Recognition! Beautiful

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“John was obnoxious but had a beautiful mind,” was the description of John Nash quoted by his decades long friend, mathematician Harold Kuhn. This gave the name to the award-winning 2002 film about John, “A Beautiful Mind.” You perhaps heard recently the sad news of the deaths of John and his wife Alicia in an automobile accident, returning home from the airport after having spent the week in Norway to receive the prestigious Abel prize in mathematics.

CBS news.com has re-posted a 2002 Mike Wallace, Peter Klein interview with John and Alecia and others close to the couple. This interview is fascinating for several reasons but I’m focusing here on one very telling comment made by Harold Kuhn.

At one point in the interview John’s decades long struggle with schizophrenia and it’s reducing him for many years to essentially the status of a non-communicative street person was being discussed. The Nobel committee, strongly prompted by Kuhn, initiated contact with Nash which ultimately led to his being awarded the Nobel prize in 1994. Mathematicians had long known of Nash’ significant contribution to the field but Nash had been left with his own solitary dysfunction. In referring to the change that had come over John since having his rehabilitation aided by the recognition that had finally come his Way, Harold Kuhn said, “Recognition is a cure for many ills. Absolutely. John was a person who wouldn’t meet your eyes. After the prize he was a changed man. People would meet him on the street at Princeton and he would react and answer. It made the difference. And it continues.”

Absolutely essential in raising a healthy child and critical to continued healthy adult functioning is being recognized as a genuine human being by other humans one encounters in moving through life. One of the biggest problems with consigning a person to an institution is the likelihood that the reduced contact with people at large as well as being treated as an institutionalized person will create new difficulties for such an individual as well as likely exacerbate the initial difficulties that led to his being institutionalized in the first place.

One of the changes brought about by family therapy is that frequently the identified patient that brings the family in has become marginalized, seemingly due to troublesome behavior, so that a syndrome has been set up which feeds on itself. The therapist, usually recognizing what’s going on, begins to guide changes in the interaction patterns of the family members so that the identified patient begins to have the feeling of being accepted and even being understood in a way he had not felt before. This change in his emotions becomes a strong element in his being able to modify his troublesome behavior and become recognized and appreciated in his family for the positive contributions he is then making.

For all of us to be psychologically healthy, functioning humans we need to receive from other humans at least acknowledgment, some basic recognition from those about us that we are fellow human beings. In addition it is very important that we receive acceptance, to be included in a certain group of other humans.All of us want recognition, to be acknowledged. Even very private people thrive under the contact and acceptance they get from whomever in their lives are important to them. It is crucial for parents of teenagers to be keenly aware that recognition and acceptance by people outside the family are more crucial at this stage in life than any other time. A teenager is driven to belong. Failing to receive acceptance from more healthy groups will lead him to search about until he finds a place of belonging, even if his chosen friends are alarming to his parents.

The third need is to receive appreciation for positive contributions we are making to the group. The fourth step up is affection, words and treatment from others that show that people do like us and even some love us. Lastly, we hunger to have at least some people approve of who we are and what we are doing. A true conundrum for parents so often is that, though teenagers seemingly are so wounded by parents’ strong disapproval of some of their behaviors, they seem so bent on doing the very behaviors that caring parents are simply forced to disapprove.

There is a natural progression from the least intimate of human contact, from acknowledgment to acceptance to appreciation and to affection as the most intimate. Approval is woven in various amounts through the first four events. One of the real challenges of parenting is to see that each child is always aware of how powerfully he is loved even when the parent is having to confront the child with strong disapproval of specific behaviors. That this has long been recognized by parents is the phrase that children of all generations have dreaded to hear, “This hurts me more than it does you.”

As parents we set the pattern for how each child is perceived by other human beings. Acknowledgment, acceptance, appreciation, affection and approval all five are deep needs that every child yearns for his parents to supply. Supplying these five creates a deep sense of security in the child which continues to pay rich dividends through all the following years.

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