Affective Sustainability in Human Relationships


The baby is born already knowing the quality of the relationship with its mother. We start to learn about affective relationships when we still are fetuses, inside the womb. During the gestation period, the first relationship imprinting with other (partial) objects is established; in this instance,
the partial object is the womb, because the “Big Bang” 1 of a relationship starts in the inter-uterine period.

At this moment of inter-uterine field the way of “being” of each person starts to be modelled, because these traces are designed from the repertoire of the affective relationships that started inside the womb. Therefore, the demeanor, the way in which someone faces life, is determined by the affective quality that this person has experienced in his/her evolutionary phase of the neuro-affective development. From this point onwards, the structure of the character is being built and this will be reflected in the way that person will deal with issues like pain and pleasure. Her behaviour will show a lesser or a greater capacity to have a degree of healthy sustainability in
their affective relationships, and in their later life.


There is a reasonable degree of evidence that this inter-uterine experience can impact strongly on how our body carries the history of this and other relationships through time, and therefore, it helps a great deal to learn how to feel these signs and be aware of our body language: to “know” the body. We need to be aware of (or recover any repressed) emotions and feelings, and not
only develop our rational thinking. There is such an emphasis on “doing” and “speaking”, which are ordinary practices and which are so highly valued in our accelerated day-to-day existence, that there is almost no time to recognise and allow our feelings.

The psychotherapist is a specialist in dialogues who creates “encounters”. Listening and waiting are fundamental tools for us psychotherapists, to enable the patient (and us) to access the inner time of the “Other”, its quality and depth, and, in this manner, we are able to establish a genuine relationship with the person that comes to see us for therapy.

Communication is the fundamental basis for an effective relational exchange and to maintain a relationship efficiently. And yes, the relationship is the goal: it is not enough just to ‘meet’ each other face-to-face. The relationship must be established and built up, in a “proper” way. We need to feel, to see, and to relate to (“read”) the object (person) that is in front of us. The person that is in front of us carries the history of the relationships that he or she has lived through. I believe that everyone that is involved in a “helping” or “caring” career should specialize in the art of making relationships.

Feeling is related to the introduction of the time factor, and qualities of deepness and corporeality. The inner time reflection gives space for the evolution of the feeling; and the experience of “external time” tells us something about our thinking and understanding of the significant times in the life of that person. Thus, the moment of the encounter in the therapeutic
setting is the “Big Bang” of that relationship, and it can be either evolutive or involutive, depending on the management of the therapists, who are reasonably competent and specialized in relationships. If the professional knows how to listen to, to see and to read the “Other” person, he or she will understand what is necessary for that person to evolve.

The psychotherapist can feel where the other person is, and where the therapeutic relationship is, inside the therapeutic setting. This is psychoanalytic and quite clinical. Inside this setting, the key is the character analysis, created by Reich (1978), that considers verbal language in relation to the body’s language, position and structuring, thus introducing this into the therapeutic setting: this is the essence of Reichian character-analytical using the analysis of the character of the bodily language with verbal language. But, in order to consider these bodily aspects properly, time is necessary to gather all this great source of information, and to reveal the “how” of the relationship: the language that runs between these elements of character (Reich, 1978; Navarro, 1996).


According to the version of Reichian analysis developed by Dr. Gino Ferri (Ferri & Cimini, 2011), and all that contributes to the analysis of the character of the relationship, as a therapist, I need to manage my relationship with the person that seeks my assistance. I am not only going to work together with the person, but our interaction and the relationship are born from this contact.
The therapist’s (conscious or unconscious) movements and gestures determine the opening and closing of the conversation. I am responsible for these openings and closings all the time. The way to reach the therapeutic goal is the most important concern. I try to build up a form of interaction so
that the person can enhance their pulsation – their flow of openings and closings – in the relationship with me.

“We are what we are inside this little box that we are, I am not going to be something else.”

(Maturana, 1984)

Inside this “little box”, there are an infinite number of possibilities that have not yet been explored, and that is where the therapy will start to work.

So, I search for the spot where the other person could open up, but I am not going to attack their resistances. The patient is not necessarily in a negative transference; that is just the way he/she learned how to defend himself, or herself, in the world. The patient is now choosing to be in the therapy room and needs to be welcomed – invited – to open up. This is a matter of integration, not of resistance.

He/she is working … but in accordance with his/her current relationship pattern. For instance, a contracted womb may mean a mother who is less warm-hearted, which might lead to a more contracted and closed family field. The character trace will only appear in the interaction: I always look for an evolutionary way out: how can the person grow or evolve into a different pattern of relationship. The design of the traces occurs just up to adolescence, after that whatever happens is only really an adaptation of the basic structure: so, I always look for an evolutionary way out. Another example: When applying the acting of the light, according to the systematic of the
characterioanalitic vegetotherapy and the Reichian Analysis, if the patient falls asleep the therapist has to leave the place and reach this person so that he/she can feel he/she is awakening.

