The Go-To’s of Life

We all have them. I call them “go-to” places. These are the places we go to when…well, when we want to for some reason. But let’s start with the idea that this “go-to” place is a good place, a safe place, a good thing for people, a place where people find solace, and maybe even a spiritual place. But the go-to’s of our lives may not be places. So, let’s consider what might be a go-to for you, for me, and for other people.

Go-To’s based on Temperament

  1. Many people truly value things, often more than people. We have been discussing temperaments in some recent blogs, and people who have what we call the “caretaker” temperament actually care deeply for things, property. Things can be very small like a favorite piece of jewelry or clothing, or it can be large like a room, a garage, a house, or a car. It can even be money.
  2. There are many forms of people being go-to’s. Some people have very special people who are go-to for them. Some people, we call them “lovers” by temperament, could go-to almost anyone as long as the person is living
  3. People with what we call the “analyst” temperament” tend to go-to with ideas. They love to consider possibilities, solve problems, prevent problems, and figure things out. There are variations of ideas being go-to’s including some idea or problem that has interested or intrigued someone for years, while others’ go-to places may be more random, like just thinking about some possibility or conundrum.
  4. People who have experience as a go-to we call “players” in temperament. They want to be involved physically in something and often look for excitement. Usually, this experiential go-to is new and different, like going to a new city or meeting a new person; but it can also be something that is activity that is quite familiar, like going to a familiar park or watching a familiar movie.

Go-to’s that are Helpful

  1. Food. We all have our special foods. Sometimes these may be “comfort foods” that are usually high in carbohydrates, but some people have a go-to with meat, vegetables, or fruit.
  2. Drink. We normally think of alcohol in this category, but drink also includes soda, fruit juice, coffee, or just plain water. If you have a go-to with alcohol or something else, consider the time when water was actually your drink of choice, maybe after a long run or on a hot day.
  3. Reading. Some people go-to fiction, others nonfiction, and yet others historical fiction. Some people poor over their favorite researcher, theoretician, or author, while others have a favorite topic that always can be explored
  4. Playing. Here we have many forms including the simple ones that take minutes, like Su-do-ku and Word Play, or the more complicated ones that could take hours, like Monopoly, or video games. Still others are intensely physical, like cross country skiing, basketball, or golf.
  5. Working. You don’t have to be a so-called “workaholic” to have work as a go-to. Many people who are not “addicted” to working, if we even call it that, truly go-to work when they don’t know where else to go.
  6. Entertainment. This includes movies, concerts, sporting events, and certainly TV. This is a go-to for most Americans at least to some degree. This can be movies, soap operas, weekly drama or comedy. But it can all be just flipping channels to find something that is interesting and enticing for the moment.
  7. Physical contact. Lovers are much into this as a go-to, but it is much more common than just with lovers. And it is not just about sex, although sexual contact is certainly a go-to for many people. This may be physical contact with a lover, a friend, a child, an unknown person at the market, or an animal.
  8. Sleeping can really be a wonderful go-to because it can restore body and soul simultaneously.
  9. Walking, and Hiking. I am intrigued with the people who run daily. While not exactly a go-to for me, walking and hiking is certainly something that is a go-to for Deb, and for many people.
  10. Do you know someone who is always humming or singing, often completely unaware that he or she is juggling a tune? An adjunct to singing might be reading or writing poetry, or maybe just playing on your guitar.
  11. Extraverts are inclined to talk when they have nothing of substance to say just because it is good for them to talk. Likewise, introverts often prefer their own company and find great solace in being quiet. Both good. Both different.

What have I missed? Probably plenty. Possibly a go-to that really works for you. You might even have a go-to that you don’t want anyone to know about. Nothing wrong with that. I think these go-to’s are usually related to our personalities in some way, like the temperament-based ones we started with. But they can be cultural or subcultural in their origin. Latino cultures have a “man(y)ana” in their culture, which technically means “tomorrow” but really means “eventually.” Church can be a go-to for many people that can be just as important to them as drinking or hiking is for someone else. No one can tell you that your go-to is wrong. It might just be different. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to work out every day…for an hour or more for goodness sake. I struggle to work out twice a week. But it is good for them.

