Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Exploring the Psychological Topography of Self-Sacrifice

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Exploring the Psychological Topography of Self-Sacrifice

Article excerpt

Unmitigated Communion (UC), the tendency to self-sacrifice for the well-being of another or the relationship with that other, has recently been bifurcated into UC-self and UC-other (Bassett & Aubé, in press - a,b). With UC-self this sacrifice is motivated by self-serving tendencies. With UC-other such sacrifice is more altruistically motivated. A study was done with a rather heterogeneous sample to more carefully consider some of the covariates of each type of UC. In addition to assessing both types of UC, information was collected regarding: self-silencing, tendencies toward shame and guilt following transgressions, divided self, functional and dysfunctional versions of dependency, externalized self-esteem, and perfectionism. Generally, UC-self showed a pattern of connections that seemed to constrain well-being. However, the pattern for UC-other seemed to be more complex.

One way to consider how people function in relationships is to consider the extent to which persons focus on the needs of self or the needs of others. Bakan (1966) suggested that "agency" is the extent to which people focus upon their own needs and individuation. "Communion" refers to the extent to which people in those same relationships focus on the needs of others and relatedness. Bakan argued that adaptive functioning required a balancing and integration of agency and communion.

Helgeson (1994) extended this conceptualization by proposing that people who manifest communion that is not counterbalanced by agency experience "unmitigated communion" (UC). UC involves chronic tendencies to focus excessively on caring for others while failing to protect one's own needs within relationships. The driving force behind UC may be an externalization of selfesteem. UC individuals have been shown to anchor their sense of self-worth on the perceived reactions of others (Aubé & Hoffman, 2008; Fritz & Helgeson, 1998). A variety of studies have gone on to demonstrate that UC is inversely related to psychological and relationship well-being (Aubé & Hoffman, 2008; Aubé, Saltaris, Fichman, & Koestner, 2001; Aubé, Settlage, Di Dio, and Zuckerman, 2008; Fritz & Helgeson, 1998; Helgeson, 1994; Saragovi, Koestner, Di Dio, & Aubé, 1997).

These outcomes for UC paint a rather bleak picture for self-sacrifice within relationships (especially intimate relationships). However, is such a conclusion really fair? Van Lange et al. (1997) suggested that self-sacrifice can be functional or dysfunctional: the willingness to self-sacrifice may, in fact, be beneficial for healthy couple functioning for several reasons. First, selfsacrifice enhances the probability that in future situations, when the couples' interests/preferences do not correspond, partners will compromise reciprocally. Such a pattern may ultimately lead to the best long-term outcomes for the partners. Second, acts of self-sacrifice may contribute to partner feelings of gratitude and trust. Third, self-sacrifice can contribute to each partner's sense of being deeply valued by the person making the sacrifice. Finally, self-sacrifice may help people to self-identify as having greater levels of commitment to the relationship through the process of self-perception and/or dissonance reduction (Bern, 1972; Festinger, 1957). Consistent with these thoughts on the potential benefits of self-sacrifice, Van Lange et al. (1997) found that willingness to self-sacrifice in close relationships predicted stronger relationship commitment and satisfaction. Willingness to self-sacrifice also predicted healthier couple functioning as indicated by higher levels of dyadic adjustment and greater probability of couple persistence.

Perhaps the ultimate affirmation of the value of self-sacrifice can be found within faith traditions. For example, the Five Pillars of Islam include the self-sacrificial pillars of Zadah (charitable giving to the poor) and Sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan). Within the Christian tradition, the "good news" is that because of the willing sacrifice of God the Son, fellowship can be restored between God the Father and those people who accept the sacrifice of the Son (McMinn, 2007). …

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