Communication in stressful situations - The four types of stress according to Virginia Satir</span><span> 


Communication in stressful situations - The four types of stress according to Virginia Satir 

Do you know this? Someone says something, one word leads to another, suddenly there’s a fight in the air and you haven’t reacted the way you intended to so many times? Maybe this model gives you a hint why you react the way you always do. Because if we really dare to look, we learn an incredible amount about ourselves in our communication with others.

Virginia Satir, one of the most important family therapists and “original mother” of systemic work, developed this communication model in the middle of the twentieth century. The model of stress types stems from her years of observation of family dynamics. However, it also works in all other contexts in which people meet, communicate and, possibly, engage in conflict.

Nach Virginia Satir gibt es vier grundsätzliche Kommunikationsmuster, in welche wir verfallen wenn wir gestresst sind, oder uns irgendjemand oder irgendetwas triggert.


It is the attitude that people with low self-esteem adopt in a stressful situation. The placator has to please at all costs. He makes excuses, never votes against anything, and does not make his own decisions. The voice is soft, pressed, squeaky to whiny.

Fundamental attitude: “I am worthless.” “I have to make everyone happy so I can be loved”.

Possible physical effects:  Disturbance of the digestive tract, stomach problems, feelings of nausea, migraine, constipation.


The female blamer is based on the belief or social norm of not being allowed to show “weakness”. In order to protect herself, she attacks other people. For these people, only themselves and the context count at this moment. The repeated use of the words “never” and “always” also indicate the blamer. The voice is harsh, firm, often shrill and loud.

Fundamental attitude: “Nobody understands me”. “As long as I don’t yell around, nobody does anything anyway”. “Nobody cares about me” “I’m lonely”.

Possible physical effects: Muscle tension, neck tension, circulatory problems and high blood pressure.


The pattern of the computer is based on the social convention that true maturity and wisdom means no longer feeling emotions. Therefore, the feelings of others as well as one’s own are ignored or suppressed. The computer argues calmly, coolly, collectedly and abstractly. The voice sounds dry and monotonous.

Fundamental attitude: “I feel vulnerable and isolated”. “If I remain objective, no one can hurt me”. “Through logic and rationality we find the best solution to the problem”

Possible physical effects: Dehydration diseases (mucous membranes, lymph nodes, secretions), heart attacks, back pain.


Colloquially, this pattern is often referred to as “playing the clown”. Behind it is the unconditional urge to divert attention from issues that are stressful for them. Whatever the distracter says or does has no relationship to what anyone else is saying or doing. The voice can be a kind of singsong because it is not directed at anything in particular.

Fundamental attitude: “There’s no place for me” “I only get attention when I act extreme”

Possible physical effects: Restlessness, difficulty concentrating, stomach disorders, nausea.

Which “stress type” are you?

Such models, like the one by Virginia Satir described above, support you in finding out why you sometimes react the way you do. Of course, it makes sense to identify your own stress type first. Sometimes this is not so easy. Maybe it helps to ask someone you trust where he or she would place you. The “placatory” and the “blamer” are usually easily recognizable from the outside. They are, after all, the two types that actively participate in a conflict, for example. The “distracter” can also be identified quite well if you have already experienced someone in a stressful situation. The situation is somewhat different with the “computer.” These people look from the outside as if nothing could upset them. As if they are the only ones who are above it in stressful situations or conflicts. They are therefore not easy to distinguish from the people who are really above the matter. The big difference here is that a person who is really above the fray can put himself in the other parties’ shoes. He responds to the opinions of the others, picks them up where they are at the moment and calmly but firmly sets limits when something goes too far for them. A person who is currently rationalizing in the stress type is no longer able to do this, as are all other stress types.

Do you have your stress type? Good. Then the real work of change begins. Behind each trigger is a fundamental attitude that has arisen from one or more experiences. The listed fundamental attitudes per stress type might give you a hint where to look. But be careful: If you are not used to working on your shadows and you don’t have any techniques to really dissolve the blockages, you can easily get lost in your feelings. In this case, seek support from an experienced professional.

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