While there is never anything intrinsically wrong with a go-to, any go-to can become harmful. Harmful is when something that is intrinsically good turns out to be experientially bad, largely because it has become an avoidance of feelings, avoidance of activity, avoidance of people, or any other kind of avoidance of the necessities of having a good life. We might call such avoidances “addictions,” but I try to avoid that word in favor of a go-to being something to a fault. When a go-to becomes an activity or a substance to a fault, it has encroached on the rest of life and in so doing, has limited one’s experience in life. The distinction between something that is good for you as a go-to and something that is harmful to you as a go-to has nothing to do with the amount of the activity or thing. It has to do with the reason you are engaging in the go-to. A go-to that helps you find solace, safety, and pleasure is rewarding and enhancing. A go-to that has become an avoidance brings none of these things. Recall the blog I did on liking and wanting. A go-to that is something you like profits you, and it tends to end peacefully. A go-to that has become an avoidance reduces you and it tends not to end at all. It may not even give pleasure. It’s just a habit.

I encourage you to consider your own go-to, value it, and use it. Then consider whether you are profiting for it, or perhaps using it as some kind of avoidance of the rest of life.  Remember: there is never anything intrinsically wrong with you go-to. No one has the right to say that you are addicted, or avoiding, or that your go-to is stupid. You are the only one who can make a judgment between “good for you” and “not good for you.”

Temperament IV: Lovers

This is the fourth in a series about “temperament” in which we are discussing the idea of temperament as a way of understanding personality and the behavior that results from one’s personality. Acknowledging that there are many ways of understanding personality, we propose that there are four primary temperaments that give us a general orientation to the world:

  • Players: seek experience, often excitement, adventure, and tend to take a rather physical engagement to the world
  • Analysts: seek meaning in life by identifying problems and their solutions
  • Lovers: whom we will discuss in this document
  • Caretakers: take care of things, both property and people

Our use of “temperament,” as well as several other ways of understanding personality is first and foremost a focus on “what is right about people” rather than the rather popular way of understanding what is wrong with various mental health diagnoses. We do not disparage the use of such problem-based ways of understanding people, but rather do not think it is the best way to start the understanding process. We do, however, admit that there are problems that result from all good things including temperament. The “problems” that erupt from temperament are primarily three: (1) the person does not know, and hence value, his or her own temperament, (2) the person uses the gifts of his/her temperament “to a fault,” and (3) one’s gifts of temperament may be substantially different from people with other temperaments leading to a conflict between two good things.

Herein we will discuss the characteristic that are natural to the people we call “lovers” and then speak somewhat of the value that such people bring to the world. We will defer the challenges and opportunities that lovers have in the world to a latter blog.

Characteristics of Lovers

  1. Connecting

Like the term love, “connecting” does not lend itself to an exact definition but it a very real experience nevertheless just like the many elements of psychology and the basic elements of the universe are real but hard to define. This is the central ingredient of people we call “lovers,” but this characteristic does not lend itself to exact definition. It is something like feeling the same thing that another person feels. Connecting is a shared feeling, shared, insight, shared belief, shared joy, shared sorrow, shared hope, shared expectation or shared experience. Clearly, this has to do with sharing. This sharing, this connecting blends the boundaries between people, and it is something that lovers do all the time and especially with the people they most love. I sometimes say that lovers think, “If you feel it, I will feel it,” whatever the “it” is. A cognate of this feeling is something like, “If I feel it, you feel it,” which, however true this might be, can be problematic for lovers. The simplest experience of something shared jointly can be the seeing, appreciating, and experiencing a sunset or a sunrise because beauty is usually another part of the lover temperament. Connection can just as equally experienced in any other realm of life but the key is always having the same feeling as someone else.

