Discovering Your Personality…What’s Your Type?
©’99 Janet Levine: Transforming Teaching Workshops
In association with David Rehorick, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of New Brunswick, and Consulting Faculty, The Fielding Institute
Personality research shows that we make our way in the world primarily as Attachers, Detachers, or Defenders. My nomenclature—Attacher, Detacher, Defender—is based on the respected work of the pioneering psychologist Karen Horney who, in her book, Our Inner Conflicts, describes three broad personality patterns as those of moving toward people, moving away from people, and moving against people. I developed the terminology Attachers (who move towards people), Detachers (who move away from people),and Defenders (who move against people). People are a complex fusion of these three ways of being, but one is always dominant.
The three modalities are primary patterns of behavior; we each make our way in the world primarily as Attachers, Detachers, or Defenders. This does not mean that Detachers and Defenders are not emotional, or that Attachers and Defenders are not intellectual, or that Detachers and Attachers do not also struggle with boundaries of self and other-ness. We are a complex fusion of these three ways of being, but one is always dominant. Within each of the broad patterns presented by these modalities are three versions of how emotional, mental and instinctual attention manifests in personality. The three modalities and the nine personality strategies are described below.
Are You An Attacher?
If you are an Attacher your predominant mode of being is emotional. Being outer-directed, moving towards people, and knowing where you stand emotionally in relation to others are central preoccupations – do they like me – the dominant issue is approval. You are activated by your feelings: how you feel about yourself each day, what moods and emotions you are dealing with affects all you do. These inner triggers direct your behavior. You are aware of the feelings of others and how you are coming across – issues of image are important. Your defenses are marshaled around feelings: to make your way in the world, you have to learn to deal with feelings. Some Attachers take pride in denying to themselves that they have feelings. Other Attachers suspend their feelings, so they don’t interfere with getting the job done. Yet others are aware constantly of their feelings and can lose their agenda if they allow feelings to overwhelm them. All Attachers use feelings to open their hearts to others, and to the deepest parts of themselves.
KEY ISSUES FOR ATTACHERS
Image: central concerns are tied up in image – how am I coming across to others, what image am I conveying, how are people responding to me?
Connection: reaching out, getting through, making contact is affirming to Attachers.
Approval: gaining approval is a major motivation for Attachers.
ATTACHERS – THE HELPER (POINT TWO)
Helpers attach by being helpful. They struggle to know their own needs, but instinctively know the needs of others. They are sensitive to other people’s feelings. What motivates them at work and at play is knowing what others need. Helpers convey feelings of warmth, understanding and genuine concern in their interactions. Sometimes they feel frustrated because they’re not able to do as much for others as they would like. To feel comfortable with others, Helpers rely on interpersonal alignment – they can be sweetly effusive, sincere and quietly empathetic, firm and plain talking – all at the same time depending on the person with whom they are interacting. Helpers have to be careful, but can juggle several personas concurrently. They pitch their conversations to elicit approval from others. The subtext of their conversation is based on personal appeal: “Look what I can do for you. You need my help. I am here to serve you.” They feel misunderstood if others think they’re trying to manipulate them: they want to be perceived as warmhearted and sensitive.
Helpers develop a gracious environment whether at home or at work built on mutual approval. They pick protégés, or champion persons of consequence. The selected person is wrapped in a cloak of largess and service. Helpers work long hours to open doors, and keep them open, with anticipatory expectations of gratitude and heightened emotional responsiveness in return. Yet Helpers can feel harried by their constant need for approval and acceptance.
Often Helpers recognize that they have a need to give, but far more subtle insight is required if they are to see that their subtext in giving is a need to be loved, to be popular, to be admired. If they feel under-appreciated they can become emotional and demanding.
Helpers project a positive persona and turn on stellar performances day after day. Helpers are usually popular. Their excellent communication skills, the special care and attention they turn on for bosses, or peers they deem significant, elicit admiration, popularity and love. Helpers breathe approval like oxygen. This is the bottom line – the need to be approved, even loved, is the reason for giving.
