Friday, September 18, 2009

The Desirers and the Safeties

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%


SzélsőFa said...

Hi, I'm just joining this interesting questionnaire.
I have my a-s and b-s, I'll see what I am to do next. :)
I have to report that Q3 was allright by me, but I understand that you had to leave it out; and also that Q6 was a tight match between 'a' and 'b'; and that Qs 7 and 8 resulted in 'mostly this', but sometimes 'that'

I'll just keep on reading as to see what's next.

SzélsőFa said...

well, okay, I don't understand the last part called 'correlations', but I had two (four) 'a'-s and six (four) 'b'-s, with the first one being an 'a', but with the rest being predominantly 'b', with some sort of 'a'-s lurking behind.
I don't think I was of any help, but I liked it and liked your reasoning, too.

Hot Cover Girls Central said...
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Aniket Thakkar said...

My, my. Tough comment to follow up.
I guess so many tags on 'Desire' attracted some attention from the spam bots. :D

With lotsa B's I guess I'll fall into the safety net.
I see some of the points you mentioned in safety tend to correlate to what Aine explained about the Idealists. The hunt for the perfect goal can have undesirable side-effects.

There's nothing perfect in this world, is it? But we need to believe there is...

Vesper said...

Very interesting, Jason. A lot to think about...

PhilipH said...

I guess I'm just a mixed up recycled teenager.


Shadow said...

'kay. smack bang in the middle, 'til you tossed out no. 3, making me an a. definately rings a lots of bells. especially the 'other people orientated' bit, which is also called co-dependency. i'm very well aware of it and have developed skills to counter it, or rather, to balance things out a bit better... lots more thoughts floating around in my head, but i think i'll leave them there. this has been mighty interesting.

Laurel said...

I have to say that for a non-scientific endeavor this couldn't have been a more statistically perfect survey/description for me. I was heavily on the "b" side.

1. I frequently describe my childhood as ideal.
2. My parents loved each other and their children.
3. My childhood/adolescent difficulties were outside my home, which was a refuge and relief from them.
4. I am a generous friend and wife. Because it makes me happy when someone else is. (Aside: I have had this philosophical discussion with more than one person. Doing things for others because you enjoy it is not the same thing as being motivated by selfless reasons.)
5. When, in my marriage, we have made a joint decision that affected me adversely, like a move I didn't want to make, I have told my husband each time that "What is good for you is what's good for us." And guess what? I was right. If it were something harmful to me rather than inconvenient or temporarily undesireable you bet I would say something else.

So congrats, Jason. Looks like you read my cards exactly right!

Margaret said...

I'll be back to read this as soon as I get chance Jason. Looks interesting!

Chris Eldin said...

Wow. First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to do this! It really must've taken hours to pull together.
I knew I was on the "a" spectrum right away. And all of your insights here prove accurate. But something I really learned which I didn't expect is that my husband is on the "safety" side. And he says, practically verbatim, many of the things here.

Very provocative. Love this post.

Anonymous said...

Szelsofa, I'm glad that you weighed in! There's nothing wrong with not falling on one end of this spectrum.

Aniket, I do think that idealists can fit well into the safety camp. And yet, it's not a foregone conclusion. Idealists can have desiring intensities. Especially INFP's.

Vesper, I'd be interested to know if you found one of these descriptions close.

PhilipH, that sounds like a pretty good condition. :)

Shadow, I'm glad that you found this week interesting! Yes, co-dependency is a direct name for some of traits I'm describing in desirers. I too have grappled with that one.

Laurel, thank you for sharing that! Although I'm sure these thoughts and musings can be sharpened a great deal, I'm happy for as much as they have felt right.

Margaret, it's a long one. ;)

Chris, I was thinking that I'd find you in the "a" camp. We can be neighbors. ;) But that's very cool that some insights were gained about your husband. Maybe another post should be about why desirers and safeties might be drawn to each other.

Meghan said...

