Thursday, April 16, 2009

Relationships and Getting Stuck

Recently old friends from High School tracked me down and invited me to enter into the 21st Century by getting on Facebook. So with some hesitation, I entered into the virtual class reunion experience. In this virtual social space persons lead with their best sense of self (putting their “best foot forward”). It is interesting how contact with folk from your teenage years can awaken “parts or aspects of yourself” that seemed to have disappeared or gone to sleep. Along with our sense of a “best self,” we each possess a “shadow self” full of painful experiences and personal shortcomings.

That is what David Kantor is describing by naming “Gender Types.” These “types are the stories we assert of who we are or want to be as we make our way through society. In his book, “My Lover, Myself: Self Discovery Through Relationships” he writes about mate selection and the journey of marriage.

But I think his types apply to all relationship systems (online or otherwise). The three types are: the Fixer, Survivor and Protector. They are descriptions of the best selves we use to attract people to us. Most of us have one dominant type. But we need the flexibility to draw from all three types to negotiate the developmental mile markers of committed relationships.

These three heroic modes determine our non – thinking/automatic reactions to events. They also shape how we cope with anxiety and function to feel safe in the world. Author, researcher and therapist, David Kantor states that each type has an embedded shadow side that whispers feelings of unlovability and inadequacy. The shadow holds all of our biases, doubts and fears that we project onto people in situations we do not understand. When we are in our shadow selves, we have bumped into painful moments and memories of a perfect love that is beyond our grasp.

1. The Survivor’s bumper sticker is “I endure and overcome.” They carry their pain as if it didn’t exist. They like to feel invulnerable. Survivors are great in a crisis - they have the ability to carry on and adapt to circumstances. Survivors tend to toward the adage of “let sleeping dog’s lie.”

In their shadow, the Survivor goes completely underground. The deepest aspect of their shadow reveals the abandonment of their own self and others. They also abandon their partners when their expression of pain causes them to enter into their own hurt and vulnerability.

2. The Fixer’s bumper sticker is “I will solve the problems and rescue you.” Fixers want to make things all right for themselves and those they love (their vision may extend to the larger world as well). They tend to feel competent to fix whatever is thrown their way. The Fixer makes their loved ones feel safe and protected, because they will see what needs to be done, design a solution, and then follow through.

They respond with power when they descend into their shadow. They focus outwardly and attempt to overcome or conquer elements that they perceive to be the cause of being denied appreciation and love. Sometimes they cross the line from constructive problem solving, to rearranging a situation or a person’s life just to satisfy their need to have something to fix. They feel loved and loving, desired and desiring, when they are changing their environment.

3. The Protector’s bumper sticker is “I will not stand by idly,” experiencing my own suffering, or yours, and pretend it doesn’t exist. The Protector is far more willing to admit personal limits and say, “I cannot go on.” One of their greatest gifts is to identify areas of pain within themselves and others. They are guardians of the heart.

In their shadow, they can become the self-pitying victims. Effort seems pointless. As the shadow deepens, they perceive only weakness and sorrow. They fail to perceive the strength in themselves and others. Deeper into their shadow, the Protector becomes a powerless victim, too weak to overcome oppression. Deeper yet, they become the victim/accuser. Stuck in their status as victim, they can only rail against the injustices of the world. They become vigilant for any evidence of wrongdoing, and so see wrongdoing in many of their partners actions.

To discover your Gender Myth or Type, consider the stories that you tell from your childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Discuss these types with friends and partners to discover what they perceive to be true.

Are they clustered around…

*your ability to create change or solve problems (fixer)
*do they center in on your ability to endure adversities and difficulties (survivor)
*do you take pride in “being there for folk” and responding to their feelings (protector)

Ideally, we need to be in touch with all three heroic modes within ourselves. To neglect one or another is to divorce our selves from an essential part of our being. However, most of us can tell our primary type by reflecting on what happens when we get stuck and when our issues get triggered.

The automatic response when in the relational storm is often very predictable.

In the shadow…

*Fixers – get more controlling
*Survivors – distance
*Protectors – feel more powerless and victimized

"The Ritual Impasse"

Understanding how you get stuck in significant relationships is important because your shadow stance of becoming more controlling, distancing and feeling more powerless is all about avoiding the earlier pains of life. The shadow seeks to avoid deeper issues that create a state of painful vulnerability. These painful memories cluster around moments of failing to experience the all consuming and perfect love of early childhood. It is these exiled memories and wounds that appear and deepen what Kantor calls the ritual impasse that all relationships experience.

Most couples experience cycles of getting stuck. The depth is often connected to the degree of pain experienced early in life. Another contributing factor is the length and number of disconnecting interactions that occur without the experience of repairing communication. Avoiding that pain in intimate and committed relationships usually deadens the feeling of connection experienced at the beginning. Over time, the dance of connection/disconnection results in greater patterns of stuck behavior (control-frustration, distance-abandonment and victim-powerlessness).

Learning how to talk about your conflicts without harming the relationship and slipping into the shadow behaviors is important for building intimacy and connection. Constant patterns of hostility, condescension, criticism, defensiveness and persistent distancing are signs that your relationship is at a critical point in its need for repair.

Make a commitment to communicate regularly and observe your sense of connection and intimacy. Being committed to staying together isn’t enough. Being committed to growing together through the conflicts is the pivotal decision.

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