Know your parenting personality

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The Defender

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 Defender?
If your predominant mode of being is instinctual, you are aware of boundaries around yourself, your issue is protecting your autonomy. You need to establish your space: “Here I am. Period.” Intuition, gut feelings, and nonverbal information are important. You have an intuitive information-gathering system. The body is where you sense your relationship to others and to the world. Some Defenders say, “I sense it in my body…I have a gut feel for that.” You have a belly laugh. It’s easy for you to lose your sense of self, a state of mind call self-forgetting (acedia). Sometimes you can feel like a mouse rattling around in a great suit of armor. The Defender motivation is described as self-protective behavior, moving against people, a way of making sense of and operating in the world with an awareness of intrapersonal space and boundaries.

Some Defenders make their presence felt by being confrontational and combative. Others, by taking a passive-aggressive stance, show stubbornness and signal that they won’t be pushed around. Yet others establish their self-identity and protect interpersonal their autonomy through being critical and judgmental.

Key Issues for Defenders

  • Instinct: “I trust my intuitive sense. This is the only way I feel comfortable.”
  • Being heard: “It’s important that people listen to me. When I speak, I have something to say.”
  • Feeling respected: “If you respect me, I can be present for you.”

There are three basic personality patterns among parents who are Defenders: the Protector, the Peacekeeper, and the Moralizer.

The Protector Parent
Protectors defend their autonomy by being confrontational and combative. They live with an innate sense of power and control. Confrontation for the Protector is a means of reading the world, of establishing where the power is, and of knowing who has control. Exerting control is a way of moving through an inherently unjust world. Protectors use confrontation to connect with others. They assume that confrontation is part of interactions; those who stand up for themselves are most able and most open.

Honesty and genuineness are important to Protectors. If Protectors sense that someone is not being honest, they will push and push to provoke a response. When they connect with someone who stands up for his or her beliefs, Protectors will 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.

Protectors commit themselves with passionate conviction to what they do. Their anger often 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 that rules are made to be broken. This often causes a dilemma: how to hold the structure of the organization while believing its rules and regulations are not always productive or beneficial. Protectors take charge and often do not realize their own force. Control is a survival strategy: peers (and family) either fall in line or resist.

Protectors want to know how people operate under pressure. They’re invested in finding out where people stand. Cower, defy, resist, comply-this information is vital to people who are constantly judging if it’s safe to lower their guard and be vulnerable. Vulnerability means exposure, feeling fragile, being open to people’s coming after them. Protectors seem to be powerful. It’s difficult for others to know the flip side of the bombastic Protector is all soft sentimentality.

As with rules, Protectors control time. If the Protector shows up at your meeting late that’s okay, but don’t you be late for his meeting. Dominant Protectors like to be center-stage. When they’re in charge, people know their impact. During times of lower intensity, time is of little consequence and can be forgotten, fudged, ignored. Protectors think they own time. That delusion of control often blindsides them when they are caught in the consequences of their power rushes-deadlines missed, angry or anguished family members or coworkers knocking at the door requiring an explanation.

The Peacekeeper Parent
Peacekeepers defend their autonomy by adapting conflict. They find conflict–and dealing with conflict–distracting and exhausting. Yet they’re natural mediators who can see everyone’s point of view. As an antidote to having to deal with conflict, they try to create a climate of harmony wherever they are: “Don’t rock the boat. There are many sides to every story.” Their energy and motivation comes from others. A satisfactory day at work is more about working together with others than with a feeling of self-achievement.

Peacekeepers easily establish rapport and laid-back comfort with colleagues. They take pride in getting along with others and can be attentive to others’ needs. People respond to the warmth, concern and noncompetitive nature of Peacekeeper relations. They find it difficult to motivate themselves, but are easily motivated by the agendas of others. It is the expectations of others or of the job that gets them moving, and they can be steadfast and accountable. They plan, process, initiate, execute, and perform, to meet outside expectations of others and to avoid the consequences of inaction.

Peacekeepers are easily distracted and can lose their agenda. They need to be kept on track. On the other hand, they are adaptable and don’t mind changing their course of action when necessary.

Peacekeepers believe in the concept of a level playing field. It’s hard to establish objectives and priorities when every person, every idea, every project gets equal time. Having to set priorities and make timely decisions can therefore be stressful. It’s much easier to attend to less essential and more comfortable items than the ones that are urgent and controversial. When the demands of others are too pressing, the Peacekeeper becomes obstinate rather than display overt anger. Because they believe that expressing anger is damaging, Peacekeepers rarely allow themselves to be overtly angry; hence others don’t always take their anger seriously. Anger usually takes the form of passive aggressive behavior-a go-slow attitude to work deadlines and procrastination in getting things done.

Peacekeepers like to maintain structure and routine so that life will be predictable. They like tranquility, quiet and things that are familiar. Their worldview is uniform and even, with few peaks and valleys. The idea of highs and lows or periods of greater or lesser intensity are not part of the inner framework. Instead there’s a sense of wanting to level out the world, smooth it, keep it flat.

Peacekeepers believe that everything happens in its own time. Priorities, choices, and decisions, will eventually sort themselves out. Time sets its own course and carries Peacekeepers to where they’re going to end up anyway.

The Moralizer Parent
Moralizers defend their autonomy by setting standards, making judgments and being self-critical. A sense of inner direction drives them to achieve-seeking perfection in an imperfect world. They have an innate sense of what’s right, and they think they know what’s wrong-and how to fix it. Things must be done the right way.

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 in the context of a presentation or a process. They focus on the details and facts. Ideas and materials model precision, ethics and responsibility. They have a convincing 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 uplifting parents, leaders, and team members, 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. They are uncomfortable with open-ended options and do not like changing gears halfway through a process. Nonetheless plans B, C, and D, while not written out, are at their fingertips to help them cope with the unexpected.

Moralizers have to deal with a severe inner critic that produces an unrelenting commentary on their lives. They realize that the critic is a feature of their own consciousness but find it extremely difficult to ignore such familiar thinking. Paying attention to the inner critic is a major drain of time and energy. Any activity is 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. Time is siphoned away from a project by a Moralizer who pays too much attention to time-consuming details. Work schedules reflect time well spent, such as with meetings, appointments, preparation and other “must dos.” There is no leeway to schedule “time off” for pleasure and fun.