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Shelley Karliner, LICSW, and Tricia Bassing, LICSW, Licensed Psychotherapists image


Shelley Karliner, LICSW and Tricia Bassing, LICSW

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It seems to me, in thinking about the topic for today—Creating the Relationships We Want—that the best place to start is with the family. Why is that?  Well, one way to think about the family is that it is our first drama school. It’s where we learn about the rules and the roles we learn to play in adult life.

In some ways, we are born into an ongoing play, with all kinds of variations. Most people act out family life according to certain societal scripts that we are cast into—husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, etc. If we think of the family as a kind of drama school, it is the place where we not only learn particular roles we need to play, but it is the place where we learn there are roles and rules which govern how we should behave.

  • No elbows on the table while you’re eating
  • Don’t speak back when you’re reprimanded
  • Say thank you when someone gives you something

Now, there are some rule-governed behaviors we learn that can be very valuable, for example, stopping at the red light or washing your hands before eating. But sometimes, rule-governed behavior doesn’t allow us to determine what we want our emotional relationships to look like. It can often mean being stuck, or feeling trapped in relationships with our partners, our children or our friends.

Now the family lives in a larger culture, and one way I describe the culture we live in is it has a deep-rooted getting imperative. We are taught from early childhood to be getters—to acquire—to play the getting game. In this game, we get as much as we can while giving as little as we can. We give only in order to get.

Ordinary activities—including those with the people we care most about—are deeply rooted in the philosophy of “getting.”

They’re contractual: “What do I get out of this?”

They’re competitive: “I’m better at this than you.”

They’re greedy: “You owe me that much.”

“Getting” is so much a part of our culture, our language and speech; we don't realize how much it organizes our relationships with others.

The social therapeutic belief is that giving is a far healthier activity, in every arena. That “to give is better than to receive” is not a new idea, however. We are not making a moral point here. It is a scientific point—for people to further develop, both as individuals and as a species, it is necessary to participate in the giving activity as a life organizing principle.

In a “culture of getting,” people are helped more by giving rather than by getting. This includes the active sharing of our emotional pain with each other.


 Anger: What’s So Powerful About It Anyway?
 Creating the Relationships We Want
 Creating Conversation: Philosophizing at Work,
 Home and on the Playground
 On the Job and In the Director’s Chair
 Living With Loss: Letting Go and Moving On

Shelley Karliner is a psychotherapist who has helped thousands of people from all walks of life develop new emotional capacities and create healthy intimate relationships. She was trained at the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy by Fred Newman, the founder of the social therapeutic approach to emotional development. She gives talks and workshops on topics related to the emotionality of everyday life.

Tricia Bassing, LICSW, is a psychotherapist, community organizer, and therapist supervisor. She creates accepting and challenging environments while inspiring people to create something new and powerful in their lives and in the process feel a whole lot better. She was trained at Columbia University School of Social Work and the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy.

Grow. There’s Nothing Stopping You. Feel better.

Shelley Karliner and Tricia Bassing, Licensed Psychotherapists
4115 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 203, Washington, DC 20016—202-244-0442

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