I am grateful to my mentor, Terry Real, for providing the frame of the information I am about to share with you. I have taken his work and expanded upon it but thanks to his great wisdom, he provides a blueprint to determine our “relational edge” which points to our path of growth toward the Circle of Health.
Before we determine your fault line (and of course, everyone else in your life you want to diagnose), I need to explain the framework:
In the Relationship Grid, there are two axes. The vertical axis delineates the continuum of self-esteem. At the top, we have Grandiosity. Or what I call, going “one-up.” I think that I am better than everyone else. The rules don’t apply to me. My truth is the truth. I am entitled and contemptuous. Judgmental and condescending. At the bottom, we have Toxic Shame. As opposed to appropriate shame where it makes sense to feel bad about something I did or did not do, toxic shame is narcissistically self-serving. It means that I wallow in gunk that is about me which keeps me from being able to focus on you and our relationship. I feel flawed and defected. I am worthless and devalued. My rights, needs and wants are less than yours. I am going “one-down.” As you can imagine, a healthy self-esteem or the Circle of Health, lies somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Not too big and not too small. But just right.
The horizontal axis on the Relationship Grid
The horizontal axis on the Relationship Grid outlines our boundaries. A boundary is an invisible divider that separates me from you. We have all types of boundaries – physical, sexual, intellectual, spiritual and emotional. For our purposes, we will focus on our psychological boundaries – the protective and the containing. A protective boundary shields me from the world. Like the rind of an orange, my protective boundary is the stop-gap before a word or action penetrates my heart and causes pain. Like a knight’s armor, the information will ping right off me unless there is some truth to it and I need to take it in and think about it. So, the question at the gate of my protective boundary is …. Is this true or not true? If the answer is “no,” then it flies off my back like water on a duck. If the answer is “yes” or a partial “yes,” then there is information there that is valuable for me to take in and utilize for my benefit. A containing boundary is like your Grandma’s girdle. It protects the world from me. In other words, as an adult, I need a filter on my mouth. I have no right to open my mouth and say what I want to say when I want to say it how I want to say it. Two-year-olds can do this. We cannot. So, the question here is “Is this helpful to the relationship or not?” And if the answer is no, we keep our mouths shut.
So, going back to the horizontal axis, to the right, we have those folks that are Boundaryless. Because they have never developed healthy boundaries, they leek. Like a permeable membrane, they cannot hold warm feelings for themselves and therefore, are dependent on external sources to constantly supply them. They often talk before they think to the point that they can be reactive or impulsive. And they take everything personally. This position is what we often think of as love addiction and is derived from abandonment in childhood. To the left on the boundaries axis is the Walled Off version. This person has boundaries that are too thick, more like Fort Knox with a barbed wire fence. No one gets in and no one gets out. They often will give one word answers to keep engagement superficial and limited. They fear vulnerability and focus on protection more than connection. This stance is equated with the love avoidant and often originates from a childhood where there was an intrusive, burdening parent. And like the self-esteem axis, the Circle of Health falls somewhere in the middle of being boundaryless and being walled off. I need just enough of a boundary to protect myself but not so much that I am not available for authentic connection.
The Relationship Grid intersects these two axes and forms four quadrants or four profiles of how we operate in relationship 80/20. In other words, where is home base for you 80% of the time? As you self-diagnose, keep in mind that many of us do what I call a “two-step.” We live primarily in one quadrant but when triggered or resigned, we might shift to another quadrant. Ok. Ready? Let’s see where you land on the grid:
Types of Partners
The Fighter: One-up and Boundaryless. This is the partner that refuses to give up. Think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. “I will not be ignored!” she screams. Whatever it takes, the Fighter will take it to the limit with every tactic in the arsenal to not only keep the relationship but to get his/her needs met. Controlling, retaliating, verbal attacks, explosiveness, impulsiveness, reactiveness – all are on the table, even if it turns violent and abusive. Like a dog with a rope toy, this person will tussle to the end. They are determined to keep the relationship at all costs. And often he/she feels justified in using these behaviors because he/she feels victimized by his/her partner. We call that “offending from the victim position.” Because you did this, I get to do this. But what he/she often does not realize is that in fighting in such a way to hang onto the relationship, he/she is actually destroying it. When faced with such intrusive and uncontained behavior, most people will run to the hills. And the more one flees, the more the Fighter will chase. And round and round it goes. Give me two Fighters in a couple and you got war. Ain’t nothing pretty about it.
The Teflon: One-up and Walled-Off. Ah. My favorite. Think intellectual snob. Always right. Has to have the last word. Defensive. Blameless. Indifferent. Critical. Invulnerable. Superior. Often mean-spirited and even cruel. And of course, his/her shit just does not stink. This person needs to lose the attitude and get in the human race. He/she needs to let him/herself get dirty, messy and real. Because the alternative is a very lonely and pristine existence. Nice to look at but hell to live with. Unfortunately, someone in this quadrant is often the least likely to change in that he/she is happy with him/herself. Like someone smoking a cigar in a crowded elevator, this person is perfectly content. It is everyone around him or her that is miserable. As long as Mr./Ms. Teflon can project blame, then he/she is just fine. Lonely and disconnected, but just fine none-the-less.
The Bench-Warmer: One-down and Walled-Off. Love having these in my office. Somewhere, they missed the memo on how to live life. They are just sitting on the sidelines watching other people play the game. Resigned. Withdrawn. Depressed. Hiding out, hoping that no one notices or will demand anything from him/her. Just getting by. No stars to be reached for here. These folks need a fire lit under them. They need to get in the game and engage in life with the hope and the prayer that life does indeed have more to offer them than smoking weed and bingeing on television. As you can picture, these folks make frustrating partners. They often get into relationship with someone who will give them a life. But, down the road, the deal wears thin in that the partner begins to want the Bench-Warmer to get off the couch and pull his/her weight. A terrifying prospect for someone of this profile but a necessary step toward the Center of Health.
The Bleeding Heart: One-down and Boundaryless. This partner is the classic codependent. The enabler. The Marilyn Monroe of relationships. The people-pleaser. The conformist. The compromiser. Desperate and even manipulative to keep the relationship intact at all costs. “Please, please, do not leave me,” is the calling card of all Bleeding Hearts. This partner needs to start being a partner. He/she needs to shore up his/her ego to actually show-up with his/her own wants, desires, needs and feelings. Otherwise, the relationship is a farce anyways. A one-person show with the behind-the-scenes-make-it-happen partner. The ultimate disrespect that this person has toward him/herself and that the partner will have toward him/her has no place in a healthy intimate relationship.
So, there you have it folks. The four quadrants of the Relationship Grid. Did any of these attributes resonate with you? What did you determine is your “relational edge?” If you can honestly and accurately place yourself, then you will have the benefit of a roadmap of where you need to curb your boundaries and self-esteem to move toward the Circle of Health. In addition, I will often have folks think about where they learned these behaviors. I guarantee that they were either modeled for us, done to us or we did them and no one stopped us. Regardless of how they got there, compassion is in order for ourselves in that we came to these dysfunctional ways of relating honestly. But, now that you are all the wiser, it is your responsibility to yourself and to the next generation to do it differently and do it better. And that, my friends, is freeing and good news.