Satir Categories

“I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it —I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know — but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me. However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.”

– Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir was one of the first family therapists. Like Erickson, she was modeled for NLP purposes, and her work is one of the three fundamental models of NLP. She was born in 1916 and became a noted psychotherapist. Her best known books were: Conjoint Family Therapy and Peoplemaking in which she describes her family therapy work to a popular audience. Satir wrote the book Changing With Families: A Book About Further Education for Being Human with Bandler and Grinder. She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model through clinical studies. This model has also been applied to organizational change. Satir found that people fell into five categories, each of which had its own body language, attitude, and communication patterns. They are the Blamer, Placater, Computer, Distracter and Leveler. NLP has incorporated these styles into its trainings. 

The Blamer

Blamer’s externalize blame, and appear to be always ready to place the blame in a harsh or judgmental way. When things go wrong, the blamer starts blaming. The blamer also pushes their thoughts and feelings onto everyone else. In NLP, you may see blamers referred to as skunks, because they spray their criticism outward. 

Blamers, like all the categories, have their own body language. When they’re in blaming mode, they point their finger at people and have a firm, controlling style of body language. They tend to use confusion tactics to make it easier to get the blame to stick without too much resistance from others. They do this with meta-model violations such as over-generalizing, connecting ideas that don’t belong together, and making claims for which there is no proof. Blamers can end up being pretty lonely, because their behavior is alienating. They do best with very like-minded people and stay at peace with them by focusing their blame on the same people or groups. This forms a kind of bond. Inside, the blamer may not be nearly as confident and secure as they appear. Blaming can serve to compensate for vulnerabilities such as the fear of judgement, and feeling so small as to need to align with a larger authority that justifies being blaming in service of that larger authority. 

Blamers generally blame in the name of a system such as family, church, employer or political cause. As an employer or supervisor, they may blame in the name of profit. Blame can be a strategy for office politics. Blamers use general statements, complex comparisons and missing proofs to confuse the other person, and then place the blame. Such people usually end up alone, since nobody wants to be at the receiving end of the blame.

The Placater

The placater is also one for displacing blame, but they do it more diplomatically. The placater is much more concerned about how people view them, so much of their behavior is an escape from conflict or unwanted attention or blame. A blamer will fight fire with fire, but a placater blows the fire onto someone else’s house and shares their neighbor’s upset over the fire department being slow to arrive. Their body language tends to be palms facing up and shoulders shrugging, they may tend to slouch.

Placaters hide their approach with meta-model violations such as cause and effect, modal operators and unspecified verbs. They may get your sympathy with a poor-me attitude. When there is conflict, they go into hiding, at least by becoming noncommittal. Placaters may be found firmly sitting on the fence.

The Computer

The computer style can be pretty unemotional. They cover up possible emotions with extra words. They may sound academic or scientific. When someone else becomes emotional, they act like they are trying to become a counter-weight, by acting even more cool, calm, and collected. Computers hide from their own feelings and invalidate other’s feelings, because they have not learned to cope with feelings, whether the feelings are their own or someone else’s. 

Neuro Linguistic Programming training materials have referred to them as Mr. Cool, or Mr. Spock, a science fiction character from a planet where everyone aspired to be perfectly logical. They may tend to fold their arms, especially when things get too personal for them, and they are often seen in a neutral posture. Some fit the nerd stereotype, and may be physically awkward or make gestures that are a bit eccentric or un-self-conscious. It may seem like they are drawing their energy up in their head, and that their body mostly serves to support their brain.In relationships, the computer can harm the intimacy by being too far removed. Many computer style people are considered to have an autism spectrum diagnosis such as Asperger syndrome. In terms of meta-model patterns, computers hide out by using generalizations and omitting references. 

The Distracter

There is another style that can be a chameleon. They are seen as a mix of blamer, computer, and placater. But there is a common thread that runs through their style, and that is to manipulate through distraction. They may induce confusion or simple fatigue in the other person. They train others not to hold them accountable by making it very difficult to have a straight conversation with them. They are intuitive about escalating the distraction as needed. They can be quite exasperating, especially if they are not very socially skilled or if they are cognitively impaired. They may tend to gesture a great deal in an attempt to communicate their thoughts and emotions with their body, but subconsciously, this can serve to further fill up other people with excess stimuli for adding to the confusion. From a meta-model point of view, they switch topics too much, overgeneralize, and omit references.

