What’s Your Animal?

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I tend to live my life with animal personality profiles always in the back of my mind. Every interaction can be reduced to reading another’s personality and responding the appropriate way. Every behavior is goal-oriented, we just have to figure out what that goal is!

Adlerian psychology and work done by Terry Kottman breaks these down even further, and in a way that has helped me understand myself, but also understand those around me. The most important piece being, how to interact with those similar to my personality style and those completely on the opposite spectrum. Myself being a chameleon (which will make more sense at the end of this post), I am always wanting to ensure I take into account another’s feelings and thoughts prior to injecting my own.

Before I dive deeper into how to determine your personality profile, I want to give a bit more of my background as a social worker and therapist. I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice/Criminology, with all intentions being to work in the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (Criminal Minds looks amazing and who wouldn’t want to work with Derek Morgan, am I right?!? Ha). The reasoning behind behaviors, how past experiences and trauma effects our brain development and future choices in life, has always interested me (cue Academia Crush, Bruce Perry. Not so much the looks, but definitely the brains). My dreams of working for the FBI were completely, and almost immediately halted when I realized I would have to fire a gun…at someone, maybe…and that will probably never happen! So, the next best thing was getting involved in counseling or social work. I chose social work, and pursued my Master’s Degree from the University of Kansas with an emphasis in children and families. Within this program, students are required to take 2 practicum placements (an internship we pay for. HA!) and the first of mine was with the Head Start Trauma Smart program through Crittenton Children’s Center. Let’s just say I had NO IDEA what I was doing and I learned a whole lot along the way (if you ever get your finger chomped on by a 4 year old, I can help you out!). I had the best mentor and field instructor, both of which later became my bosses when, after completing my degree, moving to Columbus and back to Kansas City, and joining Trauma Smart full-time. The absolute best decision of my life.

Through this program I found a love for Play Therapy, attachment work, and Theraplay. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to get paid to play with kids? (I know some of you would rather eat dirt :)). This program taught me to be selfless and ever grateful for my many blessings. I learned to roll with the punches and take every day one step at a time. No day was the same, and even the best laid plans always changed. But I digress and you aren’t wanting to read about this, on this post!

During my time at Trauma Smart, I was assigned to work in the therapy department at Operation Breakthrough, a non-profit child care center and wrap around service center in the inner city of Kansas City, Missouri. If I thought I had seen it all, OB opened my eyes to an entirely different world. The amount of trials and trauma these children and families saw was astronomical compared to those I had worked with in my previous years. And it is an entirely different blog post to discuss the cycle of trauma and poverty that they experience and cannot get out of. If you have a chance to volunteer or donate, please take a minute to consider Operation Breakthrough (non-guilty plug!). But again, I digress from the main point, I promise it’s coming! Through OB, I had the greatest pleasure working under Brijin Gardner. A well-known certified play therapist and all around amazing person. She introduced me to the lovely Adlerian Personality Proiorities at a training and I will never be able to forget the pathways it opened for me reading others and understanding their behaviors.

The next few paragraphs will be in the form of a do-it-yourself training. It is a fun activity to do, but just know that it reveals portions of you that you have not thought about before. Here we go!

  1. Think about which animal characteristics speaks most to you (if we were in a large group, you would join the animal group with others in the training)
    • Turtle
    • Chameleon
    • Eagle
    • Lion
  2. Whatever animal you chose, begin to write down all the positive qualities of that animal. Why did you choose the animal you did?
  3. Now, write down all the negative aspects of the animals you did not chose. Ex: If you identify with a chameleon, write down all the negative aspects of the turtle, lion, and eagle. (In a large group training, this portion can get a bit defensive, tread lightly if doing this along-side a partner!) And just remember that we all have pieces of these animals, so be kind!

Easy peasy, right?

Every person has all of these priorities that make up their personality, we are not 100% one priority, but are a blend. My priorities change depending on what situation I am in. I am a Chameleon-Eagle, with rare traces of Lion and Turtle. My hubs is a Lion through and through. The positive aspects you identified are the assets, where as the negatives of the other animals are the reactions of others.