It's interesting...the first four questions I felt I was on the "b" side but then the last few questions I felt closer to the "a" side. I still feel I'm leaning closer to "b" because safety and trust are things I need to establish before I get close to people. I hold people at arm's length until I've known them long enough to feel comfortable. It's smart on one hand for safety reasons but hard to start a relationship with on the other...

Chris Eldin said...

Jason, I'd LOVE to read a post about that!
What I really take away from this is the importance of being nurtured as a child. I'm trying hard to not make the same mistakes my parents did (and btw, my mother comes from an alchoholic house, and my dad's father abandoned him. So I guess it's no wonder they didn't know what to do with their kids once they had them)

Margaret said...

Having 7 Bs out of 8 questions I most definitely fall into the safeties group!

I saw a lot of myself in what you described Jason. I had a very secure childhood and like security in my marriage. I'm also a very optimistic person and believe in the good of people, just as you said.
My secure world has never being threatened up to now so I can't say how I'd react if it was. But I read your 'Take Home Lesson' with interest and will remember it.

Thanks for all the work you put into this Jason. :)

Mona said...

I guess i may be somewhere in between :/

Catherine Vibert said...

Very interesting. I didn't participate, but I would say I'm on the desirer end of the spectrum. I think with awareness, (born of age and experience and a lot of introspection) the edge does temper and one is less likely to be compelled by these qualities.

I like the concept of self-driven happiness. There is a power in having a passion that drives you from within and is completely 'non-other' oriented. It changes the dynamic I think, for a desirer.

Anonymous said...

Meghan, I do have an intuitive sense that there are other attachment constructs. Certainly there are some very powerful dysfunctional ones. You do sound more safety oriented. Desirers tend to jump in.

Chris, that's such an important point. I try to remind myself of this nearly every day. Our younger daughter has such a powerful ego. It's a fine line between reigning it in where it should be and outright clashing as people. I guess parents have to be a good measure of annoying if they're doing their job. Rejecting the child is another matter, of course. And I'll give the desirer/safety pairing some thought!

Margaret, it sounds like you've handled your world well. :) If your husband is safety oriented too, then you both would immerse in similar moments and feelings for affirmation.

Catvibe, you are another one I knew would be in the desirer camp. I'm glad you've found some healing in backing away from "the other." I know the struggle is always ready to reignite. Even when quiet, it's a siren song.

Anonymous said...

Mona, I think there's plenty of room to be in between!

Jean said...

I think I have started as one type and became the other. For a while.
Now, I'm just my own unique mess.
I lean more toward not trusting because of disappointments (including in myself). Spent much time as an enabler, co-dependent. To the point now that I keep people at a distance and do not expect (and tend to avoid) a chance at a healthy relationship. I don't trust myself to make good choices although I can give wonderful advice to others ;-)

Perhaps some people are not meant to be part of a couple. Not always a bad thing. Life can be filled with lots of other good things.

(word verification is: coequesh.
we could go lots of places with that, eh?)

Kurt Hendricks said...

I came late to the party, and so didn't participate, until now. I seem to be a desirer, and I noticed an interesting correlation that I'm wondering if anyone else has picked up on: I'm also a Pisces, and a general summation of qualities supposedly characteristic of Pieces appears to dovetail well with the traits of Desirers. My wife is an Aries, and is a Safety.

I know that astrology makes no logical sense, but there is something in me that still refuses to outright ignore it as bullocks. Classic Desirer, right?

Terri said...

This was really interesting, Jason, and pretty much spot-on. I answered almost all A's except for question 1... but then my father died suddenly when I was 7 so I guess that sort of throws a different spanner in the works as far as the parental relationship goes, doesn't it?!
The other B's were question 5, which I had a really tough time deciding on and it's still about 50/50, and question 3 but you said that doesn't count ;-)
I couldn't remember which choices I'd made but when I read your post I figured it had to be mostly A's so there ya go, you seem to have got it pretty much spot on. Yep, most interesting.
And wise advice, too. As I keep saying: I'm working on it..!

