On the 21 and 22/11/2020 the Systemic Society of North Greece and the Hellenic Federation of Systemic Therapy Societies organised an online two-day conference on the subject of “Climate change and the Pandemic: systemic collaborative action in the Anthropocene Epoch” .
In this context, the experiential workshop titled “Belonging” took place. It was coordinated by Katia Charalabaki . The paper and the discussion from this workshop are presented below.
PS.1 : We do not know the names of some of the participants in the discussion, thus they are mentioned simply as “participant” and a number. In case they themselves or other participants recognise who they were, they can inform us of their names and we will aptly rectify this.
PS.2 : There were technical difficulties at the outset of the meeting, which led to a delay of an hour and a half. The technical difficulties were ultimately dealt with and the meeting was extended by one and a half hour.
Paper by Katia Charalabaki
Do I belong? Do I not belong? If I do, where do I belong? What is the “belonging” in my life and the life of those dear to me, or even of my acquaintances?
These questions have come to dominate our lives in recent years, during the coronavirus and its quarantine, but even earlier than that, during the financial – social – political virus that hit out country and the entire world more than a decade ago.
As a therapist I constantly hear:
I keep fighting with my son (we even came to blows), if me and my wife/husband are not swearing at each other, it means we are not talking to each other at all… I have stopped calling the cousins I grew up with, me and my colleagues are either having vicious fights or are cold towards each other, my supervisors keep attacking me in unimaginable ways (I had to take theme to court in order to get the promotion that I deserved!), I connect to my old comrades through anger or even hate…
And many, many more…
I would say that, for us in Greece, the unprecedented situation has brought unprecedented images of people’s relations. We are all “someone else”, a stranger to others and to our self. And a huge body seems to emerge from the depths of the ocean, to surface and submerge, to shake and quiver, to collapse and to roar, like a sea monster that has been brought to the surface by the disintegration of the social and institutional framework.
More specific examples:
- The high school student, loses his/her group of classmates and friends. He/she watches geometry lessons on T.V. alone. He/she does not belong anywhere any more.
- Third year university student. In a culture group. Or in a group of friends where he/she met his/her boyfriend/girlfriend. Now he/she is all alone in front of the computer screen. He/she does not belong anywhere any more.
- Elderly man or lady on a Covid19 hospital bed. At first on medication, then on oxygen. Then intubated. A-l-o-n-e. Approaching death. Hector Malot wrote about a small child in “Nobody’s Boy” (French title Sans Famille literally translated as Without Family) … And here we are today talking about a grandmother, a grandfather from a big family without a family ANYMORE. The coronavirus is extremely toxic: it transcends the boundaries of mental health problems and poisons the space of social anthropology. To physically and morally support the patient, the dying patient, to contribute if possible to preventing the worse is a basic element of European ,and not only, civilisation.
“He needed my help to stave off ruin, and now far from his own land has he fallen” (Iliad Book XVIII). That is what Achilles cries falling to the ground, covering his body in the ashes of the hearth and pulling his hair out when he learns of his beloved Patroclus’ death, – so that his mother Thetis gathers the Nereids to come to his aid. The loneliness of the seriously ill coronavirus patient, (who cannot even be in normal contact with the nurses, as they hide beneath their “space suits”) weighs heavily for every modern day Patroclus. It also weighs heavily, and maybe with long-lasting effects, for every modern day Achilles as well. It leads either to self-flagellation and guilt, or to insensitivity and to extreme selfishness.
Communication channels (not just the mental ones but the physical ones as well) are partly or totally blocked. Zoom and Skype offer a kind of communication (grandfathers and grandmothers become experts in online communication), but cannot have the power of a caress or a heartfelt kiss. The system is not only in entropy. It is on a course of destruction.
It is important to note that similar types of symptoms were manifested after the financial crisis, especially in Greece, where it was severe and long-lasting. We did not have time to draw breath before the next flood came in. With more grave, perhaps, consequences.
In my opinion the thing that is mostly in danger is, what I call, “belonging”. Not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of taking part in the collectiveness of solidarity and empathy, of family and of society. The landscape that we would wish to be green and full of life, is gradually more reminiscent of a dry field full of uprooted plants.
But I should not be so negative of what I perceive as a therapist and also as a person. For there are also different narrations from our patients, and from our own experiences. It is the concept of “hope” that presents itself in our dreams all the more frequently.
And these positive exceptions comfort us, make us rejoice and dream, make us hope and try to contribute (as therapists but also as people) to the emergence in our lives of a better family, friendship, work, social, and political “belonging”.
Especially we, family therapists, who view the person as part of the whole, have an important part to play here.
During the first stage of the pandemic, as we were all treading unfamiliar ground, having lost our sense of direction and feeling like being drugged, as communication channels are starting to break down, and a quarantine and isolation culture begins to build up, these two initiatives (and of course many more which we are not familiar with) resist, create, build new communication channels. They seek a different system, based on honesty, confession, companionship, and fearless communication. It is not easy to publically answer questions like “how much are you afraid?” or to openly discuss your dreams, even under a pseudonym.
For us, systemic therapists, the goal is to help our patients function normally within a system whether it be that of the family, of work or of friends, by attempting to bring certain feasible changes to it. Now, after two deep crises back to back – severe austerity and the pandemic- our goal is even wider. It requires bold, deep changes and radical alternative solutions.
In today’s meeting we will share experiences and concerns regarding the subject of “belonging”.
