The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 15) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network. They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful. Let us know if you ever have any questions or comments … This is about defining ourselves: looking at submission & aggression
Defining ourselves – submission & aggression
It is not easy to answer the question: “Who am I?” It is always much easier to talk about what I do or what role I play in life. It is very much an expected part of the world we live in that we define ourselves in terms of what we do. So for the vast majority of people, their relationship with their children & their partner and their jobs is more important than their feelings about themselves. It means we define ourselves in terms of other people most of the time.
This is particularly noticeable in women because the social expectation in our Western World is that women should put other people first. When they first get married they are usually expected to consider their husband’s job, his comfort and even his happiness as more important than their own. It may be possible to do this and still keep some independent life. However, if they have children together, it is still most likely to be the woman who abandons her job to have a full-time career in the home.
Even if we leave aside the rights and wrongs of this situation, what does it actually mean for most women? Putting the children and husband first – or just the children if they are one of the growing-number of single mothers – frequently means not only giving up work and staying home; it probably also means giving up hobbies, learning to do without time on our own and time with our friends, not going out much, not reading much – in fact, not doing many of the things that we used to do before we had a child.
On the whole, mothers are expected to take everyone else’s needs into account all of the time and sacrifice their own.
This is perhaps the biggest difference between mothers and fathers. Most mothers who don’t work outside the home give up all their own needs as described, while mothers who do work run the home as well – and still feel guilty about not being there all of the time for their child; whereas fathers who work may well be working very hard to support “the family” but they don’t usually feel guilt and the chances are they are also getting more of their personal needs met through their work and leisure-time activities.
The biggest risk of putting others first all the time is that it can drain us to the point where we have nothing left to give. To avoid this risk it is really useful to start thinking about who and how we want to be for ourselves, besides being in a relationship with someone else. What ways are there that we can feel good about ourselves as individuals separate from the roles we play and the job we do?
Valuing our own needs
Many people play a number of roles – employee, mother or father, partner, home-maker, breadwinner, son or daughter. Each role has demands and requirements – there are needs and wants of others which must be met in some way, and which often force the postponement or even disregard of individual needs.
But, your needs are as important as those of your children, your parents, your partner, your employer or anybody else.
In fact you are the first priority most of the time. If your needs are met and you love and care for yourself well you will then have plenty of time, energy and love to give to others. We all have basic needs: to love and be loved, to laugh and play, to have peace and quiet and safety, to be valued, respected and cared for.
Somehow we learned that if we meet our own needs somebody else will lose out or if we meet others’ needs then we still lose out.
What most of us didn’t learn was that everyone’s needs are 100% important and that there are ways to meet everyone’s needs without anyone losing out.
In a couple relationship, or a family relationship, there are individuals who have needs and there is the relationship itself that has needs, almost like another person.
For instance John and Wendy and their daughter Jill all have needs as individuals in their own right. They also have needs in relating all together as a family. Within this small family there are three individuals and four relationships:
John and Wendy
Wendy and Jill
John and Jill
Wendy, John and Jill
Meeting the needs of all these people and relationships is possible if we work from the basic idea that everyone’s needs are important. Thinking out how to do it can be a great deal of fun and develops flexibility and caring behaviour in all concerned.
Ways to meet needs
Most of us have learned a variety of ways to get our needs met. We learn from our parents, our teachers, our friends and enemies, fictional heroes and heroines and also villains. Most of this learning took place when we were very young. At that time, we chose the most effective ways we knew to get our needs met. As we grow up, those old ways may not seem as useful any more. Luckily, it is possible to change. A useful first step is to recognise as precisely as possible what it is we want to change.
At the risk of generalising madly, the types of behaviour we use to meet our needs fall broadly into three categories. The examples given below are extreme to make the point clearly. Most of us fall somewhere in between them all. Let us look at submission and aggression.
Also labelled passive, victim, or permissive behaviour. People who behave in a totally submissive way don’t express their needs directly, they do it indirectly through mixed messages and body language, or else they don’t express them at all. They may smile a lot and apologise, in words and manner, for their very existence. Their voice may be weak and hesitant, they often ramble and use vague phrases and rely on others to guess what they mean.
Quite often they slouch, fidget, have difficulty in making eye contact and never look as if they mean what they say. They don’t respect their own needs and rights and allow others to violate their space.
The advantages of behaving submissively
If a person has always behaved submissively this position is comfortable and safe. There is less responsibility in this position. After all, if you always follow others, no one can blame you if things go wrong.
People behaving in a submissive way quite often get protected and looked afte – they unconsciously entice others to do these things for them.
Behaving submissively quite often allows you to control others and can be a very persuasive tactic for getting your own way.
The disadvantages of behaving submissively
People who live this way, never really live their own lives. They are constantly giving in to the wishes and desires of others. They often miss out on deeper relationships.
This is because deep, intimate contact can only take place between people who are being truly themselves, whereas people who behave submissively are busy making themselves into what they believe others want, leaving no real self to love or be loved.
Behaving submissively all the time usually ends up with other people feeling guilty, irritated or pitying.
Excessive sacrifice for others can breed resentment in the very people for whom the sacrifices are made and can lead to rejection, which is the last thing the person wants.
By acting submissively and so repressing their feelings, they may lose touch entirely with their wants and needs; they may become numb and appear to have no feelings whatsoever.…But repressed needs and emotions have a way of leaking or bursting out of people, so that suddenly they blow up angrily or subtly ruin pleasant occasions and make life difficult for themselves and others. Repressed wishes and emotions that don’t leak out can take their toll on the body, making them ill.
Behaving in a submissive way means that they have difficulty taking charge of their lives or making constructive changes for themselves.
People who behave in a totally aggressive way usually have no problems in stating what they want and need but it is quite often done at the expense of others. They have an air of superiority and strength and all their energy is directed outwards. They often use sarcasm and humorous put-downs against others and make lots of judgmental “You…” statements. They can act in ways that are cold and deadly quiet, flippant or loud and shrill. They are comfortable standing with their feet wide apart, their hands on their hips and with a jutting clenched jaw. They often point a finger or make a fist. Their throat, neck and shoulders are often very tense. They are so intent on being right that they never hear what others say.
The advantages of behaving aggressively
People who behave like this usually get their own way. They win in most situations. It is a comfortable place to be if they have behaved this way for a long time. They are usually very effective in securing what they want, e.g. power, position and material possessions. They are very active in shaping their own lives and are also very good at controlling and having power over others.
The disadvantages of behaving aggressively
Many people behave aggressively because they are fearful – they operate from the position of “attack is the best form of defence”.
Behaving aggressively earns you enemies who then want to “get back at you”, either by counter-aggression or by resisting, lying, defying or sabotaging you. Controlling others takes time and energy and you have to be on guard all the time in case someone puts one over on you.
Behaving aggressively tends to de-humanise, so such people lose touch with feelings of love, compassion and understanding for other human beings. This is one of the reasons that armies are trained so aggressively – if you can feel another man’s pain, how can you kill him? Trying to form worthwhile intimate relationships can be difficult for such people; how can you love someone that you dominate and how can they love you?
Aggression alienates people from each other.
Behaving submissively and behaving aggressively are two sides of the same coin. Both stem from fear and both are behaviours we learned in order to get our needs met. Both behaviours can hurt the mind, the body, other people and therefore the world. When we behave submissively or aggressively, we fear to be ourselves.
The extremes we have described here are thankfully not so common. In reality most of our behaviour lies some way between the two, and may even be an ever-changing mixture of both.
Please see the next broadcast for more information …
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