Monday, October 11, 2010

Early Relationships.

c. David Grim (taken 10/2/10)

It's interesting to consider that every social relationship that we ever form will mirror the very first bonds (or lack of same) that we made with other human beings. Naturally that's usually with the mother, because she is more often there at the beginning than any other individual . Think about how well you did with your Mom and extract from there. What level of attachment did you form with her (or whomever raised you)? When you take these connections into account, are the qualities of your relationships surprising? It's difficult to be objective with self-assessments, so try hard to be honest with yourself.

I've been thinking about this concept because I meet a lot of new people every year. I am in a position of authority with a lot of them, so the situations that make the first impressions are skewed my way. I am expected to set the tones of these relationships. Obviously any such proposition is a two-way situation. If the person I'm interacting with has a stubborn idea of what type of relationship (s)he will have with me, then that intention is likely to stick, regardless of the power dynamic that exists at the time of contact.

To think that we are constantly recapitulating our very first experiences with bonding is a remarkable and sobering revelation (if true). It puts an inordinate amount of emphasis on early social exhanges. After all, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. I do believe in telescopic philosophies. Social laws have corollaries, whether you apply them to the macro or micro levels.

Ultimately, one important way we define our own identities is through the relationships we form with other people. Whatever personality characteristics we think we have will likely be reinforced through our interactions. It certainly seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps I'm mistaken and we are born with immutable traits that leave us unchanged no matter what we experience when we are in the process of personality formation. But I doubt it.

Research with monkeys at the National Institute of Health* has shown that babies tend to take on the qualities of their foster parents, regardless of what they initially brought to the table. This suggests that nurture (to a large extent) determines our social approach. How long we retain the flexibility to change has yet to be determined, as far as I know. If we are aware of the fundamental forces determining how we engage with our fellows, can we choose to get off to a better start with someone new?

* This information comes to me by way of "Love at GOON Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection" (2002) by Deborah Blum.

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