Symbiotic Relationships 2019

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©2019 Joan Newcomb
This is an updated version of a post from 2012

I’m in the midst of heavy duty care giving again, this time helping my younger brother recover from a stroke. It helps me to remember that in every situation, I’m receiving as well as giving. Right now there is healing occurring on many levels. My brother and I share a unique childhood, no one else in the family (who is still alive) experienced the things we experienced. And I’m benefiting in other ways, like getting to spend my weekends running around Manhattan. 

“Symbiotic Relationships”usually refers to two different species, such as barnacles on whales or birds on rhinos.  Barnacles grow on whales and live off of particles floating in the surrounding ocean that would otherwise affect the whale’s vision.  Several kinds of birds feed off of insects that live on rhino’s skin (you could say the insects themselves have a symbiotic relationship with their host).

It’s also a good term for how we humans interact with each other.

Biology describes 5 different kinds of Symbiotic Relationships:

  1. Mutualism, where both species benefit
  2. Commensalism, where one species benefits, the other is unaffected
  3. Parasitism, where one species benefits, the other is harmed
  4. Competition, where neither species benefits
  5. Neutralism, where both species are unaffected

(taken from

It’s an interesting way to look at your friends, family and coworkers!  Is your relationship Mutual, a ‘win-win’ for each person?  Are you and your partner, family member, or employer/coworker/customer equally benefiting? 

Is it Commensal you’re getting something and they’re not getting anything but it doesn’t matter to them?  That’s a tougher one to imagine.  Even if you feel you’re putting out all the effort and getting nothing back, there’s always something returning to you.

It gets a little messy when considering Parasites.  People aren’t exactly ticks or noxious weeds, but you could look at some government officials being parasitical when they want tax breaks for themselves while withdrawing services for others. When I was a teenager, my father called my mother, my brother and I, “parasites”. Verbal abuse scars the soul. This is one of the childhood wounds I’m hoping I’m healing while I’m New York.

Biology defines Competition as where *neither* benefits.  Spiritually, competition stops growth and creativity, as it places your attention outside yourself.  Competition focuses not just on doing better than someone but in outdoing them.  In biology it affects survival.

Neutral is as tough to imagine as Commensal, because how can there be an interaction without being affected?

Unless you’re roughing it on a desert island, we are all interdependent, no matter how alone or resistant you may feel.  No relationship is truly one way.  Even anonymously helping someone leaves you with a good feeling, just as using them leaves you feeling bad.

It can be disturbing to realize in a dysfunctional relationship you were actually getting something out of it.  Perhaps you were afraid to leave because you were still trying to get taken care of.  Perhaps you didn’t want to take responsibility for yourself.  Perhaps their dysfunction made you seem normal!

We are all participating in a giant energetic tapestry called life.  Each of us is creating or emitting a colorful thread of our own unique vibration.  And from a broader perspective we’ve agreed to be here interacting with everyone else.  It’s all good, even if we don’t experience it that way at the moment.

This week, in your relationships, notice – are you the whale or the barnacle? The rhino or the bird?  The tree or the ivy?  It doesn’t matter if you’re big or little, you’re receiving something from it!  Acknowledging the pattern can help you change it.  Recognizing your part or what you’re receiving from it can help you accept it, and transform it if you want to.

Try this for 7 days and see what happens!

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