The Leveler

Finally, there is the leveler. The leveler has high congruence and does not blanch at being factual. They do not over-dramatize, so if there is blaming to do, they are objective and fair about it. When confronted by the other styles, the most evolved levelers have a special ability to stay in touch with reality and their own agenda and self-interest. If they upset anyone, it’s because their style interferes with manipulation by the other styles. What upsets people more than someone getting in the way of their attempts to manipulate? The leveler may have their hands facing down, as if they are trying to calm things down and encourage level-headedness. This is because they often end up in a mediator role because of their own level-headedness. Their ability to see both sides of an argument makes them good mediators.

Utilizing Flexibility

An important part of the Satir model is that people need to develop flexibility in their styles, so that they are not locked into one. With more flexibility, people can adapt to more situations, and can solve more interpersonal problems. They can certainly create less personal problems with that flexibility. 

So while the leveler sounds like the best style, it can be a problem if it is the only style you are comfortable in. A good mediator knows that having various styles can make the difference between success and failure in a negotiation. The same holds true for anyone, really. 

For example, being a blamer may help knock someone off of their stream of thought, because it is a real state interrupt. It may help level the playing field when someone else is being too high-handed. 

Category Rapport-Building

Done properly, you may actually win the respect of a blamer by acting like a blamer, but this is advanced. You have to be in that style without putting the blamer on the defensive, so pacing the blamer style means adopting that kind of critical attitude and intensity WITHOUT causing the blamer to feel that they must fight with you or otherwise defend their vulnerability. Being upset about the same thing as the blamer is an excellent strategy. Remember that after pacing comes leading. The blamer is much more open to your input once rapport has been established. 

The problem for most people is that they are too shaken up or angry to want to establish rapport with a blamer. Since blamers may hold a lot of power in an organization, this can be a fatal mistake. It’s best to see it as an opportunity to practice NLP rather than to practice your vulnerability. Which do you love more?You can gain rapport with a placater pretty easily, since they really crave attention and understanding. 

The trick is to get them connected with their real responsibilities without losing them. Starting with their higher values, that is, at a more general or abstract level and working down into the specifics is an excellent strategy. 

Distracters are more open to rapport-building than you might think. As with most rapport-building, you must start out being non-threatening. Being non-threatening with a Satir category means not directly confronting the way the style acts as a defense against internal vulnerabilities. In the case of the distracter, you do not rub their face in whatever it was they were trying to distract you from. 

As a Neuro Linguistic Programming practitioner, you are getting used to juggling different ideas and even using confusion as a technique yourself. The trick with the distracter is to lock firmly onto the facts, position and agenda that are important to you, and then take a detour. Go all over the place with the distracter, but keep dropping in points about how it is in the best interest of the distracter to do what must be done. It’s a bit like breaking a horse. 

While the distracter tends to fatigue others, you are fatiguing the distracter because all of their efforts bring them back to the same spot, your agenda. On one level, you are pacing them, on another, you are kindling a state of compliance. 

Add Ericksonian language to the free-wheeling conversation and you will be the distracter master. Since levelers respect other levelers, and your NLP skills help you see both sides to any debate, you will have the easiest time establishing rapport and understanding with the leveler. 

If there is a disagreement, make sure that you have a good mastery of the facts and a concise knowledge of the agendas of the players in the situation. Of course, you can use everything you had already learned about rapport-building. But now you know even more. 

By learning about the Satir categories, you know not only more about what to do, but also about what to avoid doing. But if you aren’t sure where to start in an interaction, being the leveler is best. That’s because the leveler always understands their side of the issue. The only concern is that the leveler may be persuaded by the other side. This creates an incentive for the person you are talking to want to create rapport. If they are not skilled, or if they are stressed, they may fall into their more un-evolved category style, but that means that they will be more obvious as to what category they belong to. You will be able to take your cues from there. It is very important to remember that when you see someone in a more stereotypical, manipulative, or irrational state, that state may not be where they are most of the time. 

Don’t limit yourself by assuming that what you see is all you will be dealing with in the future. This insight makes it easier for you to bring out the best in people. This makes their lives, and yours, a lot easier.