The seven emotional command systems
Jester - Seeking play, amusement, joking, creative pursuits, sports, games, make-believe. Feeling relaxation, joy serenity, ecstasy.
Sensualist - Seeking sex, flirtation, arousal, sexual contact, intercourse. Feeling excitement, pleasure.
Nest-Builder - Seeking nurturing, carig, forming friendships, expressing affecton, experiencing loss and grief.
Commander-in-Chief - seeking power, freedom, forcing action. Feeling confidence, power.
Explorer - Seeking learning, questioning, goal-setting,. Feeling curiosity, excitement, interest, mastery.
Energy Czar - Seeking rest, relaxation, nourishment, exercise. Feeling anticipation, satiety, pleasure, satisfaction.
Sentry - Characterized by worry, seeking safety, prevention, protection. Feeling apprehension, tension, anxiety, fear
All of us have different levels of comfort within each system. For instance, Susan imay not be as comfortable with her Jester command system as her husband David. While David enjoys playing with their seven-year-old, Susan is more comfortable with her Sentry command system, which is focused on protecting her son from getting hurt.
Each system is key in your ability to respond to threat, fall in love, or be playful.
These different command systems often work together to achieve a goal. For example, the Energy Czar might call upon the Explorer to search for food or the Nest Builder may utilize the Sentry to protect her child and look out for danger.
Your command systems are shaped by your temperament and family of origin. So, if you were raised in a family where your parents were always on the lookout for danger, you likely have a more highly developed Sentry system than someone who was raised in a home that was focused more on play, joking, and laughing, resulting in a more evolved Jester system for that person.
Your life experiences also influence the development of your emotional command systems. As Gottman explains “our environment actually affects the way nervous pathways in the brain get built.” (Gottman & DeClaire, 2001 p. 120). For example, the amount of wrestling and tickling a child gets may affect the formation of the system that coordinates play – the Jester.
When your preferred level of activation of a certain command system is not being met, you will feel distressed. For example, if you are someone who needs a lot of friendship and connection (Nest Builder) and you are re-located to a new city for a job where you know no one, you will inevitably experience distress because you are not meeting the need for connection and affiliation.
If you are a Commander-in-Chief and you crave power and control, but you are dating someone else who likes to be in charge and call the shots, then conflict for power is bound to happen.
Your command systems influence the emotional connection in your relationship. For example, Kate is more of an Energy Czar and she is married to John who is more of a Jester. Often John wants to go do fun activities while Kate is worried about not getting enough sleep and staying healthy.
By teaching Kate and John about the seven emotional command systems, they are able to talk about their differences to help them understand each other better. By understanding each other better, they stop feeling hurt when the other partner wants to express a different command system. When we work with couples, we help them become attuned to each other’s command systems and help them find creative ways to attune to each other.
This is applicable even in the context of friendships and work relationships. If you are not comfortable with your Commander-in-Chief system, but you get a sudden promotion and are now in charge of a large team of people, this may be very uncomfortable for you. If you are an Explorer at heart but find yourself in a job that doesn’t promote creativity, curiosity, or learning, then you may become bored and lethargic. If you are a Nest Builder and your best friend moves away you may find yourself quite lonely because you’re no longer meeting that need for connection with your best friend.
By understanding your emotional command systems as well as the systems of your romantic partner, you can learn how to navigate the differences in a way that meets both partner’s needs. As a result, you’ll have a deeper intimate connection with each other because both of you feel understood and valued.
If you would like to learn more about how we assist couples to understand their command systems and become attuned, join us at one of our trainings listed here.
Gottman J. and DeClaire, J. (2001). The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships. Three Rivers Press: New York.
Panksepp J. (2004). Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford University Press: New York.
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