We have seen in previous articles published on this site that one of the main symptoms of having experienced a traumatic childhood in which our relationship with our parent/parents/primary care-giver was seriously disrupted is difficulty in trusting others and problems with forming and maintaining relationships in general.
This is, of course, extremely unfortunate, especially as research suggests that it is relationships (romantic partners, friends, social life etc). that can make us truly happy, NOT lots of money, great success or acquiring expensive possessions.
For example, the psychologist Maslow (1940s) identified good relationships with others as an absolutely fundamental human need and the psychologist Argyle (1980s) stressed the great importance of supportive, trusting and warm relationships in generating within ourselves a feeling of well-being. Contemporary psychologists (e.g. Seligman) have also carried out research confirming these earlier findings.
Many relationships break down due to poor communication. However, recent research suggests it is not just important to communicate well when there are problems in the relationship, but, also, when things are going positively. IN PARTICULAR, recent research has shown that HOW A PARTNER RESPONDS TO THE OTHER PARTNER’S GOOD NEWS is of paramount importance if a relationship is to progress smoothly.
Indeed, researchers in the field of positive psychology (the scientific study of what contributes to human well-being), Gable et al, have found, in connection with this, that the way a partner responds to the other partner’s good news can be placed into one of four main categories; these are:
1) PASSIVE CONSTRUCTIVE (PC)
2) PASSIVE DESTRUCTIVE (PD)
3) ACTIVE DESTRUCTIVE (AD)
4) ACTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE (AC)
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
1) PC – this refers to a rather weak and unenthusiastic response. For example, say the partner’s just got a great new job, beating fifty other candidates – a PASSIVE CONSTRUCTIVE RESPONSE might be, ‘Oh, really; that’s something, I suppose.’
2) PD – in the above scenario a PASSIVE DESTRUCTIVE RESPONSE might be first, ignoring the news, and, then, launching into telling you their (in their view, far more important) news; for example: ‘You wouldn’t believe my day, I very nearly got a parking ticket!’
3) AD – in the above scenario, an ACTIVE DESTRUCTIVE RESPONSE might be, ‘Huh! Really? My bet’s you won’t last a week – they’ll soon realize what a complete loser you are; you can hardly tie your shoelaces!’
4) AC – in the above scenario, an ACTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE RESPONSE would be any that was extremely supportive and enthusiastic such as, ‘That’s a really great achievement, I knew they’d realize how talented you are! I’m so proud of you. Let’s go out and celebrate!’
Of course, I’ve exaggerated some of the negative responses for comic effect – often the negative responses will be far more subtle (but just as damaging).
NEGATIVE BIASES :
We have already seen that as survivors of childhood trauma we often find it very difficult to trust others. We may avoid close relationships in order to avoid the possibility of being hurt.
Whilst this can allow us to feel safe from harm, it can also lead to extreme loneliness.
Research shows that without good social support the childhood trauma survivor is much more likely to suffer emotional problems. Having just one person to confide in, though, can help to SIGNIFICANTLY ALLEVIATE emotional distress.
Below are some examples of negative biases we might have when thinking about relationships.
1) everyone has always hurt me, therefore this person will too; I won’t try to form a close relationship with him/her.
2) he/she has let me down. That means he/she will always let me down and is completely untrustworthy.
3) there’s no way I’m going to the party – they’ll be lots of people I don’t know and it’s certain they’ll all hate me.
HOWEVER, in all three examples it is likely our beliefs are erroneous and based on a negative thinking bias caused by our childhood experiences. Below are some ways it would be reasonable for us to mentally challenge our beliefs held in the three above examples.
1) I am OVERGENERALIZING. My past experiences don’t mean everyone in the future is bound to always hurt me.
2) He/she is usually good to me; therefore there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation why he/she seems to have let me down on this particular occasion.
3) I’m being far too harsh on myself – I may be lacking some confidence at the moment but this does not mean people will hate me. Anyway, I can work on ways to gradually rebuild my confidence.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people to get into the habit of challenging their habitual, unhelpful, negative thinking patterns in a similar way to how I’ve illustrated above.
DEVELOPING SOCIAL SKILLS:
One way to do this is to observe others who already possess good social skills – the type of things they do may include:
-smiling reasonably often
-using a reasonable amount of eye contact
-giving genuine compliments (but not overdoing it)
-using the other person’s name when talking to them (but, again, not overdoing it)
Others that can be observed to help develop social skills may include friends, strangers or even characters from TV or cinema. It can be of particular benefit to observe how others deal with difficult situations.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that when developing social skills, it is best to build up gradually, rather than to throw ourselves immediately into an especially challenging social event.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).