Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How Are Low Copers Made?

Discover the emotional dance that creates helpless people.

Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

We regularly experience media and public frenzy over people who make spectacular emotional displays and have outrageous behaviors designed to draw attention to themselves. And, we do pay attention. Why are we so mesmerized? How do these people come to be?

Characteristics of Low Coping Personalities

My colleague, Homer B. Martin, MD, and I discovered people who crave attention have impotent or low-coping personality styles. We write about these personality types in our book, Living on Automatic. You can also read my earlier blog post, “Who Are Low Copers?”

Such people not only seek constant attention but also have other characteristics. They are self-centered. They feel helpless in many of their relationships and do not cope well with ordinary life and stress. They are irresponsible toward others and also toward themselves.

Impotent personalities are arrogant, expedient, and relish dependency on others — protection, constant care, continual accommodation, and freedom from unpleasurable stresses of any description. They have inflated self-worth. Their focus is on personal desires. Their thinking is capricious. They are rarely thankful for support and kindness from others. They have inflated self-esteem and pliable consciences. They blame others for their own deficiencies. They quickly end relationships when disappointed. They can be oppositional. They are squeaky wheels who want oil; we usually give them the oil.

Low copers don’t try to solve problems but expect others to do it for them. They only do what is personally advantageous and convenient. They follow the path of least resistance and put out little effort. People with these impotent personalities become anxious, angry, or demanding when others don’t do what they want. They admire other people like themselves because it is like holding up a mirror and seeing themselves in these others.

Where Do Impotent Low Coping Personalities Come From?

Impotent personalities do not arise out of thin air. They are made or shaped as is any child’s personality. But how? We discovered in large part they are emotionally shaped or conditioned by a parent who has the opposite personality, what we call an omnipotent or high-coping personality style. See my earlier blog post on “Who Are High Copers?"

People with a high-coping personality and role in relationships behave and think as if they are super strong people, capable of tackling any problem and solving all dilemmas. They design solutions and take action. They are tenacious and display a “can do” attitude, believing no endeavor is too difficult. They show tremendous self-esteem when they do a task well and suffer poor self-esteem when they fail to accomplish the impossible.

Omnipotents are best at solving problems for other people and lousy at solving problems and taking action and responsibility for themselves. They are instrumental in creating low coping people. How do they do this?

The Low and High Coping Personality Dance Between Parent and Child

Omnipotent style high-coping parents emotionally condition impotent, low-coping children. These parents do far too much for these children — thinking, taking responsibility, giving emotional support, and coping with their children’s ordinary life problems for them. These children become emotionally conditioned to act and believe they are helpless because this parent does too much for them.

Over time, the high-coping omnipotent parent expects less and less of his impotent child and the child fulfills the inert helpless role expected of him or her. It is a dance taking place in families. An omnipotent’s role is exhausting because the person takes on too much continually doing for these children. Over time, impotent role children become emboldened and demand more of this parent and to do even less for themselves.

Such low coping impotent children function helplessly in relationships and become skilled at expecting others to put out effort on their behalf. And we do put out tremendous effort on their behalf. We pay too much attention to their antics, eruptions, and demands, whether child or adult. We enjoy catering to their self-centered displays. We enjoy cleaning up the messes they create. We feel virtuous putting out effort to cater to their capricious desires.

Source: Anemone123/Pixabay

Reinforcement Worsens the Low Coper

Every time high coping omnipotent personality people function this way they reinforce low copers in their impotent role, whether children, adolescents, or adults. Although this emotional conditioning starts in early childhood in the immediate family, it becomes reinforced by extended family, friends, teachers, coaches, in college, at work, and then by spouses. Eventually, when low coping impotent people become parents, they model this role for some of their children. This transmits the low coping, impotent role across generations yet to come.

The next time a low coping impotent person wants you to adore them, give them the limelight, think for them, clean up their messes, or take action on their behalf, ask yourself if it would be healthier for both of you if you did less and expected them to do more.

On the other hand, if you are a low coper, ask yourself what you can do better for yourself that you usually farm out to someone else to take care of.


Hara Marano, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, 2008, Crown Archetype.

Alvin Rosenfeld, MD and Nicole Wise, Hyper-Parenting: Are You Hurting Your Child by Trying Too Hard? 2000, St. Martin’s Press.