Knowing Me, Knowing You – Excerpts
Excerpt #1: Do I really know Myself?
Well, do you?
Do you really know yourself?
And, if you do know yourself, are you happy with your self?
Do you like you?
If you do…great! If you don’t…not so great….
I’ve been a management consultant for some 16 years, working in both the public and private sectors. This has often involved close coaching and/or mentoring with senior people, leading sometimes to deeply personal conversations and periodically therapeutic interventions. For the last 6 years I have also worked as a practitioner in ‘personal change therapy’ for people from all walks of life.
And still, occasionally, it surprises me how many people who come to me on a professional basis either don’t know who they really are or what they’re about. Or they don’t understand why they behave in certain ways. In other words, they don’t understand themselves. Why they are like they are. In some cases, they can’t really see what they are like – and the impact what they are like has on others. Often the people they care for most! These folks are confused. Sometimes they really hurt.
It’s even worse when they do recognise what they are like …and they really don’t like it.
So what are you like…?
Many people, when asked whether they know themselves, will give an answer that makes some kind of sense. They can give some description of ‘self’ – from the physical (eg: “I’m average-looking” or “I’m on the tall side”) to metaphysical personality traits (eg: “I’m quite shy” or “I’m kind and caring” or “I’m very ambitious”).
Some deeper thinkers may go ‘all philosophical’ and say things like: “How can you ever know your true self?”. This kind of thinking implies there is some deeper, almost mystical self – spirit, soul? – which is unknowable in cognitive terms that can be languaged.
Yet others may attach the issue of personal bias to the question and suggest you consult with others who know them well – family, friends, work colleagues, etc – to build a true picture of what they are really like. It’s almost as if they can’t trust their own perception of their self!
So, is there a deeper, unquantifiable self? And how much do we define ourselves in terms of how we perceive others around us to perceive us?
Then there is the question of whether we always appear to be the same self.
Have you ever said: “I don’t feel like myself today”? or “That’s not like me”? Or have you had other people say to you: “That’s not in character” or “That’s not like you”?
Almost everyone has had some experience of not feeling like themselves or somehow acting ‘out of character’.
Have you ever found one part of you wanting to do something that another part of you disapproves of? (For example: I want to eat chocolate but I know it won’t do my diet any good.)
Perhaps worse, have you ever found one part of you, which says you should be doing something, castigating another part of you for finding reasons not to do it? (For example: My friend’s suggested we go walking this Saturday and Sunday; although that’s going to be another weekend I don’t start the decorating.)
Again, these are fairly common experiences.
But what exactly do we mean by all this talk of self and not myself?
If I am not myself on some occasion, then who on earth am I? Am I still my self…but somehow different?
Before we work on answering that question, let’s ask another. Can you identify circumstances or contexts when you act ‘out of character’?
If you were to examine your life in detail, would you find a number of circumstances or contexts where you seem to have different ‘characters’?
An example of someone exhibiting different characters might be a married man who is a doting father to his teenage daughter and a regular churchgoer but enjoys watching strippers and chasing lots of different women. Or, what about the female office manager who dominates her staff, men and women alike, but is a demure ‘little wife’ at home?
Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s famous ‘Iron Lady’ prime minister of the 1980s, was, in public, at least, a ruthless visionary.
She had strong and clear ideas on how she wanted political life and economic life in this country to change and appeared to care little about the huge social costs involved. She culled the moderates, the so-called ‘wets’, from her first Cabinet and replaced them with ‘yes men’ and equally hard-nosed right-wingers. She didn’t hesitate to go to war both abroad (the 1982 Falklands War) and at home (the 1984 Miners Strike).
Yet it was an open secret that husband Dennis ‘wore the trousers’ at home and that ‘Maggie’ mostly deferred to him on domestic and family matters. She was devoted to him right up to his death in 2003. In fact, in some private photographs and video footage which have leaked into the public domain, she appears positively fawning – an impression largely confirmed by various comments from family ‘insiders’.
Two quite different personalities in two different contexts, apparently. How come? One of the few occasions the public and private Maggies collided was when son Mark was lost in the desert for 6 days during the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1982. The media had a field day filming a tearful and at time clearly distressed mother trying to carry on with her work.