This connection/sharing phenomenon can lead to a new creation, what we call la unity of souls. This unity is more than one person and more than the other person, and it is more than just two people experiencing something. It is a spiritual union that now makes an us out of “you” and “me.” This “us” orientation that lovers have is more important than the I and the you, and it is something that they are looking for all the time.

Both of our daughters have this lover temperament, and both seek connections, but our younger daughter, Jenny, is perhaps more of a true lover, while Krissie blends player with her lover temperament. When we talk, text, Facebook, or visit, Jenny is always the one who seeks connection with us. Certainly, hugs are first when we actually meet, but after those moments she is looking to what we feel, what we think, and what we have done. She is looking for connections. She is looking at a way to find us so she can find a way to blend with us. I wonder how these two girls turned out so good in life with one parent a caretaker and the other an analyst. It seems that we all muddled through their childhood together doing our best to love each other. Lovers do it best.

  1. Harmonious

Harmony is an adjunct to connection. When two people have this unity of souls, there are yet two people in the “us” but the relationship but these two people find different ways of experiencing life and expressing their feelings. Ideally for the lover, this harmony works to enhance not only both people but the “us” that has been created in the connection. In seeking this harmony lovers avoid conflict if at all possible. They will bend their own perceptions and their own words to find agreement and harmony, and they attempt to blend others’ feelings and perceptions to blend with their own. Lovers will do their best to find this harmony by listening, watching, and feeling their emotions in order to see how the other person sees the world and feels about the world.

The lovers that I have mentioned above all have this characteristic of seeking harmony. Daughter Jenny rarely displays any kind of anger or displeasure. Likewise, I have rarely seen other lovers angry, at least at the beginning of a relationship. Janet gets angry on a very rare occasion, and I have only seen John a bit irritated. Rather, I have seen these people spend hours and hours seeking to connect with people and find similarities that make for human harmony. And when they can’t seem to find harmony, they can feel great distress and clearly repressed anger. Mostly, though, they simply feel a great loss when harmony is in absence.

  1. Dreaming.

We have discussed how analysts like to dream. Lovers also dream, but their dreaming is substantially different than that of analysts. Simply put, lovers’ dreams are more emotional while analysts’ dreams are more cognitive. Furthermore, lovers’ dreams are more about connections with people. Dreaming for a lover is much more of a free-floating process where their minds drift into possibilities and opportunities for human connections. Lovers’ dreaming is almost always people-centered rather than things-centered the way caretakers dream or idea-centered the way analysts dream. They don’t think much about why something has happened the way analysts do, nor do they think about what has happened like caretakers. They dream about who they could be connected with. They might dream about having a perfect relationship, or dream about improving their current relationship, or they might dream a having a relationship with some unknown person where everything is about connection and harmony. Lovers can dream about places, ideas, and possibilities but these dreams always involve people. Furthermore, these dreams do not have to come into fruition; it is enough for a lover to dream about doing something, seeing something, or going somewhere. When a lover has engaged in this kind of fanciful dreaming, it may no longer be necessary to actually do the dream. Lovers have the ability to experience the future when they dream, a future that may never happen, but is real nevertheless.

  1. Touching.

It is almost impossible for lovers to keep from touching people. Yesterday, Deb and I did therapy with a couple. I have been working with the man for many months, and Deb has been working with the woman. This man and wife have come to a very difficult place in their life together and they needed us to help them sort things out. After rather intensive three-plus hours with this couple, and after many tears, we ended the session. After we all stood up, the wife, a woman I had never met before, reached out her hand for a handshake, which I accepted. But then almost if she had said, “I need more than this,” she reached out to me for a hug. It was one of those full body hugs that lovers give where two bodies are close enough to feel one another’s heartbeats. It wasn’t one of those hugs that I call “A-frame” where two people only touch at head level, nor was it a “C-frame” hug that is typical of men where the two men stand facing in the same direction each with an arm around the other guy. This was a great big bear hug. It was real, and it was absolutely necessary for her. We had had this three-hour connection, not all of which was pleasant, and she needed to feel this physical connection before she left my office.

