character strategy

Hakomi: Character Strategies

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Picture by Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Character strategy is defined in Hakomi terms as approaches, patterns, and habits in the world someone created for “pleasure and satisfaction, given the nature of their particular core organizing beliefs about the world” (Barstow & Johanson, 2015, p. 2).

Character patterns manifest due to ongoing interactions of a developing child with her emotional/physical environment. These strategies and patterns can be perceived as strengths created by a child. In this perspective, character is seen more as a “function rather than malfunction. But a strength developed to the point of imbalance is also a weakness and every function overly developed in one direction leaves another direction undeveloped. For example, the strength some people develop to bear up under difficult conditions may leave those same people little sense of joy and lightness. In one of the patterns we study—the burdened-enduring pattern–the over developed strength of bearing up under blame leads to difficulties in taking responsibility and action” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 40).

The Hakomi character theory map evolved from prior “theories of Wilhelm Reich (1949), Alexander Lowen (1958, 1975), David Shapiro (1965), and John Pierrakos (1990)” (Eisman, 2015, p. 76). These theories wherein Hakomi gets its character theory model were “authoritarian and classically medical” in orientation, which means they perceived “strategic adaptions to developmental wounding” as an indicator of pathology, as unhealthy and neurotic (Eisman, 2015, p. 77). In Hakomi, character isn’t viewed “as a pathological digression, but as a creative attempt to assert one’s organicity—to find personal empowerment in an untenable situation” (p. 77).

In Hakomi, there are eight main character patterns (Kurtz, 1990, Eisman, 2015). Some individuals appear to exist primarily “in one or another, whereas others are more fluid” and can shift from one to another depending upon different situations, with “sometimes more than one pattern within” someone occurring in one situation (p. 79).

Eight Character Strategies 

  1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: One minimizes their self-expression or contact with others and takes shelter in thought or fantasies. 
  2. Dependent/Endearing: One seeks support through acting childlike.
  3. Self-Reliant/Independent: One activates self-support and relies on themselves; they seek challenges.
  4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous: One hides their weaknesses, insecurity and fear, they look tough and act important.
  5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative: One hides their true intentions, charms others and uses them to get what they want.
  6. Burdened/Enduring: One carries a heavy load, remains firm and patient. 
  7. Expressive/Clinging: One dramatizes feelings and events to gain attention and avoid abandonment.
  8. Industrious/Over-Focused: One works hard, keeps going and going, being overactive.

One can view “character patterns as interruptions of, or impairments in” the development of natural, social, and psychological functions (Kurtz, 1990, p. 46). “Impairment leaves the function truncated, distorted or incompletely learned” (p. 47). Here are “the missing core experiences” or experiences that want to happen for each character strategy (p. 47):

Missing Core Experiences

  1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: A sense of safety, being welcome, pleasurable interactions, and freedom from fear.
  2. Dependent/Endearing: Gratitude, abundance, nourishment, being cared for. 
  3. Self-Reliant/Independent: Receiving support willingly from others.
  4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous: Being authentic, showing vulnerability, freedom from being manipulated.
  5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative: Being authentic, accepting oneself as they really are, freedom from being harassed.
  6. Burdened/Enduring: An absence of pressure, responsibility or guilt.
  7. Expressive/Clinging: Love and attention given freely without a struggle.
  8. Industrious/Over-Focused: Love and appreciation, freedom to play and relax (Kurtz, 1990). 


Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (1999). Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. Hakomi Forum, 13, 2-5. 

Eisman, J. (2015). Hakomi Character Theory. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 76-90). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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