top of page

Relational-Cultural Glossary of Terms

Anticipatory-empathy: As we come to know another person or being, we can predict/get a sense of how we might be affecting them. We then anticipate our impact and shape our response to the best of our ability so that we are contributing positive understanding.

Condemned isolation: An experience of isolation in which one feels outside the human community. One feels alone, immobilized and to blame. This is different from solitude in which one might feel an ongoing sense of connection along with awareness of being excluded or beyond empathic possibility. People often describe Nature as potentially healing this sense of being cut off or separate from the Five Good Things that are typically seen as arising in relationship with other people—and can also be experienced in relationship to Nature.


Ecology: The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter. [Source: Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.]

Empathy: A complex cognitive-affective skill that allows us to “know” one another (resonate with, feel, sense, cognitively know). Empathy provides us with a compelling experience of being connected with one another. We “feel with” one another, we are open to being affected by one another. We learn and are open to being moved or touched by one another. Anyone who has a beloved pet knows that we resonate strongly with other species, plants and ecosystems.

Hardwired to connect: We come into the world, primed to connect. We are biologically programmed to flourish in connection, but we live in a culture that eschews dependency and socializes us to be independent and autonomous. Our neurobiology clashes with our socialization; this creates considerable stress. Nature can provide the possibility of safe connection, the openness to curiosity.

Mutual empathy: Suggests that we change one another and we grow together when we are both openly in a mutually respectful relationship with an intention for mutual growth and an increasing capacity for connectedness. For mutual empathy to lead to growth, both people must see, know and feel that they are being responded to, having an impact, and mattering to one another. There is an investment in relationships that benefit all participants (growth fostering relationships characterized by the Five Good Things). In Nature we are often open to a full experience of the other, being touched and changed. We feel connected with animals, or in experiencing the expanse of a softly clouded sky, or in feeling the majesty of a grand old tree. And we take responsibility for our impact on other living beings. When we stroke the fur of our pet, both of us feel calm, a lesson in mutual benefit.

Mutuality: Suggests that we grow toward an increased capacity for respect, having an impact on another, and being open to being changed by another.

Nature: The totality of the natural physical universe collectively containing all the plants, animals, beings, landscapes, structures, and systems ranging in scale from the subatomic to the cosmic.

Objectification: A one-way transaction involving the act of degrading a being to the status of an object, reducing that being to their component parts for use by the other for their own purposes.

Power-over: A concept in many societies that people can only feel safe and productive if they exercise power over others; keeping the others in a less advantaged position. Corruption, abuse, and (the illusion of) control are implemented to maintain power. This model leads to disconnections and violations of relationships. It leads to ecological violence and destruction.

Relational authenticity: Rather than an invitation to amygdala reactivity, relational authenticity offers a route toward feeling understood and seen. It does not advocate full transparency, but suggests all responding occurs in a relational context that we are aware of and includes caring about our impact on others. We find the one true thing that we can contribute—honesty while also being respectful of its possible impact on others.

Relational-Cultural mindfulness: Brings our attention to the other “Beloved One”; one’s own responsiveness, the relationship, and the ecological context; being present with the energy and full movement of the relationship; feeling curiosity about the flow of connection; letting go of images of how the interaction should be in order to discover what is; and awareness of one’s own contributions to the quality of connection and disconnection in the relationship.

Relational images: Describe the inner pictures of what has happened to us in relationships that is formed in important early relationships. As we develop these images, we create a set of beliefs about why the relationships are the way they are. Relational images determine our expectations about what will occur in relationships, our sense of who we are, and our worldview. Negative relations images support strategies of disconnection from ourselves and from Nature. 

Self-empathy: Brings empathic presence to our own experience. Self-empathy allows us to bring ourselves more fully into relationship. Akin to self-compassion, self-empathy does not suggest we are building a bigger and better self; but rather that we bring the same accepting, nonjudgmental and resonant response to ourselves that we accord to others.

The central relational paradox: Describes the innate desire to be in relationship with others while experiencing fear of engaging in those relationships. Protective strategies may be developed to avoid relationships, and this may lead to chronic disconnections.

The separate-self model of human development: Stresses the growth of an autonomous, securely separated, independent being who is successful in competing and protecting oneself from an impinging environment. Impossible standards of independence are at odds with our connecting neurobiology. We are biologically wired to connect with others and when cut off from connection we suffer significant pain. We need relationships the way we need air and water. We live in an interconnected world; we are not meant to stand alone. We co-create one another. The separate-self holds us at a distance from one another and from Nature. When adding that safety is established by gaining power over others, there is the beginnings of a system that suggests people are “at the top”, gaining mastery over all Nature. Power over is a dominant path to the loss of mutuality. An acquisitive, bounded, looking out for number one attitude causes imbalance; Nature is no longer experienced as mutual. Rather the dominant group experiences an entitlement to being in a position of power over, controlling and often subordinating others.

bottom of page