Competence: “I Can Do It.”
The first stop on the journey to selfhood is to figure out who you belong to, and to become attached to them.
Once that task is achieved, you begin to differentiate from them and look around to see what the world is like.
To stay connected with your parents, you install them in your mind so you have them with you at all times.
Having achieved that security, you try on different costumes, and you check out others’ reactions
until you find one that fits you.
When you get most of it in place, at about the age of four, you have succeeded in becoming an integrated self.
Then you begin to compete with others, especially your parents and siblings (or your peers, if you don’t have siblings) to discover your personal power and its limits, as well as to determine what belongs to you
and what doesn’t.
Confidence is the last of the major development tasks of early childhood, although the cycle
of personal development and growth repeats itself in increasingly complex configurations throughout life.
Freud labels this the Oedipal stage, but Hendrix labels it “Competence,” because much more
is going on here than vying with the same-sex parent for the attentions of the opposite-sex parent.
At this stage, the child is trying to become competent in the management of himself
in the world of others and things.
He experiments with what effect he can produce on his world by impacting it with all his strength
in any form he can devise, against all comers.
The purpose of all this aggressive initiative is to experience the extent and limits of his power in the social world.
The degree to which he succeeds will determine the way he values himself.
At this point, the parental task is basically a continuation of the mirroring – of affirmation, validation,
and praise for effective doing and accomplishing – and teaching proper limits of behavior.
The child wants to learn and to succeed.
The parent must never tire of saying, “Wow, you read that whole page,” or “Your printing is really good.”
or of many other statements of approval that you give him or her.
If all this is done well, the child experiences himself as able to manage his environment,
and, as a by-product of feeling competent, he will have a high level of self-esteem.
In addition, he will internalize his parents’ values as he did their traits and develop an autonomous conscience
to guide him in his behavior with others in the larger world.
In Freud’s classic aphorism, he will be able to “love and work.”
The Competitive Child: Fear of Failure/Disapproval
Some parents are threatened by the child’s initiative and competitiveness.
Like the parents of the detached, a distant, and rigid children in the preceding stages,
they selectively reward and punish their child’s expression of confidence.
The child who does not get sufficient, consistent, reliable mirroring is caught in a bind.
Since his efforts sometimes meet with approval, he keeps trying, never knowing when
his efforts will produce results.
Driven by feelings that nothing he does is good enough, that if he just tries a little harder,
he will make it, he gets “stuck” performing and competing, trying to win, to get noticed, to produce an effect.
Overburdened by guilt and fear of failure, he deadens his conscience in order to relieve his pain.
He gives up on intimacy and settles for success as an indirect bid for approval.
When things go well, if he wins or if he gets approval, he is euphoric, but when he loses
or fears he has disappointed others, he is depressed.
Alternating between rage and despair, desperate to avoid failure or disapproval, he knuckles under even harder.
But no matter how successfully he becomes, he is unable to enjoy his life, because he never feels successful.
The competitive child becomes a Minimizer with rigid boundaries who is compulsive in his own efforts
while depreciating the efforts of others.
The Adult: A Compulsive Competitor
The competitive child becomes what Hendrix calls a Compulsive Competitor in adult life, is, not surprisingly,
often outwardly successful as an adult, but without empathy for others; he occasionally skirts moral values.
Competitive and combative, he is a managing a big company or becomes one of the big shots in politics.
He’s preoccupied with winning and enjoys beating the daylights out of others to do it.
“You’re not even trying,” he complains, or “Can’t you do anything right?”
What happens is that he often ends up overreaching, unable to employ subtler tactics when called for;
or he reaches his goal, and then can’t figure out why he still feels empty.
The Helpless/Manipulative Child: Fear Of Aggressiveness/success
Unlike the preceding parents, who alternately praise and criticize their child’s initiatives,
some parents are consistent in their lack of support of the child’s attempts to achieve a sense of personal power.
Their constant criticism confuses the child about how to express himself.
So, he alternates between feelings of helplessness and resentment.
The child’s way of winning is a kind of manipulative passive/aggressive stance.
He never competes openly.
He wins by appearing not to compete, or by getting others to fail.
Like his counterpart, the Controller, at this stage, he also lacks empathy
and experiences lapses of conscience.
If the child is habitually criticized or has not been affirmed – “You didn’t do that right,”
or “That is not drawn very well,” or “Why can you read as fast as John?”
– he gives up, feeling he can’t do it right, anyway.
He is like the clinging, ambivalent, and invisible child.
He shuns self-assertion because of the pain of repeated deflection, disapproval, and fear of failure.
He feels helpless to find a way to make an impact on the world, and to please his parents.
He withdraws from the competition, complaining that he is not appreciated, or never given a fair chance to win.
Full of resentment, he feels at the mercy of his environment.
To combat the emotional pain of consistent deflection, he identifies with the deflecting parents
and treats others as incompetent.
As a Minimizer with constricted boundaries, he is manipulative, and sometimes a saboteur.
The Adult: A Manipulative Compromiser
The grownup Compromiser never wants to play games, or do anything where he is compared to others.
When placed in a competitive situation, he behaves in a way that will make the other person look bad,
and he seldom feels remorse over the other’s discomfort.
At work, he keeps a low profile, staying in jobs below his capabilities, and he may subtly undermine
the efforts of his colleagues.
He never openly pursues the partner who seems “too good” for him, but arranges to be pursued
while denying any interest in being courted.
His complaint is “You don’t value anything I do” or “Can’t we just play for fun?”
Behind these complaints is a hidden resentment: “I’ll get even.”
The Competitor/Compromiser couple on the tennis court is a case study in adapted behavior.
She agrees to the game even though she doesn’t really want to play.
He plays every ball as if his life depended on it, counting every point, sweating and cursing,
“Why did you let that ball go? You could have gotten that.”
She cowers with her head down, swatting listlessly at the ball as it whizzes by, feeling put upon.
“Can’t you just play for fun?” she wails, as she walks off the court.
He gets upset and feels guilty.
She sulks, saying, “I’m doing the best I can,” and he apologizes.
A variation of this scene repeats itself around every issue.
Keep in mind that the repercussions in adulthood of a malfunction at the Competence stage
are not as devastating as if it happened earlier.
The Maximizer (Compromiser) is not as volatile and intrusive, the Minimizer (Competitor) not as closed off
and rigid as they might be if their woundedness occurred earlier in childhood.
The Minimizer wounded at this stage can look and act downright hysterical next to someone even more withheld.
The Maximizer may seem docile, almost passive, relative to a Maximizer wounded at the stage of Attachment.
In some situations, the Competitor is able to relax and enjoy himself without having to win.
The Compromiser can assert himself in a comfortable situation.
Fluidity and rigidity are relative and situational, affected by the interrelationship with others.
(The above material is from Keeping The Love You Find by Harville Hendrix, pages 94-99)