Self Improvement — 25 November 2007
A relationship with an esteeming mentor can be invaluable

Significant relationships are not necessarily always familial. The impact of some teachers, coaches, camp counselors, clergy or other adults can be life formative for children as they mature.

Can you recall during your growing up years certain approving words, a supportive touch, an affirming look, a smile or nod that became the springboard to a better life for you? Do you remember the emotions you felt at that very moment about the gift-giver and about yourself?

Some people can recall a turning point in their early life when their self-perception suddenly improved. It was facilitated by the positive, accepting and affirming input of a non-related adult whom they respected. Positive regard received from parents and family members is invaluable for the formation of one’s healthy sense of self-esteem. Yet, the affirming opinions of others may be even more impactful as they appear to be sincere and non self-serving.

What causes the life-altering experience is not the obtaining of information, data or ideas from older and wise sages, but the experience of being seen, validated and esteemed by an admired mentor. Often the adult who empowers the young person to believe in him/herself may not even be aware of the significance of this support.

Many teachers never learn of the impact their encouragement and trust in their student’s ability and talents had on the youngster or that it redirected the student toward a life energized by a renewed sense of potency and hope.

Some of the beneficiaries of their mentor’s trust may not realize at the time the full significance of this gift. All they know is that they felt braced to commit to their future with confidence and determination. It may take them years to trace the core of their brave life exploration as originating from the trust of their old teacher.

Dr. Gina O’Connell Higgins, a psychologist and researcher became interested in the elements that helped maltreated children overcome the ravages of abuse and grow up to be emotionally healthy and loving adults. In her book Resilient Adults: Overcoming a Cruel Past, she details how those whom she termed ‘resilient’ were able to re-chart their life course based on the love they received that was “often brief, circumscribed, and not parental.”She explains that for some youngsters even a one time emphatic affirmation of a caring adult was sufficient to bolster the child’s esteem and help support his/her innate positive outlook, hope and trust to forge ahead toward a healthy life.

In his book, tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom relates the touching true story of his relationship with his college professor. Not only was the author helped to feel capable of writing an honors thesis during college, the trust and recognition he received greatly helped him in his career. Years later, with his mentor’s prodding, insights and love he was able to overcome his resistance to feeling his tender emotions as he tenderly nurtured his dying teacher.

Marlo Thomas’ book The Right Words at the Right Time cites famous people’s recollections of words of support and encouragement that helped them be guided toward more meaningful lives.
The stories are many and the message is clear. Loving human connection is a major healer. It can restore one’s traumatized personal regard, help heal the body and soul and enriches both the giver and the receiver.

• If you were positively impacted by a teacher, mentor or neighbor, consider yourself blessed.
• Understand that the teacher, mentor, clergy member, counselor, neighbor or any other person who was supportive of you did it unconditionally, out of sincere caring for you. He/she was the angel who guided you to trust yourself and feel secure to actualize your potential.
• Make an effort to connect with that person and thank him/her for the gift he/she has given you, knowingly or unknowingly, recently or many years ago.
• Express your appreciation for the positive influence your mentor has had in your life and the benefits you reaped from to his/her encouragement and trust in you. Acknowledging the generous person who gave so readily to you a while back would be most enriching to your mentor and may come at a time when this gratitude is most needed.
• Make it your business to support, affirm, praise and encourage young people who are not necessarily family members. Giving unconditional support to another empowers the receiver, enriches the giver and makes the world a better place for all.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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