Most of us gravitate towards one or two of the needs in particular (see Snippet 21 for a deeper explanation). With each need, there is not only an associated fear and a shadow behaviour, but also a particular strength, a way to behave that comes easily to us and that is often seen as one of our natural talents. Putting it all together, we see a complete pattern of fears, shadow behaviours, and our natural gifts corresponding with each of the four needs.
Not unlike many women I know, I grew up believing that in order to be appreciated by those around me I had to be nice, make no trouble, and be good at school. In order to do and be what I thought people expected of me, I learned to disown my need for autonomous self-expression. I became so skilled at being anything to anyone that I turned myself into a social chameleon. Driven by my craving to be liked and accepted, I sensed what was required or rewarded in a specific environment: I was the gifted artist, the intellectual student, the compassionate classmate, the witty cool girl, or the silent and obedient daughter. After a while, I lost all sense of what I thought or wanted independently of people around me. I wanted what they wanted and appreciated or snubbed things they appreciated or snubbed.
Hyper-adaptable or Spineless?
I was hyper-adaptable — and completely spineless. In addition to expunging my need for self-expression, I tried very hard to re-introduce a sense of structure and predictability, which my life lacked after my parents’ separation. Instead of acting out, I developed an overly strong sense of discipline and reliability that helped me establish control over my environment as well as securing the admiration of others. In some respects, this survival tactic of over-adaptability and merciless self-discipline served me well: it had a big part in getting me where I am today. At the same time, I paid a high price. In order to be accepted by the right people, I learned to be disingenuous, saying and doing the things I felt would buy me their attention. My need to control my environment manifested in rigidity and a tendency towards self-righteousness, which sometimes drove others away. For years, I was blind to the potential of the other two poles of the compass (growth/stimulation and autonomous self-expression) because I could not see how to align them with my personal survival strategy of being the ‘good girl’.
Standing Tall While Being Kind to Yourself
My old patterns worked well enough until I became a self-employed coach. Suddenly it was obvious that being the nice and studious girl was not a viable strategy for professional success. To be an effective coach and give straight feedback to clients, I needed to let go of wanting to be liked and instead be courageously authentic and learn to articulate my opinion (or — in other words — I needed to grow a pair). And in order to run a business and offer my services, I had to stop playing small in the hope that someone would accidentally discover my greatness. I had to stand tall and promote myself. To cooperate effectively with colleagues on bigger projects, I had to be more flexible and allow for people to do things differently than I would have done them.
Whatever pattern you may detect in yourself — view it with kindness. Your survival strategy helped you manage your fear and got you to this level in your life. But it will probably not get you to the next. Every one of your shadow behaviours points you towards a blind spot, an area where you have been operating — consciously or unconsciously — from fearful thinking. If you learn to develop some ease in playing in all four corners of the compass, you will unleash your full potential and become more of yourself.
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