Relationship and the ‘I’


Relationship and the ‘I’

Dr Jonathan Haverkampf


Our relationships with other people bring forth an ‘I’ and a ‘You’. Without relationships neither I nor you exist, and there is only a primitive sense of self. Whoever we are as individuals depends largely on the relationships we have with others, and this is also what gives us personality.

It may be illustrative to use the fictional characters of Robinson Crusoe and Tarzan. Robinson Crusoe had lived in a society and interacted with other people all his life before he ended up on the island, where he did not meet anyone before Friday. He had already learned things about himself in relation to other people. This gave him a sense of being an individual and a person. Tarzan, on the other hand, had never lived in civilization. There could not have been a sense of personality in the human definition. But he surely must have felt a sense of agency and a sense of self in his interactions with the world and the animals around him.

Thus, our relationships determine how we conceive ourselves as persons and individuals. In shaping our relationships, we form more complex personalities and a stronger sense of a distinct self. However, a relationship does not have to be of two people meeting physically, although this relationship can be the most intense one because there are so many communication channels available. Any information from another human, even if transmitted in a book, can establish a relationship.

The ‘I’ and the ‘You’ of Robinson Crusoe and Tarzan must have been very different. Robinson Crusoe gave Friday a name and made him the kind of person his previous society had programmed him to do. Tarzan must have seen others as distinct, but there were none of the features society uses to distinguish individual. Animals can have a personality, but it is not built through interactions with others as much as in humans. One reason is that the higher cortical areas of the human brain are relatively large and highly plastic. For rudimentary notions of ‘I’ and ‘You’ we only need relationships and not society. For the more complex aspects of personality, however, we do need social norms and programs.

Relationships and a basic sense of ‘I’ and ‘You’ must have predated society, otherwise the human race would not have survived. It makes sense that our brains make an ‘I’ possible because of the enormous amount of information that needs to be processed by humans, but it is still mind boggling to think why this specific sense of ‘I’ exists in this specific body. One answer lies in the barrier to information passing through at the boundaries of our bodies. We can communicate verbally and nonverbally with our environment, but the amount of information is significantly less than the amount that is exchanged in our bodies and our brains.

‘You’ and ‘I’ are thus a consequence of less transmission capacity for messages and information that exists between people than within them. In turn, it requires a relationship to have a ‘You’ and ‘I’ and, as a consequence, a ‘We’.



© 2012, 2016 Dr Christian Jonathan Haverkampf. All rights reserved.

Psychotherapy & Counselling, Communication, Medicine (Psychiatry); Dublin, Ireland

For psychotherapy, counselling and communication coaching visit,, and

This article is solely a basis for academic discussion and no medical advice can be given in this article, nor should anything herein be construed as advice. Always consult a professional if you believe you might suffer from a physical or mental health condition.



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