Manolis Tsagarakis : Katia, let me share a few thoughts… Your view of “belonging” has a dimension that we usually look for in external factors, especially in the framework… That is to say that, it is common and also easy, to view “belonging” as having to do with society, family, our ideology, and other institutions… This is the external dimension of “belonging”, which today, due to the distancing conditions of the pandemic, has been affected in many ways. There is also however another internal dimension that defines it differently. And we know all too well from our profession that in depression, a person in this kind of condition, finds it very difficult to belong somewhere, but mainly his greatest difficulty is that he cannot belong to himself. Thus, in short, I would say that in order to be able to belong someplace, it is essential to know our self and to be able to belong there. “Belonging” outside ourselves used to provide us with a convenient position. To belong to a family or to your profession defined a position in society or a professional position… It was something that was defined and was accepted by society. Today, this cannot happen if there is not a simultaneous process of internal understanding of one’s self. And of course I include emotions it that as well.
Katia Charalabaki : I think that this point of view is very interesting… But I would have to say that it is the external “belonging” that has collapsed today. Beginning from society and moving on to the family. I think that the internal “belonging” is still functioning therapeutically. For instance we hear from our patients, who are experiencing this crisis very harshly, descriptions of their dreams… Dreams they had during quarantine. There are of course nightmares as well. But there are also so many dreams that have a redemptive element, something optimistic, that suggest something good… And dreams are our unconscious, our deepest internal “belonging”, isn’t that so? That is why I say that the internal “belonging” may function therapeutically against the disintegration of the external “belonging”. If, of course, the internal “belonging” also collapses, it is a different matter that we, as psychiatrists, will have to investigate.
Efrosyni Moureli : May I speak? I would say that as far as my relationships inside my family go, I have much more fervour and sensitivity than before… My anger is directed outwards… it is directed towards the government, towards capitalism, away from the family, away from those I know and love. I am fortunate to belong to two collectivities, for years now. One is the Social Solidarity Clinic of Thessaloniki and the other is the committee against gold mining in Chalkidiki. I have the following experiences: With the second one we made a tremendous opening as we were invited by Turkish environmental organisations alongside Cypriot environmental organisations to speak about the topic of mining and the possibility of war. And that was an amazing thing, we all felt that suddenly we became active. With the Social Solidarity Clinic, which started operating 9 years ago, at the beginning of the crisis in 2011, we converse, we have online meetings and we recently agreed to provide primary healthcare, psychotherapy etc. to the artists of Thessaloniki. A couple of days ago one of our colleagues died of Covid-19. A psychiatristthat was a very important member. I wrote some things describing what this person was to us. We found a picture of him to post. We discussed with each other. The feeling of connection I had was unimaginable, how much we understood each other, how much we felt that we were together forgetting that we were all in our homes… We could have been in his place… And I haven’t felt that kind of emotional participation in my family… A few words “Byron (the deceased) did that”, somebody posts a verse, someone else posts something else… It is amazing… We have been in the Social Solidarity Clinic for nine years, and of course we have been working together but we also have nine years of conflicts… Tremendous conflicts… We stayed together, but we had conflicts… So, what happened yesterday and the day before, that was “belonging”… Real “belonging”, at that moment in time you were with the others in bereavement… The Social Solidarity Clinic team is of course all about solidarity, so we might be divided by competition but not by money, profit or petty interests.
K.C : You are talking now about the greatest of all losses. But there are also losses that are not “the greatest loss”, yet they are still important. I will give you an example: A few days ago, my youngest daughter, who is an adult and has moved out years ago having made a home of her own, suddenly asked to come home and stay in the basement- which is separate from the rest of the house. She stayed for three days and then said “I will come again if there is another quarantine, I felt very at home here”. It was because she returned to a place where she recalled her “belonging” and she expressed it. She even said “I took some books I found there and some old clothes etc.”… She described a return to a “belonging” that resembles the small medicines we seek out and find in our lives…
Dimitris Magriplis : The exact same thing that Katia described happened to me also. Our daughter came and stayed at the upstairs apartment that is separate from our home. I think that we experienced the same emotions and had the same situation in our family… And the second thing is this unexpected thing that happens in workplaces with us health workers, especially in hospital wards or patient intake facilities. When you are dealing with a dangerous situation you really want to be open about it, to share it with the team, to speak honestly about it, to trust, regardless of any differences, and to hold on to this “I belong to a team that works with people”. We are vulnerable, we are sensitive as well, we face the same danger, and that means that we can feel the other person’s anguish. And all this must be shared… that is what is important. To not shut down, to not move towards the other extreme, where the neurosis of omnipotence, the habit of targeting others, paranoia or conspiracy theories lurch.
Participant 1 : May I say something? All the things we are talking about make me think that no matter how things are, people need people… Whether they are in denial, or in a difficult mental and emotional state not knowing where they belong, being with people is what makes them begin to realise where they can belong… To understand that they need to belong… Something that is familiar definitely contains them, contains us… So people need people in different ways, whether it be in denial, loss or need… This is what I had to say… Thank you…
Participant 2 : May I share some thoughts as well? From what I hear and understand it is as if “belonging” provides us with security, and as you mentioned, the example of the daughter returning home, maybe because the family of origin is the first that provides security – or maybe not. And then how we, as adults, have to constantly create a “belonging” that will at first remain in our core, inside of us, but will we get the support necessary to create that? Is it the family of origin that initially provides us with security for this “belonging”?
K.C : I think that we do need to create this “belonging”, but at the same time we need to seek out the “belonging” that other people will create for us. That is to say that there needs to be a reciprocity, it is not a one way street. If we only create “belongings” we will end up becoming mother Theresa… In reality we need to receive and to give “belonging”… Now this example with my daughter, gives out a sense of nostalgia I think… A return… It is like dreams, when we dream of something beautiful etc. it is a return to the time and a place where this “belonging” existed… These of course are not permanent solutions, they are short cures, so to speak…
D.M : I would like to point out a small difference here, using another example, Katia: As you know health care professionals that may have come into contact with a Covid-19 case want to return to work as soon as they get a negative test back.