Thinking of your own life, could it be that you’re more assertive and demanding with some people than you are with others? Or, maybe you’re quiet and considered with some but lose your temper easily with others?
Differences in ‘character’ could be as simple and as trivial as not swearing in front of your children but using unsavoury expletives frequently in conversation near the end of a night with your friends in the pub.
How is it that we can have these different ‘characters’? – some of which seem closer to our ‘real self’ than others and some we’re not too comfortable with at all?
Could it, in fact, be possible that we have multiple selves which manifest themselves in different circumstances?
Perhaps the question which titles this chapter should really be: ‘Do I really know my selves?’
Excerpt #2: What if I’m an Unstable Introvert?
Let’s put together what we’ve discussed so far in Chapter 3 with what we learned in Chapters 1 and 2.
We may indeed have an ‘integral self’ – a spiritual self, even! – but this is unprovable in scientific terms and, therefore, beyond the scope of this book, What we can say is ‘self’ appears to be the schematic selfplex ‘sitting’ atop a basic set of temperamental dispositions – see Fig 10.
We know, from our discussion of schemas and memes in Chapter 2, that our brain is a memetic battleground and that the selfplex is changeable.
But what about our temperament?
If we are born with a tendency to be an introvert, could we ever become extraverted? If we’re born Unstable, are we doomed to be neurotic?
For those of us who are born with what we might term ‘unpleasant’ or ‘uncomfortable’ dispositions, the notion that temperament is innate is perhaps not good news.
Worse still: is it a case of God help us! if we score highly on the Psychoticism axis?!?
Firstly, Eysenck argued strongly that a predisposition to either Neuroticism or Psychoticism did not predestine you to mental health problems. It created a vulnerability that made you more likely to develop such problems than those that didn’t have such a predisposition. (To support his argument, he produced significant statistical evidence of people with high scores on his Psychoticism scale who had not developed a full-blown psychosis.)
However, Eysenck was firmly of the view that his axes measured dispositions that were largely biologically-determined – ie: innate. Here we need to understand the word ‘disposition’. Reber & Reber offer the following definition: “…the regularity and consistency of behaviour (more or less) independently of variation and alteration in the environment”
The “more or less” is interesting here because both Eysenck and Jerome Kagan found variations, though relatively minor ones.
So it’s probably accurate to say that it seems temperament doesn’t change much. Even if we’re highly ‘changeable’, we’re likely to be changeable’ across all contexts and circumstances! However, the degree of changeability will vary.
The same possibilities of minor variation for shyness, sociability, moodiness, cheerfulness, etc, etc.
Let’s take shyness. Most people who would describe themselves as ‘shy’ will be a little more shy with certain people and a little less shy with certain other people.
Both Eysenck and Kagan attribute these relatively minor variations to learning.
You may learn to act more outgoing if it is rewarding to be more outgoing; but, when not acting, you will have that natural tendency to be on the shy side.
In other words, any one of your temperamental dispositions is not necessarily fixed absolutely. It’s more or less fixed. You can learn to move more or less. It’s probably more helpful to think of temperamental disposition as a very strong predetermined tendency with some capacity for movement.
Excerpt #3: The Criticality of Identity and Values & Beliefs?
There’s a sense in which it wasn’t people who blew up the ‘twin towers’ of New York’s World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001; it was Values & Beliefs.
The Values of the hijackers were drawn from their particular brand of Islamic fundamentalism and perception of the United States of America as the ‘Great Satan’. From these Values flowed the Beliefs that they were all on a holy Jihad and that all ‘infidel’ Americans were legitimate targets.
And the Identity the hijackers had? We can’t possibly know for sure; but most likely they saw themselves as holy warriors and martyrs – buoyed up by Beliefs about the rewards a warrior killed in battle in the name of Allah will receive in Heaven.People will fight – and sometimes even die! – for the Values & Beliefs their Identities hold. People will rarely fight over Skills & Knowledge per se.
