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Do you know your Drivers?



During the course of my continuing education I recently came across the concept of the so-called „Drivers“ that immediately downright fascinated me. This concept originates from transactional analysis (a theory dealing with the human personality and a related psychotherapeutic procedure). The “Drivers” are a model for inner patterns, one could also call them motivators: they influence our thinking, feeling and behavior. As so many of our inner patterns they also date back to our infancy; they basically represent the voices of external authorities (primarily those of our parents but also those of teachers, other important persons or society in general). Step by step, we tend to internalize the demands and expectations of these authorities to the point where they become an integral part of our very being.

As infants we are totally dependent upon the love and care of our parents and other important care givers and therefore have a finely tuned antenna for which behavior will reward us with- and which behavior most likely jeopardizes the love and care we crave. Depending upon the environment of our childhood we are exposed to different demands, from which our personal Drivers derive, so to speak. This is a process which takes place without us noticing it at all – and here is the problem: As long as we aren‘t aware of our Drivers, we are obviously also incapable of contradicting them! In the worst case scenario we still automatically act on many parental messages that have become obsolete to us as adults or simply are not (any longer) suitable for the here and now. Therefore today’s subject is going to deal with those Drivers – who knows, maybe one or the other will immediately look familiar to you!

The American transaction analyst Taibi Kahler extrapolated five Drivers that are considered to be typical:

  • The “Be Strong!” Driver
  • The “Be Perfect!” Driver
  • The “Please Others!” Driver
  • The “Hurry up” Driver
  • The “Try Hard!” Driver
At first glance all of them sound pretty stern and intimidating, don’t they? And your initial associations are probably rather more negative than positive – but like everything else in life, the Drivers unquestionably show two sides: Obviously, if they are given free rein and allowed to dominate your life unchecked, they can cause you lots of stress and unhappiness. On the other hand, each one of these Drivers also represents an important inner resource that has probably also stood you in good stead helping you to achieve things in life that otherwise would have been out of your reach. Consequently, the issue is not to completely expel the Drivers from your life - that would be fatal! After all, they basically act with the best intentions - one just can’t totally let go of the reigns. In order to accomplish that, first of all you have to identify them within yourself and become familiar with them.

The Driver: Be strong!
His message: Grit your teeth! Don’t show any emotions! Maintain your composure!
His objective: Security is only found in independence and therefore dependencies and vulnerabilities must be avoided.
His positive aspect: Vigorous!

The Driver: Be perfect!
His message: Don’t make any mistakes!
His objective: Only maximal control over people and things is sure to get you recognition, therefore mistakes are to be avoided.
His positive aspect: Sense of perfection!

The Driver: Please others!
His message: Always be amiable! Always accommodate!
His objective: One only receives affection by pleasing everybody; therefore never say “no”.
His positive aspect: Sensitive and mindful!

The Driver: Hurry up!
His message: Always look ahead! Keep going!
His objective: Hurry up so as not to miss something important!
His positive aspect: High activity- and performance disposition!

The Driver: Try hard!
His message: Do your utmost! Only the difficult is worth your while!
His objective: Only a maximum effort will secure success!
His positive aspect: Staying power and perseverance!

You‘ll have noticed already that the Drivers don’t really mean you any harm. On the contrary: they want to provide you with security, appreciation, affection and success and make sure you don‘t miss anything important! That’s pretty nice of them, isn’t it? And in many respects these Drivers are important resources. Things just get difficult when you allow them to assume total control. Because in those situations they subconsciously suggest: You are only ok (=likeable) and deserve affection if you come up to our expectations! This can result into fatal belief systems like the followings:

The Driver: Be strong!
Resulting belief system: I always have to expect and be ready for the worst! I must always be strong and invulnerable! I can trust no one!

The Driver: Be perfect!
Resulting belief system: By just being myself, I am of no interest to anyone. I have to show a perfect performance to deserve love and appreciation!

The Driver: Please others!
Resulting belief system: By just being myself, I am of no importance, worthless and have no rights. In order to mean anything I have to serve the wellbeing of others!

The Driver: Hurry up!
Resulting belief system: Since no one is interested in me, I am not allowed to take space nor time for myself. I always miss the important things in life!

The Driver: Try hard!
Resulting belief system: I can’t do anything truly well. I can’t finish anything unless I make the ultimate effort – and even then I can’t always make it!

Did you spontaneously identify one or the other Driver within yourself? Or even maybe even several? To make it a little easier for you, below you’ll find five typical statements of each Driver. Which of them sounds familiar to you?

The Driver: Be strong! Typical statements:
  • To a large extent, I manage everything on my own.
  • There are few people I really trust.
  • My motto is: “How I feel is nobody’s business!”
  • I really have to be sick to allow myself to stay home from work.
  • There is nothing that easily shocks me.
The Driver: Be perfect! Typical statements:
  • Whenever I do a job it is always thorough and flawless.
  • I dislike it when the work of others is sloppier than mine.
  • I am usually dissatisfied when I finish a job – I always see space for improvement.
  • Being better than others is very important to me.
  • My facial expression is rather calm and concentrated.
The Driver: Please others! Typical statements:
  • I have a problem with saying no.
  • It is more important to me to be accepted by others than to fight for my interests.
  • I nod my head a lot.
  • Positive feedback from others is very important to me, lacking it I am dissatisfied with myself.
  • I always try to be as diplomatic as possible.
The Driver: Hurry up! Typical statements:
  • I am constantly in motion and busy.
  • Time is money!
  • I frequently interrupt others when they get verbose while explaining something.
  • I frequently deal with several things simultaneously.
  • As a member of a group I am usually the engine propelling everybody ahead.
The Driver: Try hard! Typical statements:
  • “You can make it if you really try hard enough and long enough!” is my motto.
  • One  has to put one's nose to the grindstone to be successful.
  • When I start something, I also finish it.
  • At the end of the day, I often feel that I can’t carry out that which I took on.
  • Taking every day as it comes would be out of the question for me.
I hope that by now you have pretty well identified your Drivers! Great – because that is the first step to ask yourself who in your life is actually sitting on the coachman’s seat holding the reigns. In part 2 of this article you’ll soon find out how you can deal with your Drivers in case they have made themselves a little too much at home. At that time we are also going to address the question whether some personality types may be predisposed to specific Driver “susceptibilities”.

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