Say it with kindness

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

July 20, 2021 


Writers: Azie Libanan and Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo
Editor: K Ballesteros
Researchers: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Jerwin Regala, and Angelica Jane Evangelista
Creatives: Jacklyn Moral and Krystle Mae Labio
Moderators: Christine Joy Salva Cruz, Marga Miñon, Marc John Paul Agbuya, Gie Lenna dela Peña and Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo
Documentation: Raven Gavino
Spaces: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Azie Libanan, Richardson Mojica, K Ballesteros 

 

The pandemic, we can say, has made a big blow into our lives, and with a rather bleak view of the future, we wonder how each of our real and virtual spaces shape the relationships we maintain.

In a Rappler article, psychologist and relationship counselor, Lissy Puno, shares that a barrage of stressors have affected our relationships with ourselves and others in this pandemic. These stressors include financial concerns, uncertainty over basic needs, frustration over limited activities, job insecurity, losses, boredom, isolation, and the possibility of contracting the virus [3].

The online world, being the vast place that it is, has also given us easy access to models of “harmonious” relationships, and without limits to ways on how ideals can turn into realities, it will not be uncommon to feel doubts and comparisons.

Bonanno et al., (2010) highlights that major external stressors such as experiencing natural disasters or pandemics require individuals to immediately mobilize a response, and take advantage of the community-wide social-support resources individuals typically turn to in times of stress. Accordingly, individuals rely heavily on the people closest to them for support in navigating these crises (Williamson, 2020).

What has been clearer for almost everyone, though, is that this has been a time where interactions were tested. In fact, the pandemic has paved the way for new and vague questions to arise. Conversely, this time has also allowed people the capacity to reimagine relationships, partnerships, and friendships, and it has reinvented the economy of engagements.

All the more that it gave new meaning to how we view people, and the way we form and maintain relationships.

Resilience and relationships

Resilience has been a cliched term especially when referring to Filipinos faced with natural disasters. But what is resilience? The American Psychological Association (2014) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress (para. 4).” 

This is useful, but the definition does not reflect the complex nature of resilience (see Southwick, Douglas-Palumberi, & Pietrzak, 2014 for a discussion). The determinants of resilience include a host of biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors that interact with one another to determine how one responds to stressful experiences [8].

In reality, resilience more likely exists on a continuum that may be present in differing degrees, across multiple domains of life (Pietrzak & Southwick, 2011). Resilience may also change over time as a function of development, and one’s interaction with the environment (e.g., Kim-Cohen & Turkewitz, 2012).  An individual who adapts well to stress in a workplace or in an academic setting, may fail to adapt well in their personal life or in their relationships [8].

Exploring the Social Exchange Theory

One of the basic tenets of the Social Exchange Theory (SET) is that relationships evolve over time into trusting, loyal, and mutual commitments. For this to happen, parties must abide by certain rules of exchange [2].

Rules of exchange involve a “normative definition of the situation that forms among, or is adopted by the participants in an exchange relation” (Emerson, 1976: 351). In this way, rules and norms of exchange are “the guidelines” of exchange processes [2].

Interdependent exchanges

To understand interdependence, studies suggest that it is helpful to first consider what interdependence is not. So we look into at least three outcomes definitions (cf. Blau, 1964; Homans, 1961): 

  1. independence- outcomes are based entirely on one’s solo effort
  2. dependence- outcomes are based entirely on the other’s effort, and 
  3. interdependence- outcomes are based on a combination of parties’ efforts

Notice that complete independence and complete dependence do not imply a social exchange because an exchange requires a bidirectional transaction— something has to be given and something returned. This therefore makes interdependence, which involves mutual and complementary arrangements, a defining characteristic of social exchange (Molm, 1994).

As very social creatures, now limited by physical and logistical constraints because of pandemic safety protocols, the exchange dynamics have grown exponentially, with more layers of complexity and concern. Therefore, an understanding of exchange resources will help us navigate through our pandemic relationships.

Six Exchange Resources

According to studies by Foa and Foa (1976), a resource is defined as anything that can be transmitted from one person to another. They proposed a resource exchange theory that may be used to categorize and to structure a wide array of resources as well as to describe their pattern of exchanges (i.e., the functional relations).

Resources were defined and categorized by Foa and Foa as:

  1. Love—an expression of affectionate regard, warmth, or comfort; 
  2. Status—an evaluative judgment conveying high or low prestige, regard, or esteem;
  3. Information—any advice, opinions or instructions; 
  4. Money—any coin or token that has some standard of exchange value; 
  5. Goods—any products or objects; and 
  6. Services—activities on the body or belonging to the individual .

