|Feelings play a crucial role in determining human
behavior. Our behavior toward other persons is determined by our feelings toward them.
Obviously, we behave differently toward those we like than toward those we dislike.
Assuming that we have no reason to hide or disguise our feelings, if
we like certain people, we are more likely to spend time with them, talk with them,
confide in them, do nice things for them, and in general we strive to make them happy.
On the other hand, if we dislike or are angry with certain other people, we are likely
to avoid spending time with them, avoid talking with them, avoid doing nice things for
them, and in general we do not strive to make them happy. If sufficiently angered, we
may even do things to hurt the other person.
Consider for a moment the case of a young man who wants a certain
young woman to marry him. His problem is to determine how he should act so as to
produce a specific feeling in her. If he chooses his behavior carefully (i.e., taking
the girl to nice places, flattering her, being considerate and attentive, etc.), at
some point during the relationship the woman will say to herself: "Oh, I really
love that man. I think I'll marry him." In response to the feeling the man
induced in her, the woman behaved as he wished. There is an important principle
revealed in this couple's interaction: Loving feelings produce loving behavior.
This principle acts also in the production of negative feelings.
Suppose, for example, that after this couple marries, the husband becomes less
sensitive to his wife's needs. He no longer says complimentary things to her. He
ignores her birthday, Valentine's Day, and their anniversary, and he begins spending
his evenings away from home in the company of his boyhood friends. Gradually, the
feelings of love in the wife will be converted to anger. Reflecting this anger, her
behavior toward the husband will change. She may begin to scold a great deal, to
become less affectionate and less sexually responsive. If sufficiently angered, she
may sever the relationship entirely by divorce. The behavior of this young couple from
courtship through divorce illustrates the operation of a significant law that governs
interpersonal relationships: Loving feelings produce loving behavior. Angry
feelings produce angry behavior. This is a law of human nature as predictable and
inevitable as any of the laws that govern the physical universe.
This law is highly significant for parents, because it operates in
parent-child relationships as forcefully as in all others. If we want our children to
spend time with us, to like us, to confide in us, to value some of the things we
value, and to try to make us happy (for example, by refraining from the use of
dangerous drugs), we must behave toward them in ways that create feelings of love
toward us rather than feelings of dislike or anger. We cannot reasonably expect to
receive "good" behavior from our children unless we create "good"
feelings in them. Parents cannot create angry feelings in a child over a period
of many years and then expect that the child will show loving behavior in return.
The key to understanding human behavior lies in understanding the
feelings that underlie and produce the behavior. The key to guiding children's
behavior into socially desirable channels consists in knowing how to create in the
child those positive, loving feelings which will produce positive, loving, and,
therefore, non-delinquent behavior. Or, conversely, the key lies in the parents'
avoiding the production, cumulatively, of those angry feelings in the child which will
produce angry, negativistic, delinquent behavior. Unfortunately nature has introduced
several factors into the parent-child relationship that make it extremely difficult
for even the most sincere, well-meaning parent to convey to the child his/her true,
loving feelings. The first of these is the complex nature of love itself.
Love is experienced in two different ways: (1) as an inner feeling
or sensation and (2) as a series of overt actions. The person who is "in
love" is aware of certain feelings or sensations taking place entirely within his
own body. These feelings as such cannot be communicated to another person, except
through some form of overt action. The person who is loved can know it or feel it only
as he is the recipient of certain loving actions toward him on the part of the
individual who is "in love." Unfortunately, in the human species there is no
instinctive or otherwise inevitable connection or relationship between the inner
feeling of love and the kinds of overt actions that demonstrate the love. This means
that it is entirely possible for a parent to love a child totally, inwardly, and
yet to act toward that child in ways that do not reveal his love.
It happens often that parents who are genuinely loving in their
inner feelings for a child, have by a misguided selection of actions, conveyed to the
child the message that he was not loved. Informing the child verbally of the
parents' inner feelings and hugging and kissing him are usually insufficient to
overcome the child's response to other long-term parental actions. Those parents with
whom I have worked over the years have always been able to state honestly that they
loved their children. Their children, however, had not experienced them as loving
parents, because the children were responding to the parental actions and not to
the inner feelings or intent.
Many parents, when they first come in for counseling regarding their
children, are somewhat angry with psychologists and clergymen. They say things such
as: "You have always told us that if we just loved them, they would be all right.
Well, we do love them - and they're not all right. They even say they hate us.
Why?" Their problem, of course, was not that they had failed to love their
children, but that they had failed to choose correctly those forms of behavior by
which their inner feelings of love could have been revealed to the child. Very often I
have said to such parents, "You know that you love your child and I know it, but
doesn't know it." Counseling with such parents does not consist in urging the
parents to love their own children. Rather, it consists in helping the parents to
discover which forms of behavior may best reveal to the child what the parents have
felt toward him from the beginning.