Some of what Robert Dilts has written about neurology may be vulnerable to criticism; but his attribution of brain activity when talking about the levels of Values & Beliefs and Skills & Knowledge is very revealing.
When someone is functioning at the level of Skills & Knowledge, the primary area of electrical activity in the brain is in the cortex. Stimulation from the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) is especially strong in the part of the frontal lobe associated with intelligence and planning — see Fig 1.
In other words, cognitive/intellectual processes are at work. We are thinking!
However, when it comes to Values & Beliefs, there is even stronger activity in the limbic system – especially the amygdala (associated with emotional memory) and the hypothalamus (associated, amongst other things, with involuntary physiological reactions to emotional arousal – such as increased heart rate, perspiration, blushing, larger pupils, etc) – see Fig 2.
In other words, we feel things – both emotionally and physically – at this level!
Hans Eysenck found that, when the limbic system is highly aroused, the normal separation of its activity and the activity of the ARAS in stimulating the cortex breaks down. Effectively, limbic system activity triggers ARAS activity. In other words, we can think without feeling; but we can’t feel without thinking. Thus,
Dilts finds that argument at a level of Values & Beliefs (limbic system and cortex) will produce a much stronger emotional reaction than debate at the level of Skills & Knowledge (cortex only).
Joseph LeDoux has shown that, if the amygdala is stimulated very strongly very quickly, it will initiate action before the cortex has even had time to think about it. Which is why, in extreme circumstances or under great provocation, people will ‘act without thinking’. Such is the power of Values & Beliefs!
So, to link this to the discussion of schemas and memes in Chapters 1 and 2, we are now differentiating levels of schemas. Schemas which are simply Skills & Knowledge have less influence than those schemas which are Values & Beliefs. Since Values & Beliefs relate to sense of Identity, the schemas of Identity – the selfplex – must be the strongest of all.
Whilst change at any of the Neurological Levels can impact on the whole, the Identity in the selfplex is the most powerful of all in this hierarchy of levels. Identity can cross Environments – sometimes with unwelcome results, as per our Street Tough in the classroom. It can also tie people to Environments which support it. Thus, the Senior Manager who has to work late at the office and, in part at least, the Son who finds it difficult to leave his parents’ home. (And the ‘Psychology Guru’ who can’t leave off writing his book to watch television or take his wife out!)
For us to adapt successfully to a changed or different Environment, we must feel – activity in the amygdala causing the hypothalamus to produce physiological reactions – as well as think different Values & Beliefs in a different Identity. Simply knowing the Skills & Knowledge for the appropriate Behaviour is usually not enough.
Which is why so often people don’t behave as they know they should. They may well have the Skills & Knowledge; but the Identity is not matched properly to the Environment. Consequently the Values & Beliefs do not produce the Behaviour which is appropriate. Hence, our hypothetical 15-year Street Tough may well know how to behave in class. However, if he doesn’t feel like a Student, he is unlikely to be one. Likewise, if our Manager at work doesn’t feel like a Lover in the partner Environment, then his Values are not likely to be partner-focussed.
Thus, the unhelpful schemas most difficult to dislodge are at the levels of Values & Beliefs and, especially, Identity, with their emotional (limbic system) component.
Excerpt #4: Environment, Identity and Transformation
Let’s consider what we’ve covered so far and use it to learn more about how human beings change and adapt to their circumstances. First of all, leaving aside the issue of a ‘spiritual self’, we’ve learned that, on top of a very basic set of temperamental dispositions, sits the selfplex. This is a complex confluence of schemas which include the concept of ‘I, myself’.
The selfplex, which may mutate and change according to the memes of the Environment it finds itself in, forms the Neurological Levels of Identities and Values & Beliefs appropriate to the Environment.
Let’s call this ‘Nominal Level Adaptation’ – see Fig 20. We are adapting at a nominal level – taking on the role which fits the Environment.
Things can very easily go wrong at this Nominal Level – with disastrous consequences, as we outlined in Chapter 4. However, to understand how and why things go wrong at this level, we need to look deeper – below the Nominal Level.
