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How We Communicate When Self is Challenged

Virginia Satir, the founder of family therapy, suggested that people are deeply concerned with the threat of rejection by others. How much we fear this rejection is directly related to our sense of self-worth. When our self-worth is in question, our bodies and reactions show it.
Satir proposed five communication styles people use during stressful or conflicting interactions with others. Which do you tend to use?

The Placater, used by 50 percent of people, behaves so not to upset others. This style tries to please, apologizes, rarely disagrees and is a ‘yes man or woman.’ They say, “Whatever you want is okay with me.” The Placater respects other people’s views and the context of a situation, but not their own point of view. This approach draws sympathy, but can often appear as weak.

The Placater talks in a whiny, high pitched voice with body postures of lowered eyes and head. The Placater typically has open body language with palms up or out towards the other person, with hunched shoulders. Deep inside, the Placater often feels worthless and helpless, and thus, is highly dependent upon others’ approval.

Thirty percent of the population are Blamers. They find fault with everything. They say, “You never do anything right” or “What is the matter with you?” Blamers stand square, lean slightly forward, and point with one finger.

Blamers use generalizations (“You always …” or “should …”) to distract and to lay blame (“Why did you …?”) or guilt (“If it weren’t for you …”). Deep inside, the Blamer feels lonely and unsuccessful and thus, compensates as ‘being the boss around here.’

Fifteen percent of people use the Computer style, focussing on being ultra-reasonable and never making a mistake. They say the right words, are often abstract, verbose and monotone, and show little or no feelings or reaction. Inside, they are feeling very emotionally vulnerable.

The Computer is someone who tries to deflect responsibility from either person to the context of a situation. They try to respect context and remove themselves and others from the picture. They are calm and cool. Computer body language is that of thinking: squared body, slightly leaning back, arms often crossed, with head in thinking mode. Can we see the disconnected stance?

The Distractor style, used by 0.5 percent of people, uses irrelevance to avoid any rejection. Responses are off topic and questions are ignored, often with another question about another topic asked in reply. The body responds in a distracting manner with moving arms and legs, perhaps even multi-tasking while the conversation occurs, and unsymmetrical gestures (e.g., raised eyebrow).

The Distracter bounces between all three of the previous stances. They deflect responsibility from them selves, other people and the situation. They may come across as silly, funny or confusing, often using laughter for attention.

Next: How we want to behave – Levelers

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.