Helpers appear to be independent, but internally know how much time they spend attending to others. They attend to the needs of a group as a whole, but they assiduously monitor the progress of several “favorites”. They can keep a mental tab running of different peoples’ schedules and agendas – and manifest unexpected, but appreciated, behind-the-scenes support. They value the private confidentiality, and emotional resonance such support engenders.
Helpers do not like their efforts to appear self-serving, but will give unstintingly of themselves on behalf of the organization for which they work. It is tempting to devote too much time to a job that has interpersonal appeal. They will volunteer to do the additional assignment, or spend extra unforeseen hours on a project. They devote time to developing peers’ potential, and welfare, and take pride in others’ accomplishments, while often thinking: “They couldn’t have done that without me.” They work hard at making relationships happen. The allure of someone else’s needs always seems more important than the Helpers’ own needs.
ATTACHERS – THE ORGANIZER (POINT THREE)
Organizers attach by doing—for themselves—and for what they perceive others want them to do. They literally perform, both in the sense of getting the job done, and constantly seeking to be the center of attention. Organizers like to think of themselves as the role models of their professions – the image is of confidence, brisk efficiency, solid skills, and leadership. They believe who they are as people is tied up with what they accomplish. Coming first, being a winner is strong motivation for Organizers who get a lot of recognition and reward for what they do. Organizers play a central role in their undertakings, they are unmistakably present; they create the environment, set tasks, direct interactions, achieve goals. They communicate by persuasion: “This model works for me, it’ll work for you.” They get a lot done, most of it successfully.
Organizers play to their peers and colleagues, basking in the applause and approval. They play their “audience” with skill and a finely tuned ability to pick up on pockets of resistance to their message. They adjust their voice, vocabulary, emotional range and body language until they feel they have their “audience” (even if it’s one other person) “in their hand.”
Organizers are goal directed: they drive themselves and expect the same commitment from others. The results are what count – get the job done, efficiently, without fuss or fretting. Organizers will not be bothered with their own or others’ feelings or emotional responses; not if these stand in the way of completing the task at hand. They are impatient with people who waste their time through bad planning and inefficiency. They hate being held up – by illness, incompetence, whatever and will rather complete the task themselves. Natural leaders, they are also team players when they respect the leader.
Organizers sweep up others in their forward driving energy. They move directly from idea to action with little time lag to accommodate the hesitancy of more skeptical or cautious peers. They know from experience how hard it is for others to resist their goal directed momentum. Organizers thrive on the energy and excitement generated by their interactions with others. It is a high when the energy drives a meeting along.
Organizers see the overall goal as getting from Point A to Point Z. This goal is sorted into various tasks, prioritized and assigned a time frame – two hours, within a week, this quarter. The larger goal is made manageable in sequential blocks of time. Organizers can juggle several tasks at the same time. Time not used to do something, is time wasted. Organizers think in terms of deadlines – an objective measure of progress at any given time.
Organizers feel an illusion of control when there is constant activity around them. In the down time after attaining a goal, often Organizers can be at a loss what to do with them. There is time and space to regard peers and colleagues, not as units to fulfill the Organizers agenda, but as people with their own priorities, problems and responses. This is when Organizers experience feelings and become aware of their exhaustion, accompanied by an unwelcome insecurity. Doubts can arise that affect the Organizers’ overarching self-confidence. But the time can be used by Organizers to think things through, replacing their tendency to what is often glib superficiality and quick-fix answers.
ATTACHERS – THE DREAMER (POINT FOUR)
The Dreamer attaches by seeking emotionally meaningful connections. They live in a rich emotional world. They have a sense of their own uniqueness, yet, paradoxically, Dreamers focus not on what they have, but on what’s missing. Dreamers think of themselves as different from others, and can often feel lonely and misunderstood. They feel they bring the gift of themselves – unique creative talent and depth – to both what they do and to the people with whom they interact. They care deeply about people and seek emotionally meaningful connections. They take pride in their own and their peers’ achievements and experience a fulfilling emotional connection at being part of meaningful and valuable creativity: “Something special.” Dreamers devalue themselves in comparison to others who seem to have more, or better. This self-denigration can manifest as competitive envy.
