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Growing a Garden of Individuality and Togetherness

If you’re into gardening at all, you’ll probably know that although plants like to grow alongside one another and create a supportive ‘microclimate’ together, they still need their own space.

Even at the time of seed planting, if you want to give them an optimum chance to flourish, you’ll need to include a certain distance between them.

Planted too close, and they can start to rob each other’s nourishment (like the trees in these  photos; one almost enveloping the other).

So can the same be said of human relationships?

And if so, how close is too close?

Murray Bowen, the ‘father of family systems theory’, noted this tension between the desire to be close and the desire to stand apart in order to give our individuality – our sense of self – a chance to breathe.

He saw both these drives as vital “life forces.” And he envisioned the struggle between them as an evolutionary paradox that we all must wrestle with. To know that there’s a certain safety in togetherness, but that it often comes at a cost of self…

So how do you balance those opposing needs in your life?

How do you find yourself behaving in your relationships?

Do you tend to grow ever closer to people, gradually adopting more and more of their views and preferences, going along with how they might like things to be, (even if that means changing more and more of yourself to try to please them)?

Or does the closeness feel uncomfortable? Do you become the distancer in relationships? The ‘one who got away’ even when you’re right there?

Is it possible to create something more like that ‘microclimate’ idea? Not growing too close (like a monoculture, where everyone starts to resemble each other). And yet not to need to stand so far away that all you’re close to is aloneness?

Perhaps the poet Kahlil Gibran was onto that idea when he wrote:

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not

in each other’s shadow.

So perhaps there’s a way of growing close, but not ‘too close;’ of expressing our individuality and still feeling togetherness.

I wonder what that would look like in your life…

Photos: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

Growing a Garden of Individuality and Togetherness

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2010). Growing a Garden of Individuality and Togetherness. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Sep 2010
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