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Theory: It’s all about you

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 5:02 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 6, 2014 4:50 p.m. CDT

A lot of what I do in my column is identifying personality traits and how they complement and sometimes conflict with the traits of others. It’s the mix of personalities that sets the tone of our relationships. Because of this, it’s vitally important to have a solid understanding of who you are, how you affect the people in your life and how others affect you.

One major trait that often determines the success of a relationship is whether a person is self-oriented or other-oriented. Keep in mind that all personality descriptors fall somewhere on a continuum. The more extreme these traits are, the more likely a person will experience difficulties in their relationships. Since opposites often attract, we will concentrate on the extreme individuals.

Self-oriented people see the world as how it affects them. Their focus is turned inward. They indulge themselves, satisfying whatever needs they have and justifying their actions to fulfill themselves. They lack empathy and are easily irritated or dissatisfied when others don’t meet up to their expectations. They don’t trust others, because they never take the time to really get to know them. In turn, people tend not to trust the self-oriented type.

Other-oriented people see the world as how they can affect it. Their focus is turned outward. They look for ways to indulge others, sometimes at the expense of their own needs. They feel empathy and derive great satisfaction from helping others. They trust more easily and are seen as trustworthy by others.

Lets look at these traits in three different couples. The first couple consists of two self-oriented people (S/S); the second couple, a self-oriented/ other-oriented combination (S/O); and the third couple, two other-oriented (O/O).

In the first scenario (S/S), both individuals vie for all the attention, frequently irritate each other, and generally live like roommates. There is little energy in this relationship. As this relationship ages, it grows further apart, eventually leading to loneliness, unmet needs, dissatisfaction, and often, an end.

In the second couple (S/O), the self-oriented person is quite contented. Their needs are met, so what more could they want? They often wonder why their partner is so dissatisfied. The energy in this relationship is flowing in only one direction and the other-oriented partner, although they like to give, can only give for so long. They have needs too. It doesn’t take long until “O” becomes sad, unfulfilled, and deplete of energy. As this relationship ages, it grows further apart, although only one is aware that it has.

The third example (O/O), is the quintessential “match made in heaven.” This couple is acutely aware of the other’s needs and strives to make their partner fulfilled. Both are eager to please. Both are trusting and trustworthy. The energy in this scenario flows in both directions. As this relationship ages, the flow of energy creates more love and the two grow closer.

I don’t think anyone enters into a serious relationship thinking that it will end. For most people, long lasting satisfying relationships are essential to their happiness. When children are a part of these families, it becomes even more important that the relationship is positive, healthy and sustainable.

Awareness is the first step to making any changes in your life. If you feel that your relationship could use improvement, try having a discussion about self/other with your loved one, or seek help from a counselor. In most cases, the problems that you are experiencing can be explained with a little knowledge of personality traits.
• Jamie Palmer is a Batavia resident and a licensed clinical professional counselor and senior mediator with more than 35 years of experience in the field of psychology working with families, couples and individuals. She can be reached at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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