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Relational-Cultural Theory Overview

Although we do not cover the entire scope of RCT in this chapter, a few concepts are necessary to understand the application of RCT to EDs.

Relational Competence

According to RCT, growth occurs in – and through – relationships and connections with others. In healthy relationships that foster growth, people are able to experience change; thus, one of the goals of RCT is to develop relational competence, as opposed to traditional theories in which the goal is autonomy or individuation. If in fact relational competence is not present and the relationships are unhealthy, the result can be chronic isolation and a detriment to development.

Connections Versus Disconnections

Another important tenet of the RCT approach is that people experience a desire for connections to others; however, despite this desire, and on the basis of their individual relational templates and sociocultural histories, they use strategies for disconnection to maintain their emotional safety in relationships, which in RCT is referred to as the central relational paradox (Jordan, 2010, p. 28). The central relational paradox is basically that although people desire connection, they do everything they can to protect themselves by distancing themselves from the very relationships they desire.

Relational Images

Relational images represent inner constructions of the roles and expectations individuals have for themselves in relationships on the basis of previous relationships (Miller & Stiver, 1997). These mental templates are developed early in life, are carried over throughout the life span, and are based on the outcomes of other relationships in the persons life, including relationships with primary caregivers or other intimate relationships. If these images are positive, then the individual will be able to develop healthy relationships and maintain an authentic sense of self. If, however, relational images are based on empathic failures or unmet expectations, then they could possibly lead to chronic disconnection and the need to develop coping strategies or strategies of disconnection as protective maneuvers. We describe these strategies later in the chapter.

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