K.C : Is that so? That is very interesting…
DM : I mean they have the test and if it is negative – because of course if it is positive we have a different situation- but if it is negative they want to return after seven days and share what’s happening. Which goes to show that it is not only family, there are other settings as well that make us seek them out.
E.M : But we also have imaginary “belongings” beyond the real ones. I, for instance, place myself alongside the anti-psychiatrists that have existed throughout history. And thus, when I function as an anti-psychiatrist I imagine myself together with all those whose convictions and actions are anti-psychiatric. What I mean is that there are many “belongings”, and maybe the real ones are more vital, but the imaginary are also alive, the political ones, the ones that place us somewhere in this world…
M.T : What you are saying, Frosso, makes me think… let me add something to what I was saying before. I will borrow an equality formulated by Foerster, which I think is very contemporary. It was formulated maybe forty years ago but it enters today’s reality renewed… He talks about this equality and ends up talking about identity saying “you and I, but our relationship also, equal an identity”. In the relationship we include the surroundings, all the contexts we are talking about, the real ones and the imaginary ones that of course define an identity. “Belonging” is connected in at least one dimension to an identity that is “an identity with the other person, with other people, inside the context where we live, but at the same time it is also a personal identity”. There are two dimensions that I would say intersect in a unique way. And on cannot exist without the other. However, in order to have substance, this “belonging” needs a constant effort from our part to distinguish our diversity. Frosso, you spoke about conflict, but as these conflicts are usually symmetrical, I would say that through them we are also seeking our differentiation. Not only because we want to achieve a status or to prevail, but because it is through that that we will exist… In Bateson for instance, in the primitive latmul society people were having ceremonial conflicts with each other in order to realise that they were different. It was an archetypal way of external differentiation, which reaches our society with an internal subtlety. Thus, we are talking about such identities and polyphonies that when they are differentiated they can really give us a “belonging” both on the inside and on the outside.
E.M : I think that we really cannot exist at all without a “belonging”! In these collectivities for instance, particularly in the Social Solidarity Clinic which was large, we would have meetings of, let’s say, 100 people and there would always be smaller groups of people that would agree with one another… And then the conflicts were among the groups not isolated individuals… Everyone would have their group, it was like always finding a womb to be inside, like the biological descent comes from being inside a womb, we have never been alone, we have always been inside something… Inside our mother, inside her womb, inside her embrace, inside the family… And when you do not have one you either imagine one, or you create one with friends and comrades… You look in the eyes of people, you search for those who see you in a positive way, for those who say “yes” to what you are saying… Even when you are giving a speech you looking to find “who sees you”, and in your mind you instantly form a group which accepts you and in which you belong… You are not standing against everybody, standing against chaos alone… I do not know of a circumstance where somebody will be unable to form a “belonging”…
M.T : Maybe it is love… And maybe it is peace, peaceful approach… I think that the systemic approach, from a point in time onwards, enters a dimension that not only resolves conflict but also synthesises diversities. According to Maturana, the emotion of love has a biological dimension and exists in social relationships through accepting our fellow human being. I think that these two things help us belong…
K.C : Since you mentioned it Frosso, for me the Social Solidarity Clinic brings to mind the Nazi occupation and the resistance. That is to say the concept of heroism, the concept that “I don’t belong to this lesser group of people, I am better than that to the point that I can even be a hero”… Which of course has double meanings. On the one hand of course it is liberating, but on the other hand this “I don’t belong in this lower position” creates certain illusions I would say, that “I am the hero therefore I am fine”… However we should not forget that heroes also need to go to the toilet like everybody else…. Ultimately we are all the same, our nature is the same, even if we are heroes in the morning we will go and defecate… That is what I want to stress.
Niki Mouratidou : Can I also briefly share my thoughts on that? I have grown up abroad, I was born and raised in Germany, so as I am listening to all this now I believe that humans need by nature to belong somewhere. I recall that I was always trying –because I attended a German school where I was the only Greek- I was trying to feel that I belonged in that group. And I always tried very hard to achieve exactly that, despite the differences that we mentioned earlier. But I believe that humans are always trying to find “where they belong”. And through time, the conditions are such that we end up to what Mr. Tsagarakis said, which I think is very important for all of us to understand, that we belong to our self… I think that is very important.
K.C : I would like to add to what Niki is saying that I too attended the first two years of elementary school in England, in London. One time my teacher told me to take a black classmate to the principal’s office because he had misbehaved. So I took this black kid to the principal, feeling wonderful. At that moment I felt “I am something”. Because for the first time I was superior, I was not the foreigner that I had been up to that point. I was like the rest of the white people and I was taking the “different one” the black to the principal.
E.M : I don’t know if being “inferior” or “superior” was what mattered, as much as that they considered you as one of them…
K.C : It’s precisely that… At that particular moment “I was with the whites”.
Katerina Theodoraki : So there is not just one “belonging” there are many “belongings” that also change through time. In the same way that we have many selves. We are all polyphonic creatures. Thus at any given moment in time we coexist in many “belongings”.
K.C : Yes this is absolutely right, the “multiple self”… And psychotherapy sometimes helps us approach different sides of the different selves of our polyphonic self. Psychotherapy and introspection.
E.M : I don’t view the multiple self as pieces connected to one another but as sides of us that are penetrated by basic desires in all their multiplicity. That is how this feeling of unison that we have is achieved. For me, the political aspect is something that permeates every facet of myself, or let’s say, my selves. It is not a self that fits with today’s working conditions, it does not have an endless flexibility that fits with capitalism. We have elements that complete us, that, to an extent for everybody, complete this multiplicity that we are.
