Personality - II

Coping with life and the tribulations it inflicts on the best of lives is the function of defenses. They exist to help us explore and master the environment, so that we can get what we need from it; at the same time they sheild us from overwhelming anxiety. The bully flees his old anxiety -- the experience of being startled and scared by his mother’s sudden outbursts -- by adopting a personality that precludes anyone ever hurting or scaring him again. He rushes in with an "I don't care what you think, I do what I want; you can't hurt me, in fact I can hurt you sooner and worse" attitude. At the same time, this gives him some sense of control and mastery. Granted, his method is not the most productive and successful, but that is the way he develops. The flincher flees the same anxiety more directly. First with his mother, later everywhere, he refrains from asserting himself. When he does speak up, he procedes timidly, apologizing profusely, even preemptively. In this way, he minimizes the chance of experiencing that old frightening and humiliating censure. He's the person you find sticking very close to the familiar (although, of course, not everyone who does this is a flincher). The control freak, too, is reacting to the same anxiety. He learns and does and knows all, thus keeping himself as far as possible from the lost, uncertain, bewildered child he once was.

If these three people do not develop more flexible and successful ways of keeping their anxiety at bay, they will have problems. Always intimidating others in an effort to quiet his own anxieties, the bully could end up friendless, jobless, physically hurt if he bullies the wrong person, and alone. The flincher may drive everyone away with his constant apologizing and need for reassurance. Or people may simply drop out of his life -- he is so withdrawn and bland that they forget about him. Loneliness and ambition may torment him, but he will be too timid to do anything about them. We see his life as "troubled" because it seems needlessly constricted and unsatisfying. The control freak puts everyone off with his relentless expertise; he might be fired for it, or because he professes expertise where he has none and then gets caught. He may even be unable to function because the need for control has overwhelmed his judgement about what is worth controling, or what is possible to control [Ed - II]. These people are caught up in old defenses that not only don’t work anymore but actually work against them. For a while their defenses may protect them from some of their anxiety, but soon those same defenses make everything worse. Soon these three have lost friends, jobs, colleagues, lovers, all the things that defenses are supposed to help them attain, the things that make one feel safe, happy, and in control. [Ron, Bully]

In most symptoms, you can trace the balance between reaching out to master and retreating to safety. This is the old "approach/avoid" conflict, and it follows us throughout life. You can see it in the child's struggle to jump off a high diving board despite his fears, in the businessman wrestling with the decision to open his own business versus staying in the company, in the effort at any age to go strike up a conversation and risk rejection versus staying put where it's safe. (Remember once again that things in real life are not so simple. For example, one person’s safe is another’s nightmare. Compare what makes the bully and the flincher comfortable, for example. And have a look at the linked cases in the previous paragraph for more real world illustrations.)

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