Spiral Dynamics enables us to take a view I call ‘Deeper Level Adaptation’ – see Fig 21. Now we consider the Life Conditions within the Environment and how vMEMEs influence the schemas of Identity and Values & Beliefs to match to those Life Conditions.
Let’s consider the example of the man and his partner from Chapter 4. Let’s say he’s managed to adapt his Identities successfully to his Environments. At work, he’s a Manager; with his partner, he’s a Lover. Nominal Level Adaptation appears to be successful.
However, successful Nominal Level Adaptation depends on what is happening at the Deeper Level which can be much more complex. If the man’s partner is loving and caring – B Life Conditions in the Environment of their relationship – which vMEME would match? O PURPLE would be the best fit and would strongly support the Identity of Lover, with Values of love, caring, belonging, etc. However, if the partner is concerned with getting her own way and dominating him – C Life Conditions in the Environment – which vMEME will be the best match? Almost certainly P RED. The man has to know if he is more powerful than his partner and what his position is in the ‘power pecking order’ of the relationship. Who is in control?
Such a RED-led scenario will be quite different than the PURPLE-hued scenario we first envisioned. The Values & Beliefs of the man’s RED fighting with his partner over her attempts to dominate him will be quite different to the Values & Beliefs PURPLE would have had. This may start to compromise the Identity of Lover, depending on what his prior beliefs about a about a lover’s role were. Behaviour, of course, is most likely to reflect the Values & Beliefs and may not be what one would normally associate with a Lover. This may further compromise that Identity.
In the RED-led scenario, the Neurological Levels will become misaligned unless the Identity starts to mutate into something more in keeping with the Values & Beliefs. (‘Lover’ is hardly a suitable Identity to win a war for power!)
Excerpt #5: vMEME Wars
vMEMES can be dangerous when they are in harmony. What about when they go to war?
The most obvious ‘vMEME wars’ occur between the express-self and the conformist/ sacrifice-self sides of the Spiral. This is effectively a rerun of the Id-versus-Superego conflicts the great Sigmund Freud described so well.
At its worst, it is a straight conflict between RED and BLUE.
The student with the overactive Superego I described early in Chapter 5 was an overt example of an Id (RED) seething with frustration at its suppression by the Superego (BLUE).
I well remember a story told by my friend, ‘Nigel’….
A harmonic of PURPLE/red led him to agree to go to the pub with his friend. It was the night before an important breakfast session to kick off a day of important meetings. A harmonic of BLUE/orange set Nigel a limit of two pints of beer. He was sure he would be fine for his important day.
When last orders were rung, Nigel and his friend were most of the way down their second pints. It being his round, Nigel’s friend asked if he would like another. By this time Nigel’s RED, fuelled by alcohol, was well to the fore. He’d been having a great time and his RED didn’t want to stop. In vain his BLUE called for Nigel to say ‘No’. But Nigel’s RED had him In Time – in the moment, with little thought for tomorrow. Nigel said ‘Yes’. His friend then asked if he would like a whisky chaser to go with it. Again Nigel’s BLUE said ‘No’; but his RED said ‘Yes’.
As Nigel lived just around the corner from the pub, his RED used his PURPLE to invite his friend back for a coffee. Which got laced with whisky.
I had cause to phone Nigel early the following evening. His wife answered the phone because he was still incapable of doing so!
When we talked the incident through in Spiral Dynamics concepts several days later, Nigel said somewhat ruefully: “Now, I really appreciate the importance of vMEMES.”
In addition to the express-self vs conformist/sacrifice-self conflict, Spiral Dynamics also allows for conflict on the same side of the Spiral, based on different orientations towards time – see Fig 19.
For example, RED wants to indulge itself now; but ORANGE wants to achieve for the future.
Let’s say, my ORANGE wants to save for a new house purchase; but my RED wants to go to the pub every night. A straightforward time-oriented conflict between two express-self systems.
Such a conflict is likely to produce emotional frustration.
Or, let’s say my BLUE wants to work late again because the boss has insisted the company needs it. I want to do ‘the right thing’ so my boss will think well of me tomorrow and I will be perceived as a ‘good worker’ by the company. But my PURPLE wants to go home now to my partner and my children who have been saying how much they have missed me in the past few days.
