Personality Styles: What They Reveal About Your Romantic Relationships

Personality Styles & Relationships

Today I’d like to talk with you about personality styles and how you can understand your relationships better by learning about them.

Although we rarely think about it, not everyone thinks and feels the same way we do.   We have our own “style” or personality, our own “lens” if you will, through which we tend to view life.

It’s a mistake to believe that everyone else views life our way.  This mistaken belief creates problems in our romantic relationships. You may feel like you and your partner (or potential partner) are speaking different languages. You’re on a different “wavelength”.

Understanding that we’re different from one another helps us create a space for greater awareness and a willingness to include other perspectives.  Learning about different “styles” may help you understand yourself and others, allowing more room for embracing differences.

Your “style” says a lot about how you move in the world, your way of viewing life, and how you relate with others.

The purpose of a typology isn’t to “put people in boxes”, but rather to acknowledge that as an individual you tend to lean toward one personality type more than others.


Exploring Personality “Typologies” To Improve Your Relationships

Over the next several weeks we’ll explore a few typology systems that you can apply to increase your awareness of yourself and your interactions in your relationships.

We’ll start with Karen Horney.  In upcoming posts, I’ll introduce you to Stephen Johnson’s typology, the enneagram, Myers Briggs, and astrological types.

An in-depth study is beyond the scope of the blog.  Rather, I’ll give you a taste and you may wish to explore one or more in-depth on your own.  It can be a great way to gain greater self-awareness.

A Story

I became interested in typologies when I chose my dissertation topic:  How people handle romantic relationship separations.

I was talking with a good friend, a remarkable psychologist, about my topic.  She proposed that people handle separations the way they handle other things in their lives. Her point was that we have a certain “style” of functioning and our “style” says a lot about how we view and respond to life.

I found her suggestion fascinating and it became the focus of my dissertation about separations (a fascinating study and an upcoming eBook!).

The value of knowing our style is that as we gain self-awareness we have greater choice in our responses.

Karen Horney’s Typology

Today we’re going to talk about Karen Horney’s typology system.  Horney was a  psychoanalyst and developed her typology to address typical conflicts we face as humans both within ourselves and in relationships.

While Horney focused upon “neurotic” symptoms, this typology, and all typologies, can be viewed on a spectrum. In other words, on one end you have people who represent the “extreme” cases, but the mid-range is more representative of most of us.  There is nothing inherently negative in a style.  It is only when we become out of balance that there is a detrimental impact.

In extreme cases, the style of relating becomes severe enough to create significant impairment in functioning and impacts relationships in a highly negative way.

If in the middle range, our relationships may be impacted, but our responses tend to be more balanced and less “dysfunctional”.   Still, our style impacts our relationships and greater awareness gives us the opportunity to respond in more “emotionally sober” ways.

Horney’s Three Types: Moving Toward, Moving Away, Moving Against.

As individuals, we don’t fit neatly within one “type”.  We have qualities of each type, but lean more toward one type than the others. Take a look and see if you can identify which type most closely describes you.

Moving Toward Others

If you tend toward this “style”, you will be attached to a relationship and desire a high level of intimacy.

This type has a need to feel safe and may not develop a strong sense of an independent identity.  There is a tendency to become compliant to the wishes and needs of others in order to maintain the relationship.  In extreme, the person may become sensitive to the needs of others by becoming indispensable.  This ensures that the relationship will be preserved.

Although this type appears self-sacrificing there is a strong need for affection and attention.

Disappointment is great if this person’s needs for affection aren’t met and an attitude of victimization or even martyrdom may emerge if the person’s needs for attention and affection aren’t forthcoming.

This “type” tends to lack aggressiveness or even assertiveness and anger is strongly repressed.  Inhibition is common in regards to not being too demanding.  Because of this, a passive-aggressive tendency may be evident.

The moving toward “type” often presents a sense of helplessness with a need for protection.  Self-esteem is shaky and the person relies heavily on the opinions of others for a sense of self.  Since there is not a secure base of self-esteem, criticism and disapproval can feel devastating.

The giving nature and dependence upon others tends to create a situation of being taken advantage of and disappointment.  There is often an unawareness on the part of the person regarding the strong need to be taken care of.

Outbursts are likely to occur on occasion as an outlet for repressed hostilities. Unaware of their own self-centeredness, this person is likely to feel unfairly treated by others and life, hence the victim/martyr syndrome.

