FIRO for your Family

Categories: Mental Health.

Based on research and experience, it’s not just Aretha Franklin that wants R-E-S-P-E-C-T, its every one of us! We are wired to be social.  In social relationships, there is an essential human need to feel loved and respected.  A theory developed in 1958 by Will Schutz really spells out these needs in practical terms.  This model for relationships is called the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation, or FIRO for short.  I have found this model to be very useful for helping people transform troublesome relationships into more satisfying ones.

FIRO suggests that the basic ingredients of any interpersonal relationship are acceptance, influence, and intimacy.  These ingredients build on each other like layers in a pyramid, with acceptance as the base, influence as the middle, and intimacy at the top. These three aspects of relating apply to every relationship you have; your spouse, kids, parents, co-workers, boss, neighbor – you need these three ingredients from them and they need these from you as well.  See the figure below:

Basic Relationship RequirementsGetting to know others

Being known by others

Getting guidance from others

Giving leadership to others

Getting inclusion from others

Giving inclusion to others

Acceptance can be thought of as membership.  You feel completely accepted when you believe that your membership cannot be revoked by other people at a whim.  People are much more likely to trust you when they know you are committed to a relationship with them.  So you need to give the message that you are committed to staying connected with that person.  You also need that same message from others – that you are included and will not be rejected.  In addition to accepting others, you must be able to accept yourself.  You can’t receive acceptance from others unless you first accept yourself.

Influence is very important.  The flow of influence cannot be just one-way, however.  It must be MUTUAL influence.  You must allow the other person to have some power, and the other person must allow you to have some power.  If the flow of influence is just one-way, then one of you will be perceived as controlling and the other will feel powerless.  The powerless person will eventually pull away and stop giving acceptance without the ability to have influence on the relationship.  Some good measures of your level of influence in any relationship are how much you feel heard and how much your opinion matters to others.  When you allow others to have influence with you, you are letting them know you think they are important.

Intimacy is at the top of the pyramid, is therefore very dependent on the first two layers. Quickly say the phrase “into me you see” and you have the basic meaning of intimacy. It is the feeling of closeness and openness that come from feeling completely safe, accepted, and important to someone else.  Being comfortable with “into me you see” in any relationship depends on the mutual give and take of acceptance and influence.  When the first two levels of the pyramid are working well, each person in that relationship will feel trust.  Trust equals safety and security, which means its OK to let your guard down.

It is easy to see how these three parts of relationships are interconnected.  For instance, a parent’s critical comments start the child questioning how acceptable they are.  When children feel unaccepted, they close down and refuse to be known by the critical parent.  If the criticism escalates and persists, the child will stop listening to that parent.  This translates into the parent feeling like they have no influence.  If you find yourself in such a negative cycle in any relationship, remember that your child, your spouse, your boss, and YOU all have a need to feel some level of acceptance, influence, and intimacy.

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