Self-Restraint: The Ultimate Civility

Self-restraint is a personal virtue showing physical, emotional and verbal self-control. Children often have a natural impatient sense of entitlement, self-gratification and self-absorption. Only after they are taught through examples are they able to develop empathy and sensitivity for others through their words and actions.

These traits are not inbred, as a child is born naturally self-centered. Civility requires self-restraint throughout life, and is an essential character trait for successful relationships, which can lead to a happy and fulfilling life.

Disappointments and unexpected occurrences happen frequently in life. No one can guarantee us a perfect life. Often we encounter others' rudeness, aggressiveness and self-righteous behavior that threatens our peace and well-being. I fully understand that it is not what happens in life, but how you handle what happens in life that determines success and happiness in relationships.

Self-restraint is about controlling negative impulses, delaying gratification and regulating explosive emotions in order to facilitate the thinking processes. This is not often easy. Setting goals to create a commitment of personal power by controlling self-restraint will help to create positive outcomes in lifetime relationships. A psychological fundamental skill is resisting impulse, which is the root of all emotional self-control.

In Daniel Coleman's book "Emotional Intelligence," delaying gratification as shown in the Marshmallow Challenge was performed on 4-year-old children at a preschool on the Stanford University campus in the l960s. This study involved children of the Stanford faculty, graduate students and other employees. The experiment tracked children from preschool to their graduation from high school to see how they could restrain their emotions and delay impulse.

At the age of 4 they were left in a room with one marshmallow sitting in front of them while the experimenter left the room for about 20 minutes to run an "errand." If they could resist the impulse to take the marshmallow, they would receive two marshmallows. Temptation was great, and some really struggled to see how they could resist; and, those using self-control were able to sustain themselves. The successful children put their heads down so they couldn't see the marshmallow, and even tried to go to sleep. The others who were more impulsive almost instantly grabbed the marshmallow.

Those who had resisted temptation at the age of 4 were more socially and academically competent at the age of 18. They had enhanced self-restraint: self-assertiveness, personal effectiveness and able to cope with the frustrations of life. They embraced challenges and pursued them in the face of difficulties, while being confident, trustworthy and dependable. They were able to restrain themselves, verbalize their thoughts using their reasoning ability and delay self-gratification in pursuit of their goals.

Those who grabbed for the marshmallow were more likely to be impatient, have a feeling of entitlement, would overreact to irritations with a sharp temper, and were unable to delay gratification. Emotional control affects the use of other mental capacities. There is evidence that emotional skills such as impulse control and accurately reading a social situation can be learned. Parents can start early by helping the child delay gratification and a feeling of entitlement, which will help to develop self-restraint.

DIANA OLSON, MA AICI CIP, an image/etiquette & civility specialist. Contact her at (626) 584-9761,, or (626) 584-9761.

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