Finding an Empowering Narrative: Co-Creating Change
“Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product” ~ Berger and Luckman (1966)
“We may be born males or females, but we become men and women in a cultural context” ~ Kimmel and Messner (1998)
“The last thing fish would notice is water” ~ Ralph Linton (1936)
Something that I am keenly aware of is the power of language as constructing our psychological reality. Language creates order, in the sense that it enables us to identify things and create distinctions that allow for shared meanings (ie.we all can point out a tree when given the name). It also enables us to communicate towards desired actions and behaviors (ie.when somebody asks for ‘help’).
This is all fine and good for simple classifications, but humans are complex--and so are their interactions. What these words mean to us will vary depending on our personal experiences and cultural upbringing. Gender identity and norms are among the most nuanced, and therefore, contested constructs. Each one of us will have undoubtedly internalized what it means to ‘be a Man’, ‘Woman’, or in a ‘healthy relationship’ from our family of origin, as well as from what society has either explicitly or indirectly told us is acceptable.
But, unlike other theories which suggest each person is a product of their upbringing, I resonate with the idea that we have some choice and power in shaping who we are. If you look at your own life, you may find that there are certain qualities, values, and behaviors that you have taken on from your parents, whereas in other important aspects you are still very much your own person.
Why this becomes critical in the therapy room is having the opportunity for a client to examine one’s past conditioning through how they present themselves in conversation. It is with this growing awareness that they may realize some unconsciously internalized beliefs of self and the world that are blocking them from genuine joy and connection. Coming to each session with a desire to question ‘what is’ allows space for the growth of a new way of being. Perhaps, even, the person you were always meant to be.
“What a man can be, he must be” ~ Abraham Maslow