In his book “The Human Magnet Syndrome – why we love people who hurt us”, Ross Rosenberg offers us a model to explain our predisposition of being emotionally and sexually attracted to some types of people as opposed to others. This magnetic force intensely pulls some of us towards partners we know, in our best mind, incapable of providing the Love, Respect and Care (LRC) we profess yearning. His model also helps us comprehend why many of us repeatedly hold back, against our best judgment, from potential partners who could really provide the LRC we crave; and which would be most beneficial to our wellbeing.
Rosenberg invites us to consider a Continuum of Self Value (CSV) [defined shortly below]. This continuum is made of eleven possible archetypes. Five of them are on one end of the spectrum and five more are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The eleventh archetype holds the center position. On one side of the spectrum, we find five different types of people whom are all predisposed to be “other-focused”. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we find five different types of people who are predisposed to be “self-focused”. Again, the central position holds those who move fluidly between both sets of archetypes. More precisely, at the -5 CSV, which corresponds to one end of the spectrum, we find those who are totally “other-focused”. They are the people we think of as co-dependents, whom Rosenberg reframes as people suffering from Self Love Deficit (SLD). On the opposite, the +5 CSV end of the spectrum, we find people who are totally “self-focused”, whom he refers to as emotional manipulators.
It goes without saying that the terms “co-dependents” and “emotional manipulators” are very loaded in their personal, psychological and social meanings. Such terms can feel quite challenging and even disrespectful to many people, especially to those who identify with the attributes of these two extremes. Understanding the deeper psychological dynamics which drive us is always the primary goal of these Posts. Sometimes, doing so requires that we be willing to look deeper and more honestly into the mirror. I never wish to disrespect anyone in the process.
In this Post, I’ll focus on the basic psychological make up of each of the five subtypes on both sides of the zero mid-point. This will give us five subtypes of “other-focused” personalities and five subtypes of “self-focused” personalities. As we have mentioned above, the eleventh subtype or archetype, holds the harmonious balance in the middle. Once we have defined all subtypes, we’ll look at how each subtype complements and attracts its opposite subtype, just like a magnet does.
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As mentioned above, a +5 CSV will describe the archetypal mindset of an emotional manipulator. In this category Rosenberg thinks of 3 clear full-fledged personality disorders: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder aka sociopathy. He includes them all together because in the strict clinical definition they are all profoundly limited and unwilling to genuinely feel empathy for the needs of others. They all dismiss, ridicule and, in essence, can’t be bothered by other people’s need for love, care, respect and affection.
Now that we have framed this model, let’s put some meat on it and dive in. In the spirit of remaining as clear as possible, I will stick with the pronoun “he” for all subtypes. Let’s just be clear that the Continuum of Self Value (CSV) is NOT gender dependent. Both sexes are found throughout the entire continuum, and on both end of the spectrum. In the spirit of remaining as precise as can be, I’ll quote Rosenberg verbatim when he describes his 11 different subtypes.
Again: CSV stands for Continuum of Self Value and, LRC stands for Love Respect and Care.
“-5 CSV: As a full fledged co-dependent, aka SLD (Self Love Deficit individual), he is completely absorbed by the LRC needs of others, while completely ignoring and devaluing his own. Often powerless, he is unable and unwilling to seek and ask for LRC from his romantic partner.
-4 CSV: A person who has co-dependent tendencies. He is almost always focused on the LRC needs of others while only intermittently seeking to have his own LCR needs reciprocated or fulfilled. While able, albeit unmotivated, he is fearful and inexperienced in seeking LRC from his romantic partner. He often chooses to NOT ask others to fulfill his LRC needs, as he doesn’t want to upset others or cause conflict. When asking from some semblance of LRC from others, he does so nervously and with a distinct feeling of guilt, neediness and sometimes shame.
-3 CSV: A person who identifies with his caring and giving nature. He is dominantly focused on the LRC needs of others while often diminishing, delaying and excusing away the fulfillment of his own needs. His identity and reputation is fused with his helping and care-taking nature. He is typically in a relationship in which there is an imbalance between his partner and his own LRC needs, giving much more LRC to his partner than receiving. He is capable of setting boundaries in relationship while also asking for what he needs. However, he tends to feel guilty and needy when doing so.
