Closeness is about the other person, the other person is ‘close’. The manner in which the other person is close determines whether there is a question of closeness. The manner is related to intimacy and says something about the other person, about the relationship between the other person and myself. Closeness implies intimacy, hominess and confidentiality (Van Dale, 1992). Closeness can be described as a long-lasting connection in which the other person is available for the child.
If a relationally disturbed youth returns to the children’s home after a failed foster home placement, the reason for the return is often intimacy. He cannot cope with this closeness. Because of this atmosphere of intimacy, hominess and confidentiality he becomes depressed and feels lonely, excluded and abandoned.
He has no experience with intimacy, hominess or confidentiality. The foster home placement offers the youngsters an environment in which they can experience closeness, but there has been no development of experiencing closeness. No resonance forms, the sense of security does not resonate within the youngster himself, he cannot make use of this offer. What does come alive is the feeling of being rootless; the youngster feels lonely and abandoned. At that moment he does not understand why, he only knows that he wants to leave. It makes no difference where he goes, as long as he can leave. I see that as wanting to leave the atmosphere of intimacy which only elicits feelings of abandonment.
Gabriel Marcel (1959 uses the word presence and connects that with the availability of the other person. In this way closeness is given a form and a concrete content. The description of availability as being there for the other person indicates a direction for the manner of living with the other person.
This description, being available, does not mean that the other person sacrifices himself or can be reached day and night. Marcel emphasizes the importance of respect for the other as a person together with freedom. Being there for someone means that the other person can count on you, that he can trust you, that you can be trusted. For Marcel, presence and availability are aspects of love. Nota paraphrases Marcel’s thoughts (Nota, 1965): And through love, by being committed to one another, you can become yourself.
It is this availability of the other person that is unknown to relationally disturbed youngsters. They are not familiar with the commitment in which they can become themselves. Summarizing, we can describe ‘closeness’ as a long-lasting commitment in which the other person is available to the child and in this way guarantees his sense of security.
Availability is an attachment factor, availability is also being oriented towards the other person. In the parent-child relationship this means that the parents are oriented towards what this child needs. That is expressed in seeing the child’s needs in a variety of areas and in being sensitive in the relationship with the child. In this relationship, mirroring can have a positive place and the mentalization process can begin.
These descriptions indicate the connection with the development of the self-image, the second aspect of phase therapy. Van der Werff (1989)describes self-image as the entire body of ideas a person has about himself. This concept is not simple. The following aspects can be mentioned:
- the realistic self-image: how a person experiences himself.
- the ideal self-image: how a person would like to be.
- the image others have: personal image
- the ‘ought’ self, discerned by Higgins (1987): the image the person thinks he should live up to
- self-esteem: the positive or negative evaluation of oneself (Van der Meulen, 1993, p. 116).
These aspects modify the self-image of the relationally disturbed youngster, which is important for the treatment:
- Realistic: they experience themselves as stupid, not worth much, not able to do much.
- Ideal: there is always someone they emulate: I’d like to be like him.
- The image others have: others generally think more positively about these youngsters, but they themselves think that others are negative about them.
- ‘Ought’ self: this is related to the function of their conscience, which is often strongly developed in relationally disturbed youngsters, but not in a positive way; the conscience is often a whip. They believe they have to satisfy all sorts of demands and it is never enough and never good.
- Self-esteem: how they are and how they were is experienced as negative.
The descriptions of the self-image assume a development, the beginning of a self-image is seen as a process: ‘An individual’s self-concept is the product of a process of self-conceiving’ )Van der Werff, 1990).
From differentiation therapy and phase therapy, we have worked out how adults with similar backgrounds could be helped. This has led to a method of treatment which is called basis therapy.