The title might not make much sense at first glance but as I cover how we connect with others, especially when we first meet, it will begin to.
When we first meet someone we all go through a process. For some of us it is conscious. For others it isn’t and just seems to occur instinctively. In every interaction, whether conscious or not, we assess the other person as to our perceived safety with them, our susceptibility to their influence and how it is that we might benefit or lose through our interaction with them. Based on our assessment we will commit to memory our experience and prepare a future approach or response to them in order to be ready for future encounters. The underlying motivation for this is to preserve our feelings about our safety and maintain our personal integrity in relation to our view of ourselves. The response we prepare for them will have boundaries gauged by our need for safety but, more importantly, how much we believe we need or are allowed to defend ourselves against their influence if we perceive them as potentially harmful.
You might ask, “Why would I feel that I need to defend myself, especially on first meeting someone I don’t know yet?” The key is how we feel about ourselves before we encounter them and then how much they might remind us of our family members and the people we grew up with. In our family we almost always gauge our behavior depending on what we need from them and how we’ve been trained to request or earn it be it love, support, food or simply just wanting to be accepted as we are, short comings and all. In short, our early family training determines how we will interact with everyone else we meet in life. This means we will almost always recreate our family relationship with our spouse or significant other.
If we grew up with an encouraging childhood and feel good about ourselves believing that we are a worthy and productive person, we will have no problem setting up our preferred boundaries and limits as to how much we will or won’t allow ourselves to be influenced by the outside world. If we didn’t grow up with encouragement, whether through neglect, authoritarianism or perhaps abuse, our confidence in setting boundaries and limits will be “spongy” at best producing a feeling about ourselves that translates into our feeling unworthy, undeserving or incompetent in the eyes of others. Holding this perception of ourselves will allow others to have much more of an influence on how we should act toward them, especially when we see them as comparable to those who trained us to feel bad about ourselves in our family. When this happens, it feels like we must accept our “diminished value” and acquiesce to “serving” them or have that diminished image publicly exposed. It becomes a type of emotional blackmail. Ask yourself how many times you have been maneuvered into capitulating to doing someone else’s bidding lest you look incompetent, immoral or selfish in the eyes of everyone else? At the root of it all is simply that we have been trained into feeling bad about who we are in our childhood and now feel that we aren’t allowed to defend ourselves or have our preferences acknowledged.
Now to the title. To Explore or to Serve? If we’ve grown up with encouragement, we’ve learned to trust ourselves through being encouraged and invest in exploring different parts of our talents and personality without the threat of being ridiculed or exposed for being a non-person. With encouragement we’ve become independent, can think for ourselves and have confidence and accountability for our choices. If we’re motivated to do or be something we feel we have full backing and support from our family and friends. If we’ve grown up without encouragement, or at worst discouragement or disparagement, we’ve been trained into believing that we are incompetent, without value and to be directed by others who “know” better what’s best for us…that is, we gain our value through being approved of through belonging and serving others. So, now I ask you the million dollar question. Do you work to belong or to explore? If you answer explore, you’re one of the fortunate ones. If you answer belong, you have some digging and disarming to do. Not to worry. Future articles will give you the method and means to change your perception of yourselves. If I can do it, and it took me many years to reprogram myself, so can you, especially with the material I can provide for you to work with! More to come.