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Let’s start with an example of impersonal style. This afternoon Harry’s rational analytical mind inner self is in charge as he talks with a group of friends about the advantages of having private superannuation rather than investing with a major fund. He feels secure about expressing his knowledge and understanding so there is no need for him to be pushy or over confident or get into his ‘knower’ inner self. Harry and his rational mind self express such a convincing set of reasons in favour of private super that all his friends find themselves feeling quite comfortable saying that they agree with him.
It might be more accurate to say that they appear to accept his point of view. Agreement is often a high priority for this group, a sense of ‘unanimity’ protects the group’s feelings of common friendship, mutual support and stability which reduces underlying vulnerability in its members.
What will be missing, if this is the case, is a sense of a close warm personal connection between people in the group. Harry and his friends are all protecting themselves by using impersonal style, that is they are connected through their minds rather than through each other’s feelings.
All this illustrates the idea that impersonal style places more importance on being protected than being connected.
Later the same day Harry is alone with Helen, his closest and most intimate friend and his current partner. Helen was present during the afternoon’s discussion and Harry now notices she is a little more distant and impersonal than usual and he asks her about this.
She explains that she hadn’t wanted to rock the boat while the others were present but because she does not have any of the accounting or management skills needed to handle self-
Harry’s first reaction is to argue forcefully that she is wasting her money, but feeling a bit more paternal and protective but still impersonal instead he says that he will have his solicitor draw up plans for a private super find for Helen. He is still in his impersonal style (still more protected than connected to Helen.) His rational mind remains active and in charge.
Helen, however is aware of this. She knows that to join in and argue with Harry would be unproductive at this point, because she has been working with her inner selves for several years and can see that there are risks, if she were to start using her own impersonal style at this point. For a start, it might trigger Harry into even stronger impersonal style.
She would be especially vulnerable should Harry try to pressure her to follow his preferred strategy and that would force her further and further into her own impersonal style as it became necessary to disconnect more to protect herself and her feelings from Harry’s impersonal and argumentive style. And that in turn could lead to a bonding pattern or a fight.
Instead Helen decides to use more of her personal style. She laughs and suggests to Harry that they both look into super options individually and talk about it later. She hugs him and suggests that they spend the evening dancing, something they both enjoy. Helen’s style is warm, very personal and is aimed at rebuilding a closer connection with Harry.
In this way she is helping Harry to move further into his own personal style. Both now become much more inter-
This is often used by people in place of adult boundaries. That they stronger inner selves keep limits on connection, that is getting too close to other people. In particular that means keeping feelings (except anger) hidden. The weaker the connection the stronger the protection from vulnerability.
Describing emotional events -
Jen, on the other hand replies. “I was terrified, I was afraid I was going to die. It was awful!” She is using a much more personal style. She identifies herself with the experience and exposes her emotions. So, she will connect much more with the people listening to her that if she was spending time analysing ‘why?
Problem solving -
Jen, however, is apprehensive about the move but at the same time excited about the possibilities of getting a new unit which will be ‘theirs’ rather than ‘his.’ She hopes that Jay will feel the same way and involve her in selecting the units they will inspect.
Jay is rather distant, very analytical, using a high level of impersonal style, rather than his adult boundaries, so he fails to notice Jen’s desire to be more involved, and he does not connect with her feelings. On the other hand, he will also be less likely to feel vulnerable should Jen disagree with his choices as he looks through the vacant units advertised.
The higher the level of personal style connecting two people the stronger the interaction of feelings and the more empathy is present in their conversation. There is often a lightness as well, a sense of joy in the experience of relating which contrasts with the heaviness of impersonal interactions.
Most inner selves know lots about these two styles, but that does not mean they are able to keep them in balance or use them both in the right place and at the right time.
Some, like the problem solving inner selves and the analytical mind operate very much in impersonal style. Others like the responsible caretaker can be one or the other, or a bit of both. Of course you can expect the peacekeeper and pleaser to use much more personal style, since they usually see being close and connected as far more important than distant and protected.
You may have noticed in the cases above, how Jay and Jen managed to keep well out of any really strong arguments (as people in case studies are able to do). In real life that’s normally not what happens and this is where it starts to get a bit more complicated.
Keep in mind that almost all inner selves are much more concerned with protecting the person they belong to, far less with improving connections or relationships. That means they will try to keep you out of personal (more connected than protected) style. To these selves, getting more connected with another person just means more work and more vulnerability to look after. Whatever their special tasks as protectors, they will prefer impersonal connections where they can stay in control. The greater their control, the stronger the protection but the weaker the connection.
The inner selves that use personal style have a more difficult task. They seek protection too, but it is mainly protection from being alone or feeling abandoned, or powerless. Their solution to such problems is to get more closely connected with other people and that is what they set out to do. The price they pay, unfortunately is that the more they get you connected (less alone) the greater your vulnerability in regard to issues such as being controlled by your emotions.
You can appreciate how much a individual needs to be able to move comfortably (through high to low) within both personal and impersonal styles and to be equally comfortable moving from one style over to the other to suit a particular time, situation or relationship.
The alternative (an un-
So, what are some of the signs that tell you that you are operating more or less in your impersonal or impersonal style? What are similar pointers that might warn you if you could be out of balance or flipping too much from personal to impersonal?
• fewer close friends, discussions restricted to more general or open friendships.
• you notice people seem more interested in connecting with you when they are talking about problems or seeking help with their own issues, but less likely to connect when things are going well for them.
• cool tone, low empathy
• communication with other people often contains either an openly stated or a background non-
Highly Personal style
• communication with other people contains either an openly stated (or a background non-
• you project warmth in tone, empathy and positive understanding
• communication contains either an openly stated (or a background non-
• you may find yourself a bit too easily controlled by other people, especially those who rely on manipulation or emotional pressure.
• sudden reactions when being over-
Compare these two e-
Well, it’s no wonder you love your new job on the coast. Getting to work side by side with Ken White would, for me, be the ultimate in “having joy in having to work”
Fantastic! I envy you, and please Helen, keep me up to date on what you are doing (when you get the time).
Heaps of Hugs from your old friend
Great to hear you are working with the White team. Lucky you. Congrats and good luck. Keep in touch.
See Personal selves
More on Personal and Impersonal as Opposite energies
One way to distinguish the two is to remember that:
Impersonal is “more protected but less connected”
Personal is “more connected but less protected ”