Growing Self or Borrowing Self – an important distinction in growing up efforts.
Generating goal directed activity from within is quite different from being motivated by external factors. We can ask ourselves if we are dependent on factors outside of us – such as relationship attention – to produce results; or we can consider if our productivity is generated from our inner clarity about our priorities, personal ethics and life balance.
Gina explained to me that she is a perfectionist. She is happy when she is delivering on challenging assignments. Good outcomes at work give her a sense of satisfaction and steadiness. She relishes being given challenging projects; however when she is left to initiate her own projects she finds it challenging to find motivation. In contrast to the energy of delivering designated assignments, when left to her own devices she feels lazy and inefficient. With this come feelings of guilt about not being adequate.
When I asked about her experiences growing up Gina recalled that she always felt driven to work hard in contrast to her siblings who were unmotivated with their school work. She remembers her parents worrying about her brothers and providing them with incentives to work harder. Gina didn’t need incentives to study. She was sensitive to her parent’s anxiety about poor performance at school and was constantly anxious about whether she was doing enough work to succeed. She recalls her sensitivity to her parents setting a high bar for her school achievements. In particular she remembers her father suggesting ways she could work harder and smarter. She didn’t hear her parents ask her to consider her own ways to measure what a reasonable effort is or to consider her balance of down time to work time. Rather it seemed that her parent’s postures about succeeding academically set a measure for Gina’s own efforts. Her measures came from outside of herself and relied on external direction.
So much of our hard work is driven by ‘borrowing self’ from our relationship processes. We act in ways to avoid upset in others or to sense their approval. We either invite others to fill in our gaps in being able to fulfil our adult tasks or we rely on others to set our tasks for us. Gina borrowed her internal drive from being distinct from her brothers. Her brothers borrowed their functioning from their parent’s external rewards to propel them to study. Gina sensed that hard work would please her parents and avoid generating worry. Of course all members of her family played their part in this process. Her parents were unknowingly loaning self to Gina through their advice giving and ways of pushing her to work harder.
There are many variations on how a person comes to rely on external relationship forces to generate their motivation. Generating goal directed activity from within is quite different from being motivated by external factors. We can ask ourselves if we are dependent on factors outside of us – such as relationship attention – to produce results; or we can consider if our productivity is generated from our inner clarity about our priorities, personal ethics and life balance.
Here is a table that compares the difference between borrowing from external factors to function, compared to directing our daily tasks from our inner guidelines. It isn’t exhaustive but may assist in recognising activity that is dependent on the external relationship circumstance with activity that is generated from our internal regulation. What is missing from the list is the way other loan self-direction and emotion-regulation to the borrower. It may be helpful to ask if you are the one loaning self as you read through the Borrowing Self column. There are always relationship circuits at work in shaping a person’s functioning. Consider how this is playing out in all important relationships: parenting, marriage, siblings, friendships, work teams.
|Borrowing Self||Building Self|
|Needing cues from others to take initiative
Building an alternative positive identity via comparison with the negative focus received by others
Drawing on other’s approval and attention to
Working to measure up to others expectations
Allowing others to calm us down and solve our problems for us
Seeing other’s high achievement as a justification for our under-achievement
Drawing on other’s disapproval to bolster our sense of distinct identity (the rebel)
|Initiative comes from a sense of inner priority
Managing life tasks is directed by principle and not driven by a comparison with other’s lesser functioning
Performing well because of own commitment to bringing our best and not needing to be praised.
Having realistic expectations for ourselves
Being responsible for noticing signs of stress and tension and changing our physiology to become more thoughtful and relaxed
Not allowing other’s successes to discourage our ongoing focus on our best efforts.
Being able to stay on a steady track and in connection with others even when they express disapproval
Murray Bowen on reciprocal exchanging of ‘selfs’ in relationship
The exchanging of selfs may be on a short or long term basis. The borrowing and trading of selfs may take place automatically in a work group in which the emotional process ends up with one employee in the one- down or de- selfed position, while the other gains self. FTCP : 366
The ‘losing’ and ‘gaining’ of self are examples of the fluid shifting of strengths and weaknesses that occur within the family ego mass. FTCP:111
Teenagers can still have the ability to dissolve the selfs of parents. It is easy for parents to yield to meeting excessive demands for money and privileges, in the hope that the youngster has finally changed. FTCP: 431
The investment of self, or fusion, exists in all levels of intensity ….Once a child is ‘programmed’ to a certain level of ‘giving and receiving’, with mother (parents), this level remains relatively fixed throughout life. The child can have an ‘open and loving’ relationship only when conditions for that level of investment of self in each other are met. FTCP: 429
It is factual that dysfunctioning and over- functioning exist together. …the over- functioning one routinely sees this as necessary to compensate for the poor functioning of the other. FTCP: 155
FTCP : Family Therapy in Clinical Practice
‘Growing Self or Borrowing Self’ – Jenny Brown