By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

We live in and are surrounded by a multitude of relationships with others. It is difficult to be aware of how similar to one another our interpersonal relationships are and how we may act to either enhance or defeat the potential for loving and feeling loved within them. Understanding ourselves and the personal qualities we bring from childhood is crucial if we are to have some control over and enhance our adult lives. Whether we consider the relationships with our lovers, friends, co-workers or children, the foundation of our interactions comes from our early learning experience; particularly within our families. It is this trip through time we will address here.

As children we observed our parents interact with others and from them we learned how to participate in family and other social relationships. Not only did we have the opportunity to learn appropriate social skills, we also unwittingly took on the imperfections our parents modelled. Hence, our current social adjustment and ability stems largely from what we experienced as children. We each have been blessed with certain attributes and cursed with others. It is the latter that we find painful, damaging and in need of change.

While we are not accountable for the occurrence of our childhood traumatic life experiences, nor our early attempts at adaptation, we are responsible for creating desirable change once we are able to identify the problem area. It is helpful to treat emotional pain as an opportunity for personal growth. One key to success here is isolating and objectifying, as best we can, the limiting experience or behavior. This can be done by consciously tracing our current perception of self and/or problem behavior to its origin. This means experiencing our current pain or dysfunction and looking at it both retrospectively and historically.

Focusing on the source of our emotional and/or behavioral pain allows us to make decisions to let go of or change what is causing the discomfort. Once some of the sting, such as the experience of shame, is removed by enhancing our frame of reference, it is easier to transform maladaptive responses to more adaptive ones. Modifying long-lived problematic thoughts, emotional and behavioral responses, in order to conform to current life realities, results in enhanced life experience; including closer relationships with intimate others.

Specifically, replacing the conditioned and automatic undesirable thoughts, emotions or behaviors with desirable ones, yields enhanced perceptions of self and others. Another consequence is a better feeling of control in one's emotional life. This cognitive-behavioral approach both addresses the cause and efficiently deals with the changes essential to permanent life enhancement.

While creating permanent shifts away from old conditioned responses is not an easy task, the successful replacement of such maladaptive patterns with new life enhancing responses is clearly worth the effort.