not all inequities are a source of trouble. Sometimes these form a relationship´s basis of harmony. We don´t seek neutralize power; we seek to harness it. Together, we look for ways to express it safely, creatively, fearlessly, and learn how to express it sexually.
HOW DO WE WORK – THE METHOD
Our initial standpoint: nothing is taken for granted. We don´t want to provide one primarily definition but rather encourage to explore relationships, intimacy and sexuality from different angles. We encourage the deconstruction of all the given concepts and terms in order to achieve a better understanding of intimacy as a unique personal experience. What we do in our practice is to help others to understand and think critically about how social and cultural norms, oppressive structures are shaping our life on many levels. We learn together to get rid of all the burdens and oppressing mechanism in our relations, sometimes even in our own behavior. We learn together to discover new resources, new ways of communications after the ´unlearning´ of the old ones. To discover our own free ways of creativity, self-expression, to write new gender roles and new, healthy, empowered ways of sexuality for ourselves. A critical reading and discourse analysis of the media, for example can lead us to understand how unwanted / unhealthy power relations are recreated through the language itself (like guilting the victim, etc.) This approach of power makes possible that victims (both as individuals or social groups) can shape alternative framings: finding their own resources / voices / strength they can come out from their position of victimhood.
Welcoming diversity – social inclusion
´Intimacy and power´ operates in a critical junction; in the heart of our identity, where most of our vulnerabilities even the most painful ones are present. But also, here can we find our most precious resources, our life-force and our power. We are there with our needs, strengths and fragility. Our task is to foster a natural process of growing and find a healthy and supportive environment for them to develop. We need to pay attention to the special needs, and individual characteristics but also their interplay; seeing them functioning in a system. And this system (our social galaxy) is a living one; it has its own logic, rules, ´climate’ but also its history. We pay extra attention, thus, on history, tradition, culture and social norms, all those elements that make up and frame our identity, who we are. We explore culture and diversity – which are often deeply internalized and unreflexive aspects of action especially on the field of intimacy, gender and sexuality. Diversity is always present. Even in the most homogenous group there will be cultural diversity. The interactive approach offers a space to explore the identities that are present, but without forcing them, just to the extent to which the participants carrying those diversities feel comfortable with sharing.
Process-oriented learning – intimacy would ´find´us
In ´Intimacy and power´ there is a special focus on the importance of space and time. Because of the delicate nature of our field where we are supposed to activate emotions, open up our sensitivites, where all kinds of diversities are present not to mention power dynamics, the ´result´ is not always seen at the end of a training. We pay extra attention on creating safe and clear boundaries and frames for the learning space instead of focusing on the content, per sé. Diversity also means that we all arrive to each other from a different life, we all have our own issues, questions, struggles, our own personal processes. The aim is to foster these personal processes, to give something that our clients, training participants can integrate in their life at that stage and to that extent how they need it. We enter to a process together, but the process does necessarily end when we close a session. We trust the process, we trust each other; which also means that as professionals we cannot have the control over what is happening. We are together. We need to be aware of this when we evaluate.
Safe and creative space
Whether a coaching, social work, community building or a training situation our aim is to work with everything that ´reality´ gives us. It´s not a therapy, but we are very close to it. We are working not only with ideas, thoughts but feelings, emotions, personal experiences. We are not discussing our topics ´in theory´ but invite participants for a ´learning by doing´, ´learning by experiencing´ journey. This makes all the topics sensitive; everything can become personal. But we are not anxious or overprotecting because of the presence of sensitivity, just aware of it. One of the ´secret ingredients´ of this method that we work on a very personal level; where we cannot avoid the presence of feelings, emotions. On the contrary, they are welcome. A certain level of their presence creates the rich ground where the learning process empowerment can grow for our participants.
Trainers, professional´s posture
This method is inclusive. There is no such distinction as ´us´ and ´they´; facilitators, professionals are not different from the client. We are together in a process, even in the shortest one. We have different roles, positions and responsibilities in the situation which creates a power dynamic. There is only one thing is important: to make this power difference manifest. As professionals using the ´Intimacy and power´ approach we, as professionals, always need reflect on our own multiple roles, identity positions – how are we present in the situation. We always pay extra attention thus on needs assessment, we make preliminary research if needed trying to understand as much as possible everybody needs, aim, interest, effort; the reason why we are together in this process.
Connection is power – systemic approach
We live in a world where more and more people need to move and live far from their original culture, family, surrounded by growing sense of insecurity. Our traditional values are overwritten by constantly changing new trends, more people lose point of reference, question their values, loose sense of security, sense of grounding and belonging. We live in a world where the basic purpose of life and the deepest life force is in danger. The COVID pandemic showed us how fragile is our society without functioning social connections and resources. Without healthy, living, steady social connections, we easily become weak, anxious, helpless and defenceless; against the power over the powerless, power of money, demagogy, violence and aggression. Intimate Interactional Empowerment has the aim to develop new forms of power; power not over, but for and together with others. By activating hidden or forgotten cultural and social resources, gaining new self-confidence, define personal or group goals by developing and/or activating social systems in order to grow healthy, individually or together.