Moving Away From Others

If this is your “style”,  you may appear friendly and open, however, there is a tendency toward detachment. Privacy is extremely important and alone time can become a means of avoidance. A numbness to emotional experience is evident and you may tend to feel like an observer of your relationship experiences, rather than an active participant.

The most prominent quality is a need to put emotional distance between yourself and others. Although it may be unconscious, there is a strong tendency to not become too emotionally involved with others. While you may be social, you resist having any expectations placed on you.

You are self-sufficient and resist becoming so attached to anyone that the person becomes indispensable.

Secrecy is common and inquiries into your personal life aren’t welcomed.  Freedom, defined as a lack of bonds and ties to others, is the most important value.

A primary desire is to be left alone. Commitments are avoided and result in anxiety. Feelings are suppressed.  Situations are assessed from the perspective of loss of freedom.

Any indication of dependence results in withdrawal. Although this individual generally appears aloof and in control, panic ensues if the person feels there is a threat to emotional distance. Detachment and a feeling of uniqueness are common as the person feels strong and resourceful.

This person views dependency as a weakness and feels superior to those who are vulnerable and dependent.  While a person with this style is indeed strong and resourceful, it is rarely accompanied by the awareness that compulsivity and anxiety lie underneath this stance.

Moving Against Others

A moving against style represents persons who are predominantly aggressive in attitude and behavior.  The style tends toward a belief in survival of the fittest. They believe that everyone is out for themselves, as this is their approach to life.

Fear is a taboo (remember the bumper sticker “no fear”?) and these individuals will go to great lengths to avoid displays of fear or weakness.

A need to control others is evident and relationships tend to be viewed from the perspective of what this individual can gain from the relationship.

Feelings are devalued as a weakness and these persons tend to look out for number one.  In contrast to the moving toward, compliant type, this individual seeks to win and will go for arguments and victories.  Mistakes are not acknowledged as this would be viewed as a weakness.

A lack of inhibition is present as these individuals can assert themselves and express anger. There tends to be a deficit in the arena of friendship and relationship as the person tends to lack real empathy toward others.

Who Gets Together With Whom?

The fascinating thing is that the moving toward types often get together with either the moving away from or moving against types.  They then proceed to “do the dance” together.

The moving toward person pushes for more closeness and the moving away person, as you may guess, becomes more distant and withdrawn.  The moving toward person feels anxious and tries harder to please.  The moving away person responds by moving further away (due to anxiety) and the couple becomes caught in a perpetual cycle of pain and dissatisfaction, neither fully recognizing their own contribution to the cycle.

The moving toward person may become involved with the moving against the person.  In this case, the moving against a person tends to exert power and control over the moving toward the person.  In extreme cases, abuse occurs.

A Fascinating Dynamic and Role Reversal

A fascinating dynamic tends to occur when the moving person finally gains the strength to step out of this pattern and “moves away”.  At this time, the moving away or moving against person tends to switch roles and may become very dependent or needy (especially if they’re being left).

The fact that this frequently occurs is an indication that these styles of functioning are to an extent ways we “defend” ourselves in relationships (defense mechanisms), and how we protect ourselves from vulnerability and the possibility of loss.

The heart indeed is as vulnerable as it gets.

Don’t Fall Into The Trap

A potential “pitfall” exists in studying typologies.  They can be used as ammunition against others or as an excuse for our own behavior.

The purpose of typologies is to further our understanding of ourselves and others.

Play fair. Resist the temptation to use typologies to point out to others their behavior you don’t like. Likewise, using a typology for an “excuse” for a way of being or behavior is a shallow use of a valuable tool.

A valuable use of a typology is to gain further insight into our style of functioning and behavior, thus giving us greater awareness and choice.

Share Your Style and Relationship Experiences

I’d love to hear from you.

  • Do you see yourself in any of the styles?
  • Share your relationship experiences.
  • How might knowing about these styles benefit you?
  • How might knowing about these styles benefit your relationships?

I’m going to be sharing information about several other “styles”, as well as talking with you more about attachment styles and how your way of attaching impacts your relationships.

We’re also going to explore “the stories” you tell yourself about the opposite sex and how this affects what you experience in your relationships.  We’ll then re-create your story in order to improve your relationships.

So, we have lots of valuable information to share as we continue our journey together.   Have fun with it and feel free to add to the mix with your thoughts and observations.

In the meantime, be well, and may you experience the best relationships ever!

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