The Performer Striving Style - Oprah Winfrey


The Performer Striving Style - Oprah Winfrey

I will be writing a series of blogs about each of the Striving Styles with examples of famous people to illustrate the Style.  This will give you the opportunity to see how the drive to meet our predominant need plays out in the lives of these people. It will include what happens when they are self-actualizing and when they go into their self-protective mode. I will also provide some general information about the Style.

The Performer Striving Style

You can easily recognize Performers by the way they capture the attention of others and demand recognition. They are quick to engage and entertain, and their enthusiasm for what they are talking about is contagious.  Performers tend to be fiercely competitive and need to be the “Star” or the best in whatever situation they find themselves in. They seek to impress and will work very hard to affirm their image as the best in all they do. They are the most energetic of the Striving Styles, seemingly ready to take on the world at a moment’s notice. They explode into life in the pursuit of their latest goal or objective. They don’t just “do” things; they perform them and then look for the recognition they need for having done such an outstanding job!

Because their image of themselves is one of success, prominence, and attractiveness, they seek out people who have achieved this. Being with people who are doing important things, such as politicians, leaders of organizations, and people of social prominence is extremely important to the Performer. They feel great pleasure and pride when engaging with people doing things that will be recognized and admired by others. They work hard and will do what it takes to surround themselves with people who they feel increase their feelings of self worth. Performers will hang out with the “right” people, get jobs with the best companies, and volunteer for popular causes. At work, they work to befriend and impress their superiors.

Performers usually have a great number and variety of friends and acquaintances. Their youthful energy is attractive to others and they are drawn to others who are energetic and optimistic. In public, and in their families, Performers delight in being the center of attention, entertaining, and captivating others in conversations. They consider activities in the home, extended family, and community as another stage on which they can play to their audience, providing them further opportunities to be in the spotlight and make both interesting and playful parents and mates.

In the workplace, Performers need goals to excite and stimulate them. Their appetite for success and recognition fuels their ambition. Then, once they have achieved whatever they were going after, they need another goal to strive toward, generally bigger and better than the last! A manager must become a director; a singer must become a diva; a homemaker must be the head of the PTA. Performers’ drive for recognition can be insatiable.

The Self-Protective Performer 

Our Self-Protective system is activated when we are unable to get our predominant need met.  This system is driven by our emotional and instinctual brain. We automatically downshift to these behaviors when we perceive a threat to our psychological security.  The following describes a few of the behaviors of the Self-Protective Performer.

It is very easy for the Performer to lose their connection to themselves as they are so driven to achieve their goals to gain approval and recognition from others. This leaves them vulnerable to seeking recognition and approval whereever they can rather than in a more goal directed fashion. They can be the cause of their own undoing, living out of alignment with their own espoused beliefs and values.

When the Performer’s predominant need to be recognized goes unmet they are easily bored and unable to maintain their focus. They are less able to tolerate situations in which they are unable to achieve their goals. Performers tend to blame others for their situation can unleash a variety of self-destructive behaviors.  When they are able to get recognition for being the best of the best, they resort to becoming the worst of the worst, getting attention for not getting things done, not honouring commitments to others or becoming ill causing others to recognize them for how sick they are.

When Performers have reached a goal, they don’t stick around to enjoy it as to them it is never enough. Working to achieve the same thing or maintaining the status quo doesn’t excite them at all. They have little tolerance for anything that isn’t pleasurable and will seek out things that provide instant gratification. In the throes of their Self-Protective System, Performers think they are entitled to do what they want because they are special. When confronted with their behavior, they can get either indignant or outraged.

Oprah Winfrey  – Performing on the World’s Stage

Oprah Winfrey, like other people of the Performer Striving Style, sought the stage from an early age. Her grandmother once said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was on stage.  Oprah found many ways to be recognized and can be tracked from early childhood. In her community growing up, she was nicknamed “The Preacher” for her ability to recite Bible verses. At school, Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team placing second in the US in dramatic interpretation. Never afraid to go after what she set her mind to, Oprah won an oratory contest, which gave her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.  At age 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. 

Hugely talented, driven by a need to succeed and to be recognized, she landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19.  Like other Performers who usually achieve more at a young age than most people do in their entire life, she worked tenaciously to be the cultural icon and media mogul she is today.

The hardships Oprah endured in her personal life are well known because of her public revelations to her audience. She has gained tremendous recognition—both positive and negative—for speaking on television what was previously for the privacy of the therapist’s office.  Everything from sexual abuse, death of her child, her abusive relationships and her struggle with her weight have all helped to meet her need for recognition while at the same time taking down the societal taboo from talking publicly about this aspect of the human condition.

Like many female Performers, Oprah’s need for approval and recognition from her boyfriends and lovers caused her to take second place to them. She adapted to their view of her rather than being insistent that they meet her need. Performers inflate or deflate their value and will act as though they are hopelessly flawed when their partners don’t put them first. For example, when she was working at WVOL, Oprah got boyfriend William “Bubba” Taylor a job there, and according to journalist George Mair, “did everything to keep him, including literally begging him on her knees to stay with her.”  Ultimately, Taylor was unwilling to leave Nashville with Winfrey when she moved to Baltimore to work at WJZ-TV for bigger opportunities. He refused to be second to her rising star.  Oprah admitted that “I’d end up with these cruel self-absorbed guys who’d tell me how selfish I was, and I’d say ‘Oh thank you, you’re so right’ and be grateful to them.”

Oprah associates her voracious need for approval and recognition to come from her childhood abuse, rather than from her predominant need. Because Oprah was able to get that need met in school and in various competitions that she won, she was able to go on to greater and greater levels of success in the external world. Like other Performers when in their Self-Protective system, Oprah does not recognize when she has polarized herself in only meeting her need to be recognized at the expense of meeting her other needs. Being excessively focused on achieving greater and greater levels of success and recognition causes her body to tell the story of her detachment from her other needs. She blames her weight gain on what she suffered in her abusive relationships rather than on her being caught in her self-protective system. Her statement “it was the perfect way of cushioning myself against the world’s disapproval,” reflects how dependant Oprah is on approval and recognition.

Living up to the idealized image of herself includes meeting the every increasing demands and expectations of herself and everyone else that believes her to be superhuman.  She is likely trapped in the role or image she has created, believing that she has to maintain it in order to be recognized and approved of.  Oprah shows what she is suffering in the only way she has left. It is as though she is saying, “See me, not my image. I am human and just like everyone else.” 


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