The Dreamer embodies emotionality, and a dramatic tone imbues their relationships. Relationships are all-important. They regard themselves as sensitive with the ability to experience feelings deeply. Dreamers are aware of a push-pull in relationships: they can come across as aloof and self-absorbed, or conversely, as vitally interested – this inconsistency is often bewildering to others.
Dreamers often violate boundaries in other people because they yearn for connection both to deep feelings and relationships. They can over-dramatize their feelings to the discomfort of others. They like to be liked and to have their efforts appreciated. Yet often when praise comes their way, Dreamers deflect it – the glass is always half empty. They experience a cycle of expectation and then regret. Dreamers experience the onset of a high with any new venture that they are close to, but, invariably, regret follows as the Dreamer’s thoughts turn to what is missing in the venture. The Dreamer need to learn to value the flat, ordinary moments in all undertakings, and take their attention off the dramatic high-low extremes. The unavailability of emotional sustenance can lead to melancholy, even depression.
The daily passage of time with its routine tasks is of little consequence to the Dreamer. They live for the grand scale occurrences that color what they often feel is the dull oblivion of the rest of their lives. The time when deep feelings emerge in interactions or on projects is memorable; yet, Dreamers cannot recall the ordinary matters of everyday life. It is hard for the Dreamer to stay in the present moment. NOW is filled with nostalgia and associative memories of options not exercised, and “if only” thinking. This year’s highlights are seen in rosy-hued mythic light of significant moments of the past. The Dreamer measures their lives by dramatic interpersonal events beyond the passage of time.
If you are a Detacher your predominant mode of being is mental. Being inner-directed, moving away from people, and seeking to make sense of the world through mental processes and activities, are central preoccupations. The realm of the mind is where you feel most comfortable: living in the imagination, conceptualizing, fantasizing, analyzing, forming contexts, and synthesizing, are all based on mental activity. Even when you are with people, you tend to escape into your mind – planning other options, running other scenarios, looking for new concepts to make ideas lock together. Your energy is mental. Some Detachers escape into the imagination where ideas swing freely – a state of mind called monkey-mind. Other Detachers question everything in their minds and voice their doubts. They like to think through the hard questions to build a fail-safe argument. Yet others live in an investigative mental mode: seeking knowledge to build interconnections among ideas and come to new understandings.
KEY ISSUES FOR DETACHERS
Interconnections: seeking the key among ideas to unlock life’s big picture puzzles.
Mental argument: seeking certainty through logic and rational thinking.
Imagination: fantasizing, creating pleasant options, with a major emphasis on planning.
DETACHERS – THE OBSERVER (POINT FIVE)
Observers detach by moving away from people and the outer world. They concentrate instead on realizing their thoughts and emotions in a rich inner life, which allows them to feel secure. They minimize participation as a way of keeping their inner selves intact. They need more privacy and private time than most people do. When alone they relive experiences and can find it easier to get in touch with feelings than when living them the first time.
Observers are interested in finding answers and making connections. They seek radical approaches to problem solving that goes beyond traditional ways of thinking. Gaining knowledge is finding pieces of the puzzle – each piece might be incomplete in itself, but locks together, creating the whole or larger picture. Observers look for a new, or particular, way to get across a complex idea. They appreciate working with others who also struggle to create, to synthesize ideas and admire those who step outside the bounds of packaged, conventional thinking.
They like to watch events rather than be involved in the thick of things. Observers’ interpersonal style is to play it “close to the vest”; they are not emotionally expansive and forthcoming in their interactions. They value privacy and respect the privacy of others. Observers prefer to communicate in closely worded notes, conveying their feedback and appreciation in comments on papers, or private correspondence. They prefer to work in an almost silent environment, silence signals evidence of real thought.
