How Relationships Make You Who You Are

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What makes you what you are?

In the past several decades, various people and institutions in the fields of biology, psychology, sociology, the science of the brain, and the like, have obtained greater insight into how we become who we are.  The current research has revealed that roughly fifty percent of who and what we are comes from the genes we inherit from both sides of our biological parents.  The other fifty percent of our composition comes from our experiences and relationships.

It began with your mother or primary caregiver.  You are who you are in large measure because of the relationships you have had up until now, and you will become what you will be because of your current and future relationships.  The connections and interactions you have with others will be highly influential in your ever-changing life, far more so than you doing anything “alone” for your personal self-development!

Two main reasons for this are that you are created for relationships and you are formed by relationships.

Here are three crucial things to know about relationships:

1. You are Created for Them

Yep, that’s right!  You and I are made for relationships.

Daniel J. Siegel in his fascinating book, Mindsight, puts it clearly,

We come into the world wired to make connections with one another, and the subsequent neural shaping of our brain, the very foundation of our sense of self, is built upon these intimate exchanges between the infant and her caregivers. In the early years this interpersonal regulation is essential for survival but throughout our lives, we continue to need such connections for a sense of vitality and well-being (Mindsight , Kindle location 383).

Daniel Goleman in The Brain and Emotional Intelligence reveals that “The social brain includes a multitude of circuitry, all designed to attune to and interact with another person’s brain” (Kindle location 639).

He goes on to explain how certain nerve cells found all over our brains, called “mirror neurons,” help us to “wirelessly connect” with other people. Goleman says these mirror neurons “activate in us exactly what we see in the other person: their emotions, their movements, and even their intentions” (Kindle location 650).

2. You Are Made By Them

You and I are literally formed by the relationships we have.

Daniel Goleman makes this case in his writings, particularly in Social Intelligence.  He demonstrates that “To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mold not just our experience but our biology” (Kindle location 79).

What is amazing is that relationships are an integral part of how your brain and body are fashioned. Every single relationship you have had so far has played a part in how you have been formed, even down to the nerve and cellular level!

Quoting Siegel again,

It wasn’t until years later that I would come upon the research demonstrating how crucial it is to our development to have at least some relationships that are attuned, in which we feel we are held within another person’s internal world, in their head and in their heart—relationships that help us thrive and give us resilience.  And only later still did I learn how the neural networks around the heart and throughout the body are intimately interwoven with the resonance circuits in the brain—so that when we 'feel felt' by another it also helps us to develop the internal strength of self-regulation, to become focused, thoughtful, and resourceful.  Being close to someone early in our lives gives us the clarity to know how we feel, and the ability to feel close to others.  Long before researchers began to unravel these neural mechanisms, poets and children like Rebecca knew that the heart is indeed a wise source of knowing (Mindsight; Kindle location 2999).

Goleman agrees, “But the exquisite social responsiveness of the brain demands that we realize that not just our own emotions but our very biology is being driven and molded, for better or for worse, by others—and in turn, that we take responsibility for how we affect the people in our lives” (Social Intelligence,Kindle location 5696).

This is why it is so crucial to have healthy, intimate relational interaction between a child and a loving parent in her first three years of life. Frequent nurturing and caring engagement between the primary caregiver(s) and the child significantly impacts the child’s biology, brain formation, intelligence quotient, the ability to form healthy bonds in relationships, the development of emotional maturity, social intelligence, and set the young one on a path toward an overall healthy lifestyle (all things positively considered).

So, what you are is in large part due to the relationships you have had thus far in life.

The final takeaway idea is:

3. You Are Nothing Without Them

The picture often used in science fiction movies of humans being manufactured from embryonic cells into fully functioning adults is quite mythical.  Aliens or mad scientists might be able to produce physical bodies, but without both experience and interactive relationships, the bodies would not have acquired the necessary cellular and neurological connections needed to make them truly human.  That is because experiences and relationships shape and weave the essential materials into what makes us human.

In other words, you and others have a symbiotic relationship.  You need others and others need you.  Without interaction with others, you would not be fully you!


Can You Relate?

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions. 

Dr. Don