K.C : I think, however, that now in these times of crisis this multiplicity functions through fragmentation instead of unity. At least this is my experience. That is to say, that different aspects of our self remain separate and do not unite into one. And this of course is painful for the human being, it is excruciating.
K.T : Yes, but in order to build something else – as the crisis demands that you build something new- you need to tear something down. Thus, you need to be fragmented (maybe this is not the most appropriate term) in order to be able to build something else, something new that will contain this crisis we are experiencing. I don’t know if fragmentation is necessarily only negative, it can be positive as well…
M.T : I think that when we deconstruct a reality, we do not fragment it… There is a difference between demolishing something that has been built rigidly or wrongly, and the existence of a reality that I gain through life and through my experiences, which may be recorded in our intellect, in our mind, in groups of information that may be distant from one another and unconnected. So this unity may come about in a positive manner, as we mentioned. So, deconstructing certain dysfunctional situations is different than recording unconnected things. Therapy, sometimes, also helps in regards to this. When this unity is achieved, different meanings are created. And these unities might not be linear like moving from a to b, like for instance going from Larisa to Thessaloniki and making stops in between (a, b, c), they may be a, z, or f, d. These unifications happen in an unpredictable manner, on the same or different levels and we do not know whenin therapy they will happen. What I mean is that unification is a biological function, an integration that also becomes possible through the relationship. We become complete as biological beingswhen we relate with another person. Not only as social beings.
K.C : Yes I agree. But this unity needs time to come about, it is not instant...
M.T : Of course, it is not like… having an appendix that you remove.
E.M : But maybe the social aspect of unity is of utmost importance, not only for “belonging” but for other reasons as well that I hope we will be able to cover in this conference. Katia is right in that there has been a further segmentation of society. There are the poor, the unemployed, the young living with the elderly, everybody has their own pain in this situation… The older people who are afraid, the children who want to play but cannot… Let’s imagine, like you said Katerina, that we create something new. Let’s start making solidarity movements in our neighbourhood in order to battle this segmentation that the virus and our different survival skills create on a social body with multiple inequalities. I think that this is where new “belongings”, in the sense that you are talking about, can be created. There are ways to do this. Individualism, which has been praised so much throughout our lifetime, even though we have been criticising it, remains victorious to this day, but if we find such a way as to abolish it now there might be something new… For instance, there are elderly people in my neighbourhood that don’t have anybody younger to do their shopping for them. So there were a few students that started shopping for them. This changed a situation and it was also communicated so quickly through the small super market that I feel that in my area we just started becoming a neighbourhood.
K.T : Yes this is interesting because there are new types of sociability emerging. The question is whether they will continue to exist after the crisis or if we are going to become estranged again.
D.M : Let me remind you that for systemic thinking there are the so called “transitions”, transitional fields or levels as we call them. Whether you want to call it “crisis” or you want to call it “change” or “differentiation”, if we turn back time we will see that it is what happened automatically during the financial crisis. It is not only the coronavirus. Thus, a system that was in “crisis” moved automatically, strengths were disseminated, and some people came together in numerous activities. Social clinics, grocery stores, pharmacies… And thus, today the system is mobilised once more in the next transitional field, a collectivity of people that are close together, either physically or ideologically or in their convictions or their dreams. There is a new co-construction. And based on that, our total differentiations is possible. That is the entire process, if one can put it in a continuum. That is how I see it. I will be differentiated again in the new things that are coming in a manner made necessary by adaptability, effectiveness, assistance, solidarity etc.
K.C : Dimitris, since you referred to the topic of the previous socioeconomic political crisis I would like to express a thought. We mentioned earlier that there is a class issue with the coronavirus as well. But I should comment here that during the financial crisis the entire world and Europe in particular went through a huge crisis. During that period Greece became a black sheep for Europe, a scapegoat. As it is in families with a schizophrenic member – we family therapists see families going through a crisis and a child develops schizophrenia. Hethus becomes a scapegoat for the family in crisis. It is exactly what we went through during the political crisis. But this is not the case today with the coronavirus. It is only the case on a treatment level, regarding treatment opportunities. But there is no class issue at play regarding contracting the virus. The prime minister and president of Great Britain and the USA got it. Priests and bishops got. I mean, the only way that class is an issue here is regarding treatment.
D.M : No Katia, class also plays a role on the extent of the biological damage that will be suffered and the treatment of the infection from the virus. Because of course a king and a pauper both had it, but class plays a roleon the gravity of the symptoms and the consequences.
K.C : Yes, the consequences…
E.M : No, it does from the outset because they don’t have the same health… The pauper that has accumulated toxic substances by eating unhealthily, by sleeping in humid basements does not enjoy the same health, he has a different starting point in the covid disease race. He sets of very differently. There may be many people living together in a small house. Dimitris Magriplis mentioned that his daughter moved to the upstairs apartment, your daughter Katia moved downstairs, but I also know many people who only have two rooms.
K.C : That is correct, you are right…
E.M : They cannot keep the elderly isolated, so class enters the picture in a variety of ways…
K.T : Yes, health is affected by class. The rich have better health and the poor have poorer health. This has been proven by research.
E.M : I have a job that I can comfortably and safely do on my computer, while other people need to go work on a building site or a canning factory were they do not take any measures at all…
K.C : Yes Frosso, but there are exceptions as well. Theodorakis’ daughter for instance. You read her story, right? She posted that she doesn’t even have enough to eat, she doesn’t have anything… What is happening is a tremendous change. The daughter of MikisTheodorakis not having enough to eat… It is an incredible tragedy…
E.M : Margarita? The famous Margarita?
K.C : Yes, the famous Margarita… This is a tremendous change in our society.
