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Go with their flow

The first time when I heard the term “confluence” it was during my early school years, in geography class: when a smaller river (or more) falls within a bigger river, forming a single channel.

And it wasn’t until adulthood, during psychotherapy training, when I heard again about confluence. But this time, it wasn’t a river, but a block within the gestalt cycle. More precisely, confluence acts as a block towards satisfaction when you put someone else’s need over your own. For some of you this means being a parent, adaptable, a selfless hero, or just polite.

Gestalt therapy says that unhealthy confluence is a state of being out of awareness, that leads to a lack of differentiation from the other. This is manifested through a dysfunctional closeness and reluctance towards seeing the possibility of engaging in a healthy dependence by exploring one’s own resources.

An example of unhealthy congruence is expressed by people who are having trouble saying their goodbyes, because they experience endings like a metaphorical death. Like that person who joins activities that aren’t pleasurable for him/her, just to be part of the group – and here things can scale up to a mob mentality with different purposes (religion, politics, military etc).

I personally went through stages of unhealthy confluence, mostly in my early 20’s, and it went something like:

- Spending time with others in very claustrophobic social spaces that affected me on many levels, just to be together with the group

- Spending holidays with others in locations that had nothing to do with my interests nor abilities and feeling worse on my return

- Always compromising on my dietary needs at get togethers, just to avoid being put in the spotlight as fussy or sensitive

My inability to practice healthy boundaries was fuelling a blurry space that I called “we”.

How I perceived unhealthy confluence in others:

- Couples that are like a bland cream soup – everything they used to be ends up being mashed together in a tasteless ocean of complacency

- Adults that cancel their adult-like behaviour once they become parents by initiating only child-friendly actions

- Workaholics with a bravado attitude towards the hustle-burning the candle at both ends kind of approach

Before everything gets to gloomy, I should say that there is also healthy confluence. Is when the lack of awareness of one’s own individuality acts like a glue with the others, therefore experiencing a state of flow, unison, collective. Boundaries are dissolving and you’re one with the surroundings. By definition, confluence means flowing together. We see that in choreographies, brainstorming with colleagues, large protests, when we’re skin to skin with our new-born, or one of my favourites – in music concerts. And there is…love. When we fall in love it can feel like falling into the other person, becoming one.

I did experience healthy confluence also, while:

- Singing in unison with thousands of people

- Clapping and cheering at sport events

- Working for hours that seemed like minutes

So, we can’t really say that confluence is either negative or positive. My take on what differentiate healthy from unhealthy confluence is the overall ability to dance between you and others effortless. Or more formal said, to have the ability to move from environmental support to self-support (Fritz Pearls).

At the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of healthy confluence when we consider the uniqueness of our circumstances. There are individualistic societies that head towards a confluent-phobic attitude, and there are collectivist societies where confluence serves as a foundation that future-proofs their cultural identity.

As Esther Perel once said “our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the

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