Observers connect with others through an exchange of ideas. They try to be impassive and objective, stony-faced in meetings, to convey that everyone’s ideas are equally valid. Often accused of being unresponsive, the rejoinder is that all ideas are listened to without value judgments. Observers maintain that by not talking unnecessarily they empower others who need to be listened to. From the Observer’s point of view their detachment shows respect for their peers’ boundaries. Yet colleagues may interpret their noninvolvement as negative lack of interest.
Observers are careful about how they spend their time and energy. They apportion time to anticipated demands – being in the office, attending a meeting, traveling to a client. Unexpected demands and spontaneous invitations are jarring; they assess the demand with a reactive response: “What will I get for my time?” Time spent in mental pursuits is time well spent: Observers hold dear the notion that knowledge is power. Knowledge is never given away wholesale; people have to earn access to the Observers hard-won treasure-house through diligent effort and evidence of real thinking
DETACHERS – THE QUESTIONER (POINT SIX)
Questioners detach by putting their mental energy into logic and rational thinking. They regard the world as inherently unsafe, and they seek certainty and safety, their attention focused on potential threats. Highly imaginative, they are as good at locking onto what is potentially, as well as what actually is, dangerous. Questioners either run away from danger, or meet it full force. If something is thought through in a logical way, the conclusion is reliable. Thinking things through, skepticism, are high on the Questioners list. To feel safe with people, Questioners want evidence that they can interact with their own thinking. Doubting peoples’ intentions, they generate an interrogative climate around themselves, where argument and counter-argument are welcomed so that everyone ends up with clear conclusions, albeit drawn from different perspectives.
Questioners are ambivalent about themselves in position of leadership. They alternate between being rigidly authoritarian and non-authoritarian. Their own inner doubt causes the swing. When they are afraid on being challenged, they exert control, when they are filled with inner conviction they relax and become permissive. Seeking predictability and safety, they view the authority of their bosses with skepticism. Periods of blind allegiance oscillate with rebellious insurrection.
Questioners are constantly vigilant; an inner radar system seeks out the hidden intentions of others. This wariness is often perceived as reactive negativism. Unanswered questions, or unexpressed anger, undermine the basis of trust they have built with colleagues. Procrastination sets in until doubts are resolved, until the Questioner can separate negative feed back from a personal attack.
Questioners can put aside personal doubts in service of a cause – they are loyal to the company, or an idea. Once established, their inner conviction lets them feel certain in promoting their cause. They trust objective data far more than personal assurances. Questioners see danger in acting openly, but inaction, procrastination, is equally dangerous through missed dead lines and failed enterprises. Yet Questioners can act on behalf of others, and rally the troops behind a person or ideal in which they believe. Once committed, they are generally loyal.
DETACHERS – THE ENTERTAINER (POINT SEVEN)
Entertainers detach by mentally focusing on future plans and new and exciting options. When reality bites Entertainers escape into an inner world where there are no limits; being occupied with upbeat ideas obviates painful circumstances. High energy Entertainers have many balls in the air. They focus on keeping them up there. Entertainers are fascinated by ideas and interesting options, such as the way to change a process, or design a new plant. They dislike doing the same thing the same way twice – new input, new ideas from articles, new problems present exciting directions to try.
Entertainers are process people, planners. The plan’s the thing; the doing of it is left to lesser beings. They can spend hours at their desks thinking through how to present material, or a promotion plan. Entertainers never feel they have exhausted the possibilities of their subject – the layers, the variety, the complexity – are fascinating. Entertainers imbue positive mental energy and alertness, their minds race with myriad ideas and responses. Often their associative mental leaps to creative conclusions are too fast for others to follow. Peers need to tell them to slow down their thinking. Colleagues can feel swept away by the Entertainer’s mental intensity.