D.M : Yes it is extraordinary… But what Frosso said made me think of something else. Think also of all those who do not suffer from covid, all the other patients… Of course, they won’t go to private hospitals since they don’t have the money for that… You know that surgeries have been postponed as well as visits to outpatient wards etc. etc… In a little while “Sotiria Hospital” will operate as a hospital exclusively for covid, and do you know what that means? That I don’t know where they will treat the rest of the respiratory cases (the non-covid ones). And this is an issue for people who suffer from other health problems and must have access to public health services, primarily cancer, neurosurgical problems and trauma as well as pancreatic and liver diseases requiring surgery. Class also play a role there, and I worry for this group of patients. And there is also confusion here. There is a difference between vulnerable groups and sensitive groups. The groups we mentioned earlier are vulnerable: the unemployed, the elderly, the Romani people, psychiatric patients etc. The sensitive groups are those that I mentioned now. And we do not know what is happening with these people, there are no data. It is very disconcerting… And I also don’t know how we could intervene. I don’t know, do people that have completely abandoned their health, dental health or anything else, visit your offices, your practices? And there are also psychiatric problems, which coexist with the physical ones. I am very worried about this and I wanted to share it with you…
Participant 3 : May I also share some thoughts? I am a social worker training in systemic therapy so I can give my professional view. I am very glad to be here today discussing about “belonging” because I agree very much with all the things that were mentioned, and especially by Mrs Frosso, about being excluded, about the reality of “not belonging” and the social, mental, financial, political consequences this has. Because I come into contact daily, with vulnerable and sensitive groups that are excluded from the community socially, politically and financially. Refugees, single-parent families, Romani people, mentally ill people… And I want to say that, unfortunately, when the system itself and society excludes you from very basic fields like Healthcare… Refugees, for instance, did not have the right to access the Health system for eight months, they did not have a social security number. Or if somebody is living in a facility outside the city and does not speak the language, let’s say for instance, they were not informed about the pandemic, except by the people working in the NGOs. The message was in Greek. So for me, excluding someone from the possibility to belong somewhere is very important, and it is very interesting to see how class plays a role in treatment, prevention, access to healthcare, treating health problems, when for instance there are many people living together in very difficult situations, and they do not speak the same language, they are illiterate… Or when a student is absent because he does not have a mobile phone or internet… So for me, I think it very interesting to see how class factors in on dealing with the problem. That is what I wanted to say for my part…
D.M : Now that you say that, in Halandri where I live, we have Romani people. Do you know what the instruction that comes from the central political scene is? To give them Wi-Fi and tablets! These people are largely illiterate and there is no training for them to use these tools. And they also don’t have easy access to healthcare facilities. What you are saying is correct. The key word is exclusion. Exclusion.
K.C : Dimitris, let me share a thought on this. The Romani have their own “belonging”. I’ll give you an example. There was an artist that was filming something in one of the Romani neighbourhoods, and he described this: For someone to film them, they have to get their chief’s permission. It was the chief that would allow you to film them. It was another kind of “belonging”, in a different category of people.
D.M : I agree with you… But note that in their own group, yes, they do belong. But they are excluded from the larger system.
K.C : The larger system… But their own internal “belonging” is very tight.
D.M : Yes, but I don’t know whether that is enough for them in the current conditions. These people need a tremendous amount of help. And although they do have a “belonging”, at the same time they also don’t belong.
K.C : It is a kind of defence though. I remember when I was specialising – in “Evangelismos Hospital” in Neurology and “Aiginitio Hospital” in psychiatry – when there was on Romani person hospitalised he would have a hundred visitors a day. Family, friends, neighbours. It meant that the group functioned.
D.M : What you are saying is true. I just wonder what access they have, in these pandemic conditions if they need a wider protection, which most people do. I am talking about exclusion. That is what makes me concerned. Is the “belonging” they have, their own “belonging” enough?
K.C : Look, in normal circumstances it is nowhere near enough. But now, under these conditions, it protects them. They have a solid bond between them, while society as a whole is dissolved.
D.M : Do you know that it is not easy for them to make appointments with clinics to have rapid tests? And even though I agree with what you are saying, at the same time I say that they have difficulty with “not belonging” to the wider social group, regarding health issues and not only.
Kyriaki Karabinou : May I also pose a question? Definitely, social exclusion, class differences, this whole situation we are experiencing as members of a social group are there. But I simply wonder, as I train in systemic therapy and start to work as a therapist in social facilities, being concerned by all this, should we despair seeing people coming in, young people too, that have lost their jobs and their relationships because of covid? Shouldn’t we find ways in which we will make something out of all this? Because all these are a given, butis our stance towards them a given, is it the same? I mean therapeutically, what can we do differently? That is what concerns me. Because all these things are definitely true: We see them, we read about them, we are concerned… But the question is what happens when you work with that person, does he allow you to touch some pieces of himself that are truly fragmented? The question is how will he ultimately unify them and go on with his life, because ultimately this is his life. He happens to be born in it – not in something different – he was born in this country. So the question is how will he go on in life henceforth, what kind of strengths will we help him find so that he will be able to move forward.
K.C : I think that during this period our relationship to our patients has become a little different. Maybe a little bit closer, but a little strange too. I, for instance, feel a lot of times that for some of my old patients it is as if I am their patient and they take care of me. I have felt that. They call me on the phone let’s say and ask “are you ok?” “is your family ok?”. It is as if they are caring for me. This is a different situation compared to the older relationship where we were… let’s say… gods. This makes the therapeutic relationship more “democratic” so to speak. And I think this is important.
