The Wisdom of Virginia Satir

“Communication is to relationships what breath is to life.” –Virginia Satir

As I have studied various counseling theories, there is one that stands out as my favorite.  That is the work of Virginia Satir, which is profound in its simplicity.  When she looked at families, she knew that each member of the family was longing for love and acceptance from each other.  Her goal was to validate each member and to help them see where the breakdown in communication was occurring.  One of the ways she did this was by identifying the roles each family member played and how it affected the way they saw themselves and the world.  She identified three necessary parts to healthy interaction; the self, others and context.  When these three positions are balanced, there is congruent communication.  When one or more of these three positions are denied, distorted or eliminated, defensiveness and stress occur in the communication.

When someone sacrifices themselves in a situation to put the needs of others and the context of the situation first, they became what she called a placater.  Placaters will put their own needs aside and will often say ‘yes’ when they really want to say ‘no.’  They will do whatever is necessary for others to be happy and will sacrifice as much of themselves as needed to please others, often out of fear of being rejected.

A blamer, on the other hand, has no problem sacrificing others in order to maintain their sense of self and the context.  They put the responsibility completely on other people when something goes wrong.  They will often say things like, “What’s the matter with you…” or “I can’t believe you…”

The super reasonable person is like a computer.  They sacrifice the self and others to only focus on the context of the situation.  They tend to take a detached stance and will focus on principle and what is ‘right’ instead of on people’s feelings or emotions.  They will often use the word ‘it’ to communicate, such as, “It is important to…” or “It doesn’t matter.”

The irrelevant communication stance doesn’t address the self, others nor the context.  This is someone who can’t tolerate discomfort in a conversation and will immediately change the subject and talk about something else.  They seem to hope that their distractions will avoid the hurt, pain or stress.

While we all take on aspects of these styles from time to time, by objectively looking at these communication stances, it is easy to see how defensiveness arises and clear communication breaks down.  When the self, others and the context are all taken into account, issues can be addressed head on.  There is compassion for the other and respect for the self to address the context of the situation.  What roles have you been falling into and what would change if all three aspects were balanced in congruent communication?

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