Managing Difficult Relationships Over the Holidays: Part I
As a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Washington, DC, one of the fundamental aspects of my work deals with relationships. Research has confirmed that in order for therapy to be successful, there needs to be a positive therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client regardless of modality. The importance of relationships does not stop once you exit the therapist’s office door. Research has also confirmed that in all aspects of our lives, our relationships are the fundamental building blocks within our lives. That is why early attachments are so crucial. Yet, secure attachments later on in life can be just as important, if not even healing for adults. The psychologist William Stixrud says that the silver bullet for an emotional crisis is an emotionally supportive other.
The Latin word for relationship is Necessitudo. Further broken down, this word means a necessary condition. I find that translation so powerful! A relationship is a necessary condition. A necessary condition for what? Perhaps everything. For example, this article from Business Insider relays a study presented at the 2017 American Psychological Association convention that says loneliness may be a bigger health hazard than obesity and rivals smoking. This Ted Talk reveals that the secret to a longer life may be having a social life. Or how having a responsive partner can mean having a longer life. The social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary talk about how humans have a need to belong, “a pervasive drive to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity or lasting, positive, and impactful interpersonal relationships” in their study about the need to belong. The need to belong parallels which is a other crucial needs, such as safety, shelter, and food.
Relationships are necessary conditions for life and we need to cultivate and maintain positive and supportive relationships both for ourselves and for others. Aristotle proclaimed, “Man is by nature a social animal” The psychologist David Elkins expounds:
“Humans are evolved to develop, maintain, and restore their emotional well-being through supportive relationships with others. The principle is based on the evidence from attachment theory and social relationships research that as infants and children we develop emotional well-being through relationships, and as adults we maintain and restore emotional well-being through relationships. The principle underscores the importance of human connection and social interaction and their powerful effects on emotional well-being”.
In my other two blog posts for this month, I will talk about two patterns that I frequently encounter in my office that can rupture relationships, especially between parents and children. This first is trying to “fix” a problem for someone else. When we “fix” things for others, we implicitly say they are not capable, which can create a sense of dependency on others, and rob the other person from creating a his/her own sense of self and self-agency. Being a person who fixes things for someone else does not constitute a healthy relationship. It creates a pattern of over-functioning and under-functioning between two individuals.
The second blog post will cover the topic of being a “container” for someone else who is emotionally overwhelmed. Being a container for another person inherently means not trying to fix the situation. It also entails not reacting and not throwing back that which has been unloaded onto you. Unloading and throwing back both can rupture relationships and prevents the process of emotional healing. So this Holiday season, remember two ways to help those whom you love and might be struggling emotionally–1) Not trying to “fix” things, and 2) Being a container. These strategies will help those whom you love to increase their motivation, fulfill their need for control, and take steps toward greater mental health.