D.M : May I reply to Kyriaki? I will tell you something that we do in our facility, not as a technique, but using systemic thinking in regards to differentiation and synthesis. First of all you remove them from the dipole. Which dipole. Denial. It does not exist, or it does exist and I am ruined. It is there where you need to make him say “ok, it happened, what are the consequences?” And there is the other thing as well. To tell him “there are also things that you had before, which are positive, and you still have them today”. One of them is “belonging”. And then you bring him to reality, in the sense of what he can do differently. That is to say that he must neither dwell on the disaster nor fantasise about the super optimistic case. It is important to bring him to reality. And to say “alright, what would you do differently?”. “You have people around you, a system – a family, a job”. You will find his framework, his point of reference that also reflects things as they are… From my experience so far, this works somewhat… or rather it works quite well. Because you move him towards a synthesis. And also, as mentioned earlier, you utilise whichever supportive system the client – the patient – has made reference to by saying “I relate to this person, I belong there”. You utilise anybody that can offer support. It is a thought.
K.C : Yes, exactly, synthesis. It is a very important word.
D.M : You have to remove them from polarisation. There is a polarisation they need to get away from. Because there is no doubt that polarisation leads to inertia. “Oh no, I’m ruined”, “No nothing bad is happening”. These two poles must be removed, in all levels not only in therapy.
E.M : To be able to “do this”- it is not a manipulative “to do”, it happens through the relationship- but you need, however, to have the experience of getting out of something similar. All of us went through what Katia said, those ten years, and we all lost things… So to an extent we were able to see it as a trauma, as something we had to mourn, to first of all identify it, it is to this extent that we can help the refugees. I think that Greek society lives in the illusion of “getting back on track”, this thing we keep saying “Will normality return? Will we meet up in Christmas? Will we be vaccinated?”. It is as if we are keeping our self-refrigerated, not letting our self-experience the things we are losing. The children are losing their everyday life, their fun, their friends, adults live with the constant thought of death… We must allow our self to experience these things in order to help others “move forward”.
D.M : Absolutely right. Of course, it starts with us. But also, we must let the other person experience these things, we must not be afraid to let him talk about it, get it all out… that is why I said that one aspect is him talking about the consequences it had on him… and then see the positive things that remain. What you are saying is absolutely right… Because we all went through it, is there anyone Frosso who didn’t live through a hard time? We all had troubles to a lesser or greater extent, and even if they weren’t in our nuclear system they were all around us and in emotions… Yes, the therapist’s experiences must be utilised, of course…
K.C : What you said Dimitris about “Sotiria Hospital” reminds me of a return to a time where it was a hospital for Hansen’s disease patients… It is a return to another era…
Evi Gourioti : May I say something, with your permission? Listening to this conversation, and as it progresses, the topic is “belonging” but we are approaching loss. And I wonder: Are we ultimately talking about the loss of “belonging”? We are certainly talking about other forms of “belonging” - and I do not know what we are going to do with them- but do you agree with this connection? As we discuss about “belonging” we keep talking about loss. Loss, loss...
D.M : It might be “deconstruction” and not “loss”. You may certainly experience loss but you also need to deconstruct things that are not working for you today, or for the social group in which you “belong”.
K.C : Let me give my opinion on this. First of all, man’s life is loss. We lose all the time… Our school, our age etc. etc. But what is happening now is loss of an explosive degree. Meaning that loss is sudden and it is all around us. This is different from loss through evolution. It is a bombardment. That is what differs. And that is why a person must adjust to avoid bombardments and the violence of loss. How will he build shelters let’s say, bunkers.
E.M : Or how will he attack those that bombard him.
K.C : Who is the attacker now with the coronavirus?
E.M : The capitalist system Katia, and its biotechnology. Its agriculture and livestock farming are what gave birth to the virus. It is the same system that gave birth to the financial crisis.
K.C : I don’t know about that. It puts me in a lot of thought and I will look it up. But let’s go back to ancient Athens, to the Plague of Pericles’ era. There was no class issue then, Pericles himself died of it. There was a plague and the head of state died of it. It is in this sense that I had understood today’s pandemic, not in the sense of the financial crisis. But your thought poses questions we can look into.
D.M : Isn’t climate change, that is in the title of this conference, the attacker? I mean the people responsible for climate change… And don’t tell me that it is not connected with the coronavirus… Because on a biological level – you might have already heard this – do you know why children are not as affected, yet they can transmit it? Because – and there is research showing this – children have contracted other coronavirus strands earlier in life and are protected from this particular strand, but they are still contagious. And don’t tell me that all this is not connected to environmental factors. Not just the biological ones that Frosso is talking about… It most certainly has to do with labs, livestock and nutrition.
K.T : Can I say something here? I agree with Frosso, but I think that we are quick to forget that man is a biological being that is subjected constantly to biological factors like microbes, viruses etc. etc. It is a multilayer problem. From the biological to the political simultaneously, and no one can disregard either one. And epidemics always existed, it is not the first time that mankind suffers an epidemic.
E.M : If I didn’t know you Katerina, I would have thought that you are trying to make us feel better and to not blame the capitalist system. But if you look up the virus you will find it in mass livestock breeding. Veterinaries say so, they have conducted research but they belong to the category of specialists that are excluded from the media. But at the same time we have a huge problem in that we are in a system that is organised in such a way as to make nature attack us. Everything is paired, connected in accordance with this system. Schools, hospitals, our jobs, our thinking, our values… What are we going to do? Where do we begin to tear it down from – if we decide to tear it down… In which “belonging” will we be in order to be able to tear the other one down? The issue, in my opinion, is monstrous. Maybe I see it more clearly because I have been involved with mines and mining for the past fifteen years. Little by little our mind may bear to comprehend it… If we are very afraid we defend ourselves by feeling omnipotent – “technology will save us, science will save us, the government will save us – there is no virus”… If we are not afraid at all we will not protect ourselves… Thus, we must be afraid enough to be able to survive. And I don’t know how this is possible on a social level. How do we remain afraid enough as to protect ourselves and organise against what is coming, but be able to live at the same time? I think that at this point we are very scared so we either paralyse or we think we are omnipotent.
