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Intimate Relationships Personality

Intimate Relationships Personality

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Published by: Mohamad Shuhmy Shuib on May 16, 2010
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Intimate Relationships:Personality Development throughInteraction during Early Life
Maren CardilloNorthwestern University
 This paper reveals a theory of personality based on the formation of intimate relationshipsduring the early stages of a person's lifetime. During infancy, childhood, adolescence, andyoung adulthood, new needs and tensions arise in the individual. In attempt to seek ways of adapting to these newfound stresses, people develop different kinds of intimaterelationships that ultimately form their personality. Relationships formed during each stageof life serve as a prototype for interactions in later stages. For this reason, there exists acontinuum of relationships formed throughout a lifetime that shape and mold specificpersonality traits.Neither intimacy nor individual development can exist alone. The birth of a child initiates ahuman being into a life-long process of mutual adaptation between the child, his or herintimate relationship partners and the broader social environment. Intimate interactions andrelationships affect adaptations to the changing needs and stresses that evolve with eachstage of development throughout one's lifetime. Intimate interactions from early life serveas the basis upon which relationships later in life are formed. Environmental contingenciesto which individuals must adapt are rooted in these relationships. In an attempt to adapt toother people's styles of relating, one must adjust his or her own behaviors (Baldwin, 1992).Based on the fact that human development is a product of complex interplay of forces thatreside within the individual human being and the environment by which he or she issurrounded, it can be proposed that interpersonal interactions and relationships shapeindividual personality and coping styles. Psychological maturity involves integrating intimacyinto a life framework that encompasses all parts of the self.
Relationships Formed during Infancy andChildhood
Dimensions of Temperament
From the time of birth, every individual is biologically predisposed to approach the worldwith his or her own personal style. Studies of infants suggest that some variability in humanbehavior may result directly or indirectly from genetic differences. Developmentalpsychologists term these differences as dimensions of temperament. Based on chemical,biological, experiential, interpersonal, and social factors, different dimensions of temperament manifest themselves over time and across different situations. PsychologistsBuss and Plomin have proposed the existence of four basic temperament dimensionspresent in human beings (McAdams, 1989):
is the tendency to express negative emotions such as anger and fearfrequently and vigorously.
is the degree of physical movement that a person characteristically shows.
is the degree to which a person acts quickly without deliberation, movesfrom one activity to the next, and finds it difficult to practice self-control.
is the tendency to be outgoing and friendly and to enjoy the company of others (McAdams, 1989, pp. 136-137).According to this theory, persons are inherently born with tendencies to develop these fourtemperaments to different levels. These dimensions are present in infancy and continue togrow throughout childhood and adulthood. The social environment reacts to thesetendencies, modifying and shaping them in different ways. Such modifications are theresults of interpersonal relationships that begin to form during early life. The development of a unique interpersonal style is a function of temperament (McAdams, 1989).
The Mother-Child Relationship
A human being's first intimate relationship is the mother-child relationship. According toFreud (1949), a human being's first encounter with intimate behavior is with his or hermother during the act of breast-feeding. "The act of sucking is the most primitive manner of knowing the innermost self of another, and to suck the other into one's innermost"(McAdams, 1989, p. 139). During infancy, the baby obtains nourishment and pleasure fromsucking at the mother's breast, thus reducing tension caused by the hunger drive.Engagement in such a tension-relieving activity during this early stage serves as theprototype for relationships that develop later on in life. Life-stage-related changes in stress,tension, and needs are based on the outcome of such coping attempts formed duringinfancy. The need for security and comfort play an important role in shaping the interactionswith caregivers (McAdams, 1989, pp. 71-81).
According to the Bowlby and Ainsworth (1991), the love between a mother and an infant isthe result of an attachment bond formed during the first year of life. Interactions between achild and his or her mother form behavioral patters that are reflected in later relationships.An example of the development of personality as a result of this bond can be seen in thesecurely attached infant. As a result of sensitivity and responsiveness on the part of thecaregiver, an infant may develop a "secure" attachment style (Rothbard & Shaver, 1994).Infants who develop "secure" personality types feel confident and at ease when relating toothers. They learn how to take turns, how to lead and follow, and how to express andreceive. The attachment bond serves as a prototype and provides the earliest pattern forwarm and close relationships (McAdams, 1989, pp. 140-143).
