Virginia Satir Personality CategoriesBy
Virginia Satir was a world-renowned family therapist for forty-five years until her death in1988. She dedicated her life to helping people grow and heal and is recognised by many as “one of the most influential modern psychologists and a founder of family therapy.”
As a therapist she developed process-oriented systems to lead people to tap into their internal resources to create external changes. She believed that people’s internal view of themselves, their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, was the underlying root of their problems. She based her techniques and processes around looking clearly and congruently inward at oneself to view how we originally learned to cope with our world. She believed that the problem was not the problem but how one coped with the problem was the problem. Satir developed and named four stances for viewing how one copes or originally learned to survive.
Virginia Satir was also one of the three world-renowned therapists modelled by Richard Bandler in the creation and development of NLP.
She summed up her philosophy as the Five Freedoms:
- The freedom to see and hear what is here instead of what should be, was, or will be.
- The freedom to say what one feels and thinks, instead of what one should.
- The freedom to feel what one feels, instead of what one ought.
- The freedom to ask for what one wants, instead of always waiting for permission.
- The freedom to take risks in one’s own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure” and not rocking the boat.
The Satir Survival Stances
Virginia Satir developed what she called survival stances to demonstrate how people cope with problems. The four survival stances are placating, blaming, being super-reasonable, and being irrelevant. She thought that these stances developed through people’s lives from childhood from a state of low self-worth, low self-esteem and imbalance, in which people give their power to someone or something else. People adopt survival stances to protect their self-worth against verbal and nonverbal, perceived and presumed threats.
She illustrated each of the stances in terms of their respect or disrespect of “context”, “self” and “others.” She also identified body positions to illustrate each of the stances and associated physiological effects resulting from the stances.
A person who has a placating stance views others and context to hold more value than their own true feelings. They are nice when they do not feel nice, they take the blame when things go wrong, they try to alleviate others problems and pain. Physiological effects that placators typically experience are digestive tract disorders, migraines and constipation. The placator respects the context and the others, while disrespecting themselves.
A person who has a blaming stance discounts others and counts only the self and context. They hold the belief that they must not be weak, they harass and accuse others for continually making things go wrong. They say things to themselves like “If it wasn’t for …, I wouldn’t be in this mess” and “I’ll beat the…out of you!” A typical physiological complaint of a blamer is chronic stiffness due to rapid and shallow breathing. The blamer respects the context and themselves, while disrespecting others.
A super-reasonable person discounts himself and others and respects context only. He frequently knows lots of information and works solely from a logical or objective perspective. He says to himself things like “Everything is just a matter of logic, emotions are a waste of time” and “I must be more intelligent and show how intelligent I am.” Physiologically this stance is rather dry! The super reasonable person only respects the context, while disrespecting themselves and others.
A person that is irrelevant discounts self, others and context. An irrelevant person is often seen as amusing or a clown. They can distract attention away from any stressful situation. Their internal dialogue will be about anything other than the matter in hand. They are physically active and inattentive by whistling, singing, blinking or fidgeting. They may appear unbalanced. The irrelevant person has no respect for themselves, others and the context.
The Congruent Survival Stance
The ultimate goal of the Satir growth model is congruence. Satir held that high self-worth, self-esteem and congruence are the main “indicators of more fully functioning human beings.” The congruent person holds equal balance in terms of self, others, and context. “When we decide to respond congruently, it is not because we want to win, to control another person or a situation, to defend ourselves, or to ignore other people. Choosing congruence means choosing to be ourselves, to relate and contact others, and to connect with people directly.”
Using the Satir Survival Stances in Therapy
In the first instance, the therapist can use the Satir stances and their associated characteristics as a tool for recognising and calibrating incongruence in their clients. They can also respond to their clients areas of disrespect of self, others and context in determining desired outcomes.
We can also use Virginia Satir’s techniques for helping clients to transform their survival stances to congruence. This can be achieved by adding awareness, knowledge, manifestation and experience to the client’s outcomes. We can develop outcomes for our clients that add a sense of
- self awareness to the placator
- awareness of the other person to a blamer
- self awareness and awareness of the other person to the super-reasonable
- context followed by self-awareness and awareness to the irrelevant.
Finally, as therapists we can become better by building this sense of congruence in ourselves and in our communication.