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How to Stop Being Clingy (And Maintain Your Independence in a Relationship)
Northwestern University This paper reveals a theory of personality based on the formation of intimate relationships during the early stages of a person's lifetime. During infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young 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 intimate relationships that ultimately form their personality. Relationships formed during each stage of life serve as a prototype for interactions in later stages. For this reason, there exists a continuum of relationships formed throughout a lifetime that shape and mold specific personality traits. Neither intimacy nor individual development can exist alone. The birth of a child initiates a human being into a life-long process of mutual adaptation between the child, his or her intimate relationship partners and the broader social environment. Intimate interactions and relationships affect adaptations to the changing needs and stresses that evolve with each stage of development throughout one's lifetime. Intimate interactions from early life serve as the basis upon which relationships later in life are formed. Environmental contingencies to which individuals must adapt are rooted in these relationships. In an attempt to adapt to other people's styles of relating, one must adjust his or her own behaviors Baldwin, Based on the fact that human development is a product of complex interplay of forces that reside within the individual human being and the environment by which he or she is surrounded, it can be proposed that interpersonal interactions and relationships shape individual personality and coping styles. Psychological maturity involves integrating intimacy into a life framework that encompasses all parts of the self. Relationships Formed During Infancy and Childhood Dimensions of Temperament From the time of birth, every individual is biologically predisposed to approach the world with his or her own personal style. Studies of infants suggest that some variability in human behavior may result directly or indirectly from genetic differences. Developmental psychologists 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. Psychologists Buss and Plomin have proposed the existence of four basic temperament dimensions present in human beings McAdams, Emotionality is the tendency to express negative emotions such as anger and fear frequently and vigorously. Activity is the degree of physical movement that a person characteristically shows. Impulsivity is the degree to which a person acts quickly without deliberation, moves from one activity to the next, and finds it difficult to practice self-control. Sociability is the tendency to be outgoing and friendly and to enjoy the company of others McAdams, , pp. According to this theory, persons are inherently born with tendencies to develop these four temperaments to different levels. These dimensions are present in infancy and continue to grow throughout childhood and adulthood. The social environment reacts to these tendencies, modifying and shaping them in different ways. Such modifications are the results of interpersonal relationships that begin to form during early life. The development of a unique interpersonal style is a function of temperament McAdams, The Mother-Child Relationship A human being's first intimate relationship is the mother-child relationship. According to Freud , a human being's first encounter with intimate behavior is with his or her mother during the act of breast-feeding. During infancy, the baby obtains nourishment and pleasure from sucking 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 the prototype 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 during infancy. The need for security and comfort play an important role in shaping the interactions with caregivers McAdams, , pp. Attachment According to the Bowlby and Ainsworth , the love between a mother and an infant is the result of an attachment bond formed during the first year of life. Interactions between a child 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 the securely attached infant. Infants who develop "secure" personality types feel confident and at ease when relating to others. They learn how to take turns, how to lead and follow, and how to express and receive. The attachment bond serves as a prototype and provides the earliest pattern for warm and close relationships McAdams, , pp. Interactions With Peers During preschool years, a child's need for autonomy and individuation influences his or her intimate interactions with peers. Children look to share and communicate while enjoying the company of their peers. These interactions are based on the quest for coexistence between their 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's interactions with peers. In laboratory studies, children who show more self-reliance and control are found to have parents who are nurturing. In contrast, children who are less autonomous are found to have parents who are more permissive Prager, , p. In nursery school and kindergarten, children who had developed a secure attachment bond during infancy are described by their teachers as more socially competent and popular. They are observed to show more dominance and initiative McAdams, , p. Such peer interactions characterized by autonomy, sensitivity, empathetic concern, and ability to verbalize emotions reflect the formation of intimate friendships later on Prager, , p. It is thus apparent that behavioral patterns resulting from relationships formed during infancy are reflected in peer interactions. In turn, these interactions serve as a basis for relationships that develop in the next stage of life. Relationships Formed During Adolescence and Early Adulthood Maturity Children entering adolescence must begin to adapt to the adult world and its institutions while coming to terms with emerging parts of themselves. They discover themselves as having new emotional and sexual needs. As they make these discoveries, adolescents begin to realize the limitations of their parents. Friendships 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 their family drops roughly in half Westen, , p. As an adolescent undergoes physical and emotional changes, he or she seeks out relationships that enhance efforts to adapt to new needs and stresses. Adolescents seek to share their thoughts and feelings with those who are experiencing similar changes. Intimate interactions increase between friends during this stage in life because they provide teens with opportunities for self-clarification. Through the formation of coconstructive dialogues between friends, teens can participate together in exploring and constructing selves. Referring back to the example of the securely attached infant, it can be inferred that the ability to construct such dialogues directly stems from earlier interactions. The secure infant's sensitive and autonomous personality traits were reflected in relationships with peers. These traits reappear in the dialogues formed with friends during adolescence. The egalitarian authority structure of friendship lends itself to such exchanges and relieves the pressure adolescents might feel to yield to the views of adult supremacy Youniss, Multiple Selves During late adolescence, one must first confront the problem of multiple selves. For the first time, an adolescent realizes that his or her personality changes from one situation to the next. This is the stage of life during which one looks to craft a narrative of the self that provides a sense of sameness and continuity. The desire to discover how one is the same from one situation to the next dominates the desire to discover how one is the same as other people. The importance of intimate friendship and romance formed during early adulthood stems from the valuable and adaptive contribution dialogues made with friends during adolescence. Personality differences can be identified by capacities to form intimate relationships characterized by commitment, depth, and partner individuation based on interactions of early life Prager, , pp. Self Definition Through Story During the transformation from adolescence to early adulthood, a person seeks to discover the self through story in historical and biographical terms. Whereas the child views his or her past as a simple series of factual events, a curiosity is invoked in a young adult who seeks to uncover the meaning and the validity of these facts. For the first time, one does not search for oneself in others, but rather confronts the other as a separate person with whom one longs to connect McAdams, , pp. The ability of an individual to combine his or her multiple selves and to create a well-articulated life story results in the ability to guide one's actions, emotions, and personality traits. Conclusion Intimate relationships formed during infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood give rise to continuing relationships, and ultimately to individual development. Relationships are formed as adaptive measures necessary for coping with adjustments and transitions. Concerns with the self and with one's ability to adapt cause people to seek identity through intimacy. Children seek to develop autonomy while maintaining the ability to retreat to their caregiver for support. Adolescents are concerned with developing individuation while still seeking acceptance of those around them. Young adults confront the challenge of molding an adult identity. Relationships provide context in which children, adolescents, and young adults can resolve life-stage-related preoccupations about their individual personality.
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