Know your parenting personality
Research on personality 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.
Are You A Detacher?
Detachers are primarily consumed with mental activity. They seek to make sense of the world through mental processes: the realm of the mind is where they feel most comfortable. Living in the imagination, conceptualizing, fantasizing, analyzing, forming contexts, and synthesizing are all based on mental activity. Even when they are with other people, Detachers tend to feel most secure when they’re operating in their minds for planning options, running other scenarios, looking for new concepts to lock ideas together. In this way they move away from others.
Some Detachers in this motivational format live with an investigative mind-set. They seek knowledge to build interconnections among ideas and come to new understandings. Others question everything and voice their doubts. They like to think through the hard questions to build a fail-safe argument. Yet others escape into the imagination, where ideas swing freely-a state of mind called monkey-mind.
Key Issues for Detachers
- Interconnections: “I cruise along in my own mind gathering ideas and knowledge, synthesizing and connecting until I make sense out of things.”
- Mental argument: “I depend on logic and rational thinking. At any moment life can pull the rug out from under you. You have to be careful you don’t lose all you’ve worked so hard for.”
- Imagination: “I like fantasizing, creating pleasant options, with a major emphasis on planning. Take away my options and you take away my life.”
There are three types of parenting personalities most commonly found among Detachers: the Observer, the Questioner, and the Entertainer.
The Observer Parent
Observers detach from people and the outer world by concentrating instead on their thoughts and emotions in a rich inner life. Minimizing participation is a way of keeping themselves intact and secure. They need more privacy and private time than most people do, which is used to relive experiences and get in touch with feelings that didn’t initially surface.
Observers are interested in finding answers and making connections. They seek radical approaches to problem solving that go beyond traditional ways of thinking. Gaining knowledge is finding pieces of the puzzle. Although each piece might be incomplete in itself, it locks together with other pieces to create the whole, the 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 and to synthesize ideas. They admire those who step outside the bounds of packaged, conventional thinking.
Observers like to watch events rather than be involved in the thick of things. Their 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 via comments on papers or in 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, Observers maintain that by not talking unnecessarily, they empower others who need to be listened to. They may respond that all ideas are heard without value judgments. From the Observers’ point of view, detachment shows respect for peers and boundaries. Yet others may interpret their noninvolvement as negative lack of interest. As a result Observers may miss opportunities to connect and to do things with others.
Observers are careful about how they spend their time and energy. They apportion time to anticipated demands-shopping for the family, preparing a meal, reading bedtime stories, or 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, however, is never given away wholesale. People have to earn access to the Observers’ hard-won storehouse of treasures through diligent effort and evidence of real thinking
The Questioner Parent
Questioners detach by putting their mental energy into logic and rational thinking. They regard the world as inherently unsafe, and their attention is focused on potential threats. Seeking certainty and safety, they use their active imaginations to lock on to what is potentially as well as actually, dangerous. They either run away from danger, or meet it full force.
To feel secure 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 counterargument are welcomed. In this way everyone ends up with clear conclusions, though drawn from different perspectives. If something is thought through in a logical way, the conclusion is reliable.
Questioners are ambivalent about themselves in position of leadership. They alternate between being rigidly authoritarian and being nonauthoritarian. Their own inner doubt causes the swing. When they’re afraid of being challenged, they exert control; when they’re filled with inner conviction, they relax and become permissive. Seeking predictability and safety, they view authority with skepticism. Periods of blind allegiance oscillate with rebellious insurrection.
Questioners are constantly vigilant and they use their inner radar system to seek 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’ve built with others. Procrastination sets in until doubts are resolved or until the Questioner can separate negative feed back from a personal attack.
Questioners see danger in acting openly, but they fail to see that inaction and procrastination can be equally dangerous. They experience time as an authority looming over them. In fact, most of the people and circumstances in their lives become the authority with which they wrestle. They perceive themselves as constantly on the rack of responsibility to satisfy “the authority”, whatever form it takes.
Questioners can put aside personal doubts in service of a cause. They can also be loyal to the family, the company, or an idea, and to others. Once established, their inner conviction lets them feel certain in promoting their cause. Objective data, they believe, is far more reliable than personal assurances. Yet Questioners can act on behalf of others, and rally the troops behind a person or ideal in which they believe. When they’re committed, they are generally loyal, extremely trustworthy, and even protective. They take responsibility and commitments seriously. When Questioners trust themselves, they can be insightful and creative. They can also be witty, laugh at themselves, and in a climate of trust, open and sensitive to others.
The Entertainer Parent
The Entertainer parent is an optimist. When reality bites, he or she will detach by mentally focusing on plans and new and exciting options. Entertainers escape into an inner world of upbeat ideas where there are no limits. High-energy Entertainers have many balls in the air, and they focus on keeping them up there. They are fascinated by ideas and interesting options. They dislike doing the same thing the same way twice. New input, new ideas, new problems present exciting directions to try.
Entertainers are process people, planners. The plan’s the thing; the execution of it is left to lesser beings. They can spend hours at their desks thinking through how to present material or promote a plan. Entertainers never feel they’ve exhausted the possibilities of their subject-the layers, the variety, the complexity-are fascinating. Entertainers are imbued with positive mental energy and alertness, their minds race with myriad ideas and responses. Their mental leaps to creative conclusions are often too fast for others to follow. People need to tell them to slow down their thinking. Others 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 reformat concepts in ways that baffle other thinkers. There’s always another way to present the material. To the Entertainer, on-the-spot ideas, as they arise, seem brilliant and important to throw into the mix- now. It’s hard to pinpoint an Entertainer’s position. Entertainer’s ideas and concepts intersect and connect, while options change as new information is acquired and processed.
Entertainers try to grasp at the pattern of another person’s thinking: “How does that person see himself? What are the components of his thinking? What issues fascinate her? Is she a detail, or a big-picture thinker? Is he open to new possibilities, or is he conservative?” Entertainers sub-consciously classify people by thinking style. 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.
Entertainers can come across as having a sense of personal entitlement. They believe they’re entitled to a pleasant life, and your time, effort, and attention are at their disposal. They’ll charm and disarm you. Yet Entertainers can have difficulty coping with the overload of experiencing all that life offers. Planning the future may keep them from experiencing the present, and furthering all their talents can keep them from deepening just one. Living on the surface can prevent Entertainers from appreciating their own profound feelings (especially emotional pain) or the feelings and concerns of others.