The unique combination of our nature and nurture results in the development of our own unique sense of reality or the way we see the world. Even where it appears that we agree that we’re seeing the same thing, e.g. an apple, our perceptions will be different even if only subtly so. One person may be disgusted because the apple evokes memories of being force fed fruit when a child, while in another warm memories of time spent in the orchard on their parent’s farm may be evoked.
An awareness of these differences in perception is critical in maintaining healthy relationships whatever their nature. I touched on perception in my previous article on Introspection. This article will explore perception from the perspective (no pun intended) of Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche (consisting of the Id – Instinctual desire, the ego – organisation and realism and the super ego – criticising and moralising; more information can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego) and Thomas A Harris’s ground-breaking Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) model (more information can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I’m_OK,_You’re_OK). It is very important to note that the use of Parent, Adult and Child in the PAC model is different to our everyday use of these terms. Also there is a premise that we will have experienced virtually every emotion we will ever feel at all levels of intensity by the time we are 5. As I understand it the rationale is as follows:
- Parent refers to all the external events that we experience throughout our lives; up to the age of 5 these mostly come from our parents
- Child refers to our emotional responses which are all present and ready to go prior to birth
- Adult refers to making sense of the input that we get from external events (or external stimulus), memory recall (or internal stimulus) and emotional responses
The diagram below is a visual depiction of my interpretation of how we perceive things based on the models described above.
As long as we perceiving via our Adult we see and experience things as they really are. However the Adult is in a constant struggle to to maintain its gate-keeping role and prevent the Child or Parent from taking over and distorting our perception of reality or, at the extreme, presenting pure fantasy as reality. It is important to note that from our point of view at any given moment, whether our perception is of actual reality, distorted reality or pure fantasy at that moment the perception is very real.
Here are a couple of examples:
- A boss gets angry and fires an employee on the spot. In this example the Child mode is expressing itself in the form of anger distorting reality to the extent that the boss makes a poor decision because the employee then sues for unfair dismissal and wins. Had the boss been in Adult mode, they would have taken a far more measured approach involving calming down before properly considering the situation resulting in making a less expensive decision.
- A wealthy person decides not to spend money on a luxury item that they really want. In this example the wealthy person is in Parent mode and the assertion of an upbringing that was dominated by criticism, moralising and penny-pinching distort the reality of the present day. If the mode had been Adult the wealthy person would have acknowledged, with respect, the penny-pinching values of their upbringing and then asserted their right as an individual to go ahead and splurge anyway.
- A spouse becomes disillusioned with their partner and files for divorce. In this example the combination of Child (expectations) and Parent (imposed values) modes create a distorted reality of an unhappy marriage and a fantasy of a much better marriage with someone else. In Adult mode the spouse would work through the issues and, ideally, create a more fulfilling marriage with their existing partner. In the event that they go ahead and file for divorce, at the very least they have given it appropriate Adult consideration.
My current view is that we function optimally in Adult mode. When we are in Child or Parent mode we will, almost without exception, dig our heels in and stick to our position no matter how compelling an alternative is presented. In Adult mode we are aware of our current position or state of mind. At the same time we are also open to alternatives and thus prepared to change our positions or, to use the more common term, change our minds. However, as Thomas A Harris states, it is very important that the Child and Parent modes remain present and functional. Without these we would lose our playfulness (Child) and an important source of reference material (Parent).
Now all we need to do is figure out how to check whether we are in Parent, Adult or Child mode. My self check is how relaxed and calm I am…the more relaxed and calm I am, the more likely it is that I am in Adult mode.
Stay strong and serene.