Psychologist David Richo, author of How to Be an Adult in Relationships, talks about what he calls the “5 A’s.” What are these? These are the important components of healthy relationships. These relationships might be parent/child (including an adult child), friends, romantic partners, etc.:
- Acceptance – the other person in the relationship accepts you (your interests, your activities, the things you value) as they are and does not try to change them or you.
- Affection – the other person in your relationship exhibits warm feelings of caring about you. This may include physical comforting (such as a hug).
- Allowing – this is similar to acceptance in that the other person in the relationship makes it safe for you to be yourself and feel your feelings even when they aren’t polite or are not socially acceptable.
- Appreciation – the other person in the relationship appreciates and values you for who you are right now.
- Attention – the other person in the relationship gives you their attention, showing genuine interest in you.
During grad school when I was working on my masters degree in counseling, there were a few things that professors said which stuck with me. One of them was this: the greatest desire of the human heart is to be known and loved. And when I look at these “5 A’s” of relationships, that is what these summarize for me. A relationship which embodies these 5 A’s is a relationship in which each person sees, knows, accepts, loves, and values the other without conditions, just as they are. (This doesn’t mean you can’t hope for better for the other person, but it’s not a condition of caring about them). But here’s the thing: when you read this list, do you find many of your relationships pass this test? There are some that do but I suspect many embody some of the A’s and not the others. In fact, Richo cautions that you should expect that any one other person will meet about 25 percent of your needs. That’s it! And that’s true for romantic relationships, as well.
So if that’s the case, if only a small part of our needs are being met by other people, what’s the answer? I suppose one answer could be to develop as many friendships as possible. I think the better answer lies in developing your own sense of self worth and value internally instead of being dependent upon other people to get it. The truth of the matter is that just about all of us have invisible wounds that occurred in childhood and these most often revolve around our sense of self worth and value. Some people are really good at hiding this, but if you are someone who struggles with your feelings of self worth you have a LOT of company.
It might sound weird and perhaps you haven’t thought of it in this way, but you have a relationship with yourself. You are with yourself 24/7. No one else has as much potential impact on you as yourself. Do you accept yourself just as you are? Or do you criticize and judge yourself for perceived flaws and shortcomings? Are your feelings of self worth and value conditional? How do you measure up when you apply the 5 A’s to yourself?
I would like to recommend the practice of self-compassion as the way to develop a 5 A relationship with yourself and a sense of self-worth and value that comes from within rather than from others. This is work you can do with a therapist who utilizes compassion-focused therapy or you can work on your own with a resource like Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer’s book, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive.
As always, I invite you to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me if you are considering starting counseling. It’s an opportunity to make sure you feel comfortable in my office and with me. Not every therapist is a perfect fit for every client, so I’m happy to provide referrals to other therapists who might be a better fit for you when that is helpful. You can call or text (816) 226-4678 to set up a consultation or an appointment.