Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Connection: The Psychological Importance of Social Interaction

July 3rd, 2017 · importance of social interaction

The psychological importance of social interaction is hard to over-estimate.  It’s fundamental to the creation of the individual self.

importance of social interaction

Girls with Heads Together Hugging — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

We live in an age that greatly prizes independence and individualism, the cult of the self-centered and fundamentally disconnected and isolated individual.  It would be a serious mistake if we took these ideas to be the essence of what Jung meant when he used the term individuation.  Jung and subsequent Jungians like Dr. Michael Fordham had a much more nuanced and complete picture than that!

Happy Interdependence Day

Americans will shortly celebrate Independence Day, as Canadians have just celebrated Canada Day.  Such holidays in western democracies are often associated with celebrating individual freedom and unfettered independence. That’s valid, but in our time, it’s equally important to celebrate the web of interdependence existing between human beings, and to acknowledge that interdependence has a fundamental role in creating human individuals.

The importance of social interaction is emphasized by findings in contemporary neuroscience.  To choose one example among many, the 2002 research of Prof. Tzourio-Mazoyer of Université Bordeaux has underlined the vital role of early smiling exchanges and proto-conversation with the mother in bringing online the area in the left hemisphere of the brain that will ultimately become the seat of language.

Neuroscience insights are supported from another scientific angle.  Healthwise, isolation from other people is a recipe for illness.  Prof. Beverly Brummett of Duke University in 2001 established a linkage between social isolation and poor survival in patients with coronary artery disease.  More recent studies have established linkages between low quality or quantity of social ties and depression and anxiety, development of cardiovascular disease, repeat heart attacks, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Individuation is NOT Splendid Isolation

Jungians are famous for stressing the individual as distinguished from the undifferentiated mass.  This is valid, but such “individuation” doesn’t happen out of the blue, nor does it occur with individuals who are social isolates.

Famous English post-Jungian Dr. Michael Fordham postulated the existence of a “primary self”, which exists at birth, but which only develops through the process by which the infant engages and interacts socially with the outside world, most particularly the mother.  Jungian James Astor tells us that only an adequate fit between mother and child enables social development to take place.  This “fit” is an essential beginning to the whole further social aspect of the individuation process in the individual.

importance of social interaction

Eros as a Fundamental Creative Energy

Jung often spoke of what he called eros, the principle of psychic relatedness. To “individuate”, to move towards wholeness as a person, Jung tells us, it’s essential that we live out our eros, that we be deeply connected with other human beings.  Like the best modern writers and psychotherapists, Jung was fully aware that our movement towards psychological wholeness cannot take place if we are isolated, cut off, or atomized.  In the words of the prominent Jungian Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, eros is the attribute that makes humans loving, creative and involved.

This attribute of eros is central to the psychological importance of social interaction.  To be connected, to be involved in a deeply heartfelt way with others, is basic to who and what we are as humans.  It’s crucial to becoming who we most fundamentally are, on our journey towards wholeness.

The seed of our eros is planted in our earliest connections with others.  For the vast majority of human beings this relates to the primary connections with the family of origin.  Often, strengthening the gifts and healing the wounds of early family connections is a key part of the work of depth psychotherapy.

Contemporary depth psychotherapy fully acknowledges the psychological importance of social interaction for creating and sustaining the individuation process of the human individual.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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