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Pickett, Chen, _ Gardner, Chapter 5

Pickett, Chen, _ Gardner, Chapter 5 - Pickett Chen...

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Pickett, Chen, & Gardner (2010) 1 CHAPTER 5: THE RELATIONAL SELF Overview Most people would agree that they tend to behave differently with their parents than with their friends, with their friends than with their romantic partner, with their older brother than with their younger brother, and so forth. To illustrate, when Joe goes home over the winter holidays to visit his domineering parents, the confidence and assertiveness that characterize him when he is around his friends and co- workers are replaced by a more submissive demeanor. When Sarah is with her best friend, she “lets her hair down,” revealing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors reserved just for this friend. In marital relationships, spouses often say that they bring out the best (or worst) in each other, suggesting the unique nature of who they are in each other’s presence. Each of these instances refers to aspects of the self that come into play specifically in the context of interactions with close people in one’s life, such as a parent, best friend, sibling, or boyfriend. These aspects of the self constitute the relational level of self-definition, which is the focus of this chapter. Broad Definitions In Chapter 4, we saw how the individual self embodies what sets up apart from others, who we are as unique, autonomous entities. By contrast, the relational self captures our connections to others, who we are in relation to significant others (Andersen & Chen, 2002; Chen, Boucher, & Tapias, 2006). More concretely, the relational self refers to what we experience about ourselves—our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—specifically in our relationships with significant others. Generally speaking, significant others can be thought of as individuals who we have known for some time (vs. who we have just met), to whom we feel some degree of closeness, and on whom our thoughts, feelings, and motives depend to some degree. They are usually people with whom we share a relationship that can be labeled in normative (e.g., friend, girlfriend, older sister) or idiosyncratic ways (e.g., my closest high school friend, my favorite cousin on my father’s side of the family). For most of us, significant others include members of our immediate and extended family (e.g., parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles), our friends, and our romantic partners. In this chapter, we begin with a historical look at the relational self. We then examine the relational self in terms of the same core dimensions (e.g., evolutionary bases, standards of evaluation) we laid out in Chapter 4 with regard to the individual self, as a means of distinguishing the two facets of the self. Finally, we describe several prevailing theoretical perspectives on the relational self. Historical Underpinnings Although the term “relational self” is a relatively modern one, a striking fact about the history of the self in psychology is that the influence of significant others on the self was a topic of inquiry from the very beginning. As we learned in Chapter 1, it was over a
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