Lovers’ tendency to touch people is clearest when they touch another person who is in pain of some kind. The affectionate touch rendered to someone in pain that is fairly natural for all of us is perhaps more of a wonderful compulsion for lovers: they are compelled to touch a person in pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. Their touch is very likely healing in a way that lies beyond exact science. There are professional healers, many of whom may well be lovers by temperament, utilize “healing touch” as a principal part of their work. Healing touch is quite simply the healer placing his or her hands on the part of the body of the patient that is in some kind of pain. There is a good bit of research that suggests that touch, whether emotional or physical, is beneficial to people in some kind of pain. Massage therapists perhaps know more about the healing nature of physical touch, but it is also a part of physical therapy, chiropractic, nursing care, Reiki, and other more traditional medical practice. When I had a massage recently, I could not distinguish the difference between the muscle relief I experienced from the more emotional relief I felt. Many nontraditional healing practitioners talk of a healing “energy” that occurs when two people touch one another.

  1. Generous.

Lovers truly enjoy giving. They like to give hugs. They like to give greeting cards and thank you notes. They like to give presents. They can even give things that they probably can’t afford to give, like property, money, or time. Lovers are very good at giving affection for someone who is in pain even though the very same person may have brought them pain in the past. If a lover is around someone that is hurting in some way, whether from physical, emotional, or relational matters, the lover will feel immediate compassion and a desire to give something to the hurting person. Lovers’ generous nature is more than meeting someone’s need. They simply enjoy the act of giving, expecting nothing in return. My sister, lover by nature, insists that I take some kind of present with me when I leave her house, and when she comes to our house, the car trunk is full of several presents. Lovers’ giving can be out of their own abundance or out of sacrifice, but it is absolutely genuine.

This generous nature of lovers extends to deeper feeling and sacrifice. Lovers are more forgiving than people of other temperaments. It is simply easier for lovers to forgive offenses and mistakes in other people. They seem able to understand that much offense and many mistakes are not intentional, but rather due to misunderstanding or misjudgment. When they are at their best, lovers can forget about bad things that have happened to them or that have been done to them. They can be on the receiving end of vicious attacks, physical or verbal, and they will return the next day, even the next hour, with a spontaneous and genuine felt concern for their attackers if the attacker displays regret and makes an apology. Lovers seem not to even remember offensive things that were said or done to them. Forgiveness for lovers can come easily and naturally, especially if the offending party shows some kind of contrition.

Next up: Temperament V: Caretakers

Further reading: see previous blogs

Seeing Unicorns

There was once a small village in a mountainous region of the world. There lived in this village a wise man. He had seemingly always been both old and wise as no one could remember him being anything else. The people in village went about their normal responsibilities taking care of their property, persons, and purposes in life without complaint. It was quite idyllic and the village was not easily located although it had an interesting reputation in various parts of the region and in the world. There were stories of people who tried to find the village without success, often coming back from arduous journeys without ever finding the village, while occasionally a simple wanderer seemed to find this village without difficulty. There didn’t seem to be a logical reason why some very experienced adventurous people could not find the village while others less sophisticated in the business of exploration seemed to happen upon the village.

One such wanderer came upon the village one late night and found the village residents warmly welcome him. They quickly found him a warm place to stay and a nutritious meal before he retired for the night. The wanderer was a relatively young man who had been wandering for some time and had had both warm receptions and hostile ones. He couldn’t seem to understand why he sometimes found some people so accepting and others so rejecting, but it had been on his mind for a long time. His night in the village passed without incident.

