Healthy Relationships, 1.0: Solid Self, Part 1

The Solid Self

For the last couple weeks, we’ve been exploring why men and women fight. Let’s start considering how they can fight productively as well as minimize unproductive fighting.

In a nutshell, fighting fairly requires two solid people. Solidity is a measure of differentiation and fusion—how well or poorly a person integrates both feeling and thinking during times of stress. People with a low level of differentiation are those whose emotions and intellect are so fused that automatic behaviors (reactivity) dominates their lives. They operate more by what “feels right” than by beliefs and opinions formed during times of calm. Because of this, they’re less flexible, less adaptable, and more dependent on other people. They’re more easily stressed and have a more difficult time recovering from stress than more differentiated people.

More differentiated people—people who are able to retain a separation between their intellectual and emotional functioning during stress—operate with more flexibility, more adaptability, and more independence when emotionality rules the day all around them. A poorly differentiated person is trapped within his or her feelings, while a more differentiated person can feel his or her emotions freely, remaining able to shift to calm, logical reasoning for decision-making.

Pseudo-Self and Solid-Self

The concept of differentiation includes a distinction between the pseudo-self and the solid self. The pseudo-self is a pretend self that forms from emotional pressure to conform to a variety of social groups, institutions, businesses, political parties, and religious groups. The pseudo-self adopts various principles, beliefs, philosophies and knowledge from these groups so as to feel a sense of belonging (an emotional impulse, not an intellectual choice), without realizing that the principles within or between the groups they have joined are random or inconsistent with one another.

A solid self, on the other hand, joins or rejects a group only after careful intellectual weighing of advantages and disadvantages from an intelligent position. This is not to say that emotions don’t play a role—they just don’t play a dominating one. (Note: differentiation should not be confused with intellectualization, a defense mechanism arising from a person’s emotional system, in which a person uses thinking to avoid feeling.)

The solid self says, “I know who I am, I know what I believe, I know what I stand for, and what I will do or will not do” in any situation. It is made up of clearly defined beliefs, opinions, convictions, and life principles, which are adopted from one’s own life experiences by a process of intellectual reasoning and careful consideration of the alternatives. The beliefs of the solid self are consistent, and the individual takes action on his or her principles even during times of high anxiety and duress. The solid self takes responsibility for him or herself and owns the consequences of his or her actions.

Trading Self

In relationships, the exchanging of pseudo selves is an automatic emotional process that occurs as people manipulate each other to conform to their own image or fantasy. In love relationships, undifferentiated people try to comply with the way the other wants them to be, and in turn make demands on the other to change. This is merely trading in pseudo-self, which causes one partner to become reactively dominant and the other reactively adaptive. In less differentiated partnerships, these positions become fixed—one becomes one-down and the other one-up—which eventually leads to a dysfunctional collapse and the inability of the adaptive partner to make decisions. In better levels of differentiation, or when stress and anxiety are low, these automatic reactions are far less intense. The more partners can alternate these roles, the healthier the relationship.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a solidity scale so that you can determine for yourself how solid you might be.

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