The Upholder

The word “uphold” means to support, maintain, or defend something. We uphold something when we take a stand for it, as when we speak out in defense of a principle or stick up for a cause. Judges are expected to uphold the law when ruling on a case, just as the Supreme Court upholds the principles of the Constitution, such as when it has upheld a group’s right for free speech. Parents endeavor to uphold, or impart their values to their children. As individuals, we seek to uphold our dignity and uniqueness. On the biological level, all organisms constantly work to maintain homeostasis.

On a social level, the quality of upholding emerges in early childhood when we start learning good from bad through our caregivers’ reactions to us, that is, what meets with approval is good; that which evokes disapproval or other punishment is bad. In these daily calibrations, we internalize our caregivers’ values, which then become our own standards of right and wrong. We also take in our caregivers’ beliefs and principles. All of these form a central core of our identity. Even if we modify them as we grow, the standards we hold (and uphold) at any given time play a central role in defining us and shaping our lives.

Although upholding is an aspect of everyone’s lives, some people seem to hold themselves accountable to their set of standards more strongly than other people do. For these people, the trait of upholding is such a predominant feature of their personality that we call them the Upholder Shadow Type. They are characterized by having, not surprisingly, a heightened awareness of what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or bad. Similarly, they tend to see things in clear-cut terms: “yes or no,” “this or that,” “like or don’t like.”

People who become Upholders were often subjected to sharp criticism early in life, held to high standards, or endured a hardship which they interpreted as punishment for wrong doing. In their experience, it was as if they were being told: “If you don’t do the right thing, or if you don’t do things right, you won’t be accepted. Something bad will happen to you.”

The strategic response to prevent additional criticism or pain was to become acutely conscious of the rules or terms of right behavior so that they could avoid doing anything wrong. As a group, they are characterized by having a heightened awareness of what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or bad, at least, according to their own standards. Their lives seem to revolve, to a large extent, around upholding these standards in their own personal life and in the world around them. As a result, this kind of person—the Upholder—typically has a strong sense of purpose and is driven by a sense of duty.

Upholders tend to avoid, or put into shadow, the dimension of openness, or the lover archetype, which embodies the childlike qualities of spontaneity, vulnerability and dependency. Being spontaneous means acting without a preset structure or plan—without having clear-cut rules for the game. But without knowing the right way to play, they run the risk of accidentally doing something wrong and getting criticized or ridiculed. Having simple fun can thus be a challenge for Upholders.

To become balanced, Upholders need to accept the childlike side of themselves and others. In doing so, they are likely to revise the standards they uphold to include the values of joy, vulnerable feelings, and connection. Ironically, one way to motivate them to make this change is to hint that being joyful, vulnerable and open are good ways to be—that is, using their own strategy of striving to do things right to show them a more relaxed, joyful way of being.

Note: For in-depth understanding of the Upholder and the 11 other Shadow Types, please contact a Shadow Types Educator.