D.M : There’s another dipole.
E.M : I absolutely respect the young, maybe because I myself have forced the change that must happen on them, by not realising earlier the destruction that lays ahead. What will the young do? How many things must they fight against? On how many fronts must they fight?
Rena Mouratidou : May I say something? A few days ago I watched an interview of a German therapist and philosopher. He posited that all the things that are happening now are an outcome to which we have led things ourselves by leading the planet to a dead end. And it makes sense that it would, at some point, come to this and now is the time to try and arrange things into a new status quo, to think, to introspect, everybody separately but maybe collectively too on some levels, so as to put the things we want to change into action. And I think, I agree to a point, that we neglected certain things and now maybe it’s time to reflect on them a little bit more and put certain things socially and individually into action. That is what I wanted to share.
K.T : Yes I agree with both Frosso and you Niki. What we keep forgetting is that we all belong to earth. We belong to an environment and we must be in cooperation with it. And I think that we have lost this connection. We have lost it in many ways, not just now, but for many-many years, especially those of us who live in cities. It is very hard to find this connection again. Connection, we talk about connection again here, but this is a medicine that unfortunately we have left unused.
K.C : Katerina, it is what Vasiliou used to say about when a person in a village used to have problems, and he would go outside and sit in his chair on the sidewalk and all of his neighbours would be sitting around him and they would talk. Nowadays there is no such thing.
D.M : There are goals to be achieved though. If we want to connect “belonging” to the environment, I think it is imperative that we participate in small groups with specific goals regarding the environment, modification, nutrition (one cannot of course do everything)… For instance, you help recycling with composting or you support incineration, which is an issue… Or mining, as Frosso said. Do you react? Do you resist? Do you resist to building over streams, so that we will not have fires and floods? And you are not going to resist on your own. There are groups, fellow human beings, collectivities, and we just have to join them. It is a different “belonging”. But this movement “belonging” is also necessary. This “social movement belonging” as some call it, or “collective action”… This also allows a “belonging”. And I believe that every positive thing that is registered in our memory, from our own personal experiences with our families, with our course to adulthood, comes and touches upon the new thing that we have to do because we need to survive.
K.C : Dimitris, may I express an opposite thought on what you are saying about all fighters uniting? Has there ever been a greater “belonging” than that of “Golden Dawn”? That was the greatest “belonging”. United together, they went around killing everybody.
D.M : Yes, but that was the most destructive, the most perverse thing there ever was…
K.C : I agree with you, yet it was a huge “belonging”. United together they went around killing everybody. It was a new “belonging” in an era where “belonging” had been eradicated.
E.M : That “belonging” might be very good for the person that belongs there. But it may do terrible things to all the other “belongings” that are not like it… Maybe what Dimitris said earlier about “belongings” of which we are not members is what Evy also said about “not belonging”. That is to say that we may be thinking “I should also join an environmental group, I should do something”. The “belongings” we have not yet joined and all the things that have touched us…
K.T : There is another issue here concerning how each “belonging” transacts with the other “belongings”, how each group transacts with the rest. Do they have a balanced collaboration, an interaction, a co-dependency or is it every man for himself…
K.C : It is what we call “thesis-antithesis-synthesis”. How do we move from “thesis-antithesis” to achieve synthesis? Bateson talked about it with the studies he had done in the exotic islands, on neighbouring groups of people. And he concluded that there was either conflict between two peoples or submission of one to the other. There was never reciprocity.
E.M : May I stir things up a little here, regarding “Golden Dawn”? I would like to say that there is a group-analytical view regarding fascism in Europe that also holds true for “Golden Dawn”. That, in essence, it is the return of that which has been suppressed. Meaning that all of us, especially the bourgeois, have our property, our things, our rights, our abilities within the relationship network of our class, and in every corner of our psyche we have a fear of refugees for instance. How many will come? Will they take something from us? What will happen? Etc. Which means that we might not consider it permissible, it may be repulsive and forbidden, but racism is part of our class. And the view of the group analysts is that we have let “Golden Dawn” to do our dirty work for us, while we all participated a little bit, unbeknownst even to ourselves. Against the refugees, against the Romani people, all of the small problems that make this problem a problem for all of us and not only for the members of “Golden Dawn”. Not in a manner, of course, that we would call “the cop inside of us”, not so exaggerated or clear but we all have an issue with what we possess. Possession, property.
K.C : You remind me of the following: We had a conference in the hospital and Jacques Pluymaekers from Belgium and Sotiris Manolopoulos from Greece where the speakers. And Manolopoulos said the phrase: “The fascism we have inside”.
K.T : Yes it is an unconscious assignment to another person to do what I cannot accept to do myself.
E.M : Precisely the thing that is repulsive for me but is also a part of me…
M.T : When we work in such polarising situations that we frequently encounter, whether they be social or merely in our thought – because there are also polarising ideas, not only social or class polarisation. There is also polarisation in our mind. When we talk about good and evil it is a polarisation whose content is socially bestowed. The people that think in terms of two poles have, in my opinion, installed a polarisation of ideas that is socially constructed. When we talk about good and evil, about fascism and democracy we talk about extremely opposite situations. Fascism is a formation that was constructed in a very bizarre manner while people evolve towards democracy and freedom. Today we use it to oppose each other not because we really want it to exist. We give them substance in order to find out how we are different from them. So when we recognise this polarisation that also exists in our thoughts, then we are able to find situations among which our own position lies. And this position, this personal position contains values, emotions, freedom, it contains all the positive things we know about social relationships.
