Of late, I am reminded that it is not only “what couples say to each other” but also “how they say it”, that determines the outcome of couple’s interaction. However, behind the “what” and the “how” are even the more important “inherent assumptions” that underly all verbal communication and interaction in marriage. When negative, “the mutual assumptive process” does more to undermine and destroy relationship than any other dimension in marriage.
In working with outer-styled individuals, whether in marital therapy or long-term individual therapy, the biggest issue that must be addressed, and the biggest barrier to healing, is the failure to come forward as a “truly personal individual.” Depending upon their “level of maturity/developmental level/personal evolution,” the outer-styled will tend to offer up various “over-identifications with externals” in place of a “full-spectrum self.” Why is this pattern so resistant to change? What are the barriers to the emergence of the full sense of self?
The evidence from my clinical work is that the barrier is some varying combination of fear/anxiety related to core-self expression on the one hand, and over-identification with/allegiance to the outer-self on the other hand; that the outer-self so feels like the “true self” that to shift to core-self expression feels like not being who one truly is, that loosing a sense of “familiar self” is akin to loosing the sense of self at all.
Turning first to the issue of the need to keep core-self experience at a distance… what does the outer-style fear about connecting-with/operating-from core-self? In the web document Healing The Marriage Of Opposites http://marriageofoppositesproject.typepad.com/chapter_one_marriageofopp/ I posited that it is the vulnerability that goes along with functioning from core-self that the outer-styled most centrally want to avoid. To add to that, it is not simply vulnerable experiences that the outer-style do not want to have, they also want to banish the awareness/knowledge that they have a fear of such experiences. In essence, they fear knowing that they have such fear; hence they erect defenses to ward off this knowledge (minimization, intellectualization, compartmentalization, isolation of affect, grandiose self-estimation, denial).
In pushing away much of core-self experience, the outer-styled tend to become overly attached to their self-image and their place of exterior value in the world. In protecting their self-image, and the image that others have of them, the outer-styled fear the intrusion of core-self images of themselves; of viewing themselves as helpless, weak, needful, confused, incapable, or dependent. Having aligned with outer self-images, the integration with the more vulnerable images from core becomes increasingly dissonant and anxiety provoking. Akin to this understanding, having already rejected core-self experience in favor of a safe/reliable/controlled outer-self, having set out on this life path with this self-identity, it is compoundingly difficult for such an individual to opt to function from core-self at latter times in their life. This becomes a matter of maintaining congruent identity as much as fearing the vulnerability of cores-self longings, fears and desires. Said differently, there is as much fear of loosing congruence with ones chosen self-identity as there is fear of the particulars of core-self vulnerability. In essence, core-self feeling is a threat to a self-identity based upon not having such feeling, and this dissonance is likely to compound with time.
It likely that the day will come when there will be evidence from the neuro sciences of two broadly different patterns of neuro-physiological activation underpinning the two types. This eventuality is likely because the core and outer-styled are so profoundly different with respect to emotional activation and cognitive control that it is hard to conceive of such differences without there being parallel differences in limbic system and cortical activation. Though the neuro-sciences may eventually lay bare a more complex truth, it is likely that broad differences in neuro-physiology will still be evident. Because a preponderance of core-styled tend to be women and outer-styled tend to be men, it is likely that these findings would bear some similarity to findings concerning the differences between male and female brain functioning.
The question then comes up, what are the psychological differences between the two types that a rich neuro-physiological model would have to account for?
The tendency towards escalating emotional activation among the core-styled versus much more restrained or absent emotional activation among the outer-styled. The tendency towards cognitive activity devoid of strong emotion (“signal emotion” versus “compelling emotion”) among the outer-styled versus much less cognitive activity without emotion among the core-styled. The tendency “to approach conflict/creating more conflict” among the core-styled versus “to avoid conflict/reducing conflict” among the outer-styled. The tendency to feel compelled to activate emotional/personal encounters among the core-styled, versus an absence of compelling need to activate but rather react to such encounters brought to them, among the outer-styled. The tendency to strongly experience the feelings of others among the core-styled versus to weakly experience the feelings of others among the outer-styled.
Two general ways of thinking about the two types is evident here, possibly competing, possibly complementary models. First, that it is a matter of under-controlled personality organization versus over-controlled personality organization. Second, that it is a matter of over-activated versus under-activated personality organization. Or some mix of the two. How would these dimensions pan out neuro-physiologically?
Going back several decades, to my first years in graduate school, many of us beginning our career were in the habit of thinking of psychopathologies as variations on the normal. Not uncommonly psychotherapy trainees would refer to themselves or others as “that borderline… narcissist… obsessive… hysteric, etc” This way of thinking has an honorable history going at least as far back as Freud’s early work in the late 19th century, and probably much further. It is in this vein that I have often referred to core-styled/fuser/pursuer personalities as “borderline styled” and outer-styled/isolator/distancing personalities as “narcissistic styled.” The point here is two fold; that borderline and narcissistic pathologies are intensifications/extensions/elaborations of two normally occuring personality styles and that the normally occuring styles and the pathologies have important tendencies/dynamics in common. Psychotherapy lore has much to say about the characteristics of individuals who manifests these two styles. In particular, I can confirm from my personal clinical experience in the long-term treatment of both individuals and couples, a very interesting finding sometimes spoken of by others; that inside every borderline styled individual is on unrealized narcissistic styled person, and inside every narcissistic styled person is a borderline styled person waiting to come out. (to be continued)
I, along with others, have found it useful to divide core-styled self organization into three different types. The “pursuer form” is the most common and has been the subject of much of our discussion here. A second type is the “core with outer-styled defense form,” also a common form of organization, but one which we will discuss elsewhere. The third, which in my experience is least common of the three, is the “distanced form of core-style.” We have seen in prior discussions how the core-styled can pull-away/push-away from their partner as a means of protecting from dissappointment on the one hand and engulfment fears on the other. For most core-styled these distancing behaviors are less prominent than pursuing behaviors. There are, however, a sizeable number of core-styled who adopt the push/pull-away adaptation to the exclusion of the pursuing mode. These are individuals who deep down inside long to reach out to others but who have come to feel so imperiled by the terribleness of the outcome, they commonly push/pull-away in advance. (to be continued)