An enactive and dynamical systems theory account of dyadic relationships
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Frontiers in Psychology 5 : (2014) // Article ID 452
Many social relationships are a locus of struggle and suffering, either at the individual or interactional level. In this paper we explore why this is the case and suggest a modeling approach for dyadic interactions and the well-being of the participants. To this end we bring together an enactive approach to self with dynamical systems theory. Our basic assumption is that the quality of any social interaction or relationship fundamentally depends on the nature and constitution of the individuals engaged in these interactions. From an enactive perspective the self is conceived as an embodied and socially enacted autonomous system striving to maintain an identity. This striving involves a basic two-fold goal: the ability to exist as an individual in one's own right, while also being open to and affected by others. In terms of dynamical systems theory one can thus consider the individual self as a self-other organized system represented by a phase space spanned by the dimensions of distinction and participation, where attractors can be defined. Based on two everyday examples of dyadic relationship we propose a simple model of relationship dynamics, in which struggle or well-being in the dyad is analyzed in terms of movements of dyadic states that are in tension or in harmony with individually developed attractors. Our model predicts that relationships can be sustained when the dyad develops a new joint attractor toward which dyadic states tend to move, and well-being when this attractor is in balance with the individuals' attractors. We outline how this can inspire research on psychotherapy. The psychotherapy process itself provides a setting that supports clients to become aware how they fare with regards to the two-fold norm of distinction and participation and develop, through active engagement between client (or couple) and therapist, strategies to co-negotiate their self-organization.