D.M : So, what you are saying Manolis is that “belonging” requires differentiation.
M.T : Of course, and I said that from the beginning. “Belonging” requires differentiation.
D.M : You put it nicely because the primary “belonging”, the family, requires differentiated relationships. It needs its members to become differentiated.
M.T : We are talking about structural connections. As persons we can differentiate ourselves within the family, but our family differentiates itself from another family and all the families differentiate themselves in connection to the wider system. Differentiation is an intrinsic element and characteristic of freedom and of man’s sociability. Ultimately we are talking about autonomy within the relationship.
D.M : I will add a word to what you are correctly saying, I will add the word “choice”. “Belonging” requires choice also.
M.T : Certainly, both choice and responsibility. The responsibility of choice. That is how we achieve differentiation, not only as persons but also as systems we differentiate in regards to others. And when Goethe was creating the demon Mephistopheles to oppose him to the “Super human Faust”, there was a devotion of good and evil. We, on the contrary, are able to differentiate ourselves and find our position in another manner without extremes. Differentiation is not achieved only as an external construct, but also as an internal one that contains all these things we are talking about.
K.C : In his book “Steps to an Ecology of Mind”, in a chapter titled “From Versailles to Cybernetics”, Bateson describes exactly how fascism was born. Because the Allied Powers had tricked Germany in World War I. They said that if it agreed to peace, there would be favourable terms. And once Germany agreed to peace they let it starve for a year. And of course this led to fascism and to World War II etc. Which means that regarding “Golden Dawn” these conditions, Greece becoming Europe’s black sheep, created “Golden Dawn” as a reaction. So the question is not only to join groups in order to fight the external problem, but to have what you very correctly described as self-knowledge and maturity in order to ultimately achieve synthesis. Through an internalisation of the problems and not just through uniting against a supposed or real enemy.
M.T : I will agree with what you are saying, although to be honest I’ll have to say that sometimes I am not very ok with only using social terms. What is “synthesis” really? It leads to fulfillment, to man’s integration on a biological level, on a social level, on an interpersonal relationship level – isn’t that fulfillment? Because sometimes when we talk about synthesis we overlook certain fine meanings. According to Aristotle we are political creatures by nature, we are political beings right from the start.
E.M : May I give a synthesis example as I see it? If I recognise my own desire for possession, my own fear of refugees taking something important from me etc. that is what synthesis is. Something that I have been blaming on the other person without even knowing. Because I have either blamed it on the “Golden Dawn” member, or on my husband, which is most common (Laing used to say that marriage is blaming it on the other person, like throwing something you don’t like about yourself in a bucket). To reclaim it though, and to recognise it is synthesis. Recognising attributes of my own self that I would otherwise impose on the other person (“he is stupid while I am smart”, “he is egotistical while I show solidarity”), that is what synthesis is. It is not something greater than that. So to the extent that we acknowledge facets of our self, mainly those that are repulsive, contemptible, forbidden, and not at all flattering, I would say that is a pretty good synthesis. If for instance I acknowledge my jealousy, my envy towards beautiful, glowing young people etc., I have made a synthesis.
M.T : Very good. I would also like to add a small word that we systemic therapists typically use, but we tend to easily overlook. The word organising. This thing we are calling synthesis is the manner in which we organise and reorganise all the information that is being born through our relationships with others. It is a beautiful little word that we shouldn’t avoid… Organising, this beautiful thing that was first talked about by the forefathers of systemic thinking.
E.M : I’ll tell you where I disagree with what you are saying Manolis. The use of the first person singular: “I organise”. Nobody decides to organise and then starts organising… Organisation comes through experiencing things, and then thinking makes it more evident… Because otherwise it is as if we attribute it to a conscious process, which it is not.
M.T : I understand that it might be a little alienating because it is a term originating from positive sciences. But what if we go to the other one, from the second order cybernetics, where we have “construct” and “co-construct”. These are beautiful things. And why should we denounce things that we have worked with for years on end just so that we can make them fid to new realities. Of course these new realities do exist, but so do we and I think that we should protect what we have done thus far. In the sense of preserving it and taking it a step further. And we should not forget that we gathered here as therapists.
E.M : Do you feel that we have left something behind? That we spoke in a foreign language?
M.T : Not at all, not at all… But I repeat, there are things that are beautiful. The things that we already have and can take a little bit further as therapists. This is a conference of family and systemic therapists. That is the framework. And it is from this framework that we make connections to the other frameworks that might be the social one, the political one etc… For Bateson there is an “ecology of mind”: My thought, my hand, my axe and the tree are all united. It is my intellect that provides this unity. If we get stuck into all these external contradictions, we will not be able to find our way as therapists. Not just as Manolis and Frosso, but we also lose our position as therapists. We do not adequately define it as members of a community let’s say, of the Hellenic Systemic Thinking and Family Therapy Association, the Hellenic Association for Systemic Therapy, the Systemic Association of North Greece, the Society for Systems Therapy and Intervention, of all of these… Which is also predominantly what we work on.
K.C : We should stress here that synthesis can ultimately be a process that comes from beyond our own volition, it is an outcome of the interaction between many factors. Today, for instance, what we organized produced the greatest synthesis. I mean that technically it was not working, we felt powerless to deal with it from a technical standpoint, I was afraid that it would be cancelled altogether because it was running an hour and a half late… And suddenly we find out that it is technically working and that we are given an extra hour and a half. That is a synthesis.
M.T : It is a synthesis, but isn’t it also a collaboration?
K.C : A collaboration, but in the end the outcome came from beyond our knowledge. It came through an equation.