Protecting Our Vulnerability (Book Snippet 26)

Our selves follow, in essence, the strategy of a chameleon; they allow us to adapt to our environment (if you want to know what “selves” I am speaking about, read Who am I Anyway?). Each self acts in order to fulfil or protect a need that we sense is unfulfilled or at risk. Depending on the situation at hand, a different self steps to the forefront and takes over. How each self tries to protect our vulnerability may not always be evident at first glance.

The different parts of our personality form during different stages of our lives, and are strongly influenced by the role models we were exposed to. Although traditionally, our parents play a pivotal role in the formation of our selves, our grandparents, siblings, teachers, friends, or cultural role models may have been equally influential. We are social animals, and we learn by observing and copying. As we grow up, our predominant caretakers turn into our primary attachment figures. We turn to them for emotional support while we go off to explore, we seek their approval when we experiment with new behaviours, and we yearn to be loved and accepted by them.

By observing how they (our predominant caretakers) act and how they respond to our signals for closeness and separation, we learn how we need to be, and even who we need to be in order to survive and get our basic human needs met (please refer to Book Snippet 5: The Needy Iceberg for more information on needs).

The disapprovingly raised eyebrow of my mother and harsh remarks of my father might have nourished my inner critic. My inner critic learned how it’s done and subsequently takes it upon himself to criticize me even without further need for external input. My inner critic, like all selves, does so with good intentions; the harsher his judgements of me, the more prepared I am to weather future criticism by others. My inner critic might also be fuelled by the wish to please my mother and father and find their acceptance by treating myself just as they treated me. Likewise, an inner perfectionist may have been modelled after a hyper-organized grandfather, or could have been created as a response to the experience of a chaotic home environment in which we were constantly struggling to install a sense of control and predictability.

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