When we keep up appearances, despite the longing we have for attentiveness, love, a clean diaper and warm milk, we keep a stiff upper lip, we don’t cry out, we don’t let on. We do this because we don’t want to know the painful truth about our unfulfilled needs. The consequence is that in time we no longer know what it is we long for or what we need and live by the pretext that we are self-sufficient. This can give us a feeling of power. If we think we need no-one, we are likely to get caught up in feelings of omnipotence.
You can recognize this phenomenon in people who are proud and stubborn, obsessively striving for perfection, unwilling to belong to any group, always wanting to excel and withdrawing in the face of conflict. If you hear others or yourself say “yes” more readily then “no”, then you are confronted with this survival pattern of omnipotence. The role we play fitting this pattern is the role of the savior, the helper. Therapists often have this background.
A different way of surviving is to raise your voice and let the whole world hear that you’re in need of attention, that you want someone now to look after you, someone to be there for you, to love you. At the onset, it might appear that this could be a more profitable strategy. But here too, we can fall into a trap. It remains to be seen whether we really receive the attention we long for, if we are truly being seen, heard, and taken seriously.
The danger is that we become naggers, who never are content. We start to believe we cannot do anything ourselves and are therefore forever in need of another person. If we hear ourselves or others excessively say “I’m frightened”, “I cannot”, “I could not”, “I don’t know” then we can be sure to have fallen into the gloomy pit of helplessness. We think we are not good enough, we feel inferior, we nourish our grief and stay dependent. When we are asked to do something, we almost always automatically refuse, and say “no” since we think we cannot do it ourselves. In this pattern we are in the role of the victim. As client we usually are.
The third way to attempt getting what we need, is by going into battle. When we notice we have to fight, time and time again in order to win, if we have to know better and be best and want to be right, if we feel superior, have a strong will and want to be boss, then we are trapped in the survival pattern known as the power struggle. We neither say yes or no and seem forever to be longing for something we do not get. The role we play can be of the prosecutor or the offender.
Longing to be the best
The upside of those patterns is, that they have enabled us to survive. The downside is, that they do not provide us with the much desired true attentiveness we actually need. Fortunately, we are usually nurtured and loved to some degree, but if we get more condescension than love it is difficult to become happy. Yet we do not easily give up our tactics since, however it may be, we answer to an image we have created of ourselves that appears to become our primary tool in survival. I, for example, always have to be the best. This has served me without a doubt, but it also has made me vulnerable since I cannot do without an authority who confirms my superiority. What I really need is recognition, appreciation, love. And if that is the case, I have failed. By striving to be the best, I was loved and honored to a certain degree, but more likely I was feared. In the process of wanting to be the best, I became rigid and lonely. That was not what I longed for but it took me a long time to realize that I was trapped.