This week I've been looking for the two ends of a certain spectrum. A spectrum measuring how emotionally secure we felt in our childhood, and how this foundation is carried forward and expresses itself in adulthood. Keep in mind, however, that in my delving this week, I've been targeting those more polarized ends of the spectrum. Many people will fall somewhere in the middle and will have a very mixed result in my "a" and "b" questions. Those folks won't feel a consistent pull one way or the other. However, if you felt predominantly drawn to "a" answers, then you may fall on the "desiring" end of the spectrum. If you felt predominantly drawn to "b" answers, then may fall on the "safety" end of the spectrum. The two groups that I'm positing to today are the desirers and the safeties. Perhaps by the end of this discussion, you'll feel that one of these groups describes you.
So what are the key features of each group? How does each approach attachments with other people (especially their lovers), albeit from opposite directions? I think it boils down to this. When forming attachments, desirers are looking to heal a missing primary security from childhood. On the other hand, the safeties are looking to maintain and protect a primary security gained in childhood. What do I mean by a primary security? A sense that the people around you understand you, like you, want to be with you, and can be counted on to without a doubt to stay with you. It's that glow you feel when you really, really want to be with a person, and that person really, really wants to be with you, and it endures. That primary security can come from family and/or friends. However, if it's lacking from your parents, you may have a more difficult time feeling sufficiently secure in friend relationships.
So, desirers are screwed up and safeties are blessed, right? No. I'm positing that both groups have substantial gifts and substantial challenges. Understanding how each group reacts to emotional pushes and pulls may be helpful in reducing some of the conflicts that each group finds themselves in from time to time. Unchecked, those conflicts can even be crippling.
First, lets talk about the desirers. If you answered "a" to question number 1, and you predominantly answered "a" to the rest of questions, and if you felt a strong affinity with those "a" statements, then you are most likely a desirer.
Desires are looking to heal a childhood they perceive as having insufficient love and affirmation of who they are as a person. They have a deep fear/belief that people will let them down or not stick with them, because that was the environment in which they formed their self-identity. Not having something makes the yearning for it stronger. The same with love. The intensity with which desirers hope that a unique and rare person will heal them is their defining trait. The intensity and the hidden pessimism are where desirers have challenges.
Something curious happens in an environment where love is extremely conditional or withheld altogether. Desirers often become other-person oriented and emotionally enmeshed in others. Because real love is hard to come by, they learn that most affirmation they received is given on their parents' terms. As long as they perform as expected, they will be loved. In response, desirers attempt to please the other person first. Their own emotions come second. For this process to work and be predictable enough for some sense of safety, desirers must be observant and aware of other people. They must be skilled and attuned in order to do the right things to get affirmation. This careful awareness of pleasing others can make desirers very adept at attracting and for giving people what they need. However, deep down, these gifts are conditional. Desirers are weaving these careful constructs in the desperate hope to find and keep this wished-for healing person and not be alone. Although desirers can be very alluring in their propensity to give, give, give, the moment they feel violated or that their investment in a person is mistaken, they can abruptly turn and flash with shocking anger or icy indifference. Desirers become hypersensitive when hovering around these old fears and hurts. Once a relationship begins to evoke the old emotions of childhood, it usually degrades as the other person begins to react to the desirer's hypersensitivity in ways that the desirer believes is further proof that the person is a threat.
Pros of Desirers
Desirers can be very skilled and perceptive. Flexible and hard working to please others. They are often motivated to develop impressive talents and other assets which will "prove" to the right people that they are really a desirable person to be with (something the parents did not see). That they really are worthy of enduring love. Desirers also tend to give what they are hoping to receive. They will give deep understanding and personal affirmation in the hope that the other person will reciprocate.
Cons of Desirers
The construct of pleasing the other person first and suppressing one's own needs can be very unhealthy and actually enable others to take the desirers for granted. Desirers can appear to be very strong and not need anyone. They may be leaders, but they don't truly want to lead. They want to be seen, and then be chosen.
In trying so hard to give what they themselves want, desirers can often either attract, or build, relationships with people who feed from the desirer's passion and energy, but are not equipped to reciprocate. The desirer keeps making the first move, and the other person is dazzled, but does not respond in kind. Desirers can find themselves repeatedly mired the kinds of situations they were hoping to avoid. Subconsciously, the desirer may seek out people who spark old pain in the hope to succeed once and for all and defeat the pain.
Because a past hurt is fueling desirers, they can have sharp trigger points. They have a tendency to think in a polarized way. You're either with them or against them. Once relegated to the enemy camp in a desirer's mind, it's very hard for the offending person to redeem him or herself and be viewed as safe.
