You old folks like me may remember that in the 1970s and 1980s assertiveness training workshops were extremely popular. They had a great way of conceptualizing the manner in which men and women get their needs met. The most common participants in assertiveness training workshops were women like Gina who wanted to become more forceful and get their voices heard more effectively, but the concepts are relevant not only to meek women, but to overbearing men too, and everyone in between.
This model shows that the manner in which people get their needs met can be thought of as being on a continuum with the two ends being unhealthy or dysfunctional and the middle representing a healthy range:
The people on the right get their needs met by respecting their own wants, wishes needs and desires while disrespecting the needs of others. This is a working definition of self-centered behavior:
Of course, the self-centered category also includes people whom everyone would agree have personality problems. This would include the selfish—“C’mon, I’m only on three softball teams and you can come watch”—the alcoholic—“what difference does it make when I get home? You’re asleep anyway”—the narcissist—“it pisses me off that you’re having your period when I want to have sex”—the abuser—“I wouldn’t have gotten so mad if you had listened to what I said”—and a myriad of other people who need to have power and control in relationships.
The majority of people who fit the description of selfless are women. This does not mean that men are immune from giving to others at their own expense but, in general, selflessness—giving more than you get—is an issue that women struggle with. Everyone tends to like these women and the bonds they form with one another create strong, BFF-type relationships. However, when they connect with Alpha males (and females!) they, sooner or later, feel “used and abused.” At first glance, it may seem that putting the needs of others before one’s own needs is a positive trait. However, when it crosses a line and the person finds herself being taken advantage of or treated like a doormat it is no longer a virtue.
I saw something apropos to the people who fall on the selfless side of the continuum on the Discovery Channel. I learned that every animal that has eyes on the side of its head—squirrels, mice, and rabbits, to name a few—are always, in nature, somebody else’s lunch. These are nature’s victims. If we stopped and talked to one of them, “Mrs. Rabbit, how are you today?” She would answer, “Well there is a fox over there and he’s smacking his lips and there’s a hawk flying overhead and there is a hunter in the distance with a rifle.” In other words, nature’s victims base their sense of wellness on what others are doing. Similarly, if you ask a co-dependent woman how she is doing, she’ll answer in terms of how the people in her life are doing—“I’m great. Tom was in a good mood all weekend and Danny got to school on time without me waking him up and Kristin found the most wonderful dress for the prom.”
Returning to the continuum and the question of what attracts people to one another, we always marry someone the same distance from the middle as ourselves. This isn’t always opposites attracting. Two people who reside on the right side of the continuum can become a couple. Their relationship will tend to be passionate and their conflicts will tend to be heated. While two people who reside on the left side can also become a couple. Their relationship will tend to lack passion and they’ll describe themselves as “never arguing” but not really happy. But, as often as not, opposites do attract. Joe and Gina are a good example of that.