Prof. Richard Hassler, PhD
March 28, 2012
What was your family like?
A. Three brothers, one older (year and a half), another two younger stepbrothers, one of them with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) B. Father was a racist, strict disciplinarian C. Stepmother came from an orphanage, had polio in her left hand, was an alcoholic (nasty when drunk) The First Big Move A. Working for myself
B. Buying a car
What did you do after you left school?
B. Going to college
C. Dealing with Hodgkin disease
Do you have your own family now?
A. Current marriage
What are your personal, professional, and academic goals?
A. Sharing my experience as a sales manager
A. Approaching early family experience in terms of the influence of parents on development in adulthood B. Commenting upon the existential experience of disease C. Outlining the psychological challenges and responsibilities of marriage as a stage of development in adulthood *
* Michael’s Reflective Paper
* Who am I? What life experiences made me who I am today? Was it my family, my social environment where I went to school, the groups, or organizations that I belonged to, or was it certain life events that shaped me? * This paper is my attempt to show that my family and social environment, my life experiences from childhood to present influenced me to be the person that I am today and who I will be in the future. As I reflect upon my life, at the age of forty-nine, I have come to the conclusion that my family and social environment when growing up, surviving cancer in my twenties, and getting married in my thirties are the main social influences and life events that have shaped who I am today and who I want to become in the future. Every one of these experiences has given me something: learning to be independent from family attitudes; dealing with the state of uncertainty, which comes with the disease; responsibility of marriage; and the importance to find the field of expertise for effective work. All these insights can be described as building effective relationships with people and developing self-understanding on different levels. * To understand my family life, and why I feel that their negative attitudes to me shaped me to be a better person, I first have to give you some background on my family and me. The background of my family clarifies how important for me was to be independent from this alienating environment. My mother died when I was only a year old and my father raised my older brother Kevin and me by himself until he met my stepmother. My father remarried and had my two stepbrothers William and Robert. My father was a strict disciplinarian, racist, drank a lot, and worked as a machinist at a refinery plant. My stepmother was a homemaker as my father did not approve of her working and felt that she needed to be at home taking care of the children. My stepmother came from an orphanage, had polio in her left hand. She was also an alcoholic, meaning that she was nasty when drunk; in addition, she was a chain smoker. Kevin was the oldest son one and a half years older than me (and my father’s favorite one), I was the middle child, William was five years younger than me and was diagnosed at an early age as having severe attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD); Robert was the youngest.
Witt and Mossler (2010) quote the longitudinal research study which has shown that the attitudes of parents towards children rather than the practices of raising children shape our personality in adulthood (Ch.1, p.11). It is evident that lack of my father’s attention has influenced me a lot, stimulating me to attract my parents’ attention, for better or for worse. The authors also stress on the importance of the environment of growing up, both social and physical (Witt & Mossler, 2010, Ch. 1, p.13). We lived in a relatively low middle class white community in Beaumont, Texas next door to my father’s brother and his family. The area where we lived in was close to the outskirts of Beaumont and was nestled back in the woods, so the woods were our playground. This could create the feeling of abandonment, but it was also empowering somehow, as I learned by these circumstances to rely on myself. Palkovitz, Marks, Appleby, and Holmes (2002) treat the relationship between parents and children as a complex unit consisting of father factors, co parental factors, mother factors, child factors, and contextual factors (p. 8). It is evident that in my family, there was disintegration in a sense on all levels. It was interesting to discover that, according to the study by Palkovitz, Marks, Appleby, and Holmes (2002), my father’s attitude was shaped by his experience in romantic relationships and then projected upon children (p. 8). I had to develop independence from this painful emotional context. My relationship with my father caused me to be non-racist, disciplined, and extroverted, as my father was a strict disciplinarian, controlling, and racist man. He gave all his attention to my older brother and ignored me unless I did something that angered him. His treatment of me caused me to crave his attention and to seek to please him until I reached my teenage years and decided that I did not want to be like my father. I rebelled against his control upon me. He tried to control what I did after school, how I wore my hair, how I thought, and what I wanted to be when I graduated high school. I was deeply afraid of him when I was a child, and only when I became a young adult did I see that what he was