Entertainers are fluid, multi-optional thinkers, they assume that others are comfortable too with shifts in direction, choosing between options, and moving among ideas. Entertainers exercise mental ellipses and reframe concepts in ways that baffle other thinkers. There is always another way to present the material; and to the Entertainer, on-the-spot ideas – as they arise – seem brilliant and important to throw into the mix, now. It is hard to pinpoint an Entertainer’s position, they are mercurial; ideas and concepts do intersect and connect, and options change as new information is acquired and processed.
Entertainers try to grasp at the pattern of another persons thinking: how that person sees themselves, what are the components of their thinking, what issues fascinate them, are they detail, or big picture thinkers, open to new possibilities, or conservative. They subconsciously classify people by how they think. Discovering how others think allows Entertainers to get on with them by mirroring a perspective, or framing an approach. The ability to form patterns and make mental connections is of basic concern to Entertainers. Entertainers can come across as having a sense of personal entitlement; they believe people are entitled to a pleasant life. Your time, effort and attention are at their disposal. They’ll charm and disarm you.
If you are a Defender your predominant mode of being is instinctual. Being aware of boundaries around yourself, your tendency is to feel brushed up against people – you need to establish your space – here I am deal with me. Intuition, “gut” feelings, and nonverbal information are important. The body is where you sense your relationships to others and to the world. You have an intuitive information gathering system. You say: “I feel it in my body.” “I have a gut feel for that.” You have a belly laugh. It is easy for you to lose yourself behind your boundaries – a state of mind called self-forgetting. Sometimes you can feel like a mouse rattling around in a great suit of armor. Some Defenders make their presence felt by being confrontational and combative. Other Defenders are stubborn and signal that they won’t be pushed around when they take a passive-aggressive stance. Yet others establish their self-identity and protect interpersonal boundaries through being critical and judgmental.
KEY ISSUES FOR DEFENDERS
Instinct: trusting their intuitive sense of how they feel about something is the only way for Defenders to feel comfortable.
Being heard: it is important to Defenders’ sense of self that people listen when they have something to say.
Feeling respected: this helps Defenders establish their space, and enables them to be present.
DEFENDERS – THE PROTECTOR (POINT EIGHT)
Protectors defend by being confrontational and combative. They live with an innate sense of power and control. Confrontation for the Protector is a way of reading the world, of establishing where the power is, and of knowing who has control. Exerting control is a way of moving through – what to the Protector – is an inherently unjust world. Protectors use confrontation as a way of connecting with others. They assume that confrontation is part of interactions, those who stand up for themselves, are most able and most open. If Protectors sense that someone is not being honest, they will push and push, to provoke a response. When Protectors feel a connection with someone who stands up for what they believe, they will become a protector and do everything to support that person. Protectors empower those under their protection with a mixture of challenge and support. They do not tolerate weakness in people, unless they see where it’s coming from. Their anger can be devastating and abusive. Protectors commit themselves with passionate conviction to what they do. Often their anger arises in defense of a belief system, but they come across as personally confrontational – Protectors spend a lot of time mending fences.
Protectors make their own rules. They believe rules are to be broken. This often causes a dilemma: how to hold the structure of the organization, while believing those rules and regulations are not always productive or beneficial. Protectors take charge. They do not realize their own force. Control is a survival strategy: peers and colleagues either fall in line, or resist. The Protector wants to establish how people operate under pressure. Protectors are invested in finding out where people stand. Cower, defy, resist, comply – this information is vital to someone who is constantly judging if it is safe to lower his or her guard and be vulnerable. Vulnerability means exposure, feeling fragile, being open to people coming after them. Protectors come across as powerful. It is difficult for peers to know that the other side of the bombastic Protector is soft sentimentality.
As with rules, Protectors control time: if the Protectors meeting runs late, that’s okay, but don’t be late for their meeting. Dominant Protectors like to be on center-stage, such as when they are in charge, and then people know their impact. Other time of less high intensity is of little consequence and can be forgotten, fudged, ignored. Protectors think they own time; and that delusion of control often blind-sides them when they are caught in the consequences of their power rushes – deadlines and appointments missed, angry or anguished colleagues, Protectors and peers knocking at the door, demanding an explanation.
