What's your personality type when it comes to handling stress—and how is it affecting your relationships?
With COVID-19 currently creating an unprecedented global disruption, I've been thinking a lot about the different ways that people cope with fear and overwhelm. You know the expression, "The way you do one thing is the way you do everything?" This applies to your reaction to the threat of Coronavirus:
There's the person who thinks the whole thing's a hoax.
The caregiver who wants to make sure their whole family is together and safely nesting.
The person turning to God.
The person reading every news article and scientific study they can get their hands on.
The person putting all their trust in politicians to figure it out.
The person organizing their neighbors on Nextdoor to plant modern-day Victory Gardens in their yards.
The person fantasizing about escaping into the wilderness to avoid society altogether.
Once you start to observe the ways that you and others react to stress, you start to see patterns.
Humans are amazingly resilient. We develop adaptive strategies early in life to help us survive threats to our physical or mental wellbeing. Perhaps we were beat up in elementary school and learned to shut down our emotional vulnerability. Perhaps we experienced the trauma of a natural disaster at a young age. Perhaps we had a caregiver who was well-intentioned but mis-attuned to our needs, or overbearing, or only praised us for our accomplishments, or didn't give us enough physical affection.
No matter who you are, you experienced challenges as a young person that you overcame by developing certain psychological survival strategies—which are still with you to this day.
Our self-protection strategies dictate how we interact with others when we are in a state of stress, fear or panic.
The reason for understanding how we respond to threats, perceived or actual, is because it deeply impacts our connections with other people. That's because most of the stressors we experienced early in life were caused by other people—our parents, family members, school/church authority figures or childhood peers. We overcame or adapted to these threats/disruptions to our wellbeing by unconsciously developing certain defense mechanisms that can get in the way of our relationships—especially with the people we're closest to—unless we are conscious of them.
Ron Kurtz, founder of the Hakomi Method of psychotherapy, mapped self-protection mechanisms into eight different groups of "character strategies." The strategies were further developed in the realms of sexuality and relationships by Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel of the Somatica Institute. These character strategies are extremely useful to understand right now given the state of the world, so I want to share them with you. However, I've put my own spin on them. Introducing:
The 8 Adaptive Archetypes (and the 5 Disruptors that create them)
There are eight main personality types for handling perceived threats, overwhelm and fear, and five main stressors (or "Disruptors") that cause them to develop early in life. We are often a combination of multiple Adaptive Archetypes, but one may be predominant.
Understanding your Adaptive Archetype(s) is important because you'll begin to see patterns in how you interact with others when you're stressed or threatened. From there, you can learn how to ask for support and give/receive love based on your Archetype when times are hard.
The 5 Disruptors
Here are the five major sources of stress that cause us to develop our Adaptive Archetype(s):
Safety disruptions: If you seek solace in a higher power/cosmic realm or find comfort in numbers and statistics, you may have experienced disruptions to your safety when you were very young. You may have survived threats to your physical or psychological security by learning to disassociate from your body by going to either a spiritual or heady/analytical place to regain a sense of safety. This Disruptor is associated with the Adaptive Archetypes of "Mystic" and "Strategist" (more below).
Dependency disruptions: If your ability to depend on others was compromised early in life—perhaps because you had an MIA caregiver or a parent whose attention varied unpredictably—you may have developed certain coping mechanisms. You may either be so removed from your own needs that you don't even realize you have any, OR you might be constantly seeking connection and reassurance from loved ones to the point that they can never quite love you "enough." This Disruptor is associated with the "Seeker" and "Giver" Archetypes (more below).
Autonomy disruptions: If you grew up in a strict culture or had an anxious, overbearing caregiver who constantly interfered with your attempts at establishing selfhood early in life (i.e. "No! Stop, I'll do it." "Sit down, I'm in charge here." "Do what I say!"), you may have developed self-protection strategies to reclaim a sense of personal freedom. If you automatically resist being told what to do, you may identify with the Adaptive Archetype of the "Rebel." If you are someone who feels obligated to follow the rules because you feel that you have no other choice, you may be the "Soldier" Archetype (more below).
Vulnerability disruptions: If you were punished or humiliated early in life for being emotionally vulnerable, you may have developed self-defense mechanisms that helped you feel powerful and in-control. People look up to you, which you like. In fact, you're probably a CEO, director, politician, boss or public figure of some kind. Status and status symbols may be important to you. Your worst fear is being humiliated or being seen as weak. The "Leader" Adaptive Archetype is correlated with this Disruptor.
Worthiness disruptions: If you've internalized the belief that you're only worth what you can produce, perhaps because of cultural messages or a parent who only validated you for your achievements when you were young, you may have developed the Adaptive Archetype of "Performer." You're a hard worker. Through your achievements, you are constantly trying to demonstrate that you are worth love, attention and affection. (More below.)
The 8 Adaptive Archetypes
Now that you understand the five Disruptors that cause us to develop certain self-protective strategies, here are the eight Adaptive Archetypes that empower us to survive in the face of stress but can get in the way of our connections.
Which do you identify with? Do you see your loved ones in any of these personality types?
