Needing to be a step ahead and out-smarting others is exhausting but some of us feel unsafe unless we have ‘out-thought’ and are therefore ready to ‘out-maneouvre’ others.
The choices available to us are:
1. to be permanently exhausted, on high-alert, and on ‘maneouvre’
2. to feel permanently frightened and at risk from the world
Neither is conducive to our mental health or to a loving caring authentic relationship.
This personality adaptation will often develop from an individual born with high external energy – extravert – and for the first 18 months or so of life experience abandonment on some level.
Sometimes this is due to very attentive and loving care givers who – at some point will drop such an unrealistic level of attention. Not through intended cruelty but because parents are human too with their own needs and inconsistencies. This can leave a small child confused as to where, even momentarily, their literal lifeline (and all they have ever known) may have gone. The same impact may be felt at the other extreme ,where one or both parents are apparently uninterested in the child’s presence or emotions from day one.
When this ‘abandonment experience’ becomes part of the developmental pattern a young child – who is just learning the fundamentals of survival and lacks the human experience that we gain down the line – has a sense of having been tricked. Brought into life with the idea of being nurtured and cared for – only to find they have to cope alone.
Individuals with this developmental experience will quickly learn to unconsciously charm and manipulate the world around them into getting their needs met. The experience of ‘abandonment’ having been so painful when this developmental schism occurred that they will do anything to ensure it doesn’t happen again – albeit unconsciously.
As a child we may turn on an intense ‘cute factor’ to get what they want of go silent until our care-giver panics into action. As an adult we will always be thinking, manipulating and maneuvering around any given situation to stay one step ahead.
In relationship, be it work or play, when we are consistently out-smarting, the other party gets fed-up, it’s no fun for them, so they walk-away or push us out and the abandonment pattern continues.
The reason we continue is because the strategy is proven to work in the short term – we get what we want and we feel safe in doing so. But we are behaving unconsciously to get our short-term needs met rather than about acknowledging how we feel – the exhaustion, the intensity of thought and the loneliness of short-term ‘victory’.
Working therapeutically in this scenario the aim is to support individuals to slow down the high-alert maneouvre and to be there as an unwavering reassuring presence as their Child ego state within experiences the very scary and counterintuitive feeling of not being a step ahead.
While the process is unconscious, the more the individual is able to make this change in behaviour the more they will experience survival – despite this ‘dangerous’ new approach.
In time they will find space away from the fear and see from an Adult perspective that they are no longer reliant on others for survival. They can build relationships with others should they experience abandonment and they have all the resources available to them as a fully functioning grown-up that were not available to them at a year old.
This personality type is termed the ‘charming manipulator’ (Paul Ware MD, 1978)
When we allow ourselves to feel, and operate from our Adult ego state we are able to relax in our trust of others – and ourselves; form stronger attachments and enjoy true authentic relationships.