Our biology is also shaped by social factors: it is impossible to talk about biology, or physiology, without also considering the social environment in which the animal or person exists. There is no such thing as a pure plasmatic pulsation: it only happens in the interaction with the surrounding medium. What really matters is “how” the process of development is carried out: the
development of the “Self” can only emerge, or evolve into something different, in the interaction with the “Other”. The world and, moreover, life are made up from relationships and the possibilities of different encounters.

Unhappiness is a mental and emotional condition (dis-ease) that is increasingly reaching epidemic proportions, equivalent to the environmental pollution of our planet. However, we are not aware how much our health is being threatened, as the current environment of our planet is. Today,
we live more in the moment, and pay less attention to our roots; less to our sentiments; looking for more excitement and less consciousness; more information and less knowledge. Ultimately, we are living with plenty of ways and means, like networks of communication, but each time with less
valid or significant relationships. Everyday we become more “connected” (on Facebook or Twitter), but we are also missing out on ‘real’ contacts and ‘felt’ presences. Today’s “Holy Grail” may be the return of our inner world, our individual rhythms, of the feelings in our bodies, of our inner time for
reflection, and for the affection of proper relationships. It is said that we currently live in the age of plenty, but we do not seem to care about our affective sustainability.

We do not talk much about the sustainability of the affective relationships. A few people think about the importance of restoring time and quality to our relationships. We are separating the ‘doing’, and the ‘thinking’, from the ‘feeling’ and the ‘being’. We swiftly by-pass reflection, contemplation, mediation and mourning: we do not seem to feel these losses anymore. Many people feel a loss for one day, and the day after, they just do not remember it. We are not fulfilling our primary needs: they are being masked by the acceleration of ideas, and by the volume of information, and by the need to ‘do’ and ‘achieve’ and ‘get on’. We have plenty of movement, but only little pauses, and therefore it seems that the emptiness of our relationships and the lack of
affection is what generates our endemic depression, which is usually disguised by manically ‘doing’ things and by speeding up our daily lives.

Hyper-consumption is another modern feature in society, where ‘consumption’ is mistaken as being a display of affection and potency! “I love you – therefore I will buy you this, and this, and this!” The value of a person is now being measured by what he/she has in excess, and not by what he/she actually feels. ‘Having’ and ‘doing’ is better than ‘feeling’ or ‘being’, in an age when content is disregarded, and quantity is better than quality, as well. The result is an increase of low self-esteem, which leads to a huge problem for one’s self-image; and there is a corresponding decrease in relationships and in affective sustainability. Wearing a Dior dress, or carrying a Prada handbag, or wearing Jimmy Choo shoes, in order to gain self-confidence and feel better about one’s self is to mistake ‘having’ for ‘being’; power with potency. Other ‘masks’ and ‘disguises’ (make-up) are associated with lack of affection, lack of feeling, and poor relationships: for instance, compulsions ad obsessions about food, slimness, sex, drugs, materialism, and many other excesses. They are all very harmful in an age when violence, lack of limitations and affection, abandonment and abuse are as common as the lack of inner and quality time.


Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (2006) describes our society as “liquid”, where nothing has a constancy or stability (human relationships, life in family, political affinities), it seems to be a time of uncertainly, the result (possibly) of an oral fixation, where one remains a baby in one’s relationships. This is a reality without any structure or framework; where the planet, the body, and
us human beings are lost sight of. To repair this damage, it is necessary  ecombine the intelligence of thinking with the intelligence of the feeling, so that we can continue to evolve and not succumb, as a species, to decline and extinction. Therefore, for me, affective sustainability seems to be much
more important, than any goal of economic sustainability, or environmental sustainability: existence without disregarding any other person on our planet.


Mary Jane Paiva
Psychotherapist and Reichian Analyst trained by G. Ferri and F. Navarro. Graduated in Group Psychotherapy with X.
Serrano and in Healing Energy and Self Development with Isis Pristed and with Bob Moore. Director and professor of
Reichian Analysis at Sovesp (Society of Orgonomy and Character-Analytic Vegetotherapy – Brazil ).


Bauman, Z. (2006). Medo Líquido [Liquid Times: Living in an age of uncertainty]. Rio de Janeiro:
Zahar Editora.
Ferri, G. & Cimini, G. (2011). Psicopatologia e Carater [Psychopathology & Character]. São
Paulo: Editora Escuta.
Maturana, H. & Varela, F. (1984). A Arvore do Conhecimento [The Tree of Knowledge: The
biological basis of human understanding]. Campinas: Sao Paulo: Editorial Psy.
Navarro, Federico (1996). Metodologia da Vegetoterapia Caractero-Analitica. Sao Paulo: Summus
Reich, W. (1978). Analisis del Caracter [Character Analysis]. Editorial Paidos, Buenos Aires.


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