Strategist: Your strength when times are hard is using logic to understand what's going on and to calculate the best way forward. Your ability to analyze situations gives you a sense of safety, but it can also interfere with your ability to be grounded. You tend to get stuck in your head, making it difficult to be fully present. You developed this Archetype to protect yourself in response to unsafe situations early in life. It empowers you to thrive by helping you regain a sense of control. However, it can have a negative effect on your intimate relationships because you may experience trust issues, or it can take you a long time to feel close to someone. When you're under stress, loved ones may say that you "check out," which can create a feeling of disconnection.
Mystic: Your strength is your ability to connect to a higher source for meaning and guidance. Your mystical / spiritual abilities empower you to regain a sense of safety when times are hard. This may also interfere with your ability to feel grounded, even causing you to disassociate from your body and the present moment when under stress. You developed this Archetype to protect yourself in response to unsafe situations early in life. When things are chaotic on this earthly plane, you can access another dimension to feel safe. However, it may take you a long time to trust or feel close to someone, which can interfere with your ability to connect. The people who are close to you may say that you sometimes "go somewhere else" during conflicts, which may cause them to feel disconnected from you.
Giver: Your strength when times are hard is making do with less and minimizing your needs, often to focus on taking care of others. But you've gotten so used to ignoring your needs that you are often not aware that you have any. You developed this Archetype to protect yourself in response to certain stressors early in life—perhaps you didn't have a caregiver you could really depend on, so you learned that it was better not to have any needs. Your Archetype empowers you to thrive because it is a strategy for self-reliance and avoiding disappointment. However, you may struggle with knowing when or how to ask for support, which can create emotional distance between you and your loved ones.
Seeker: Your strength is your ability to remind people to be affectionate and loving when times are hard. You seek connection in the face of stress. You developed this Archetype to protect yourself early in life, likely because you weren't getting the care you needed. It empowers you to thrive because it is a strategy for receiving love and connection, which we all need to survive. However, when you're stressed, you may have trouble believing that you can depend on your loved ones, which interferes with your ability to receive their love. Your impulse for closeness may create high expectations that put pressure on your loved ones to "get it right," which can lead to a feeling of disconnection on both ends.
Soldier: Your strength is loyalty. When times are hard, you feel a sense of duty to follow the rules and carry out the mandates of your family, church, community or country. You are so focused on what you're "supposed to" do that you might feel like you don't have any other choice. You developed this Archetype early in life, perhaps in response to an overbearing caregiver or the expectations of a very strict culture. This Archetype empowers you to thrive because it is a strategy for acceptance and belonging, which we all need to survive. However, you may feel trapped by your responsibilities to others instead of seeing yourself as an individual with agency. You may stifle personal desires that deviate from what is "expected" of you, causing you to feel resentful. This interferes with closeness and intimacy.
Rebel: Your strength is your ability to pave your own way. In the face of stress, you are suspicious of what authorities say. You don't like being told what to do and feel a strong sense of autonomy. You pride yourself on creating your own solutions. Your rebel nature is a protective response to being overly-controlled. It empowers you to thrive because it's a strategy for establishing selfhood and asserting your individuality. However, you are also constantly grappling with feeling trapped. This can have a negative effect on your relationships because intimacy may sometimes feel stifling. You may interpret loved ones' attempts to feel closer to you as attempts to control you, creating an impulse to protect your autonomy instead of connecting with them.
Leader: You are a powerhouse. When times are hard, you are good at taking charge and giving direction. People who are less confident than you look to you for guidance. You like feeling in-control, even superior over others. Your status in the social hierarchy is important to you. However, you internalized from a young age that being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. You developed these characteristics early in life because you learned that being tough and powerful was the best way for you to survive and thrive in your family, friend group, school or community. Out of a fear of being humiliated, you may avoid emotionally vulnerability with others—which gets in the way of closeness. When you feel stressed or threatened, you may experience vengeful, vindictive thoughts.
Performer: You are extremely dedicated to your craft. In the face of stress, your strength is your ability to put your head down and work harder. Your ability to perform and produce informs your sense of self-worth. You developed this Archetype because you learned early in life that you had to "prove yourself" to be loved. Maybe your caregiver only validated you for your grades or athletic prowess, or you grew up in a culture that constantly made you feel "less than." This Archetype empowers you to survive because it helps you feel useful and therefore worthy of acceptance and belonging. However, this can get in the way of authentic intimacy in your relationships because, deep down, you don't believe that you can be loved unconditionally. You are constantly trying to prove your worth through your achievements, so it's difficult for you to accept and receive love just for being you.
Take the Adaptive Archetypes Quiz
Ready to find out your unique combination of Adaptive Archetype(s)? Take my Adaptive Archetypes quiz for a percentage breakdown. I also recommend having your partner or loved ones take it and then compare results to understand each other's styles of stress/conflict management better.
Opt in to my email list at the end of the quiz if you want to take a deep dive into Adaptive Archetypes. I'm pretty obsessed with it right now and I bet some of you will be, too. If you opt in, you'll find out:
The magic sentence that each Adaptive Archetype needs to hear when stressed/triggered to calm their nervous system.
The #1 way to tell someone that you're there for them in this time of social distancing based on their Archetype.
The 5 tips for asking your loved ones for support based on your Archetype(s).
Which Archetypes pair well together and which trigger each other the most (and how to overcome your differences).
Download the Adaptive Archetypes Guide
Get my free, comprehensive guide that explains all eight of the Adaptive Archetypes plus unpacks the five Disruptors that cause them.