Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Relationships at Christmas time

One of the most famous psychologists (up there with Freud, Jung, Adler, Ellis, Skinner, etc.) was Carl Rogers. During this Christmas season I think Carl Rogers could help us all to see how to lead better lives in our relationships. Rogers was known for taking a more “human” approach to helping people and had the belief that people had within them the ability to solve most of their own problems. He also believed that people are more driven toward positive actions than negative.

Rogers used the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle to explain people as they learn and grow as humans: When you help a child to learn to ride a bike, you can't just tell them how. They have to try it for themselves. And you can't hold them up the whole time either. There comes a point when you have to let them go. If they fall, they fall, but if you hang on, they never learn…and they never truly reach their potential…and perhaps that is the saddest result of all!

It's the same in life in general. If independence (autonomy, freedom with responsibility) is what you are helping someone to achieve, then they will not achieve it if they remain dependent on you. They need to try their insights on their own, in real life! An authoritarian approach to helping people may seem to work marvelously at first, but ultimately it only creates a dependent person. And dependent people, no matter what age, are not happy people.

Rogers also is known for his three famous requirements of a therapist to be able to help others change. I think that his requirements are essential for anyone who wants to help others…whether they are teachers, parents, bosses, etc. But I truly believe that these three qualities are ESSENTIAL IN ANY GOOD RELATIONSHIP…IF IT IS GOING TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE!!!

Rogers felt that a therapist, in order to be effective, must have three very special qualities:

1. Congruence
2. Empathy
3. Respect

Congruence means that the person is genuine, not phony or fake. They are honest and truly representing themselves in all interactions. They let their “real self” shine through. Think about it, isn’t that important whether you are interacting with kids, employees, spouse, or anyone else you care about? If you are truly you, things seem to go better. But if you try to be someone you aren’t, it never goes well. People see through your fa├žade.

Empathy means that you have the ability to feel what the other person feels. You don’t just mentally understand the other person, but you understand it at a feeling level. Unfortunately our politicians have overused this one (“I feel your pain,” when they really don’t!) Any parent can relate to this one when they see their kids hurt, especially emotionally…they feel the emotions their child is feeling. I really understood this one the time I saw my daughter unconscious on a ski slope after a collision with a snowboarder. But it is also essential in other relationships too…the boss must truly understand his/her workers…the spouse must feel what his/her partner is going through…and the truly good teacher feels the frustrations of the student.

Respect means that you accept the other person “as they are” and you do not try to change them as a person. That does not mean you have to agree with everything they do, but you see them as a person of worth and value. You see them as a person with potential and you accept them as another human being who deserves our compassion, respect and support. You will help to change their behavior, but not their personality.

Over the years I have come to realize that Carl Rogers’ requirements of a good therapist are really requirements in any good relationship – family, personal, work, mentor, etc.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all worked harder to practice these in all of our relationships? What do you think?

More later on these traits and how they apply to society…

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