Implicit Relational Knowing

With an emphasis on cognition as our source of knowledge and agency, it is easy to forget that there is more going on up in our heads than can be introspected directly. We devote a great deal of effort and attention to cognitive development, even playing music by Mozart to give our babies a boost in brain power. Sometimes we get so focused on intellect, academics, brains, and cognitive competition, we ignore the deep intelligence of our other brain capacities.

Babies know better than we do actually. If you show a baby live filming of his or her mother, and the mother, in another room, live filming of her baby, as long as the videotape is in real time, there is a synchrony of movement, and the baby is transfixed watching the monitor. As soon as the footage is delayed by as little as ten seconds, the baby becomes disinterested in the monitor and looks elsewhere or becomes dissociated.

What the baby knows implicitly is how to relate in real time. And that implicit relational knowing is learned by watching and responding to a real mother. This is not cognitive, and often not reflectively realized. What happens next is that the baby grows and becomes idiosyncratic in the way he or she relates based on experience with that particular mother. We each have an implicit relational knowing built over time, and our meetings consist of finding ways of fitting our knowings together.

This implicit relational knowing is active, and modified, throughout life in the context of important relationships. And this is what can be pursued within the luxury of long-term psychotherapy. How can we even describe the moment to moment nuance of all of the factors contributing to how we respond to and receive responses from our most central relationships?

What about the harried single mother who works and supports her family, tries to take care of her health, and juggles the many obligations and relationships that make up her life. She arrives in the office, a few minutes late, having rushed from work or errands or coffee with friends. She floods in through the door, drops herself on the couch and flops into a slump with a huge sigh as the only sound effect. We look at each other. At that moment, there is no need for words, ideas, interpretations, or thoughts. Just a simple understanding. We are here together in this space: an oasis on the freeway of life.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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2 Responses to Implicit Relational Knowing

  1. Matt Cahill says:

    Well put. I like the experiential example you use in the last paragraph.

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