Underlying Interpersonal Processes

The idea here is to look at how well you manage your relationships within your family. The better you become at relationship management, the more satisfying and useful the relationships in your family will be for you. Rate yourself on each of the seven statements below using a scale from five to one. Five equals almost always, four equals usually, three equals sometimes, two equals seldom, and one equals almost never.



When you experience difficulties in your relationships within your family, come back to these seven statements and consider how you are doing. It will be helpful to add your seven ratings together for the seven statements and then divide the total by seven. You are on the right track when you maintain a process score of 4.0 or higher.



The seven capitalized words at the beginning of the statements simply give names to the seven processes. DIRECTION is a process that helps direct or move relationships in ways that are useful to you. ACTION encourages others to respond to and support your needs and interests. ATTITUDE MANAGEMENT encourages others to see you in a positive light. DISTANCING encourages others to stay close enough to you and available enough to you to be there for you at all times. MAINTAINING ENGAGEMENT is a very closely related idea that helps meet your need to always feel that you belong and are part of the family. MANAGING CONFLICT helps assure that your family relationships are as comfortable for you as they can be. MODELING is a process that you involve yourself in to better assure that others in your family will behave and relate to you in ways that are pleasing and satisfying to you.





  • 1. DIRECTION I keep the commitments I make to and agreements I make with members of my family.

  • 2. ACTION I think about, understand, and support the needs and interests of members of my family.

  • 3. ATTITUDE MANAGEMENT I maintain a flexible approach with members of my family, relating to each member in ways that are most useful to and comfortable for him/her.

  • 4. DISTANCING I am sure that the members of my family get acknowledgment, time, and attention from me on a regular basis.

  • 5. MAINTAINING ENGAGEMENT I consistently show my interest in the activities and problems of others in my family.

  • 6. MANAGING CONFLICT I identify, define, and work on resolving any points of conflict or tension that come up in my relationships with people in my family.

  • 7. MODELING Within my family, I behave and relate to others as I would like for them to behave and to relate to me.



Discussion



PRIORITIES: Initiating reciprocal cooperation begins with the client's being clear with himself and other family members about what is wanted and expected. Developing clarity with reference to expectations requires careful work in assisting the client to first see himself as having expectations and then in assisting the client to define and articulate those expectations in terms that enable other family members to respond. The client needs to be additionally assisted in helping other members of the family to define and articulate their expectations. Within this environment of clear expectations, then, all members of the family can better pitch in and work with each other both in terms of shared expectations and in terms of those expectations that are unique to specific members of the family.



Next, focus on loyalty as a reciprocal and shared aspect of family life. At a very fundamental level, this depends on the client's valuing being part of the family. 'Do you value being a part of your family? Is being part of your family important to you?' Most clients will somewhat automatically and reflexively respond to these questions in the affirmative. At that point, help by facilitating the definition of 'valuing.'



'I hear you saying that you value being part of your family. A lot of people feel that way and were we to ask other members of your family, they would probably say the same thing. I have found that it is important that these types of feelings are given more than superficial lip service. What do you value about being a part of your family?' Then work on developing a prioritized list of four or five factors that the client values. That which is valued then becomes the driver or that which most nearly guarantees continuing loyalty.



It also becomes the underlying reason for developing faith in other members of the family as the client has experience with them as people who provide and assure those things valued by the client. Experience with family members as providers of those things valued by the client generalizes to valuing the members themselves and having faith in them in more comprehensive and meaningful terms.



Caring for each other at a reciprocal level within the family is encouraged and furthered by having pride in each other. This starts with the client's having a sense of pride in each member of his family. 'Are you proud of the other members of your family? If so, what are sources of pride for you? Let's think about each member of your family and see if we can develop a list of two or three things about each person that results in your being proud of him. We are not particularly looking for things that you like or appreciate about other family members. Here, we are looking for things that make you feel good about you just because you are in the same family with the other person.' In addition to focus on the idea of pride, this exercise also encourages and enables the client to begin to understand that his sense of self and self-esteem depend, in part, on who the other members of his family are. Part of his pride in who he is depends on who they are. At this level of insight, then, the client may easily see that it is in his interest and in the interest of his self-esteem to support and encourage other members of the family, to support and encourage their activities, interest, and involvements.



Supporting and encouraging each other within the family extends to sharing with each other in caring and meaningful ways. Along with talking with each other, this sharing needs to include an atmosphere of openness and up-frontness with each other.



Failing to share with each other in direct and clear ways what one thinks, feels, and believes about each member of the family jeopardizes the caring environment and directly interferes with cooperation and any continuing sense of loyalty. The client may say, 'I think this is a good idea but being open and up-front is not something I do very well. I know what I think and feel but am not very good at expressing it.' Then help the client understand that the goal is not perfection, showing that he was already interpersonally skilled, or being able to do things that one can not yet do. The goal within the family is for the client to give it his best shot, to try being more open and up-front, to gradually increase his ability to contribute positively to a sharing environment.



