by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on November 14, 2011

We all need space. Not just the concrete kind, but the personal kind, the kind of space that frees us to be ourselves and play with the possibilities of who we are and who we want to be. The kind of space where we can surprise ourselves, the kind of space that feels limitless and lets us play –spontaneously engaging various parts of who we are. The kind of space that Virginia Wolff wrote about in A Room of One’s Own – the kind that offers opportunities for creation. Self creation.

In therapy, space is something that is created within the analytic relationship. Many psychoanalysts have addressed space, and its use for the elaboration of the self. In this scenario, space is always shifting: sometimes expanding to make room for previously unknown experience, and sometimes constricting and closing off possibilities, replaying situations in which we feel constrained to be or act in a particular way. The shifting of space in clinical situations has everything to do with the relationship between patient and analyst and the particular relational configurations that come to life within that context.

In therapy, as in our lives, the people that we share our space with become active players in the elaboration and use of it, sometimes helping to open it up and at other times closing it off. While having open space helps us to discover the new, often situations that constrict our space by replaying emotionally difficult themes also potentially help us work out new ways of being. Such situations offer us the opportunity to negotiate space with another, and while that negotiation may take some time, maybe even a great deal of time, it is full of possibilities as long as both people are willing to negotiate, and negotiations can be tricky, particularly since they are often driven by our personal history.

So at first it may seem that space is best utilized on our own, no negotiation with another needed, just with our selves. Often this is the case with creative endeavors which require space to play with ideas, images, thoughts. This is true when our alone (internal) space is full of play and possibilities, which have been accumulated through self-exploration in the presence of another (see my post on this subject  https://www.drceccoli.com/2011/08/is-anybody-out-there/ ). Our internal world and our ability to access its many spaces is made up of what we have taken in, through our interactions with early significant others who have made such space safe enough to allow exploration on one’s own. Without this interactive space negotiation, where an other has been present and available, alone space may not feel full of creative possibility. So it turns out that space, and its potential use, involves a relational negotiation, an interpersonal negotiation of boundaries to both make the space secure enough to connect and negotiate with another.

Such a negotiation is tangible in the dance of Tango*, where two dancers need to read each other and respond to each other in order for the dance to take place. Furthermore, the dancers need each other and rely on each other for their balance, constantly negotiating it through their embrace. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Tango is such a difficult dance to learn – our negotiating skills are immediately tested! Perhaps because this occurs on a physical plane first, it is quite obvious to the dancer. Push one way and you lose your balance, move the other way and a turn happens, etc. But there is also a mental component to all of this: many more subtle shifts between our self states that may or may not be adept at negotiation. In fact, it is often these mental states that interfere with the physical negotiation needed in Tango. Much like it is the mental and emotional states that come alive in our internal world that can ultimately interfere with our use of space for self creation.

For some, external space (open vistas, the ocean, a meadow) can make internal space appear, for others it may be art or music that accesses the ability to move freely, for others dance, or silence. It is likely different for everyone, and requires a combination of elements that speaks only to us and the traces of our first negotiated relationship.


* For more on Tango as involving negotiation and possibility please see W. Bucci’s article: The Interplay of Subsymbolic and Symbolic Processes in Psychoanalytic Treatment: It Takes Two to Tango—But Who Knows the Steps, Who’s The Leader? The Choreography of the Psychoanalytic Interchange.

Click on:  http://stage.pep.gvpi.net/document.php?id=pd.021.0045a

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Zelnick November 16, 2011 at 8:15 AM

I just love the way you slide gracefully and evocatively between internal, interpersonal and physical spaces. The way you integrate Tango into the experience of intersubjective negotiation allows us as readers to imagine how lovely and exciting it would be to be able to tango with ourselves and others.
Thank you.


Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. November 16, 2011 at 8:54 PM

Sounds like you are dancing with the possibilities!!!!


Martha Crawford November 15, 2011 at 8:56 AM

A very nice piece! Space plays out in so many interesting ways in the therpeutic office – when we take ‘space’ in terms of time and practicing phases away from treatment, from the ways we physically utilize space in the office, which chairs we sit in, how much space and air time each participant takes, and so often, I find many of my clients feel extremely anxious about any space that could be constituted as “emptiness.” And I think its exactly as you say – we cant experience our internal space as filled with creatve potential, if we have been hermetically sealed off of relationship.

Thanks for this!


Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. November 16, 2011 at 8:55 PM

That’s the thing, once we consider space, really consider it the possibilities are endless.


Erika Schwartz,MD November 15, 2011 at 7:27 AM

A beautiful opening to a very significant and all too rarely discussed conversation.
Yes, healthy self-awareness may be intimately tied into our perception and use of personal space. But how often in our frenzied lives do we use this knowledge to our benefit? And how often space only becomes a chasm where relationships die a slow and painful death?
I love space and encourage my patients to explore its healing possibilities. Those with deep insight and resources thrive.
Thank you Dr.V for a thought provoking beautiful blog.


Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. November 16, 2011 at 8:58 PM

Yes, many things in our lives and how we live them shut down space. And as you say, when we pay attention to how we use it, or not, we can become aware of what we need- and how to keep it alive and thriving.


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