-2 CSV: A person whose care taking abilities are valued and appreciated, but not exploited. He enjoys relationships with others in which he provides ample amount of LRC without wanting equal amount reciprocated. He is able to ask for what he wants although he is slightly uncomfortable in doing so. He is comfortable with a partner who needs more LRC that she is willing to return. He is able to set boundaries and ask for what he needs when the LRC balance goes beyond his comfort level. He might experience mild feeling of guilt or neediness when asking his partner to meet his own LRC needs. As much as possible, he avoids individuals who are Narcissistic, exploitative or manipulative.
-1 CSV: A person with a healthy balance between loving, respecting and caring for self and others. He typically seeks life experiences and relationships in which he is able to satisfy his own LRC needs and those of others. He tends to participate in relationships which are based on reciprocal and mutual distribution of LRC. Although he derives meaning and happiness from helping and caring for others, he does not tolerate a selfish or self-centered individual in a romantic partner. He often enjoys caring for others but does not identify himself as a caretaker or helper. He does not experience guilt or feeling of neediness when asking for LRC from others.
0 CSV: A person who participates in relationships where there is an equal distribution of LRC given and received. He easily asks for what he needs from his partner all the while being open to his partner’s LRC needs. With his LRC balanced relationships he can easily fluctuate between being the recipient and the giver of LRC.
+1 CSV: A person whom has a healthy balance between being loving, respecting and caring for self and others. He tends to participate and appreciate relationships that are based on a reciprocal and mutual distribution of LRC. He values personal and professional goals and ambitions, which he confidently pursues. Although he derives meaning and happiness through the pursuit of his own goals and ambitions, he is also cognizant of the necessity of love, respect and care for his romantic partner. He effortlessly provides LRC to his romantic partner when necessary, or requested. He may identify with both the roles of a caretaker or helper while wanting to fulfill his own goals and ambitions.
+2 CSV: A person who prefers to be involved in a relationship in which the pursuit to fulfill his own ambition, desires and goals is encouraged and supported. In a romantic relationship he actively seeks attention, appreciation and support. Although he is a go-getter and consumed by being in the spotlight, he is willing and able to fulfill his partner’s needs. He is neither exploitative nor selfish. As an individual who is more identified with his own LRC needs, he periodically forgets about the inequality of the LRC distribution in the relationship. He responds favorably and non-reactively when his partner asks for higher levels of LRC. Although he can be comfortable in a care taking role, he doesn’t maintain it.
+3 CSV: A person who is mildly selfish and self-centered. He is predominantly focused on his own LRC needs, while often diminishing and excusing away the LRC needs of his romantic partner. His identity is fused with his need for attention, validation and recognition. He identifies with the persona of the go-getter and success driven individual. He is typically in a relationship where there is an imbalance in the distribution of LRC needs, expecting and taking more LRC than giving. If confronted about the LRC inequality he may get defensive, but in most cases he can, if he wants to, make corrections. He can modulate and control his self-centered and selfish attributes. Although he may be perceived as self-consumed and self-centered, he is willing and able to love, respect and care for his partner. He just needs frequent reminders.
+4 CSV: He is definitely a narcissistic individual. This individual is absorbed and preoccupied with the LRC needs of self, while rarely seeking to fulfill the LRC needs of others. He comes across as being entitled, self-absorbed and self-centered. He his driven to seek LRC from others, while giving a very minimal amount in return. He is comfortable with the LRC disparity, believing his needs are more important than his partner’s. Although this person is overtly narcissistic, he is still able to give minimal amount of LRC to others. If confronted by the LRC inequality he typically gets angry and defensive, and is quick to justify his actions. However, when confronted, he does not experience a narcissistic injury or exhibit narcissistic rage.