In such a scenario, it’s easy to see how anxiety could blossom when it’s “impossible to do right for doing wrong”! (Such a conflict would be exacerbated if I were extremely low on the Psychoticism axis and thus generally of a disposition to please and serve.)
So how does it work when, as all too often happens, conflict between vMEMES goes both across and up and down the Spiral?
Let’s take the RED-ORANGE conflict we described above. What is likely is that, if ORANGE is strong enough, in the interests of the house move it will employ BLUE’s disciplining action to restrain RED’s satisfy-me-now cravings. However, if the blue/ORANGE harmonic is not strong enough to stifle RED, then BLUE is likely to beat me up by activating my failure and guilt schemas for ‘giving in’ to RED.
In the PURPLE-BLUE conflict, one possible resolution would be for ORANGE to come into the equation – in which case, BLUE would almost certainly win, to serve ORANGE’s ambition agenda. This triumph of ambition over belonging may well be a significant contributing factor to the seemingly-unstoppable escalation in divorce rates among the professional and middle classes in the Western world over the past 50 years.
On the other hand, RED, especially if Psychoticism is strong, might seek refuge from the PURPLE-BLUE conflict in the nihilism of booze and/or drugs. Again, this is all too common an outcome of failure to achieve a ‘work-life balance’
Excerpt #6: Making Sense of Other People
In one sense everyone else is just like you. Structurally their personality, ignoring concepts of a ‘spiritual self’, is composed of a set of temperamental dispositions interacting with a pliable and mutating selfplex which ‘sits’ atop it – see Fig 33.
In other senses everyone else is totally unlike you. Their temperamental make-up is likely to be different to yours, with different gradations along Hans Eysenck’s Dimensions of Personality. The memes their selfplex will have been exposed to and the way vMEMES have ebbed and flowed to form and adjust schemas will all have been different.
Their very potential for adaptation in all of this will be different to yours, due both to genetics (the genotype of raw genetic potential) and to everything that has happened to them since conception (resulting in the developed phenotype – the person they currently are). Even monozygotic twins – for all their 100% genetic likeness – frequently emerge from the womb with slight differences in height, weight and sometimes, as far as we can tell, even intelligence and temperament. This is usually due to one twin getting a larger share of nutrition and other support from the shared placenta.
So, looking at ourselves as phenotypes receiving barrages of sensory data, including heaps of information from other phenotypes, how do we make sense of what William James, one of the great founding fathers of Psychology, called “…one great blooming, buzzing’ confusion”?
The answer usually lies in our mapping incoming information to already-existing schemas.
The problem is that we don’t know if our schemas and the Meta-States we create from them are anything like accurate.
Consider two hypothetical conversations: one between ‘Tony’ and ‘Bob’ – see Fig 53 – and one between ‘Phil’ and ‘Matt’ – Fig 54.
Tony is a headteacher and Bob is his head of History. At the moment we catch them, Bob is mumbling into his hand, making excuses for poor GCSE results. He is feeling intimidated by the way Tony is staring at him intently in what he takes as quite a disapproving way.
Matt is interviewing Phil for a job. Phil is talking excitedly about what he can do for Matt’s family-owned business. Matt looks pleased and engaged with what Phil is saying. Phil takes Matt’s positive feedback as encouragement to talk even more about what he can do.
In fact, Tony is totally internalised, feeling nauseous, sick with worry that his wife is going to leave him. At that point in time, he’s not even really aware Bob is there.
Matt has interpreted Phil’s enthusiasm as an indication of his ambition. He thinks the idiot will put in long hours and take on lots of his work, allowing him to spend more time on the golf course!
How do we know what others really think and feel? And what’s driving them?
As Michael Hall has been at great pains to point out, inside you have your thoughts and feelings – your ‘inner world’ – but all other people have to go on is your speech and your behaviour – what you put out into the ‘outer world’. This is why body language is so important – and what makes Meta-Stating inevitable.
Others have to make meaning from your speech and behaviour. Your speech and behaviour are part of the Life Conditions they experience in that Environment. Thus, the dominant vMEME at that moment in time evaluates the memes in your speech and behaviour – the Primary State – from existing schemas. And that evaluation is the first level Meta-State.
