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Relationships, Life Changes, Therapy, and Personality: Devoted Style

Who has a streak or main aspect of Devoted?

That friend, coworker, partner, or relation of yours who put relationship commitment first, prefer being with a one or more people to being alone, are good second- or third-in-command helpers? Who tend to seek and defer to the strengths and advice of others, are careful to maintain smooth social ties and interactions, and are quite good at (and enjoy) pleasing others? You notice that they are quite respectful, tactful, agreeable, self-sacrificing, and concerned about maintaining bonds and creating new ones? They are predominantly Devoted.

This is another post in a series on ‘personality styles’ described in The New Personality Self-Portrait by Oldham & Morris. For more detail about the source, please see my credits and comments at the end.

Please note: people can have a mixture of more than one major style, which I think is realistic and useful.

You may have heard rigid and extreme versions of the Devoted style described as ‘Dependent’, a personality disorder that is characterized by an extreme and pervasive need to be cared for.

  • That need is manifested as being clingy, needy, and fearful of separation.
  • Unlike Devoted-style folks, those with full DPD need excessive reassurance before making decisions
  • They are comfortable only when others take responsibility for their lives
  • Those with DPD cannot disagree with others out of fears of rejection and loss
  • They often cannot get started due to self-doubts
  • They will do truly unpleasant things to obtain or maintain connection
  • They feel helpless when alone
  • Those with DPD quickly seek new relationships as soon as a relationship ends, out of sense of almost panic

Stressors for the Devoted (but not necessarily Dependent) people you know…

Oldham & Morris describe several sources of sad and / or anxious emotional reactivity for predominantly Devoted people. Those include, in my summary:

  • Expectations of a friend, coworker, or partner that the Devoted person unilaterally make important decisions
  • Insistence of a friend, coworker, or partner that they show independence or a good fight
  • Criticism from others (which the Devoted take almost automatically as 100% ‘their fault’)
  • Trouble in a significant relationship–a big one
  • Being alone after a breakup–another big one

Like those with Self-Sacrificing style, those with predominantly Devoted style can run into real troubles with individuals who show:

  • A pattern of excessively using others who need attachment or who need to be useful
  • Feel strong shame, disdain, or anxiety about being overshadowed or about accepting attention

How is this different than Self-Sacrificing style?

For me, Devoted individuals do a lot to maintain attachments to preserve an unbreakable ‘we’, which is related to a less solid sense of identity and weaker boundaries. In their case, doing anything for others wards off anxiety that arises when they must base a decision on personal identity. The Self-Sacrificing person often has a clearer sense of identity and boundaries, but may feel a compulsion to ‘do right’ to make up for lower self-esteem or to feel like they have not given up on a never-ending struggle.

That is, Self-Sacrificing people may–oddly to many–not get as much of a boost from pleasure, feel strangely unexcited when things go right, or do not know what to do when treated well. They may more frequently struggle, because struggle is part of how they identify. Devoted people look to others and defer, but their identity is more dependent upon it and they find more security and pleasure in it when it succeeds…even though they always need more. Also, they have less trouble accepting appreciation–though they would rarely ask for it outright. 

Devoted Relationships and Work:

When they think a bond or attachment relationship is threatened, primarily Devoted types will likely try harder to please and to defer. At that point, they are just using more of what is usually their strength. However, this will increasingly impoverish their sense of who they are and what they want–or at least, not allow it to develop. Thus, if you value the health and presence of your mainly Devoted person at work, in friendship, in partnership, or at home, do not reject the help or feel guilty. On balance, however, especially do not take their attentions for granted.

Instead, reassure, appreciate, and support / love them openly, so they have no doubts. Otherwise, Devoted folks tend to assume that you will anticipate what they need, just as they do for others. They need confirmation that what they are doing is ‘good’ and appreciated. Try to avoid completely erupting in anger and, instead, fairly balance the pros and cons of their recent actions or work, while slightly over-emphasizing the reassurance and softening.