Catherine Vibert said...

I've been thinking about your theory the last couple of days, and your reply to me in regards to desirer being a likely INFP thing. I think that is not necessarily true. I mean, if you are born into a certain personality, you just are that regardless of social conditioning, right? The social conditioning may reinforce certain personality traits that are already there, but they don't cause them. (IMHO)

Catherine Vibert said...

Oh, another thing about the INFP/desirer thing as it moves out from beyond the other. That desiring notion spreads out into the world in interesting ways. For instance, for myself, and not for an 'other' I get romantic notions and feel compelled to follow them. Not for love from another, but because it sounds like an incredibly awesome career, and who wouldn't want to do that and so why not try! I dream myself into worldly roles and start moving toward becoming that, then retreat when disillusioned by the reality of the difficulties involved in getting 'there'. Not always, I've stuck it out with many of them and gotten pretty good at many things. Often because I don't want to be judged as being bad at them. By anybody, mind you, not just an 'other'. That fear of judgment might be more the result of the social conditioning, although I think Kiersey mentions it for 'us'. Unfortunately, any perceived negative judgment at all is excruciating and crippling. Perhaps that is a combination of social conditioning and INFP traits.

But also, I stuck some things out simply because I love them so much. Painting for instance. I never started out thinking of painting as a career, just that I love to color. I have always loved to color. Yes, I think I have attempted to use my talents in the art of seduction, but it never works out the way I hoped. Never.

If there was to be an ideal or the hope of being with someone who loved my talents, it wouldn't be that they were dazzled by them, so much as they saw potential and cared about me enough to encourage me to get them out 'there'. And hyper needy people need not apply because I am not so much of a pleaser anymore. If that's what you're looking for, you'll be disillusioned with me by week 2. I think that died about 9 years ago. I just can't do it anymore.

Anyway, I ramble...

Anonymous said...

Jean, if you feel content, that's the key. Co-dependency is so hard. It just doesn't feel like there is no buffer between us and others, but in reality, we're so deeply plugged in. We're way too affected.

Kurt, I wonder sometimes whether identifying with certain times of the year does affect us. For example, my birthday is in winter just after the holidays. No one had any energy left. Even me. That got reinforced year after year. Were Capricorn traits born from that? Maybe.

Catvibe, on the one hand, I agree with you. I've thought about what I said too, and I realized that the less defined/fixed nature of perceiving does not necessarily result in desiring, although it operates in a related fashion. I think that some perceivers who look like desirers really aren't. I think I've seen that. On the other hand, I disagree that we are born into our personalities regardless of our circumstances. I think that our environments and treatments have a defining effect on us. However, how much is DNA, and how much reflects our environment, I really don't know. I would tend to think that DNA is the more powerful force. Maybe the DNA tools are simpler, more basic, and our environment grows them into something more full and complex.

Catvibe, I share this "skills" drive with you. Do I do it for my own enjoyment? Yes, I think I do. But when I drill down into how they make me feel on a deep, primal level, I wonder if I'm doing two other things. First, it might be about being seen. By putting yourself out in view of the world, you have a far better chance of someone seeing who you are and choosing to be with you. It's a path to obtain that healing. On the other hand, we all work very hard giving what we ourselves want to receive. For us, we work on our competence to see into others and help them, to uplift them, because that is what we so desire for ourselves. And you're so right about how this all works in practice. So, so often, it just blows up in our face. But we still keep trying. :)

Anonymous said...

Terri, although I worked hard on the questions, they certainly showed a lot of problems in differentiating between desirers and safeties, so don't feel bad about the mix of answers. :) But I do think that a majority of one group of answers over another, coupled with feeling a strong common thread, is meaningful. I'm glad you found this really descriptive of how you feel! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Catherine Vibert said...

Some of us do stop trying, but not necessarily hoping. :-) It's far less dramatic.