Sometimes, especially when we are in a hurry, we deliver commands to others around us to "do this!" or "do that!" and we expect that our subjects will comply. When we relate to one another in this way, we are engaging in "I-It" dynamics. "I" am clearly one party and the other person is not a person, rather an "it" or an object, and that object serves a purpose. Problems arise in relationships when "I-It" is played out too much. Yes, we can reasonably tell someone what we need in a moment and have expectations that it will be done, but if this way of relating is prolonged and habitual, it leaves the other person - the "it" - feeling dismissed, overlooked, left-out, objectified, hurt, sad, angry and/or other. The "I" ends up feeling powerful, in control and "right". Unfortunately a common result is that the relationship becomes dysfunctional and a divide or separation naturally occurs between the two people.
When we engage in "I-Thou" dynamics, the "I" remembers that the other person is a living, breathing organism with feelings, thoughts, opinions, and preferences that are equally as valid as their own. "I" considers the other person when making requests, hears feedback from them and takes their wants and needs into consideration. "Thou", the other person, feels appreciated, equal and an integral part of the relationship. While relating in an "I-Thou" way requires negotiation between two people - and therefore sometimes more time and energy - it usually helps two people to remain close, to feel mutually respected and with a desire to continue to work together cooperatively.
It is easy to slip into a way of relating to others using "I-It" dynamics, especially if it works when we try to get what we want. However, what we may not notice is that we become isolated when we treat others as objects because we do not experience fully the therapeutic consequences of healthy contact with another person. When habitually practicing "I-It" ways of relating, we may end up thinking things like: "I have all of these friends, but I feel like I'm missing something" or "Nobody understands me" or "There is no love left in my intimate relationship".
When we respect the fact that the other person we relate to has feelings, differences of opinion, needs and wants of their own that are equally as valid as our own, then we are primed to thrive in relationship. It may seem counterintuitive that if we give the other person room and space to contribute to life's experiences and problems that we will actually get more of what we want. However, we often overlook that many of our basic needs are for authentic, healthy connection with other people. So, we may give up something like how a meal is prepared and cooked - by involving another person's opinion about how it should be done - but we gain rich connection and experience in cooking together, involving both people, in the "I-Thou" way.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.