Monday, October 15, 2012

Mockingbird: three responses to conflict

http://www.mbird.com/2012/10/the-3-responses-to-conflict-fight-flight-and-appeasement/
Mockingbird links to a David Brooks piece that discusses a theory by psychologist Karen Horney.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/opinion/brooks-the-personality-problem.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=2

More than most of her male counterparts, Horney felt that people were driven by anxiety and the desire for security. People who have been seriously damaged, she argued, tend to react in one of three ways.

Some people respond to their wounds by moving against others. These domineering types seek to establish security by conquering and outperforming other people. They deny their own weaknesses. They are rarely plagued by self-doubt. They fear dependence and helplessness. They use their children and spouses as tools to win prestige for themselves.
      
These people are often excessively proud of their street smarts. They deeply resent criticism and seek the vindictive triumph — the reversal of fortunes in which they can lord their excellence over those who scorned them. These people can’t face their need for affection, so they seek to cover it by earning admiration and deference.
 
For this sort of person, the Fighter, vulnerability has to be dealt with by ensuring that others are taken down a few pegs.  A fighter may be perfectly aware of his or her own weakness and dependence but the main thing may to be minimize how many people know about or may be able to exploit such weakness.  For those who may have heard of research done on the "badass" you may have read that the stance of the badass is bolstered by the appearance of being able to take down anyone in a fight through sheer crazy/brutal fighting so that the badass doesn't actually have to fight most of the time and can coast along on reputation alone.  The badass doesn't have to win every fight, just the ones that ensure that he (usually) or she wins the publicly visible fights that help bolster his or her street cred. 
 
This stance could be embraced even by those who are plagued by self-doubt.  Far be it from a badass to let you know that he or she is actually at to feel weak.  As adaptive strategies go a person would be no more a "pure" Fighter, it seems, than a person would be a "pure" extravert or intravert.
 
Other people respond to anxiety by moving toward others. These dependent types try to win people’s affections by being compliant. They avoid conflict. They become absorbed by their relationships, surrendering their individual opinions. They regard everyone else as essentially good, even people who have been cruel.
      
They praise themselves for their long-suffering forbearance, their willingness to live for others, even though in reality they are just too scared to assert themselves. They think they are behaving selflessly, but they are really using others for whatever drips of affection they can provide.
 
Perhaps here would be the place to mention the paradoxical possibility of a selfishness that can lay dormant underneath altruism.  Remorselessly nerdy moment here, this would be Lex Luthor's rebuke to Superman.  Saving other people will not make those people actually like Superman more, it means that Superman merely depends too much on the approval of others.  Nerd digression ended.
 
Other people move away from others. These detached types try to isolate themselves and adopt an onlooker’s attitude toward life. As Terry D. Cooper summarizes the category in his book, “Sin, Pride and Self-Acceptance,” “To guarantee peace, it is necessary to leave the battleground of interpersonal relationships, where there is constant threat of being captured.”
      
These detached people may put on a charming veneer to keep people away. They tamp down desire, avoid ambition and minimize conflict and risk. They want to avoid the feeling of needing someone. They seek to live tranquilly in the moment.
 
If a Fighter were to live with a person who Flees emotionally that could end up being a miserable existence, couldn't it?  Brooks has a little to add past these three summaries of reactive styles and it's simple enough to notice that each reactive style can be quite damaging and maladaptive. 
 
Now if this were a standard issue pious Calvinist blog perhaps here would be the part where you get asked to consider which maladaptive coping approach is yours.  Because, after all, you've got to have something wrong with you, right?  And, to be sure, you very likely do (as do I).  But what makes this not quite a standard issue pious Calvinist blog is we're not going to lock you into the assumption that you absolutely must have one of these three tendencies and that it is only ever maladaptive.  It "could" be but notice that framing Horney's approach is informed by maladaptive reactions to trauma.  It's possible to use wisdom to correctly select and calibrate fight, flight, or appeasement for a given situation. 
 
The problem with what some blogging acquaintences might call a "Calvinista" approach is the presupposition that you have to have a maladaptive approach and that anything you might pick that could be a potentially healthy response in a given situation A may be translated into an unhealthy approach for all categories.  The kind of teacher who might take this approach will simply presuppose that you may be fearful or lazy in one setting without conceding that there are other responses that are possible.  Not everyone will be fearful or lazy in equal measure in equal settings.  A workaholic may not be lazy in work and earning money but the workaholic may be lazy about non-work relationships.  A person who invests a great deal of energy in family relationships may be lazy about engaging fellow professionals. There may be plenty of people who manage to find a more or less healthy if imperfect balance between work and ordinary social life for whom this whole range of categories is not entirely appropriate. 
 
The difference between a lazy mass-categorization matrix and the use of insights into the human mind could come down to this, one seeks to assess all people and relationships through a grid to determine the utility of the relationship and the value of the person.  The other takes the knowledge of temperaments, adaptive methodologies and the like and may employ them to better understand and reinforce existing relationships and establish new ones.  Needless to say a person may display both approaches within a life but when the former approach predominates we are probably not dealing with a person who is dealing with relationships with people quite as much as they may be attempting to deal with people in a system of precepts and evaluational grids. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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