Our wandering young man rose the next morning to discover that his hosts had prepared a sumptuous and nutritious morning meal for him. There was simple chatter at the breakfast table among the host family and other guests with young and old seemingly quite interested in one another. The young man found it interesting that all in the family respected one another despite differences in age, gender, or station in life. It didn’t seem appropriate for him to ask about the demeanor of the family and the guests. He was quite taken, however, with the respect and demeanor that this group of people seemed to have for one another. There was discussion of philosophical and spiritual matters as well as matters of care of property and people. There was even debate and discussion without an argumentative spirit. There was expression of emotions, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, but never expression of anger or fear.

About the time that our young man was about to leave this gracious host family the wise old man of the village happened to walk into the house. The old man walked in with a staff that he placed by the entry door, leaning it almost as if it belonged there. He was greeted warmly by all in attendance and was offered what appeared to be his standard choice in hot tea. He sat at table with the others and listened intently to all who spoke, only rarely speaking his thoughts and feelings. Then, to the surprise of the young man the older man asked him if he knew why he had come to the village. This question bemused the wandering young man because it hadn’t seemed to him that he had come to the village purposefully. It had seemed to him that he had quite accidentally stumbled across the village on his wanderings. The old man saw the young man’s uncertain countenance and suggested that they take a walk together. It seemed the right thing to do for the young man but he continued to wonder about this whole scene: the pleasantness of the village, the graciousness of the people, and now the mysterious nature of the old man. Yet, he felt both privileged and compelled to accept what appeared to be yet another act of graciousness that seemed to be the nature of the whole village.

The old man took the young man on a walk that fairly quickly became a bit of a brisk hike, quickly out of town and then up the closest mountain to the village. The trek up the mountain was, for reasons unknown to the young man, long but not arduous. He felt compelled to trail the old man who clearly knew the route up this mountain demonstrated by his taking carefully orchestrated steps as if he had taken this exact route many times before. When the two men reached the summit of the mountain, the young man admired the view. He could see the village quite a bit below as well as a vista of other mountains in the distance. There seemed to be so much to see that he was taken aback by the whole scene. He expected that the two men would soon descent to the village shortly, but was surprised by a question the old man asked him. It was a simple question but at the same time it was the most invigorating question he had ever heard.

The old man asked him, “What do you see on that farthest mountain?” The young man looked at that far mountain expecting simply to see a mountainscape, but then felt a strange feeling come over him, so much so that he was quite unsure as to how to respond to the question put before him. He answered the old man’s question with hesitation and with some concern because of what he thought he saw but dared to answer, “I think I see a unicorn.” The young man felt a bit awkward by saying what he had said so he quickly added, “…but know that unicorns don’t really exist, so I must be mistaken.” The young man felt a mixture of feelings at that point including a kind of exhilaration at seeming to see something so wonderful. He had learned in his personal study that unicorns are symbolic of purity. But in addition to the exhilaration he felt some embarrassment, or was it shame that he felt? He waited for the old man’s further comment. He didn’t wait long.

The old man quietly and carefully said this: “There are three things about seeing a unicorn. First, not many people ever see unicorns because it is very hard to see a unicorn. Secondly, it is very hard to believe that they are seeing a unicorn. But the hardest thing of all is to remember that you believed that you saw a unicorn. Having said that, the old man quietly and simply took a step on the path leading to the village. The young man followed equally silently. Having returned to the village, he gathered his simple pack and left. Though he never saw the village or the old man again, he remembered.


I heard this story from the person who has been my most important therapist, Dick Olney, perhaps 40 years ago. I have no idea where he heard it or if he actually created it. I have found myself compelled to tell this story to a very few people whom I deemed ready to hear the story. One of these men having spent an intensive week of therapy with me wrote to me when he returned to the UK: “there have been several sightings of unicorns here in England.” I was glad to hear of such a thing because not many people see a unicorn because they are hard to see, it is hard to believe that you are seeing a unicorn, and it is really hard to remember that you believed that you saw a unicorn. I remain grateful that I have helped a few people see the unicorns in their lives, believe it, and remember it.  I’m certainly old, but not always wise, but occasionally I help people see unicorns. What a wonderful moment it is