As a well-known phrase from “Let’s Live till Monday” movie says: “Happiness is when others understand you”. There are many commenters on it, both in support and in denial. To briefly summarize the opinion of masses on happiness and understanding, then understanding is a necessary precondition for happiness, but is not sufficient for it; still, it is impossible without understanding. Understanding is especially relevant as a basis of family happiness (both between spouses, and between parents and children). Often, understanding is connected with support: spouses and parents often refuse support to each other and to children if value system, purposes and behavior of second party is unclear. Though it is quite possible to support a family member even in case of their purposes, values and behavior unclear to you; to support just from domesticity, respect and love in everything important for this person. Even if to us it is neither clear what is it nor why does it matter to this person, to accept a close one as is in full, and to help them to carry out what is important for them.
In the 70s-80s of the last century, psychologists created a special tool to help solving the problems of mutual understanding and acceptance: Metaphoric associative cards (also known in different countries as projective or psychotherapeutic cards).
Metaphoric associative deck is a set of pictures the size of playing card or a postcard representing people, their interactions, life situations, landscapes, animals, household items, and abstract pictures. Some sets of cards combine a picture with an inscription, others include separately the cards with pictures and cards with words. The combination of words and pictures creates a play of meanings further enriched with new facets when placing it into this or that context; studying of one or other subject relevant for person at the moment.
Initially, it is a projective psychological technique: what matters is not the sense put initially by researchers, but a sincere response of each person to the picture at hand. In the same picture, different people will see entirely different phenomena, and will take out own internal content of relevant experiences in response to such an incentive.
Moreover, during the different periods of life and in context of different subjects, association andinterpretation of events on a picture will differ every time even at the same person. From this point of view, a deck of associative cards is inexhaustible: an infinite number of combinations of work subjects with pictures.
For work with a family system, the portrait decks, e.g. “Family album” and “Facebook”, are usually used. Each of these decks is a set of faces of people of any age, from babies to very old men. You will find any looks in a deck: both barefaced happiness, and grief, and fear, and tension, and mistrust, and fatigue, and contact search, and hope, and light joy. By the means of these portraits, we can examine any relationship choosing cards as placeholders for participants of a relationship. When a client of psychologist chooses any card to present oneself or other participant of the examined relationship, the psychologist then asks of what similarity was this choice based on. Was it facial expression? The message broadcast to the world? External similarity, clothes style, accessories or attributes? At the initial stage of work with associative cards, you will be surprised how often people choose a person of opposite sex, of an absolutely improper age, sometimes other skin color to represent them… While, to an observer, it would not be possible to understand in any way what this choice is based on. In such a case, it is appropriate to demonstrate curiosity and to learn what features of the chosen person are of importance for the client, and what does the person want to tell us about oneself by choosing this card.
How do metaphoric cards serve mutual understanding between people? First of all, the cards help to build the bridge from person to person in cases when it is difficult for people to talk with each other on some sensitive issue. Cards help to express thoughts, to formulate them and to concretize the necessary message. Besides the simplification of verbal expression of emotions, a card, as an intermediary between the emotional worlds of two people, itself carries a certain emotional charge and can be apprehended as the message even without verbal expression. Sometimes, it is possible to just show the interlocutor three portraits and tell: “I feel like on the first card, and want to feel like on the second, but I lack for this purpose what is on the third card” – and the interlocutor will understand situation without a word. Thus, besides the use of metaphoric associative cards “Family Album” and ““Facebook” as psychotherapeutic tool in professional psychological practice, we can use them in our family and personal relationships for communication with family members and close people on sharp, probably painful, deeply personal subjects. Mediation of a card creates the atmosphere of additional safety and benevolent attention, and facilitates discussion of risky and complex subjects in families. Metaphoric associative cards develop ability to communicate with others, to understand them, to find in each person their positive traits and thing in common to unite you with others.
How do the associative cards help us to accept each other…? Through the transfer of own psychological phenomena on the same card. Through the assignment of own meanings to looks and features of the represented person. In case of non-portrait cards (with landscapes or abstract pictures), by creation of the common contextual space; common in two senses: common “virtual reality” and, as one of the parts of this common reality, of common language.
In the directions to a deck of metaphoric associative cards “BE, DO, HAVE” the following mode of work with a relationship is given: choose a relationship that you would like to understand (with a partner, spouse, friend, child, parent, colleague, chief, etc.) Pull out five cards blindly:
1. What does not work in the relationship?
2. What do I bring in the relationship?
3. What does the second party bring in relationship?
4. What works in the relationship?
5. What has to happen to improve the relationship?
In case of work with a deck where each card has both an inscription and a picture, a person is free to choose what to be associated with: with a picture or its part, with a particular element, with a situation, with a time of day or year, with a color or certain form at the picture or with the words only; and what to refuse as insignificant at this moment. One of my clients, while sorting own relationship with mother and suffering from misunderstanding from mother, has drawn such cards:
What does not work in a relationship? – “to possess control”. What do I bring in a relationship? – “to risk”. What does my partner bring in a relationship? – “to keep traditions”. What works in a relationship? – “to possess respect”. What has to happen to improve relationship? – “to forgive”.
She has interpreted the cards she got as follows: “In a relationship with mother, maternal aspiration to control life of an adult daughter and to choose for her the best (from point of view of mother’s) job does not work. In turn, the daughter tries to control a part of her mother’s time demanding care for her own children/mother’s grandchildren; to control her mother’s affairs and priorities. It does not work for both.
What does the client bring in the relationship? She told: “The fact that I am at a psychologist discussing the relationship with mother is risky itself. I am sure it would not be pleasant to her if she learns that I discuss our relationship with somebody else. She is a secretive person, and also demands from me “to wash dirty linen at home”, to add to the question of control again.
What does the mother bring in relationship? Mother is very traditional, she, on one hand, very well copes with that “everything was as it is necessary”, “as it is necessary” and “as at people”, on other hand, she demands same from me. Sometimes she helps me, for example, makes a dinner for my family because it is a tradition to have home cuisine, a family dinner.
What works in a relationship? Despite the lack of mutual understanding, we respect each other for success and professional solvency.
And what is the answer how to improve a relationship? Forgiveness is a universal answer. As client explains: I need to forgive mother for fact that I do not have from her. To accept her imperfection and fact that she does not answer my expectations. To try to give, without expecting gratitude, and to rejoice to all the good that exists between us.
The given example of work demonstrates us two main ideas of working with metaphoric associative cards: they have no pre-assigned meanings, and self-interpretation of pulled-out card by client without assistance of psychologist. Psychologist only asks clarifying questions. As a result of interpretation and speaking through the meanings of cards found by client, psychologist draws a conclusion about perception by client of one’s situation, and client oneself finds the answers to questions of concern and draws a conclusion where to move further.