Mattering To Others By Dr. Jane Alexander
As counsellors, many of us encounter people with low self- esteem who feel that they do not matter to other people or to the communities in which they live. A weak sense of identity and low self -worth, may stem from a basic sense that their existence is of no value to others or to society.
At first glance the idea of mattering to others may seem simplistic. Research focusing on the individual mattering in a general sense to society and specifically of mattering to other people arose from the field of social psychology in the 1980’s (Rosenberg and McCulloch, 1981). In socio- psychological terms mattering is the extent to which we make a difference to the world around us. Fundamentally, we matter because other people know us, we are important them and they turn to us for assistance in times of need. mattering impacts self-esteem because we believe that our existence makes a difference to the lives of others. Essentially, mattering is central to a sense of self, as all human beings want to be significant in the lives of others and to society (Elliott et al, 2004).
This sense of mattering to others must be distinguished from the behaviours of others, who objectively demonstrate through their actions that individuals are of significance to their lives. The process of mattering begins through interpersonal communication and the development of relationships with others. These activities develop a sense of identity but if they are lacking we will not perceive that our existence is important to others or to society. The opposite of mattering, or of being unimportant or insignificant in the lives of others, may be one of the most disturbing perceptions that human beings experience (Elliott et al, 2004).
If others do not pay attention to us, listen to us, and do not believe we are significant, we must find or create ways in which to cope with the realisation that we do not matter. p. 483.
People experience varying degrees of needing to matter to others associated with factors such as gender, age, ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, socio economic status and family structures. We encounter clients who have lost a sense of mattering to others, perhaps through bereavement, their children leaving home, unemployment, and retirement. Loss of roles may destabilise self- identity and more worryingly research revealed that feeling unimportant to others was associated with higher levels of depression (Flett et al, 2012). This construct is also a precipitating factor in suicidal behaviour and supersedes the depth of depression experienced by the person (Joiner et al; 2009).
Studying the construct of “mattering to others” has made me more alert for opportunities in my personal, work and social relationships to communicate to people just how important they are to me. Additionally, the research showed that when clients think that they are important to counsellors they may engage with the counselling process, develop trust, and produce better outcomes than those who do not have these perceptions. I will make greater efforts to demonstrate Elliott et al’s (2004) forms of mattering, which included a focus on client attendance, importance and reliance. Arguably, we can all fulfil these criteria by showing clients that they are equally important to the counselling process, its goals, and outcomes.
“To be of importance to others is to be alive” —T. S. Eliot (from Simpson, 1997, p. 654)
By Dr. Jane Alexander
Dr Jane Alexander was appointed Director of Undergraduate Studies in 2010. Prior to that she held academic posts at lecturer and senior lecturer level at Trinity College Dublin, Derby University, UK, Lincoln University, UK and City University, London. Her PhD in Mental Health Studies, funded by the Trustees of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London is a qualitative sociologically based study investigating the experiences of acutely ill patients and staff in two acute mental health hospitals in London………http://ichas.ie/about-us/meet-the-team/
Flett, G. L., Galfi-Pechenkov, L., Molnar, D. S., Hewitt, P. L., & Goldstein, A. L. (2012). Perfectionism, mattering, and depression: A mediational analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 828 – 832
Joiner, T. E., Jr., Van Orden, K. A., Witte, T. K., Selby, E. A., Ribeiro, J. D., Lewis, R., & Rudd, M. D. (2009). Main predictors of the interpersonal-psychology theory of suicidal behavior: Empirical tests in two samples of young adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118, 634 – 646.
Rosenberg, M. (1985). Self-concept and psychological well-being in adolescence. In R. L. Leahy (Ed.), The development of self (pp. 205–246). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Academic Press.
Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community and Mental Health, 2, 163–182