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Building Relationship with Ourselves and Others


I recently listened to an interview featuring David Richo. He wrote a book several years ago, How to be An Adult in Relationships, in which he explained what he calls the Five A’s that help relationships flourish.  What he said made so much sense, and I saw applications beyond individual relationships.  I believe we can use the Five A’s to better understand relationships with others and ourselves and even apply it to other contexts.

He explained that the Five A’s are what we need as infants when we enter the world and begin relationships with our caregivers.  It begins with attention and then proceeds as each concept builds on the previous ones. If we progressively receive all Five A’s, then we become securely attached.  Yet, if we do not eventually receive all Five A’s as developing children, we will continue to seek fulfillment as we grow older.

The Five A’s are:

Attention: First, as an infant, we receive attention from others, and we learn to communicate through crying and cooing to ask for attention.  As we grow, we are the focus of someone’s loving attention, but also are aware of and share our attention with ourselves and others.

Acceptance: We are accepted for who we are; others do not try to change us significantly, and they embrace our individuality.

Appreciation: As children, we become part of the family group and give back to the group not only through work but by just being who we are.  We feel appreciation for our contributions.

Affection: Children and adults need emotional, spiritual and physical affection.  When we give affection, it is the act of showing others that we care about them.  Affection is listed fourth because it grows out of the previous three.  Without the previous three, affection may not feel safe.

Allowing: As children, we are allowed to move and begin to make choices on our own. It is letting others be who they are.  We don’t try to change personality traits or beliefs, or blame or judge for mistakes or differences. Allowing is the essence of unconditional love.

According to Richo, people who did not receive an adequate amount of any of the A’s will continue to seek that A throughout adulthood.  For example, if someone did not feel accepted as a young child, they may try to find acceptance in any way within adult relationships.  This can lead to doing things contrary to their own beliefs to be accepted by others.  Someone who did not receive enough attention, may excessively seek attention or seek it in unhealthy ways.  Being aware of the Five A’s within yourself and others and fostering all Five A’s brings fullness to relationships. 

The interpersonal application builds strong connections and attachment whether the focus is on a relationship with friends, family or co-workers.  Organization leadership should emphasize using the Five A’s when interacting with others to create an environment that promotes trusting relationships through authentic engagement, recognition, collaboration and empowerment.  Increasing and applying the principles of attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing will enhance all interpersonal relationships.

I believe the Five A’s can also be used intrapersonally to increase self-awareness, especially as we try to process difficult emotions or trauma reactions.  For example, when you feel your body begin to go into fight or flight or experience a strong emotion,

  • First, become aware and pay attention to what is happening internally. The moment of self-reflection helps us give attention to our reaction to the world around us.
  • Then, accept that this is what your body is created to do in times of threat; our body systems prioritize survival. Even in moments of high emotional reaction, our body is working to ensure our survival.
  • Have an appreciation for what your body is doing. Your reactions are there to help in times of need.  Even if you have been triggered when there is only a felt sense of threat, not an eminent threat, acknowledge that your system works well to adapt.
  • We can actually show affection and gratitude for all our emotions and bodily reactions. Without our survival reactions, each individual and our species as a whole would not have adapted and survived.
  • This allows us to feel the reaction, understand it, process it, and be with it until it passes. It allows us to reflect and begin to understand how to regulate our own system so we can thrive.

The Five A’s are a pathway to understanding ourselves, giving our brain and body time and space, and incorporating our thoughts and feelings into the present moment.  We can build a better relationship with ourselves through this intrapersonal process.

I think the Five A’s can also be used in other contexts. Even the knowledge of Adverse Childhood Experiences follows the pathway of the Five A’s.  As a country, we are paying attention to the science behind ACEs.  The research was presented in 1997; it is time to pay attention to the data.  We need to accept that our families, systems and society have perpetuated adversities even though this may be difficult to process.  We can appreciate and understand that ACEs exist in all socio-economical and geographical areas; ACEs are prevalent, and we all can contribute to the prevention of ACEs. When we learn about the impact of ACEs, we can show our affection and care for others by bringing positive action and change, if even just within our personal relationships.  Our affection for others is a huge protective factor.  We then can allow understanding and cultural changes that subsequently allow and promote healing.

Paying attention to the world around us and inside us, accepting and appreciating ourselves and others, showing affection for ourselves and others, and allowing each other to be unique and authentic should foster stronger relationships and connections.

The next time you are in a conversation with someone, pause and think about the Five A’s. 

  • Are you authentically paying attention to the person?
  • Are you accepting who they are and that they have their own experiences and opinions?
  • Do you appreciate who they are and how they contribute to the relationship or community?
  • Can you feel and express affection or care toward the person?
  • Will you allow that person to genuinely be who they are without judgement?

What a wonderful world it could be….

Written by:

Cheryl Step, MS, LPC, NCC, NCSC


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I am a Trama and Family Scapegoat survivor.  I’ve lost most of my family relationships after years of suffering and getting myself healed and then setting boundaries.  They say I’m still being cra cra because of this and they don’t want to look at truths or deal with they’re issues.  I’m damned if I do damned if I don’t.  Gets so old and lonely.  I could sure use peer support!!!!

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