Thus, the Environment is determined to be favourable or unfavourable and vMEMES may or may not shift.
Excerpt #7: Sex and Social Differences between Men and Women
Over the past 15-20 years neuroscientists and biologists have come to appreciate that there are many more differences between human male and female brains and endocrine systems than we had thought previously.
We now know that biological sex differences in the womb start some six weeks after conception, with washes of androgens (male hormones, primarily testosterone) at critical times being essential in the development of ‘maleness’ away from the natural female (XX) template.
During puberty another rise in male hormones exaggerates and confirms these differences.
These processes undoubtedly affect positioning along Hans Eysenck’s Psychoticism Dimension.
Dr Ruben Gur is one of the leading researchers in the field of brain differences between the sexes. His research has led to a number of important realisations, such as:-
- The greater amount of the fatty ‘white matter’ throughout male brains gives them superiority at spatial reasoning.
- The white matter also prevents ‘information spread’ in the cortex – see Fig 1 – resulting in males tending to pay attention to only one thing at a time. (Which is why men proverbially can’t walk and chew gum at the same time!)
- The white matter in females is concentrated in the corpus callosum, This ridge of nerve fibres which connects the two hemispheres of the brain is thicker in females – in other words, there are more connections. Which means female brains are more balanced and better organised. (For this reason, they don’t need to be so large – which is why the average woman has a smaller head than the average man.)
- One result of more white matter in the female corpus callosum is that the right side of the brain can join in language tasks – language areas of the brain being primarily in the left hemisphere. This tends to give females superiority in language skills. According to Michael Gurian, this is why women talk more and can multitask while men tend to concentrate on one thing at a time and favour fewer and shorter verbal exchanges.
When you add these factors to the biological issues to do with memory and communication we looked at in Chapter 16, even before we consider temperamental and motivational differences, it is vital that men and women make allowances for each other’s processing modes.
In practicality, this is going to make it harder for a woman to grab a man’s attention because he tends to focus on one thing at a time – the thing which has greatest value to him. On the other hand, the sheer amount of verbal noise a woman can put out may irritate the man and force him to hunker down even more to focus on the thing which has most value to him at that moment in time.
How much frustration in relationships these kinds of difficulties cause is reflected in the huge sales of books like ‘Why Men don’t listen & Women can’t read Maps’ – the title of which sums up the whole issue, really!
Then we must consider the way socialisation develops the biological raw material – from the genotype to the phenotype.
While occasionally very significant variations in male and female roles around the world have been documented, by and large the stereotypes of the more aggressive, task-oriented male and the nurturing, people-oriented female hold up. (This is provided one accepts there is a continuum of extreme Maleness and extreme Femaleness with X gradations in between which are related to Psychocticism.)
A number of sociologists and social psychologists have carried out studies showing that most men tend to have instrumental ‘side-by-side’ friendships, centred on doing activities together. By contrast, most women tend to have expressive ‘face-to-face’ friendships where they talk about their feelings. Two quite different approaches to communication in relationships!
As Dr Deborah Tannen has summed up so clearly: women want to talk about the way they feel; men want to do things – or, at least, talk about doing things.
Evolutionary theorists, like Dr Rhawn Joseph, tend to assign this divergence of approach to necessity in prehistoric times. Primitive men were obliged to communicate only what was necessary to each other while out stalking their prey. Meanwhile, their women, grouped together back in the cave, were forced to reveal their thoughts and feelings to others (self-disclosure) to build up rapport in what would have been tense and quite claustrophobic circumstances.
Although Talcott Parsons, the influential sociologist, believes these differences are rooted in biology, there is plenty of evidence to show that socialisation reinforces them. For example, Angela Phillips has drawn attention to the way boys are raised to find and express themselves by standing alone, appearing strong, being independent and proving themselves through competition. By contrast, girls are encouraged to develop relationships and gain affiliative skills. According to Phillips, girls spend hours practising emotional skills while boys expend their energies on mastering physical ‘doing’ skills.