On the Corner
by Robert Docter –
Life happens amid interpersonal relationships.
It is never a solo number – never just all you or all me – always you and me with others. It’s much more like a choir – a group of people sharing common goals for a common purpose. Sometimes those with whom we relate walk beside us. At the beginning, they are our parents – some genuinely positive and accepting in their relationship, and some not. Tom Gordon, author of Parent Effectiveness Training, wrote:
Why is parental acceptance such a significant positive influence on the child? This
is not generally understood by parents. Most people have been brought up to believe
that if you accept a child he/she will remain just that way; that the best way to
help a child become something better in the future is to tell him/her what you don’t
accept about them now.
When parents learn how to demonstrate through their words an inner feeling of
acceptance, they are in possession of a tool that can produce some startling effects.
Gordon goes on to explain that this acceptance will increase the child’s self-acceptance, self-regard, independence, and problem-solving skills and, thus, “give the child the strength to deal constructively with the usual disappointments and pain of childhood and adolescence.”
Right from the beginning the essential quality for positive development is trust – the product of acceptance by significant people in the child’s life.
Trust is necessary for hope. It’s the foundation of faith. The trust in us by others gives us trust in ourselves. We become confident in social settings and trustworthy in our own interpersonal relationships. We are comfortable in being open and revealing the real person in us. Increasingly, we become dependable, secure, without anxiety. We keep our promises. We work to make things better rather than try to tear them apart. We are loyal friends.
Trust begins in relation to the quality of the early maternal relationship.
It grows throughout life as we learn to take safe risks in making our thoughts and feelings known among others with whom we share meaningful relationships..
Don’t think the end of early childhood has locked you permanently in place. Not so.
As we grow, other relationships contribute. The qualities of our early relationships as well as those stimulated by other significant people in our lives become locked in the tight recesses of our hearts, fill the inner spaces of our minds and push our behavior far beyond the scope of simple memory.
From the quality of these interpersonal relationships, we begin to construct a series of conclusions and generalizations about our selves – about the kind of person we are – about how we relate to others in our here and now. We rarely form these conclusions into words or sentences. However, this unspoken sense of our selves does become the backdrop for the labels we use to describe our selves to our selves. It’s part of the process of developing the manner in which we regard for our selves.
We hear our own self-talk with expressions like:
o I believe I can handle this well.
o I know who will help me if I have trouble.
o I’m appropriately confident.
o People tend to like me.
o I enjoy people and find them mostly good.
o I’m trusting and enjoy social contacts.
o I am not carelessly critical of others.
o I give people my full attention
I’m not going to work today.
These people are ignorant. They’re not worth my time
Why doesn’t anyone want to talk to me?
I don’t get this. What’s it mean.
I must be dumb.
Don’t ask me for help.
I don’t want to get involved.
We build our self-regard on the basis of reflected appraisals we see in the eyes, hear in the voices, feel in the interpersonal interaction with those around us, and, especially with significant others. This takes place from birth to death.
We never out grow the need for positive, meaningful relatedness
These interpersonal relationships continue to shape us, mold our values, model our ethic, influence our personality, fashion our worldview. We carry those conclusions from which we have manufactured the quality of our self-regard throughout life. They become actualized in us, and our own behavior parallels that quality assessment.
If the quality of that self-regard is negative, we find it very difficult to trust others – to be open in our relationships. We hide our selves. Because people believe we don’t want to be around others they avoid us and have little social connection. We tend to interpret this in a negative way by seeing them as acting superior. We see the worst in people and fail to admire anything positive in anyone.
Fortunately, we can change as we surround our selves with positive relationships and work to internalize the meanings we gain.