Thanksgiving is a holiday of unity. All over the United States people are planning menus that honor family tradition and experiment with new recipes and preparation methods. And all over the U.S. people are planning to see family and friends to celebrate what and who they hold dear. Part of these gatherings is often the choreography of who is bringing what pot luck dish to contribute to the meal. That’s easy to talk about openly, easy to process. But what’s not often discussed or easily processed is the personas people bring with them to the holiday gathering.
Personas are the finely honed coping skills we develop through a lifetime of acting and reacting to the dynamic world around us. Therefore, we all have them. Our personas are actually fairly consistent throughout the year but because the holidays can be so emotionally charged personas can easily flare up and out of control and we find ourselves in the middle of making the wrong kind of holiday memories – ones we will loathe before the last leftover is gone.
We can’t un-invite these guests to the table. They are locked within us as quasi-instincts, often seated deep in our childhoods. They are the fight part of the fight-or-flight dilemma we all face when stressors in our environment threaten our well-being. Although they worked for us in the past these defense mechanisms may not serve us now and can even put us at risk in some way. In this case Shirzad Chamine believes these personas are our saboteurs and he defines nine distinct types. See if you recognize any of these unintended guests at your holiday gathering:
The Stickler – believes there is only one way to make gravy – her way – and insists on showing the host how or overtaking the kitchen to do it herself, all as a gesture of gratitude that everyone is gathered together again.
The Pleaser – stayed up past midnight to make three kinds of dressing – oyster, sausage and vegan – because she’s not sure what everyone’s needs are and would hate to hurt anyone’s feelings by overlooking a dietary restriction.
The Avoider – laughs at old black and white pictures of himself seeming to stand at attention beside the father who never hugged him or took him on his knee.
The Hyper-Achiever – turns casual grazing of the hors d’oeuvres into a celebrity chef appearance, making everyone taste her dishes, listen to a verbal recipe for each, and give feedback (positive, please!).
The Controller – makes sure the conversation comes around to a cousin’s binge drinking because since everyone’s together now is a good time for his wife to admit a problem exists and get advice from the people who love him most.
The Restless – can’t stay the whole weekend because she’s leaving for an all-women’s retreat she found online after her high-intensity interval training coach mentioned it one day at the gym. She is excited to get as far away as possible to search for ways to find more fulfillment in her life.
The Victim – is having a bad day as far as the football scores go. His teams are all trailing and it’s the referees’ faults, as usual. Are they blind??
The Hyper-Vigilant – hangs close to the window because the kids are driving in one car from the airport. It gets dark so early now and driving at night is perilous. It would be terrible to lose them all at once.
The Hyper-Rational – longs to talk about his work but gets impatient when people don’t or can’t follow along with his detailed or complex thought processes. He rarely asks about others because that never generates intellectual conversation.
(For those of you that know me, you know the characterizations above do not reflect my family, friends or clients. If you do not know me, I hope that it is unnecessary to state that these characterizations are fictitious interpretations of Chamine’s saboteur archetypes.)
These personas are the result of childhood struggles with or traumas of unpredictable circumstances or relatives; inadequate and/or conditional validation, acceptance or nurturing; betrayal in vulnerability.
We can choose what we bring to share at the table, but we can’t choose the unintentional guests we bring with us. Recognizing the saboteur(s) we all have within us helps us understand how we cope with the threats (real or perceived) we encounter in stressful situations – like the holidays – and how the important people around us cope, too.
Reading about Shirzad Chamine’s saboteurs was enlightening for me. I understand myself and my family better because of his work. And it’s a reminder that everyone is struggling with something. With this awareness I am better able to choose to what extent these unintentional guests (my personas and others’) may sabotage this Thanksgiving.
Through my ICF coaching certification training I came across the Saboteur Assessment. You can get your profile results within a few minutes, online, for free, and read Chamine’s interactive report detailing each of the nine saboteurs by clicking here.