This level of sharing is best achieved within an environment characterized by mutual respect. Respect begins with listening to each other patiently and carefully. By reflecting this level of respect with other family members, the client not only conveys respect but begins to learn about sharing. He will see how others express themselves, are open with him, and try to deal with him in up-front and candid ways. He will also find that, having been given the opportunity to express themselves, other members of the family are significantly more receptive to his efforts to express himself.



Among other things, the client's respect for other members of the family conveys to them a willingness on the part of the client to accept them as they are. Following the principle of reciprocity, this orientation on the part of the client increases the willingness of other family members to accept him on an as-is basis. The atmosphere of mutual acceptance, then, makes sharing and cooperation easier and smoother.



The above leads to a quality of trust within family relationships enabling each family member to be more comfortable and at ease with other family members. At a fundamental level, trust is the key to assuring the other five priorities: cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, and respect. The effect is a give and take relationship among and between family members, with an absence of significant criticism, jeopardy, or potential rejection.



It is a sense of or fear of rejection that is perhaps the single greatest factor interfering with comfortable, satisfying, and effective intrafamily relationships. Consciously increasing trust within the family, then, directly reduces one of the major negative drivers within the family: a fear of rejection or nonacceptance. The client moves into a position where he may depend on other members of the family and count on them to be there and to do what needs to be done. They may not always be happy with the client, feel good about him, or relate to him in positive ways. Nonetheless, the underlying trust within the family assures everyone that they will all deal with the ups and downs, good times and bad times.



PROCESSES: Direction helps move relationships in ways that are useful to the client. As suggested earlier, this process starts with keeping commitments and agreements with other family members. In addition, the process is furthered by an approach geared toward influencing other family members instead of directing or trying to control them and or their activities. The client should learn to make suggestions instead of giving directives, ask instead of telling, explain instead of demanding.



It is important for him to understand that, over time, it really is true - as the old saying suggests - 'You accomplish more with honey than with vinegar.' People will usually move in the direction you want them to move if they are asked, if they understand why it is important, and if they know that their doing so is appreciated.



This appreciation is expressed in general and direct ways. At the same time, though, it is important to focus any criticism in very direct and specific ways. Praise and express appreciation in lavish and general terms. Express any criticism or negative feelings in very limited and specific ways. Through the process, the client will gradually get to a point where he is more clearly directing relationships in ways useful to him, responding to those problems points or negative times in very limited and specific ways, and clearly letting others know that their helpful approach is appreciated.



The action process within family relationships encourages others to respond to the client in ways that support and compliment his needs and interest. Following the principle of reciprocity, the action process is furthered by the client's understanding and supporting the needs and interest of other members of the family. 'What do other members of the family need? What is important to them? What can you do to support these needs and interests?' On a reciprocal basis, the client is clear about what he needs, his interest, what he expects.



The client needs to be consistent with reference to his needs and interest and the articulation of those needs and interest to others. Additionally, he needs to be firm about his needs and interest and the expectation that other family members take them into consideration. This firmness must not turn into aggression, a demanding approach, or an approach that indicates that the client's needs and interests are more important than those of others. Here, gentle firmness is the key.



The process of attitude management encourages others to see the client in a positive light. Attention to the first two processes - direction and action - facilitates this positive perception of the client.



In addition, seeing each member of the family as an individual and individualizing one's approach, relationship, and expectations furthers the attitude management process. 'How is your approach to each member of your family different from your approach to each other member of the family? How does this result in differences in your relationships with each member? What are the differences? What do you expect from each member of your family; and how are those expectations different from those held for other members of the family?' Implicit in this individualization is a level of flexibility that will allow the client to respond differentially to the special needs and interests of each family member. This, in turn, enables the client to emphasize and facilitate the satisfaction of each member of the family. On a reciprocal basis, this, in turn, increases the likelihood of their encouraging and facilitating the general level of satisfaction of the client. 'If I help you be more satisfied with who you are and with being a part of the family, the likelihood is that your functioning in relationship to me will have a similar effect for me.'



The distancing process combines with the other interpersonal processes to encourage other members of the family to stay close and in touch with the client and available to him. In order to further this process, the client must assure that each member of the family receives acknowledgement and recognition from him on a regular basis. Importantly, though, it is not enough to simply say 'hello.' Acknowledgement and recognition come through knowing of the other person's interest and activities, keeping up with their involvement and interest, and taking time to know who they are on a day-to-day basis. Collectively, these represent who the other person is. It is to whom the person is that one gives acknowledgement and recognition.



