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Personality or Reactivity

Have you ever responded to someone's complaint about you with some version of "That's just the way I am." ?  Underneath this defensive response there is likely the need for acceptance and at the same time, perhaps buried a little deeper, the longing to have the flexibility to meet others in a way that works for you both.

Often when you are referring to your personality or "the way you are", you are really referring to a set of habits.  Some of these habits were formed in early life and in reaction to a need or set of needs that were consistently unmet.  These reactive habit patterns not only influence your behavior, but also your beliefs, and body structure and posture.

There are many popular frameworks that recognize and try to name these habit patterns.  I have found both the Enneagram and Character Theory as described by Ron Kurtz the most helpful.  Ron Kurtz, the founder of Body-Centered Therapy (Hakomi) has developed a framework of eight reactive habit patterns.  You can read more about this work in his book:  (span style="font-size:15px;font-family:Verdana;color:#1155cc;background-color:transparent;font-weight:normal;font-style:normal;font-variant:normal;text-decoration:underline;vertical-align:baseline;">

My purpose in pointing these out here is to make a connection between reactive habit patterns (personality) and NVC consciousness so that you can find more freedom and flexibility to respond authentically to life.

Seen through the framework of Compassionate Communication (NVC) these habit patterns or personality types were formed as an attempt to get needs met in a the midst of a challenging environment.  In other words, you couldn't just be fully authentically you and have your needs met.  You had to limit the way you thought and behaved and interacted to that which was most likely to meet particular needs.  This limited way of being, practiced over time, becomes a set of unconscious habit patterns that still meets some needs, but does so at the cost of other needs for yourself and the people with whom you interact.

If you have had and continue to have healing and supportive experiences as an adult these habit patterns loosen and you become more and more authentic and flexible in your response to life.  As you gain perspective, you can mindfully see yourself falling into an old habit pattern (e.g., withdrawing, collapsing, thinking you have to do everything on your own, making demands and taking over, making passive-aggressive comments, working hard to be loved, or getting dramatic, etc.).  You can then turn compassionately toward yourself.  From a compassionate perspective you know that these habit patterns came about as a way to meet specific needs.  So, you can use them as a signal telling you what needs are alive for you in the moment.

When you name your needs you can choose how to meet them in a way that works.  For example, if you feel the compulsion to withdraw you know that means you have a need for safety and soothing.  You might engage in the old behavior of withdrawing into your room for a couple of hours, but you can choose to do so after taking care of present responsibilities, in addition, you can evaluate if withdrawing to your room really meets your need for safety and soothing or not.


This week notice moments when your behavior is driven by fear, anxiety, or compulsion.  These moments are marked by a sense of being in a trance and having a narrow perspective.  At the end of each day take a few minutes to look over the feelings and needs list and name those that were alive for you in that moment.  Ask yourself if there is anything you would like to do to attend to those needs the next day.

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3 Responses

  1. Oct 31, 2013

    I have been a student of the Enneagram and NVC for some years now. And have found that I need NVC when doing Enneagram work. Sometimes looking at my habit patterns/trance triggers jackal thoughts about myself or someone else which is digging me deeper into my habit pattern. Now, more readily I am able to pause and take a deep breath in the moment and get to the real feelings and needs. Being able to give myself empathy dissolves the jackal and brings me back into feeling whole again. It doesn't necessarily mean I feel happy, I may feel regret or grief, and still feel whole within myself because I'm meeting my deepest need for connection with myself.

  2. Nov 01, 2013

    Hearing, "That's just the way I am" or "That's just who she is" has often been a trigger for me, sending me into a state of wanting to show the speaker, why that's just incompatible with compassionate communication. Not the heart-based response I long to offer on the spot :-)

    I would love to get the book to learn more about the eight reactive habit patterns, but was confused by the major price differences on amazon. Could you recommend a particular edition or version? I did take a trip to and watched the video with Ron Kurtz. His approach is encouraging to me and I think using it will help me gain more from the body work I participate in as well as meet an need for acceptance as I practice compassionate communication. Thanks LaShelle!

  3. Nov 02, 2013

    Thanks Karen for your remainder to continue to practice compassionate relationship with yourself while studying any form of personality typing. I think they can only be useful if held in the process you described.

    Hi Tricia, The one with the grey cover is the newer edition. I think just varies with the seller and whether it is used or not.

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