Relationships Change People: Ourselves and Others
How do relationships affect you and me? Listen to this lady in a community based mental health unit just a few years ago.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in the state hospital before they sent me here.
This is the first time I’ve been treated like a human.
There, you all just got herded together like animals. I never felt like a human being before. Not even at home.
This lady changed as a result of others’ responses to her in a different treatment setting. She found a whole new view of herself as a person whose needs, wants, and desires were worthy of consideration. She was asked to take part in the planning of her treatment and in evaluating her progress. She felt understood by the staff. She was able to receive and give hugs when she felt sad or glad. She had experienced the psychological environment of a state hospital prior to today’s enlightened and advanced treatment methods. She had received the basic physical equipment for life from her parents but had missed some basic psychological equipment.
BASIC EQUIPMENT FOR LIFE COMES FROM OTHERS
All of us receive our “basic equipment for physical life” from others, our biological mother and father. The “genes” that determine much of our physical equipment comes from a long line of others into the egg and sperm of our biological parents. The mother’s body provides the basic nutrients (or lack of them) to nourish the zygote, the new cell formed by the joining of the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm, and with a few months time developes into a newborn infant.
We receive life itself from God. I say this not only from a faith perspective, but also from the observation that, from time to time, the doctors are very puzzled about a stillborn, full-term infant that does not breathe. And as they examine the heart, lungs, and other organs at the autopsy, they find no anatomical reason for the lack of life. Perhaps there was a biochemical imbalance? Even so, that initial breath of life seems to come from and return to the spirit realm of God.
God gives us life, but it is our parents and the people who took care of us in our earliest years who were our most important “significant others.” They provided what we needed to survive physically until we were able to do so on our own. The way they respond to us as infants and children can change the direction of our growth and development, can change us from what we were intended to be, or help us become whole, fulfilled beings.
Along with our basic physical equipment, we adopt many, if not most, of our parents views, values, and attitudes as our basic psychological equipment for life. If our parents tell us we are wonderful and will have a great future, we are likely to believe that. If they tell us we are terrible and will never amount to anything, we probably believe that, too.
OUR MIRROR OF OURSELVES
Our “significant others” are our mirror of ourselves. We look to them to see what we are really like and accept their judgment as our own, usually. This judgment is the basis of our “self-esteem,” “self-image,” “self-concept,” or “self-identity.”
If we were not well-nourished mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as a child, we developed a mal-nourished “self” that still has ill effects, not only o n our “inner self,” (“mind” “psyche” or “soul”), but even on our physical body.
As time went on, our list of “significant others” enlarged. We came into contact with other people, teachers and children at school, boyfriends and girlfriends, wives and husbands, even our children, who also may have profound effects on our “self-view.”
We are very fortunate if some of these people loved and respected us enough then that we can love and respect ourselves now. People who love are not always conscious of being God’s person, but since God is love, they are working hand in hand with God to show us love. They were mirrors in which we learned to see and love ourselves.
ADJUSTING OUR MIRRORS
We are not always able to choose the people with whom we must have contact. We may have little or no choice of co-workers, neighbors, or relatives. But we can choose our closest friends carefully. Do they build us up or tear us down? Blow up at us, blow us off, or respect us and care for us? Do we enjoy them and feel better when we are with them? Or, do we try to please them without success? Do they listen when we say that what they just now have said hurts our feelings? Were we even able to show that hurt on our faces and in our voices?
To some extent, we can “adjust our mirrors” and get a better, more true, and perhaps a more positive reflection of ourselves. We can teach our friends and associates better ways of relating if we become a “mirror” for them also and tell them how their words and actions affect us.
We can teach our children by treating them respectfully and correcting them when they act and speak disrespectfully to us. We can express our anger at their misconduct with self-control and moderation in words. More importantly, we can tell them how we were disappointed or frightened or hurt by what has just happened. We can tell them when we are pleased with what they do and say. We can tell them when we think they have done something good and courageous. We can be a model for them in expressing both our positive and negative feelings and thoughts in ways that are helpful rather than hurtful.
Streams of research in the fields of psychology, medicine, and education have studied the impact of people on one another. A major theme among them was “Self”, how it develops, and how it affects learning and behavior. Self-concept (the totality of self, our ideas and behaviors in family and society) and self-esteem (how we judge ourselves) affect our abilities to learn, cope with stress, and act in beneficial ways.
Nathaniel Brandon, in his studies of self-esteem, pointed out that, at some time, we decide whether what others say about us is true or not. We decide who and what we think we are, and then we act accordingly. After we make this decision, it is hard for us to change our view of self and hard for others to help us change our view. But, if we desire to make a change, we can.