The Hakomi Character Strategies

As a Hakomi therapist, I often rely on the Hakomi character types to guide my work with clients. They can be a great resource for knowing what direction to go in but they are also quite valuable for helping to understand how different we actually all are. They build empathy and compassion for people who have vastly different systems than our own.

The Hakomi character strategies are:

  • Sensitive/Withdrawn
  • Dependent/Endearing
  • Self-reliant
  • Tough/Generous
  • Charming/Seductive
  • Burdened/Enduring
  • Industrious/Over-focused
  • Expressive/Clinging

Hakomi character strategies draw upon attachment theory, developmental psychology, and object relations. I’ll be weaving those in throughout this series but without going into detail right now. Fundamentally, character is something that develops in reaction in our environment in our early lives. Being completely dependent on our caregivers, we develop strategies to help us navigate a harsh world. To do this, we create maps that help us navigate our life experiences. These maps tell us what is safe and what is not, what is pleasurable and what is painful. They help us maximize nourishment in our environment and also help us curb any perceivable threats. These maps are necessary, inevitable and skillful adaptations in our early lives. They keep us safe to the best of their ability. The maps are our character structure, our strategy to navigate the world. They help to maximize safety and nourishment and to minimize threat and pain. Another way to think about it is that character structure forms around our biological, emotional and cognitive developmental needs. They form around core issues such as control, contact, competition, competence, dependency and separation. Based off our experiences in these categories, we form patterns of reaction, habits of what we expect from our environment. As we move forward in life, these strategies become habit. They inform our biases, our prejudices, our motivations, desires, how we feel about ourselves, about others etc. Character strategies permeate every aspect of our psyche in some way.

Based off our experiences in early life, how safe we felt, how much nourishment we were able to attain, we will inhabit these character strategies in different ways. Let me give you an example. In early development, pre-natal throughout the first 6 months of life, the developmental need is simple: am I safe or am I not? Is the world a safe or a dangerous place? The baby needs to feel safety from threats, terror and feelings of overwhelm. If these needs are not met adequately or reliably enough, the character expression organizes around withdrawal, anxiety and/or fear. Hakomi calls these the sensitive character types. I’ll be going into this type in more detail in an upcoming video with a good friend.

For now, I’ll go into more detail about the second character types, which form from around one to two years old: the dependent and self-reliant character types. I pull most strongly from the self-reliant strategy and can speak from personal experience. The need of this stage of development is to be reliably cared for, nourished and attached. The main threat of this stage of development is wanting, or the feeling of being deprived. All babies are completely dependent on their caregivers to provide these needs, or at least to provide them reliably enough so that there is an experience of relief and satisfaction. In the first year to two, a baby will experience a lot of distress when they are left in a needy, deprived state. This character type will often develop in households with unreliable and neglectful parents or an environment that facilitates deprivation in one form or another. The unfortunate parenting strategy of letting a baby “cry it out” will do an enormous amount of harm during this stage.

I won’t be describing the dependent strategy here as I pull more strongly from the self-reliant strategy. The dependent strategy will be a topic of a future video that I will get around to eventually. The self-reliant strategy is characterized by a patterned reaction to deprivation. The pain of deprivation becomes so strong that needs themselves become threatening and must be defended against. Needs become threatening because if a need arises there is an internal knowing that the need will not be met. The pain of not having that need met is so strong that there is a disconnect from needs themselves. The focus then becomes supporting and nurturing needs that are external. By satisfying needs that exist in others, there is some kind of vicarious satisfaction. More often than not, I will readily caretake others, and will nurture and support their process before my own and often at the expense of my own. This strategy keeps my own sense of having needs at bay simply because there isn’t room for them. This also happened by forming a more romantic and nurturing personality in general. I can be so externally focused on taking care of my partner, friend group, that I don’t have to check in with what my own needs and wants might be. People with this strategy also struggle with asking for help. There is a deep fear of being dependent on others and also a thought that I will be let down and disappointed if I ask for help. I would much rather just support and take care of myself. Personally, I must pass a very strong threshold of need in order to reach out for help because my default setting is to just handle things by myself. This is and has been a strength for me. I have an increased capability to self-sooth and manage my life by myself. I am also very sensitive to others needs and have a very caring and nurturing disposition. I like this about myself.

However, you can begin to see how these protections that were put in place in early childhood development may not be supportive as we navigate our adult lives. They tend to overstay their welcome. They follow us through our maturation process and our development whether they remain appropriate adaptations or not. They become habit…patterns of reaction. While character strategies protect us, they also inevitably have limiting influences on our personalities, our emotional range and our cognitive capabilities. As I’ve become an adult and am further along in my development, this character strategy presents many challenges for me by giving me habits of reacting that longer serve me. To a large extent, I have become cut off from feeling my needs. I have become cut off from feeling my emotional life. This not only restricts the wide variety of experience that is available to me as a human being but it also inhibits my capacity to connect with others in more vulnerable and heartfelt ways. It prevents me from actually allowing in support and nurturance that others offer me.

Hakomi therapy provides a space and a mechanism to explore these core beliefs and defensive structures. They get re-examined to see if they are still appropriate and skillful adaptations to our current environment. Hakomi therapy not only provides a better understanding of who you are and how you got that way, but also the opportunity to change and transform yourself. There is a strong emphasis on providing choice, self-creation and claiming responsibility. As we grow, we can let go of aspects of our psyche that are no longer necessary and might be holding us back in some way.

Moving forward with this series, I must encourage you to apply these character types loosely. They are just maps that can provide a better understand human psychology. They are fluid and changing. No two people will exhibit the same character type in the same way. They will be adapted to the unique experiences and other variables of this persons life circumstances. This is why I will be making videos with other Hakomi therapists and practitioners, so we can really delve into the subtleties and variations in each person. They will no doubt be both different and similar. I’m looking forward to making this series and I hope you’ll find it interesting! Stay tuned!

To learn more about Hakomi therapy and my Boulder, Colorado practice, visit my website at 

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