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Mar
25
2020

Developing the Self

By Fulshear Treatment to Transition|Therapy

The self is made up of three “manifestations.” You could picture them like three rooms or spaces in your mind. These manifestations are things we know both consciously and unconsciously. They can be activated by dreams, situations, thoughts or words, and when they are activated, they cause an emotional response.

The first of these manifestations is that “I am acceptable,” the second is “emotional congruence,” and the third is the “minimum exertion effect.” When one or more of these manifestations is activated, a variety of responses can occur. On one hand, if the activation of the manifestation is negative then you may be fearful, nervous or sad. Over time you may experience symptoms of anxiety, depression and personality disorders that will occur through this activation. On the other hand, when we experience an activation that builds, reinforces or strengthens these manifestations, then we may experience personal confidence, a sense of influence or power, peace or pride. Caregiver interactions can build and strengthen these manifestations. Abuse, neglect, trauma or several other behaviors can weaken the self.

You may also compare these three manifestations of self to a foundation. These are all part of the “essential self” or the very basic building blocks of identity. If these three things are not in order, then every other part of identity is impacted negatively. Cultural, ethnic, familial, physical, sexual or spiritual identities, along with any other identities that belong to a person, will all be impacted by undeveloped manifestations of self. 

I Am Acceptable

The first of the three manifestations is “I am acceptable.” Thousands of experiences over time teach a person that they are acceptable. Behaviors of caregivers and peers, societal messages (both spoken and unspoken) and words all help to build or diminish this part of the self. Knowing that others are committed in a relationship to the person and that they matter to others contributes to the concept of acceptability and the development of “self.”

I Am Acceptable

I have a place of belonging

I am deserving of space

I matter to others

Others are committed to me

I am worthy

Emotional Congruence

The second manifestation is emotional congruence. Many people believe that emotions are unacceptable, something to be avoided or feared. An increase in emotions is uncomfortable to many people whether the emotion is expressing anger or despair, happiness or joy. Rules around emotions at home can be multigenerational and unspoken rules. Emotional awareness, expression and validation are all necessary components of the development of self. Without this, a major component of who we are is denied and our ability to seek connection or support through caregivers is hindered. Inaccurate or lack of expression makes it nearly impossible for attuned caregivers to meet the needs of seekers. 

Emotional Congruence

How I feel is known by me

How I feel is perceived by others and matters

How I feel is reflected by others in meaningful ways

A place of calm exists

Minimum Exertion Effect

The final manifestation is the minimum exertion effect. Without the accomplishment of developmental obstacles as well as day to day obstacles, there can be no growth. The self begins to weaken as developmental obstacles are left unachieved. Academic, developmental, emotional, physical and relational accomplishments allow for a sense of personal ownership and pride. The minimum exertion effect is that a person has the power to overcome obstacles if they choose and that they are making a difference in their own lives from day-to-day. Choice is also an essential element of the self. When a person chooses to act on their behalf versus acting out of coercion it strengthens the sense of accomplishment and the sense of self.

Minimum Exertion Effect

Power to overcome basic obstacles

I achieve major developmental milestones and experiences

I achieve traction in daily efforts

I have a personal choice

In order to develop an identity, the essential self must be strengthened in each of the three areas. The way that these are developed is through the caregiver/seeker relationship. Acceptability is demonstrated through the relationship which provides a sense of belonging, commitment and worth. Having someone reach out when a person needs support and being able to co-regulate repeated time and time again, continue to build this part of the essential self.

Likewise, emotional congruence is only built through this back and forth of the caregiver/seeker relationship. When the seeker can reach out and the caregiver can respond with support and validation, the seeker begins to recognize that what they feel is known by others and is important to them. 

Finally, the minimum exertion effect is built when caregivers can hold developmentally appropriate expectations and assist the seeker in achieving these experiences, milestones and obstacles. Through a continual cycle of developmentally appropriate expectations that are met by the seeker, the seeker eventually can develop a level of ownership and trust that builds recognition of their ability to have a choice in their life. 

These three manifestations of self, when met, set the stage for identity development. Where identity is not solid, the caregivers should assess in what ways they can build these important elements. Seekers themselves should also be taught and be aware of the need to seek appropriately so that they can be assisted by those who care for them. Though these principles seem simple, they create the foundation of a healthy self-concept.

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