Dec 02

Reciprocity, or the Golden Rule

By Elizabeth O’Brien, M.A., LPC


Reciprocity is one of my favorite concepts—in therapy and in life. Parents do well to model this give-and-take behavior, by nurturing their children and supporting them, while at the same time expecting the child to reciprocate with love, respect, consideration—and yes, even chores! This reciprocity concept harkens back to Attachment Theory, in which the mother “mirrors” her infant: when the baby coos, the mother coos back; when the baby smiles, the mother smiles; when the baby cries, Mom picks him up. Nursing reinforces this symbiotic connection. Research bears out that this constant mutual validation process literally promotes optimal brain development and functions as the chief building block for sense of self.

Biologically, we are hard-wired for connection—and reciprocity; babies who are isolated, who are not held and nurtured, experience “failure to thrive.” Adults who are isolated experience a similar fate, at least in an emotional sense.  Conversely, the baby who experiences secure attachment with his mother internalizes this primal relationship, and it becomes the “template” for all future relationships. With secure attachment, the baby is empowered to connect successfully with other human beings over the course of his life. He grows up with an ingrained and empathetic sense of  “the other”…it’s not all about me! This is the foundation of reciprocity, a global ethic embodied in Christianity as the Golden Rule. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism…virtually every established religion in the world espouses some version of reciprocity.

Parents who teach and model this crucial concept are equipping their children with the capacity for attunement, empathy and emotional intelligence, a way of being that makes for an authentic, fulfilling life.

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern

Town Lake Y Pro Bono Counselor