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The Central Relational Paradox

The central relational paradox is a paradox that is central to relationships. :)  Of course, I won't leave you with just that:

The central relational paradox is one of the best reasons to "just be yourself."  It occurs when an individual perceives disconnection or rejection from others and assumes this is because something is wrong with them. They may also assume that hiding or changing parts of themselves will increase social success. Unfortunately, the more likely outcome is that others will sense that this person is not being genuine. And what do people do when they sense someone could be a fake?  They disconnect or reject.  The person changing themselves solely to build connections with others ends up feeling more isolated than before.


It might go something like this:

Someone thinks: My last date probably didn't like me because I have a goofy laugh.  I'm always like: "HahaHaheehooHooHahaHA!"  On my next date, I'm going tone it down... a lot.

Later, on another date...

Date says: "Why don't skeletons go to prom?  Because they have noBODY to dance with!"  :D

Someone goes: "heh."  :|

Date thinks: Someone obviously has no sense of humor.  That joke always kills!  Someone seems kind of stiff.  Something is off, here.  I'm not sure I feel a connection.  :/

Later that week...

Someone: Why didn't Date ever text me?  Something must be really wrong with me!  I already changed my laugh.  What should I change next?  D:




So what can we do instead? It's probably better for Someone to decide who they want to be.  That way, their best self—the one they want to present to others—is also an authentic version of themselves.  Easier said than done, right?

How can one feel less self-conscious and more self-accepting?  How can one develop the courage to be themselves without thinking so much about what others think?  How can a person even know who their best and authentic self really is?  What if there really IS something a person does to push people away?

I am certainly biased, but one answer is PSYCHOTHERAPY!  A psychotherapist can help people explore these questions in depth.  Even better, group therapy offers an opportunity to experiment with interacting authentically with others.  In group therapy, Someone may discover that people love that goofy laugh.  Group members may also discover what changes they want to make to be happy with themselves. (Coincidentally, I offer a therapy group for just this purpose!)

The central relational paradox shows us that our anxiety about being rejected could be a much bigger problem than any particular trait we imagine to be undesirable.  So, it's usually better to "just be yourself," while focusing on becoming who we want to be, instead of imagining how others want us be.

(revised 02/13/2019)


 Patrick Turbiville, LCSW 

  Individual & Group Psychotherapist...


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