Companionship is the word John McGee - the founder of gentle teaching - gave to the relationship based on the four pillars: feeling safe, loved, loving and connected.

This is a very essential human relation. The word ‘companionship’ comes from the Latin words ‘com’ and ‘panis’, meaning ‘together’ and ‘bread’. So literally companionship means ‘ sharing bread’, or sharing life.

In normal child development we speak about the attachment which grows almost naturally between a child and his/her parents. This attachment is the fundament for the further development of the child as a social human being. When the attachment failed in early childhood, or is lost due to life circumstances, we need to focus on establishing companionship.



Feeling safe

Feeling safe is the first pillar of companionship. It’s important to realize that being safe is not necessary the same as feeling safe. There can be many reasons why a person doesn’t feel safe with us, even if we mean so well. The fear may be caused by personal vulnerabilities, like autism, mental disability, a mental illness, or dementia. It can also be caused by life experiences, like being punished, beaten, yelled at, neglected, etc. A dramatic experience might have caused a trauma, but also repeatedly being punished, neglected, or even mildly corrected, may have caused a trauma within the mind of the special friend.

Teaching a person, who is basically afraid of others, to feel safe with us, is a very delicate process. We have to be very aware of how we are interacting with the person and how the person perceives us and the way we are talking to him, the way we are looking into his eyes and the way we are touching him.

Feeling loved

When we speak of feeling loved, we do not mean the love between two life partners. We mean a more spiritual kind of love. This love means that from a personal involvement you feel what the person feels, and you do everything you can to make the person feel well.  Another word for this kind of love is ‘compassion’ which is defined as a combination of empathy and action.

To make a special friend feel loved by us, we have to be unconditional. No matter what the he is doing, we have to make him feel that he can still count on our love for him. In our perception we can say ‘we accept him but disapprove of the behavior’, but the special friend most likely can’t feel this subtle difference. Even for us it probably is hard to really feel this difference.

Feeling loving

It’s a very important step in a person’s development of he doesn’t only feel loved, but if he also is able to feel loving towards others and express these feelings. We all have this potential of loving others in us. It is the most essential human quality and it a fundamental cornerstone in human social life. By evoking loving feelings from the special friend towards us, we appeal to this positive inner quality and this quality will become the ground for his further development.

Another reason for intentionally evoking loving feelings from the special friend is that this will give him his own place and role in our relation. When we only make the special friend feel safe and loved, it’s a one-way relation. By making the relationship reciprocal also the special friend becomes part or the dynamics of the relation.

Feeling connected

On a superficial level, feeling connected means that you like doing things together. On a deeper level is means that you are really interested in each other and that you want to be with each other. On the deepest level is means that you feel that your are there for each other, no matter what happens, no matter where and when.

When the feeling of being connected is established, there is ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’ in the dynamic of the relation. The special friend has recognized us as an individual instead of care giver number 1001 and he also ‘knows’ that he can rely on our help when we are out of sight for a moment.