Take Home Lesson
Once aware of the unfulfilled need they are trying to fill, desirers should strive to feel more happy with themselves alone. People, in general, are not good candidates for delivering this sort of deep healing to a desirer. People have their own failings and needs. If desirers become more self-actualized in their happiness, the volatile intensity with which they interact with other people will ease. Trigger points may be softened and become less black and white. They may be less apt to push others away when hypersensitivity is sparked.
If you answered "b" to the first question and predominantly answered "b" to the remaining questions, and if you felt a strong affinity with the "b" statements, then you are most likely a safety. Safeties perceive that they received some varying degree of an ideal childhood. They felt very loved, supported, and appreciated by their parents. They felt valued as a person and their well being was a high priority. As safeties move to adulthood, they carry this expectation of security and warmth into their visions of love and mating, because to them, being held in that high regard by their loved ones is viewed as normal.
However, there is negative side to this construct. Children are by definition in a receiving/expecting role. Parents are morally charged with putting their children first and shepherding them through the stages of physical and cognitive development. This extensive support is given at the expense of the parents. Men and women who deliver such childhood experiences often derive personal pleasure and achievement from putting their children first. They do not show obvious signs of tension between their personal wants and parental roles, even though they might feel them. They embrace the necessary sacrifice. In fact, in some instances, they might even resent the adulthood of the child, and subconsciously wish that their children never leave them or stop needing them. It is unlikely that these kinds of parental sacrifices will be made by others in the safeties' adult life. Therefore, an unrealistic expectation may be seeded in safeties that they will continue to receive such selfless giving. Safeties might not even be aware that what they were receiving as children was a selfless act by the parents. It simply seems normal.
Problems can arise when safeties feel that their expected security is threatened or being denied them. A sense of entitlement and inflexibility can emerge as safeties are confused by the notion that other people may have needs or wishes inconsistent with their understanding of security. Safeties may be very focused on relationship happiness and be fierce champions of relationship and team success, but what they sometimes struggle to realize is that their strong positions, albeit couched in moral terms, are actually self-serving. Safeties are 50% of a relationship, so any effort directed at the relationship as a living, breathing entity is 50% to their direct benefit.
Safeties tend to have difficulty seeing their lover as a separate individual who is entitled to be happy, even if that happiness means setting them free of the relationship. When threatened, safeties cling to the relationship harder, which is where their solace lies. However, that act is past-oriented. Beliefs like "we were meant to be together" and "we vowed to love and protect each other forever" are attempts to minimize current or future problems with static, unchanging events in the past. Because they have learned that loving attachments are secure, they expect that once a couple enters a relationship, the relationship will always be. Safeties can struggle with making aggressive changes to improve the present and the future. Change can be highly threatening, because it breaks a safety's sense of predictability and the absolute power of the past to keep shaping the present.
Pros of Safeties
Safeties are dependable and protective of relationships. Unless threatened, they deliver long term stability. As long as they have warmth and comfort, they can be happy. This threshold is higher and more volatile for desirers. Safeties are optimistic and believe in the good of people.
Cons of Safeties
Safeties can become stubborn and inflexible if their world view is threatened or frustrated. They tend not to see the self-serving nature their relationship-center focus. Security can be seen as a right rather a privilege earned with hard work and honest sensitivity to the individual needs of their partner.
Take Home Lesson
Safeties might remind themselves of their role in the lives of others, separate and apart from their own security. Safe and stable relationships may be an honorable goal, but safeties should be mindful that in times of stress, that goal can turn into an urge to compel others to give security no matter what the cost or sacrifice to themselves. Although the expecting/receiving role is granted to children, it is a difficult foundation for an adult relationship. Granting understanding and support sometimes requires openness to change and letting go of relationship predictability. They need to be conscious of the need for ongoing dynamic energy in a relationship rather than counting on an expected secure attachment based on past vows/declarations of love. It is easy for safeties to take their partner for granted.
So how did the questions do in sorting out the groups? Here are correlations--the number of times a person selecting a desiring childhood answered "a" and a person selecting a safety childhood answered "b."
Question 2: "a" 70%; "b" 57%
Question 3: This question didn't work out and needs to be tossed.
Question 4: "a" 18%; "b" 50%
Question 5: "a" 75%; "b" 33%
Question 6: "a" 63%; "b" 80%
Question 7: "a" 29%; "b" 75%
Question 8: "a" 86%; "b" 17%