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The American dream of the “self-made man” is as central to the functioning of our capitalist society as Wall Street and as familiar as the Statue of Liberty. According to this dream, the tired masses have a shot at making it on their own if they have the will power, stamina, and intestinal fortitude to survive and compete. What do we do now that we are faced with scientific evidence that this very strategy is driving society into disconnection, despair, and even poor health? Relational-cultural theory states that growth happens through and toward relationships not toward increased separation and autonomy. Relational-cultural theory describes empathy and mutuality as key components to healthy relationships. This essay will focus on the latest research in the neuroscience of relationships—the development of the capacity to connect within relationships, the systems that help us read and empathize with others, the adaptability and plasticity of the central nervous system, and the destructive nature of isolation.
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Keywords: attachment; community; emotional regulation; empathy; inauthenticity; isolation; mutuality; neocortex; neuroimaging; neuroplasticity; relational images; relational zest; relational-cultural theory; separation-individuation; social rejection

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-03-01

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