DEFENDERS – THE PEACE KEEPER (POINT NINE)
Peace Keepers defend by adapting a go-slow attitude and a form of passive-aggressive behavior. They are reluctant self-starters; their attention is focused on the agenda of others. They have forgotten themselves; energy and motivation arise from without, not from within. They try to create a climate of harmonious interaction wherever they are – don’t rock the boat – there are many sides to every question. They are natural mediators, although conflict, and dealing with conflict is distracting and exhausting. A satisfactory day at work has more to do with watching others work productively together, than a feeling of self-achievement. Peace Keepers easily establish rapport and laid-back comfort with colleagues. They take pride in getting along with others; bosses, peers and colleagues alike respond to the warmth, concern and noncompetitive nature of Peace Keeper relations. They find it difficult to motivate them, but are easily motivated by the agendas of others. It is the expectations of colleagues, of the job that gets them moving. They plan, process, initiate, execute, and perform, to meet the expectations of others, and avoid the consequences of non-action. Peace Keeper’s are easily distracted and lose their agenda.
Peace Keepers believe in the concept of a level playing field – it is hard to establish objectives and priorities when every person, every idea, every project gets equal time. Others demands can be too pressing, but the Peace Keeper becomes obstinate and obdurate rather than display overt anger. They believe expressing anger is damaging, so they rarely allow themselves to be overtly angry, hence others do not always take their anger seriously. Anger usually takes the form of passive aggressive behavior – a go-slow attitude to work deadlines, procrastination in getting things done.
Peace Keepers believe everything happens in its own time; given enough time, priorities, choices, decisions, sort themselves out. Time sets its own course and carries Peace Keepers to where they are going to end up anyway. Whatever is not completed that day, or week, or quarter, will be done thereafter. There is always more time to attend to everything.
DEFENDERS – THE MORALIZER (POINT ONE)
Moralizers defend by being critical and judgmental. They live in world where a sense of inner direction drives them to achieve. They seek perfection in an imperfect world. They live with an innate sense of what’s right – the think they know what’s wrong and how to fix it. Things must be done the right way, they do things right, and are judgmental of those who don’t. Moralizers believe in what they say and do. They feel they owe it to themselves and others to be competent to handle any details, whether it’s a presentation, or a process. They focus on the details and facts. Ideas and materials are conveyed in ways that model precision, ethics and responsibility. They have a convincing, albeit preachy way of communicating, underscored with “right thinking” messages. Others can feel judged if they disagree with Moralizers. Yet, their moralistic energy, which may sometimes be overzealous, is largely appreciated as authentic and inspiring.
When they are committed, Moralizers are inspiring leaders and colleagues, imbuing others with the force of their own inner conviction. Moralizers are obsessively self-critical. They spend hours preparing material, deliberately building a model from intricate details. They struggle to make complex notions orderly, and are uncomfortable with open-ended options. They also do not like changing gear halfway through a process. Nonetheless plans B, C, and D, while not written out, are at their fingertips to cope with the unexpected.
Moralizers have to deal with a severe inner critic that produces an unrelenting commentary on their lives. They realize the critic is a feature of their own consciousness, but find it extremely difficult to ignore such a familiar manifestation of their thinking. Paying attention to the inner critic is a major drain of time and energy. Any activity and its progress are monitored against the critic’s measure of perfection: “Do it right, or don’t do it at all.” Deadlines are a struggle, because the inner pressure to produce a perfect piece of work also has to be perfectly timed. They can resent others who don’t do things properly, although they try not to show open anger.
Moralizers live under the whip of time. The inner critic drives them to account for themselves. Their work schedules mirror their preoccupation with correctness – good people work hard and play later – maybe. Procrastination arises with fear of making mistakes. The Moralizer paying too much attention to time-consuming details siphons time away from a project. Work schedules reflect time well spent – meetings, appointments, preparation – the “must dos.” There is no free time to schedule “time off” for pleasure and fun.