+5 CSV: He is an emotional manipulator. He is unable and unmotivated to love, respect and care for others. He is consumed with fulfilling his own LRC needs with no intention to reciprocate. He has great difficulty in exhibiting empathy, unconditional positive regard or love. When he gives LRC to others, it is conditional and with strings attached. He is not able to comprehend and accept his pathological level of narcissism. When confronted about the inequality of the LRC inequality, he often strikes back with either direct, or passive aggression; narcissistic rage stemming from his narcissistic injury.” Ross Rosenberg
As the graph above shows, typically, a -1 CSV is highly inclined to be romantically attracted to a +1 CSV, a -2 with a +2, a -3 with a +3, etc. A different way of saying this is that we are unconsciously, and magnetically attracted by our opposite. As you can see, this model becomes quite interesting, if not plainly enlightening, when a person begins to identify his/her own style of self/other focus, and compares it with its opposite on the spectrum. Now that we have identified the characteristics of each CSV, let’s look at what relationships look like for couples paired with their opposite CSV. As we have seen above, a 0 CSV is an ideally balanced person between being attentive to the needs of others and of his own needs. Let’s accept right of the bat, without any guilt or shame, that very few of us have a 0 CSV as our natural center of gravity. They are a rare breed!
-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 CSV couples have harmonious relationships. In spite of their different “self-other” orientations they both greatly care about each other. They are totally capable and willing to fulfill the needs of their partners, and to learn when they can’t.
-3 and +3 CSV couples agree that their relationship is challenging at times. The differences between each person’s CSV needs are often experienced by the other as an enigma, which sometimes can be resolved, and many times can’t. In many instances, these couples experience their partner as being from another planet; the inflamed version of men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Both partners speak a different language and are unable to comprehend the other person. They may argue a lot, yet they are capable and often willing to make their relationship work. With better communication skills, the right support and resources, and regular tune-ups when needed, these couples can have a great relationship.
-4 and +4 CSV couples have drastically different CSV orientations. These couples easily agree that their relationship is quite tumultuous. Their extreme polarization frequently leave them unable to move through misunderstandings and arguments. They have a propensity to rehash past battles and in so doing, great difficulty in finding win-win solutions. The resistance and unwillingness of both partners to ask for help, and implement new ways of relating often leave them in an excruciating dance of pain and misery. For these relationships to be fulfilling, each person will have to work hard at being fair and equitable to the other person. Each person will need to be willing to get out of his/her own way, learn from his/her partner and from trusted resources. If these couples are willing to accept that they need better tools and skills –especially as it relates to how they argue and fight– and if each partner is wiling to honor and respect each other’s differences, these couples can have a wonderful and lively relationship!
-5 and +5 CSV couples are far too often the archetypal display of emotionally, verbally and physically abusive relationships. The necessary work required to transform this hellish dynamic into a functional and secure relationship is far too often met with blatant unwillingness and denial. As much as the -5 CSV person will have to re-integrate a sense of self which honors his LRC needs, the +5 CSV will have to learn to dis-identify with his bigger than life, more important than anyone else’s persona. While far from impossible, the limitations for these couples are, sadly so, very real. They will often display the unedited version of “I was totally convinced he was my perfect soul mate when I first met him/her. Now I know he/she is my nightmare cellmate”.
A few more points before we wrap-up. Of course, life and relationships are more complex than models on a continuum. While it is possible that a person who identifies as a -2 CSV become involved with a +3, and maybe at times with a +4 CSV, the danger of this person remaining in a dysfunctional relationship, or feeling trapped in such a relationship is minimal. The point being is that people with healthy self-esteem do not generally pursue and/or stay in dysfunctional or abusive relationships; especially when the infatuated period of dating gives way to the truer, and more consistent CSV nature of the partner. This being said, there is a huge difference between an abusive and dysfunctional relationship, and a relationship which requires adjustment and fine-tuning.
When couples abide by guiding principles which honor both respect for self and for their partner, and value their human and mammalian LRC needs, they increase their chances of having fulfilling and nurturing relationships. The further away we stray from these guiding principles, the more likely our relationships will be difficult, tumultuous, and unfortunately at the extremes of the CSV spectrum, painfully debilitating and traumatic.
Finally, let’s remember that our brains are neuroplastic. This means that with support, guidance, time and practice, our nervous system and brain structures can be rewired; we can think, feel and behave differently. As long as we are willing, we can teach the old monkeys we are new tricks. We can, when we put in the work and effort, move our center of gravity a few points closer to the ideal -2 to +2 CSV. When we do so, our needs for Love, Respect and Care are more easily met and reciprocated, and we get to experience the delicious rewards of secure coupling!
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©