doing to me was wrong. I started standing up for myself. I started seeking attention outside my family and I got a job after school so that I started earning my own money. That allowed me to purchase my own clothes, get my haircut how I wanted, and purchase my first car that gave me the freedom to escape from my dysfunctional family on a daily basis. My first car and earning my own money gave me the ability to distance myself from my family. However, later circumstances of my life taught me that people can also be supporting and self-reliance is not enough. When I was in my early twenties working and going to college, I developed Hodgkin’s disease that has also changed my personality. Hodgkin’s is a form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. Like other forms of cancer, it is believed to cause the feelings of uncertainty, lack of control, anxiety, isolation, discomfort, and – last but not least – re-definition of goals and roles (Halldorsdottir & Hamrin, 1996, p. 34). On one hand, one feels that he has to re-define his place in the society; on another hand, people care about those with the disease more and help more (at least they are supposed to do so). I experienced how it was not to have the control upon my life, but also how it was to be cared for by others. Anyway, when one is ill and so evidently dependent upon the society, the natural question comes: “Did I do anything wrong? And what was it?” Often cancer is associated with suppressed anger and a desire to please other (or at least attract attention) (Broderick, 1996, p. 314), and this really could be my case. I must admit that this understanding came along with serious heart problems. Still, illness did not prevent me from shouldering responsibility in work and family life, as well as from the joys of both. I met my wife during my thirties when I was changing my careers from being a technician to a salesperson. Interestingly, psychologists nowadays view professional development of an individual as an ongoing process (not limited to certain age group), the first stage of which is exploration (Smart & Peterson, 1997, p. 359). So, I was engaged in a kind of “double exploration”, searching for new ways in professional life as well as personal, consciously or not. In addition, like a career, marriage is a serious responsibility that implies both joyful outcomes and stress together with work on oneself. This personal responsibility has changed me a lot, teaching how to meet the needs of another person with whom I have been living day by day for a long time. I find the recommendations given by Witt and Mossler (2010, Ch. 3, p. 37) helpful, though challenging sometimes. People are happy in marriage when they support each other materially and emotionally, not forgetting to be positive, share feelings, thank each other, express affection, and do certain tasks together. In prolonged perspective, my family life and work taught me how to be productive and understanding in relationships with people and how to maintain stability in the changing world around and in the situations when inner conflicts arise. That is why in my future, I want to pass on the knowledge that my occupation as a sales manager has given to me. Perhaps I will start organizing some training sessions. This may also help to deepen my competence in the field of sales and on the level of personal communication, as people may share their valuable experience with me on the trainings. As I reflect upon my life now, from quite a distance, I have concluded that several events were the strongest in making me the person I am at present. They were my family and social environment in childhood, surviving cancer in my twenties, and getting married in my thirties. My family life stimulated me to earn living independently, cancer survival was essential in understanding my own potential and the ability to help of the people around, and marriage has given me the notion of responsibility. The dark years and events turn out to be ambivalent in the sense that they have given me certain experience and understanding of myself. Those main social influences and life events that I described in this paper have shaped my present personality and my thoughts about the future.
Broderick, M. (1996) A Constructive-Developmental Approach to Studying the “Cancer-Prone Personality”. Clinical Approaches to Adult Development. Ed. by Commons, M., Demick, J., & Goldberg, K. New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation. pp. 311-34. Retrieved from < http://books.google.com.ua/books?hl=en&lr=&id=odGq7DIsQOoC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=Broderick,+M.+%281996%29.+A+Constructive-Developmental+Approach+to+Studying+the+%E2%80%9CCancer-Prone+Personality%E2%80%9D.&ots=G0Yq5FaBMA&sig=sGEcq0h__ObHZyJRchrpKP58XCA&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false> Halldorsdottir, S. & Hamrin, E. (1996). Experiencing Existential Changes: the Lived Experience of Having Cancer. Cancer Nursing 19 (1): 29-36. Retrieved from <staff.unak.is/not/> Palkovitz, R., Marks, L., Appleby, D., & Holmes, E. (2002) Parenting and Adult Development. Faculty Publications and Presentations. Paper 9. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/ccfs_fac_pubs/9 Smart, R., & Peterson, C. (1997). Super’s Career Stages and the Decision to Change Careers. Journal of Vocational Behavior 51: 358-374. Retrieved from www.choixdecarriere.com/pdf/5873/14.pdf Witt, G. A., & Mossler, R. A. (2010). Adult Development and Life Assessment. Retrieved from