The idea is to convey a real and felt sense that says, 'I know who you are, am interested in you and who you are, and enjoy being close enough with you to keep in touch and up to date.' On a reciprocal basis, or course, other members of the family are more likely to relate to the client on the same basis. Important here is a willingness to simply accept fluctuations in the attitudes, behaviors, and involvements of other family members. Sometimes people feel closer to each other and sometimes they feel a little more distant. Nonetheless, the client works toward maintaining the distance at a close and relating level as much of the time as possible.



Among other things, this means that the client is as willing to adjust to and adapt to other family members as he expects them to be willing to adjust to or adapt to him. This principle of each adapting to the other in flexible and mutually accommodating ways is especially important within parent/child relationships and within the marriage dyad. The client should simply keep in mind that accommodating and adjusting to others is not an unlimited process. It should not develop into a game. It is, instead, a process related to distancing within relationships and to maintaining a close, in touch involvement with each other.



The process is probably best understood in relationship to maintaining engagement leading to always feeling that one belongs and is part of the family. This starts with assuring that the client interacts with other members of the family on a regular basis and that they interact with him. In addition, though, maintaining engagement suggest that the client should take additional responsibility to be sure that there is time and opportunity for other members of the family to interact with each other. Importantly, the environment within which these interactions take place should be maintained in a positive, comfortable manner, to the extent that the client is able to influence these environmental qualities. Within this process, conveying interest needs to be managed in a direct way. It is not enough o talk with others about a family member, to tell others about his accomplishments or achievements, or to discuss with them problems or difficulties one may be having with another family member. These things should be managed directly with each member of the family following the processes of direction, action, attitude management, and so on.



The client may encourage each family member to be experimental, to suggest new ideas and approaches to be used to better manage engagement with each other. At the family level, it might be well to simply sit down with each other and talk about this process, listening carefully to the ideas and suggestions of each member. The client may be surprised to find how much assistance he will receive from other family members if they are simply invited to participate in thinking about the process.



Conflict management is a critical process within any family and represents one of the most important skill areas in the development of effective interpersonal relationships. When handled well, conflict management assures that members of the family are as comfortable with the client as they can be. As suggested earlier, a fear of nonacceptance or rejection is one of the primary negative drivers within families. Conflict fuels that driver perhaps more than any other single factor. Managing conflict, then, leads to minimizing any sense of rejection or nonacceptance on the part of family members.



Effective conflict management starts with the client's simply tolerating a fairly high level of ambiguity or uncertainty in the behavior of other family members and in his relationships with them. It relates back to having faith in them and to accepting them on an as is basis. Much family conflict revolves around misunderstandings, differing opinions, pressing for explanations where no explanation is readily available, and pushing other individuals to remove any ambiguity or lack of clarity that may be present. In addition, there are going to be those points of tensions, conflict, increased negativism. Most individuals are somewhat naturally tempted to try to deal with these points and resolve them. Much of the time, it is in the interest of conflict management to simply absorb or tolerate these periods of high dissonance or conflict and those occasional periods of mild dissonance or conflict. The idea is to use an approach that absorbs the intense negative feelings and tries to understand what is happening, how people are feeling, and what is driving the tension or conflict. It is at this level that a response is appropriate, although many times one might be better off to simply understand that people are in a bad mood sometimes, feel tense sometimes, and behave in ways that cause conflict and negative feelings.



So long as the problems are not chronic or persistent, these occasional episodes of dissonance or conflict are simply part of being in the family and probably do not need any specific response. The family system really does crunch and bump sometimes. The key is to be alert to real problems, things that really do need resolution and continuing attention. This is especially true if the same difficulties keep coming up over and over again or if a specific family member seems to be the brunt of or the source of the conflict on a regular or recurring basis. In these situations, attention is less to the conflict itself and more toward that which is causing or contributing to the conflict.



Modeling is perhaps the most significant of the seven interpersonal processes being discussed here. Through Therapeutic Instruction, the client not only learns to function in more interpersonally effective ways with style but also beings to represent a model or example within the family of interpersonally effective style. He begins to exemplify family priorities and becomes an individual whom others emulate. Part of this modeling process involves emphasizing positive things, ideas, interpretations, and processes within the family, giving direct and very clear attention to any problems or difficulties that may arise. 'I understand that you are feeling fairly negative about your family relationships and about other people in the family. Others in your situation have felt much the same way. I have found, though, that your continuing to verbalize and express these negative things and ideas only tends to make the family environment more negative. I think you may find that working on the problems, working on how you relate to others, working on the example you set for others may, in the long run, do a lot more good than simply talking about how bad things are without taking personal responsibility for your style, your involvement, your participation, your role in what is going on. You may not be able to do much at this point about what is going on with others. You can and should, however, do what you can do to be a person with style, all the time, on purpose.'



By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. March 24, 2017