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Peer groups, Cumbria spring group - second morning, authenticity & feedback

Yesterday in "A 3 layer view of intrapersonal & interpersonal judgement" I wrote about the first morning of this four day residential group.  Now it's the start of the second day.  What happened yesterday?  I began in that "on-my-own" familiar way - getting up quite early, washing, writing, meditating, plunging in the stream.  I tried running up the Drove Road, but slightly pulled my calf muscle again - a recurrence of a strain from earlier in the week.  I walked/hobbled back down through the fields.  Lambs, cowslips, beautiful hares, calls from the curlews. 

Breakfast.  Greeting others warmly.  The first full group meeting beginning a little after 10.00am.  Initially we dealt with some "housekeeping issues", but then moved on to a round where people could share how they were feeling.  I'm so familiar with this now and I still find it kind of magical.  There's a real expectation in this group culture that we'll be real, authentic, tell it like it is.  This can be very precious.  As Jourard put it "We camouflage our true being before others to protect ourselves against criticism or rejection. This protection comes at a steep price. When we are not truly known by the other people in our lives, we are misunderstood. When we are misunderstood, especially by family and friends, we join the "lonely crowd." Worse, when we succeed in hiding our being from others, we tend to lose touch with our real selves. This loss of self contributes to illness in its myriad forms." 

Frank, commenting on Jourard's 1971 book "Self-disclosure: an experimental analysis of the transparent self", wrote "Several psychological studies examining self disclosure in experimental settings found that subjects' performances are greatly affected by the experimenters' attributes and behaviors. One study examined the ways and extent to which subjects would follow experimenters' examples of self-disclosure. They found that after the experimenter disclosed information about herself, subjects disclosed more about themselves than they initially anticipated, and that the length of time subjects spent on self-disclosure varied directly with the time spent by the investigator on self-disclosure. Additional research has found that disclosure by one partner in a dyadic relationship increases the likelihood that the other partner will also disclose information. In addition, another study has shown that mutual self disclosure between experimenter and subject prior to a learning task results in substantially increased task performance. Such studies demonstrate a modeling effect that may also exist between physicians and patients, which may be particularly valuable when physicians disclose information about their personal health habits."  I've written about this in the past too - in the blog post "Self disclosure by health professionals".

But the point I'm really making here is that, in this group where "authenticity" is so accepted and valued, as we go round sharing our feelings and thoughts there's a palpable deepening.  This is real.  This is how these people are genuinely feeling and thinking.  It may not be pretty - sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't - but it's true.  And how can I do less than meet them by being honest myself?  And that involves looking inside, meeting myself more fully.  How am I feeling?  What do I want?  Good.  It's like the air in the room changes.

And we talk later about whether or not we want to have small support groups of four or five as well as the full group of fourteen.  There are pluses and minuses, after discussion, we decide to go ahead and pick three small groups.  We do.  I'm in a small support group that includes my wife, Catero.  In some ways more challenging.  Certainly, potentially more rewarding.  By now it's time for lunch.  Then a chance to walk.  And later in the afternoon we meet up in the small groups.  Again checking in - how are we doing, what do we want to use our small group for? 

And later the full group for a second time in the day.  Chatting.  Sharing.  And someone comments that they're feeling dissatisfied with the "chat", that maybe it feels a bit superficial.  And someone else jumps in to open up a difficulty they feel relating with another member of the group.  We talk about aloofness.  The old truism that, when there's difficulty between two people, nearly always there's learning for each of them, and learning too for their relationship.  Hill and colleagues, in their paper "Differences between self- and peer ratings of interpersonal problems", found that " ... peers observed more domineering, vindictive, and emotionally cold types of problems than self-report data. Individuals reported more other-pleasing, overly nurturant types of problems than peers observed."  It can be so helpful to understand better how others experience us.  It may not be the same as our sense of ourselves from the inside.  As Burns put it "O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us". 

Human beings are social animals.  Harry Stack Sullivan said "The self may be said to be made up of reflected appraisals" - how we were valued in the past, how we feel we're valued now, how we predict we'll be valued in the future.  Acceptance by others is very important for us.  And it is acceptance more than being looked up to or admired - see Leary et al's "Deconfounding the effects of dominance and social acceptance on self-esteem".  Even for those who say they don't care what others think of them, it's probably not true!  See Leary again - "The invalidity of disclaimers about the effects of social feedback on self-esteem"  where the authors commented "Despite the fact that several theories suggest that people's self-esteem is affected by social approval and disapproval, many individuals steadfastly maintain that how other people regard them has no effect on how they feel about themselves. To examine the validity of these beliefs, two experiments compared the effects of social approval and disapproval on participants who had indicated either that their self-esteem is affected by how other people evaluate them or that their self-esteem is unaffected by interpersonal evaluation. Results of both studies converged to show that approval and disapproval clearly affected the self-esteem of even those individuals who denied that social evaluations affected their feelings about themselves."

The group is a cooking pot.  We affect each other.  And here, where there is so much honesty and caring, it feels like we mostly learn good lessons that help us grow ...

Tomorrow I write on "Emotional closeness, green issues & dancing".

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