To organize these six resource categories, two dimensions (facets) were hypothesized to underlie the six resource categories: particularism and concreteness [9].

Particularism indicates “the extent to which the value of a given resource is influenced by the particular persons involved in the exchange” [9], and concreteness “suggests the form or type of expression characteristic of the various resources” [9]. 

If we examine this configuration, love is viewed as highly particularistic since “it matters a great deal from whom we receive love, as its reinforcing effectiveness is closely tied to the person-stimulus” [9]. On the other hand, money is viewed as low on the particularistic dimension (i.e., high universalistic), since it is generally exchanged across a wide variety of people [9].

Services and goods are conceptualized as concrete, since they involve the exchange of something tangible (e.g., buying groceries, fixing someone’s car). Status and information are abstract resources and are typically exchanged by symbolic behavior (e.g., giving someone respect) [9].

The researchers found that subjects were more likely to choose the same resource in exchange for a given resource. 

For instance, when a behavior was in the category of love, subjects were more likely to exchange love than any of the other resources. However, there was no further attempt made to more directly identify the dimensions underlying the resource categories by some type of scaling technique (e.g., factor analysis, multidimensional scaling) [9].

Even the definition of exchange is vague

So what exactly is an exchange? Everyone seems to agree that it is a series of interdependent transactions that can produce some sort of interpersonal attachment—this notion is fundamental to SET  [2].

However, there is some theoretical vagueness to this particular concept of relationships. Specifically, the current literature admits two different conceptualizations of relationship— one is that a relationship might be interpreted as the series of interdependent exchanges, another is that it might alternatively be interpreted as the interpersonal attachments that result from a series of interdependent exchanges  [2].

But in whatever ways people try to mull over the strict conceptualizations surrounding exchanges, they realize, especially now, that what matters really are the quality of relationships they have, and the values they put on each relationship aspect.

Sternberg’s Theory

Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of love is actually based, to some extent, on earlier work approaching intelligence from a multi-ability perspective, structural models of intelligence, social psychological theory, and research on love involving factor analysis of self-reported experiences in existing dating relationships [1]. Although it is certainly not the only way to distinguish the elements that constitute love, Sternberg (1986; 1998; 2006) proposed that love could be understood in terms of three underlying components that form the vertices of a triangle: intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment. Each facet of the triangle designates a distinctive but strongly interrelated component of love [1] .

Intimacy is often the innermost component within a loving relationship. It likely begins with self-disclosure and includes the sharing of emotions and stories with another. Such sharing results in feelings of connectedness and being bonded in loving relationships, and will likely come to be understood, and experienced, as warmth. As an emotional investment in the relationship, intimacy can be seen as a slowly developing foundation of love that can be very difficult to achieve. Still, it is relatively stable over the course of the relationship, at least until partners are no longer emotionally close or feel satisfied with the relationship [1].

Passion involves an erotic interest in another and is largely the expression of desires and needs. Passion acts as a source of motivation that can lead to physical attraction, romance, and sexual consummation in a loving relationship. However, passion should not be limited to the physical; it can also include self-esteem and nurturance. Unlike intimacy, the psychological and physiological arousal of passion usually develops more quickly, but may also fade just as quickly [1].

Decision/commitment involves making a choice to stay with another and to suspend this type of relationship with others. It can be quite complicated to manage the intimacy component of love and extraordinarily difficult to control passion. But one has substantial control over the decision/commitment component, and this control may either further or prevent the growth of the relationship into a qualified romantic relationship [1].Decision and commitment are then derived largely from a common cognitive scheme and dedication to a relationship, though the two are not necessarily simultaneous. ‘Decision’ best describes a short-term choice to love a specific other, while ‘commitment’, which is closely related, expresses one’s long-term dedication and plans to maintain a specific loving relationship [1].

Both the emotional intimacy and the cognitive decision/commitment components are typically constant in close relationships. Once they are established in a relationship, they are apt to endure. However, passion is considered to be less constant and much less predictable. Further, although individuals do hold some mindful cognitive control over the commitment choice that they make, they have very little decision over the amount of passion that they experience. So, these three components of love differ, perhaps most notably, in stability over time and level of conscious control [1].

The pandemic forces individuals to confront concepts like virtual spaces, virtual relationships, virtually formed feelings and emotions. The cognitive dilemma to make sense of this least to non-existent reality frames has added to the heightened feelings of confusion, isolation, uncertainty, helplessness, and fear.