The primarily Devoted can develop strongly cemented relationships with others of many styles, and quickly. This is because they will find ways to cater to each style. However, best matches, per Oldham & Morris, include (if not too extreme) those who are mainly Conscientious, Vigilant, Serious, or–by dividing up ‘who leads or follows where and when’–Devoted.

Less than optimal or bad matches include those with ‘other-exploitative’ personality disorders and, perhaps, even strong versions of the related, non-disordered ‘styles’ (Aggressive, Adventurous, Self-Confident). Some others styles (Dramatic, Leisurely, Mercurial) may not be the best for Devoted, either, because of issues with rapid changeability, need for reassurance, and / or control conflicts).

Sometimes, their tendency to cater and know how to satisfy others can lead those with high Devoted qualities (or those with DPD) into unbalanced, exploitative, or even abusive, relationships. They must be cautious in this regard. It takes a long time before they become resentful, and outright anger or vindictiveness is rare for them, so it is all too easy (once things have calmed down) to re-enter a corrosive cycle with 0verly dominant or changeable persons.

People in social situations, take notice:

Primarily Devoted individuals are always on the lookout for how to maintain their bonds with others. It is a major life pattern and method for them. If they are too strongly expected to self-directedly mingle, asked to be in charge, or a close bond is temporarily interrupted by others, primarily Devoted types will cling and / or scramble to please. If it is not working, they may become despondent and self-blaming.

Kind requests for the Devoted person to fully and precisely specify what they want, with repeated assurance that the data is desired, can help–especially if you take charge and receive their affection and attention first. Giving responsibility gradually and allowing them to try things out before, for example, being expected to be in a permanent leader role, may also calm self-doubt and anxiety about their capacity to be independent.

Predominantly Devoted people in therapy (therapists, read in ‘reverse’…):

Even though your dedication and care are major strengths, you may have trouble with self-definition and boundaries. Often, Devoted types refer, even in separated situations, to themselves and a relation as ‘we’.

  • Practice self-reminders about how your over-helping is a position of comfort but can stunt your personal growth and make boundaries a bit too porous.
  • Once that reminder has taken place, then it will be more comfortable to immediately express your true wishes or tell others calmly about any anger or hurt, rather than acting it out or clinging harder.
  • A similar ‘self-reminder and then do the opposite’ is to start with low-stakes decisions; use the self-reminder to slow your censoring habit down, ask for a little extra time to make a decision of your own, and then make it.

One of the most valuable things that can occur in your psychotherapy or counseling is when / if you become concerned that the therapist has negative judgments about you, is bored with you, or might just up and quit on the therapy. If they can help you bring these concerns out eventually, or if you take a plunge on your own and blurt them out, what you learn may be quite healing.

Good counselors, once they know you, will realize you fear attachment loss and criticism the most–even though, logically, you know most therapists are oriented toward sensitively deepening relationships for therapeutic purposes. Until you have become quite comfortable, consider requiring of yourself that you un-censor at least one thing in every session that you held back or were not fully open about.

Your therapist may be figuring out that you need someone else to, ‘one last time’, be adored by you…for taking the lead. They may also figure out that the productive way to do that is to ask that you express your desires and opinions, and by telling you that the more open and self-asserting you are, the closer they feel the bond to be.

Devoted self-help (and for therapy):

There is much to work with when your main style is Devoted, as noted in the first paragraph and other elements of this post. Your concern about standing on your own, regardless of who is around? Your worry about losing a relationship? Likely, neither will crush you. However, to realize that and (if needed) move along to where your strengths are appreciated, you must confront emotions that arise around these concerns.

Most people probably have great appreciation and affection for your support, closeness, and consideration and, while not interested in leaving or forcing you into a mold, do not know your self-doubt and would like to know more or you or see you develop further by developing more confidence. With support from others (including therapy if needed), if you can repeatedly neutralize worries about attachment and self-sufficiency–and occasionally, even survive a loss or conflict–your capacity to cope with those anxieties will increase.


*I give full credit for the content to Oldham & Morris (1995). Any elaboration and exploration is my doing. If you want significantly more detail on each personality style, please go get the book. Also, take the test: it is here. I have no business relationship with the authors or the test-makers. Please see the intro post on this topic for other info.

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