Elicit the Best from Sun. January 15 by Kathy Ryan

Hi. My name is Kathy Ryan. I was lucky enough to fall in love with psychology almost 50 years ago. I believe that psychology can help to elicit our best.

We can learn more about ourselves and each other through scientific research. This can help us to have happier lives and better relationships. One very important and distinctive aspect of human judgment concerns the causal attributions that we make about our own and other’s behavior.

  • Was it something about that person or was it the situation?
  • Is it something that they are always doing or is this a one-off?

We are most likely to make causal attributions when something unexpected or negative occurs. We ask the question “Why, why did the person do that?” These causal attributions influence our experience, our perceptions, our memory, and our expectations for future behavior. They influence how we think and feel about ourselves and others.

One important aspect of causal attributions concerns intentionality. Imagine having a serious conflict, an argument, in a close relationship (ex: a family member, a dear friend, your spouse or partner). Now, examine your causal attributions, especially intentionality: Did your partner intend to pick a fight? to put you down? Were they trying to make you angry? to get something from you? Were their motives selfish? Should they be blamed for the conflict?

These “unkind” attributions can be linked to the unwillingness to forgive and forget [i.e., unforgiveness]. What am I talking about here?

  • After the disagreement, do you want to avoid your partner [to keep distance, to cut off the relationship, to withdraw, or act as if they don’t exist]?
  • Do you want revenge [do you want to get even, to see your partner miserable, do you hope that something bad happens to them, do you want to make them pay?].
  • Are you less likely to trust your partner?
  • Is it difficult to act warmly towards them?

The unwillingness to forgive can kill close relationships.

So, I am saying when you have the choice, make kind attributions – let yourself or your partner off the hook. Avoid blaming your partner for the conflict if you can. And this can lead to more forgiveness. This is one of the keys to healthy and happy relationships.

Thank you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.