When I was studying in my master's program, I was introduced to Dr. John Gottman. He is a researcher and clinical psychologist who studies the science behind relationships and has written some excellent books on the subject. I find the work he has done to be fascinating, and it makes sense. I've used his ideas in counseling couples and in my own relationships.
One aspect of healthy relationships he teaches about he calls accepting influence. This idea resonates with me on a personal level, as it points to a big part of what I look for in my relationships.
As my husband wrote about in his most-recent blog post on compliments, sometimes when people interact with you, they are complimenting you. One of the biggest compliments someone can pay me is demonstrating that they have accepted my influence. After all, I want to be an influence for good in the lives of those around me. I want people to have a desire to and work toward a positive change because of me. If someone sees a way I act, hears a message I share, or otherwise learns of something I have done and then decides that because of it, they are going to act a certain way, I have influenced them .Ideally, I would like it to be an uplifting influence I have on others, as I don't need the guilt associated with bringing someone down to my level in areas where I lack.
Example: An old friend of mine frequently came to me for advice about how to deal with an issue in her romantic relationships. Honestly, it was the same issue that kept coming up in that relationship over and over again in different situations. Based on the information I had, which I realize is biased from only getting one person's perspective, and I said as much to her, I gave advice on what seemed like a good way to come to a resolution for that issue. She never took that advice. If she further contemplated the advice before deciding how to best move forward, she decided not to take it. But when she kept coming to me with the same issue repeating itself, asking for my advice, I questioned what the point was of doing so if she was never going to use it. Did she really just want to vent and try to figure things out on her own? Or was she really willing to accept my suggestion and eventually act on it? She insisted she wanted advice, but I was not providing her the advice she wanted to hear, so she discarded it. And eventually, that hurt and angered me. Did she think that I had such little to offer? Did she not realize that this was a repeated rejection of me?
I know it might seem like somewhat of a stretch, and some might think it isn't something I should take personally. But my education and training is in marriage and family therapy. I was approached as not only a friend but as somewhat of an expert in the field. I was given the impression on multiple occasions that she wanted my help. She wanted my time, my attention, and my thoughts. She wanted to connect with me by sharing personal details of her life. But she also wanted my help-- my influence. And yet, she never accepted it.
Do we accept the influence of people around us and allow it to work within us, giving us the opportunity for personal growth and development? Sometimes, I admit, I am better at this than others. Do I rise to become what I see as a better person because of my association with a particular person? Or do I expect them to change to meet my personal ego and comfort?
In my relationships, I honestly aim to both influence others and be influenced by them, both in positive, rather than negative, ways. I know I'm not exactly an expert in any particular area. I have experience, however, and that experience may give me knowledge and insight that a friend or family member is lacking due to their lack of experience. It is flattering when someone acknowledges that they have acted differently, positively, because of something they learned from me. But more important in my relationships is the ability to have mutually beneficial exchanges of ideas and experiences to then help each other grow. Just like I'm flattered someone has learned something from me that they take with them going forward, I like learning from people around me; I enjoy surrounding myself with people who inspire a positive change in me.
Have I helped my associates grow in positive ways as they have interacted with me? Have any of them chosen to do something differently than they otherwise may have because of something I said or did? Am I influencing others for good?
I had a conversation a while back with a friend of mine. I let him know that I noticed in his interactions with me that he really didn't seem to care to hear my opinions, and it hurt. I felt overlooked, ignored, and discarded as a person by the way interactions had gone with him. He hadn't realized that he had been doing this until then, but my bringing it to his attention helped him to understand my feelings, and his interactions with me started to change. I realized that I subconsciously became more receptive to his influence once he opened to mine. Our relationship moved from an acquaintance to a friendship.
I had another friend talk about signing up to volunteer in her son's classroom and said she thought of me as she signed up to do so. I was confused, as I don't have any kids whose classroom I volunteer in, so I asked her about it. She told me that she thought of me and how willing I was to volunteer to help others around me and felt like she should do the same. She accepted my influence-- influence I wasn't even aware I was giving! What a complement that was to me and to what she saw as my character!
When we accept influence of those around us, it may be done subtly, possibly even imperceptibly. Maybe we use language they use. Maybe we try out a television show, book, or band that was recommended to us. Maybe we add a little task to our routine that we learned they do. Maybe we research a topic to learn more about their viewpoint. These little acts acknowledge that we think that person is important enough to pay attention to. That person contributes something that has worth. Everyone has worth.
Today, I accepted my husband's influence by writing about this topic, which I had been thinking about for some time and had been meaning to write about. I'm about to accept a friend's influence by making sure I have a water bottle filled with water to drink from as I work so that I get enough water in for the day. I'm also about to accept another friend's influence by having a healthier breakfast option than what I might otherwise choose. But I have decided that I am going to try identify consciously some people who are influencing me for the good as I go about my day, and then properly thank them for doing so. For in these kinds of connections, relationships can truly grow and thrive.