Interactions with Peers
During preschool years, a child's need for autonomy and individuation influences his or herintimate interactions with peers. Children look to share and communicate while enjoying thecompany of their peers. These interactions are based on the quest for coexistence betweentheir newfound independence and the love they experienced during infancy.Aspects of the parent-child relationship affect the efficacy of children's adaptations.Competencies acquired through interactions with parents are reflected in children'sinteractions with peers. In laboratory studies, children who show more self-reliance andcontrol are found to have parents who are nurturing. In contrast, children who are lessautonomous are found to have parents who are more permissive (Prager, 1995, p. 89). Innursery school and kindergarten, children who had developed a secure attachment bondduring infancy are described by their teachers as more socially competent and popular. Theyare observed to show more dominance and initiative (McAdams, 1989, p. 143).Such peer interactions characterized by autonomy, sensitivity, empathetic concern, andability to verbalize emotions reflect the formation of intimate friendships later on (Prager,
1995, p. 87). It is thus apparent that behavioral patterns resulting from relationships formedduring infancy are reflected in peer interactions. In turn, these interactions serve as a basisfor relationships that develop in the next stage of life.
Relationships Formed during Adolescenceand Early Adulthood
Children entering adolescence must begin to adapt to the adult world and its institutionswhile coming to terms with emerging parts of themselves. They discover themselves ashaving new emotional and sexual needs. As they make these discoveries, adolescents beginto realize the limitations of their parents. Taking responsibility for aspects of their owncharacter requires distancing from authoritative figures (Graham & Lafollette, 1989, p. 223).
Over the course of social development, the role of friends and parents changes significantly.During early adolescence, the amount of time that North American children spend with theirfamily drops roughly in half (Westen, 1996, p. 547). As an adolescent undergoes physicaland emotional changes, he or she seeks out relationships that enhance efforts to adapt tonew needs and stresses. Adolescents seek to share their thoughts and feelings with thosewho are experiencing similar changes. Intimate interactions increase between friends duringthis stage in life because they provide teens with opportunities for self-clarification. Throughthe formation of coconstructive dialogues between friends, teens can participate together inexploring and constructing selves.Referring back to the example of the securely attached infant, it can be inferred that theability to construct such dialogues directly stems from earlier interactions. The secureinfant's sensitive and autonomous personality traits were reflected in relationships withpeers. These traits reappear in the dialogues formed with friends during adolescence. Theegalitarian authority structure of friendship lends itself to such exchanges and relieves thepressure adolescents might feel to yield to the views of adult supremacy (Youniss, 1980).
Multiple Selves
During late adolescence, one must first confront the problem of multiple selves. For the firsttime, an adolescent realizes that his or her personality changes from one situation to thenext. This is the stage of life during which one looks to craft a narrative of the self thatprovides a sense of sameness and continuity. The desire to discover how one is the samefrom one situation to the next dominates the desire to discover how one is the same asother people. The importance of intimate friendship and romance formed during earlyadulthood stems from the valuable and adaptive contribution dialogues made with friendsduring adolescence. Personality differences can be identified by capacities to form intimaterelationships characterized by commitment, depth, and partner individuation based oninteractions of early life (Prager, 1995, pp. 131-133).
Self Definition through Story
During the transformation from adolescence to early adulthood, a person seeks to discoverthe self through story in historical and biographical terms. Whereas the child views his or herpast as a simple series of factual events, a curiosity is invoked in a young adult who seeks touncover the meaning and the validity of these facts. For the first time, one does not searchfor oneself in others, but rather confronts the other as a separate person with whom onelongs to connect (McAdams, 1989, pp. 156-159). The ability of an individual to combine hisor her multiple selves and to create a well-articulated life story results in the ability to guideone's actions, emotions, and personality traits.

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