So what then can we do? Well, we continue to talk about it.

Discourse and coping 

Discourse as constructive. The social constructionist approach of Discursive Psychology emphasizes the importance of studying how people, found in varying levels of contexts, go about their lives, and in so doing construct the world [5].

Consequently, the theory posits that discourse can be understood as constructive in two broad senses:

  1. Discourse is constructed from the available words, metaphors, and broad patterns of description (sometimes called interpretative repertoires) available to language users. 
  2. Second, discourse is used to construct versions of the world, including the mental (psychological) world [5].

Discourse as functional. When people use language, they do so in order to get some sort of business done. Discourse is thus functional, or action-oriented. The functions performed by discourse need not be related to any formal grammatical properties of language [5].

Discourse as variable. In their original statement of the discourse analytic position, Potter and Wetherell (1987) foregrounded the idea of variability. Because the constructive work done by discourse is contingent on the function being performed, and because the function may vary from context to context [5].

In summary then, for Potter and Wetherell , ‘the principle tenet of discourse analysis is that function involves construction of versions, and is demonstrated by language variation’ [5].

What does this tell us? 

Discourse is constructive, functional, and variable in nature. Therefore, talking about our versions of realities, listening to the lived stories of others, recognizing that we exist in different planes of circumstances, and acknowledging how everyone’s  struggle is a reflection of our struggles too, can help us in slowly picking up pace from the sudden life turns and halts this pandemic has caused.

Cultivate a relationship with yourself

And what more can we do to nurture our relationships than to cultivate, and start a loving relationship with ourselves?

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, the following are the three elements of self-compassion:

1. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification. Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach towards negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This stance allows for an equilibrium that stems from relating personal experiences to others who are also suffering. This puts an individual’s  own situation into a larger perspective, and allows  them to observe their negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity.

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental and receptive mind state where one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. Individuals  cannot ignore their  pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.  And it requires that individuals do not over identify with thoughts and feelings in a way that makes individuals  caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

2. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment. Self-compassion is being warm and understanding towards the self when individuals suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, instead of ignoring  pain or flagellating themselves  with self-criticism.  It is recognizing that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences.

When this reality is denied, suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  However, when this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.

3. Common humanity vs. Isolation. Frustration at not having things go exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation, making a person feel that he/she is alone in his/her suffering or mistakes.  

All humans suffer, and make mistakes, however. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of a shared human experience – something that we all go through and live with [6].

Self-compassion has been a concept that has re-emerged especially in this pandemic, and it is important that we go back to being compassionate with ourselves first. 

Self-compassion is the foundation of compassion for others. The Dalai Lama said, “[Compassion] is the state of wishing that the object of our compassion be free of suffering. . . . Yourself first, and then in a more advanced way the aspiration will embrace others. [4]

We cannot give what we do not have, after all.

Pre-Session Activity:

  1. Flex the person you love the most. 
  2. Share your self-love anthem. 

Questions:

  1. How has the pandemic affected your relationship with yourself and others?
  2. How can you practice self-compassion, and how do you think self-compassion will help you in your relationships?
  3. Share some tips on how you maintained your relationship with others and with yourself despite the pandemic

Post-Session Question:

  1. Write a tweet note to people you’d like to give a message/ say something to. You may want to tag them if you feel like.
  2. Take a self-compassion test: https://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are/

References:

[1] Anderson, J.W. (2016). Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. In Encyclopedia of Family Studies, C.L. Shehan (Ed.). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119085621.wbefs058

[2] Cropanzano, R., & Mitchell, M. S. (2005). Social Exchange Theory: An Interdisciplinary Review. Journal of Management, 31(6), 874–900. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206305279602

[3] For better or for worse? How the pandemic is changing relationships. Retrieved from: https://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/relationships/how-covid-19-pandemic-changing-relationships

[4] Germer, C. K. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions.New York: Guilford Press.

[5] Gibson, S. (2018). Discourse, Peace, and Conflict: Discursive Psychology Perspectives DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-99094-1 (https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99094-1))https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319990934

[6] Neff, K. (2021) ]. Definition of Self-Compassion. Retrieved from: https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

[7] Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4185134/

[8] Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives. European journal of psychotraumatology, 5, 10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338. https://doi.org/10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338

How do you feel about this?
0%
100%
0%
0%
0%
0%
0%

Recommended Reading