There are 4 different priorities (the animals) and each have positives and negatives. These 4 priorities are: Comfort, Pleasing, Control, and Superiority. Take a second and see if you can match the priority to the animal!

Comfort (Turtle)
-Striving to Achieve: Comfort, Pleasure, Ease, Need to be pampered
-Wishes to Avoid: Stress, Expectations, Work, Responsibility
-Reaction of Others (How others perceive them): Irritation, Boredom, Impatient with lack of productivity, Lazy
-Assets: Easy going, Few demands, Minds own business, Peaceful, Gets along with other, Predictable, Mellow, Empathic, Understanding
-Price Paid: Underachievement, Doesn’t get things done, Undervalued

Pleasing (Chameleon)
-Striving to Achieve: Please others; Meet the needs of others, Puts others first
-Wishes to Avoid: Rejection; other people’s anger or unhappiness, Conflict
-Reaction of Others: Pleased at first, but later annoyed by demands for approval
-Assets: Friendly, thoughtful, volunteers, follows rules, nice, reliable, helpful, responsible -Price paid: Not getting own needs met, worry about others’ expectations

Control (Eagle): 2 Subtypes (a) control of self and (b) control of everything
-Striving to Achieve: Control self, others, situations
-Wishes to Avoid: Humiliation, surprises, being “out of control”
-Reaction of Others: Feel challenged, tense, angry, frustrated
-Assets: Strong leader, organized, productive, assertive, persistent, responsible
-Price Paid: Lacks spontaneity & intimacy, may have diminished creativity and fun

Superiority (Lion) 2 subtypes–(a) achievers and (b) out-doers
-Striving to Achieve: Being more competent, more right, more useful, more good, more smart, better than others, always wanting more
-Wishes to Avoid: Meaningless, feelings of inferiority
-Reaction of Others: Feel inadequate, inferior, competitive
-Assets: High levels of achievement and social interest, knowledgeable, idealistic, tries hard, persistent, perfectionistic
-Price paid: Feeling over-worked, over-involved, over-responsible, overwhelmed

Raise your hand if your feelings are hurt, or you feel somewhat shameful about how this activity depicts your animal! (ME!!)

After doing this activity the first time, I discovered that I have 2 most-dominant priorities. When I was at work, my eagle would be more dominant. I had 3 calendars and to do lists, each color-coded with the type of session completed and if the note was done. I like to work by myself, getting it done my way and at my pace. When I am at home and around my lion husband, my chameleon is more dominant. Being married to a lion means I have to stroke the ego then make the suggestion seem like it was his idea (ha, it works every time).

Like I said, this has been the best tool to learn how to interact with others. This works in and out of therapy. In therapy, I would use this tool to help identify what animal traits a child had, then would learn the best way to reach interact with them. Out of therapy, these tools will help with daily interactions at work or in daily life.

Turtles need to do things at their own pace. Be patient, let them work slowly and become comfortable before trying something new. Chameleons will seek approval. Give them lots of acknowledgment and praise. Let them know that their efforts are appreciated and that it is difficult to not please everyone. Eagles need limited choices. Let them have some control. Recognize that they feel anxious when they feel out of control. Lions need their ego stroked or the idea needs to seem to come from them. Acknowledge their expertise and their skills. (For a full explanation check the handout here)

If you’ve made it through this whole thing, thanks! It’s a long one, so I’m impressed. πŸ™‚

This is one of the most valuable tools I learned while working with children. Through our interactions we create and sustain relationships, and relationships are the most crucial aspect of our lives. Relationships foster empathy and connection. Relationships establish safety and exploration. Relationships are the foundation for self-regulation, self-control and learning.

I would love to hear what personality priorities you have? Which is your dominant? Does it change depending on the other priorities you interact with, or situation you are in? Again, thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more!

Happy Monday All!


*Disclaimer: I am a clinically licensed social worker in the state of Missouri. This blog is not meant to act as therapeutic advice or counsel. It is merely a means for me to share my experiences and thoughts.*


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