Often times our perceptions of ourselves are connected to the ways in which others view us. Our relationships dictate how much we feel content, how loved we feel, and essentially relationships can determine our sense of security. From this perspective the ways in which we value ourselves can be commensurate with how we view others.
"To bear the image of God is to live in reciprocating relationships with God and our fellow human beings. Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, referred to this type of relationship as an 'I-Thou' relationship. Buber's theological anthropology was that human beings are to be in relationships where a whole self, the 'I,' is in mutual relationship with a whole other, the 'Thou'" (Balswick, King, and Reimer, 2005, p. 40).
According to Buber's theory, there are four different perceptions of self (I) and the other (thou). Those perceptions are: high value of other, low value of other, high value of self, and low value of self.
it-it relationship: The first combination of relatedness is a low value of self and a low value of the other, what Buber refers to as the "it-it" relationship. This type of relatedness comes from an individual who has a low self-perception and has little value of other people. There is little to no value of self or of the individual. These relationships feel disconnected and often times very isolating leaving individuals with a longing for both a desire for connectedness to higher self-worth and connection with others. "The self does not perceive itself worthy of closeness with another, not does it expect the other to offer closeness" (p. 48).
It-thou relationship: The second model of relatedness is high value of other and low value of self. This relatedness privileges others more than themselves. Often times these people are self-sacrificing. It can be easy for single parents to fall into this category, children who feel they have to please their parents, and spouses who sacrifice themselves for the other spouse. "The other is not recognized as a unique, respected individual but rather as one who exists in order to conform to the needs of the self. Such individuals seek close relationships with another in order to gain a sense of acceptance or validation" (p. 44).
I-it relationship: This level of relatedness involves a high view of the self and a low view of the other. These relationships are those in which there is a level of self-centeredness. An individual who feels as though his/her needs and demands are more important than the other privileges the self before anyone else. "The self in the I-it relationship merely interacts with human others as objects. The other is instrumental, not integral, to the I's being. Individuals who related to the other as an it are often dismissing. The I-it relationship is in sharp contrast to the I-Thou" (p. 43-44).
I-Thou relationship: These levels of relatedness have a high value of self and a high value of the other. These individuals have a secure sense of themselves and also view the other as a significant being. I-Thou relationships are usually serving of one another and involve a giving of the self for the betterment of the other. "The self and other both experience the presences of the other in such a way that enables both to develop. Ideally neither impingement nor domination occur in the context of the relationship...both the self and the other are recognized and appreciated as unique differentiated selves" (p. 43).
All human beings have a sense of self that plays into their view of relationship. How does this play into families? How does the way we view ourselves influence the way we live our marriage? By considering the ways we view ourselves we are able to view our relationships differently.
Excerpts from: Balswick, Jack, Pamela King, and Kevin Reimer. The Reciprocating Self. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2005.