Schemers, Saviors, Strugglers, And Sufferers: Which One Are You?


Jim Morrison said it best when he sang, “People are strange, when you’re a stranger…” The thing he left out is: we’re all strangers. You, me, them, we’re all slightly weird, kooky, opinionated, and some of us are just utterly bizarre. But all of us are strange. This means dealing with other people can be a supremely frustrating experience for you. It can be extra-aggravating or confusing when you’re part of a mess of people because groups have added dynamics.

I spend a lot of time thinking about toilet paper. I’d forgotten how much toilet paper women can go through in a single day. I live with two women and I often ask my housemates why they hate trees. They flush through toilet paper like trees did something bad to their mama. One of the guys I live with doesn’t find it all as funny as I do. He prefers to complain about the times when there was not toilet paper on the roller and he had to waddle spread-leg to reach for a roll in the cabinet. (I try not to laugh). One of the women does her part to scheme ways to make sure there’s always an extra roll handy and within arm’s reach. This means she leaves two and three rolls on the edge of the bathtub. The other woman is quick to apologize whenever she hears that there wasn’t any toilet paper on the roll for you. She’s ready with an apology (whether it was her fault or not). Then there’s me who just accepts the struggle of our little toilet drama and finds our difficulty at keeping toilet paper on the roll almost amusing. Almost.

Admittedly, not having toilet paper in that critical moment doesn’t really qualify as a crisis. But I’ve found that whenever you have a group of four (or more) people and shit goes down … individuals tend to react in four basic ways:

Schemers … Saviors … Strugglers … Sufferers

1. Schemer – runs the angles, sees strengths & weaknesses, has an action plan, selfish

2. Savior – thinks of others first, martyrs themselves, carries others when they fall

3. Struggler – pushes through, energized by crisis, loves that work needs to be done

4. Sufferer – a songbird of complaints, first to be offended, the voice of rebellion

If those thumbnail descriptions didn’t make it easy for you to see the distinctions, here are the four ways of reacting to a problem as applied to a familiar quartet, one that you may know and love.

Sex and the City 

Schemer: Samantha

Savior: Charlotte

Struggler: Miranda

Sufferer: Carrie

Starting to see how it plays out?

Let’s be real, what else is a writer but a public sufferer? Carrie Bradshaw is a classic sufferer. What problem has she ever met that she couldn’t kvetch about? It’s what she does. Eventually, though, she reacts to her problem, possibly with the help of the schemes of Samantha, the saving grace of Charlotte, or she could manage to muddle through with the help from the well-practiced advice of the classic struggler, Miranda.

Maybe you didn’t do Sex and the City. Fair enough. Not really my handbag either. How about the lads from Liverpool?

The Beatles

Schemer: Paul

Savior: George

Struggler: John

Sufferer: Ringo

You would likely think that John would be the savior — what with his Bed-Ins and flower power dreams of a better tomorrow. But nope, it’s George. He’s the one on the real Jesus kick; he didn’t try to theoretically save the whole world like John, (although he did write that song “Save the World”) he recorded an album and actually tried to save one country, Bangladesh. George is the savior. John Lennon would be the struggler. A problem energizes him. The crisis pushes him to work (even if that means labor through pain). He needs the deadline and the tension with Paul to get the song done. Which is all well and fine for Paul because he’s busy scheming his way at getting one of his solo songs on the album. Paul sees the angles. Which Beatle is the billionaire? Exactly. Meanwhile, Ringo, who was always quick to complain in Hard Day’s Night and has continued ever since; he’s the true rebel in The Beatles. Remember, he’s the one who quit and had to be talked back into the band by John and Paul.

Want a different group of contentious badass music legends? How about…


Schemer: Dr. Dre

Savior: MC Ren

Struggler: Ice Cube

Sufferer: Eazy-E

NWA is kind of an easy one to sort once you understand that Eazy-E is the sufferer. Eazy may have schemed tough, but the whiny-voiced one was always looking for respect and complaining about the shit he had to do to stack his paper. He liked angles but he paid a lawyer to scheme for him. Cube was the one with the most political mind; he was down for the struggle of the people (and this was more evident on his first solo album when he had Chuck D from Public Enemy show up on a track ). Dr. Dre was the one running angles in his rhymes and in his mind. He wasn’t the first to bounce from the group as soon as he could get his own contract with a label. Dre waited. And then he started his own label. Soon he’ll be hip-hop’s first billionaire. Scheme on, Doctor. This leaves, the only one who stayed until the very end, MC Ren, the ruthless mic-killer that carried his partner, until Eazy was in the grave.

As you can see, one can use this model for all sorts of groups. Do you wanna try it with a few other groups. Okay! I have to admit, I know The Golden Girls better than South Park. I’m not proud of that fact. But it is what it is. If we apply the same four roles to those two groups, it looks like this:

      The Golden Girls    

Schemer: Sophia

Savior: Rose

Struggler: Dorothy

Sufferer: Blanche

 South Park

Schemer: Cartman

Savior: Stan

Struggler: Kenny

Sufferer: Kyle

You see how this basic dynamic seems to work for a four-person group? And how it can even create healthy group dynamics when it’s well-balanced and each person brings their skills and concerns to the table.

I’m no scientist. I don’t claim this is the least bit scientific; at best you could say I had a hypothesis, I tested it, I found repeatable success in predictive modeling and boom-zag-a-zow I figured wtf, I should name the four types of reactions I’d noticed.

Every time I tell a friend my little pet theory it seems to help them, so I thought I’d present it to you. If it helps, it helps. If it doesn’t help, forget I said anything. And I feel I shouldn’t have to say this, but just so we all remember: I am not a doctor and you’re taking advice from the internet.

The best way I’ve found to use the Schemer, Savior, Struggler and Sufferer model is to understand others and use it to empathize with how they’re seeing the problem. Then, once you do that, maybe it’ll help you keep your head if you know Steve from the Detroit office is a total sufferer and that means instead of him you need to be the one to update your client with a progress report. Or if your girlfriend’s mother is a savior type and will be the first to martyr herself when a family function goes off the rails, maybe you can anticipate her and you can offer to babysit all the nieces and nephews so she can go with everyone out to see a movie and enjoy some drinks in downtown (for a change).

Little acts of empathy and anticipation can make a huge difference in how a group dynamic plays out.

If you see that your new boss is a total schemer, you can present her with the information she wants to know, in the way she wants to know it, in the order she wants to know it, because you’re aware of how she processes a crisis.

Triage is a vital skill in a crisis or when dealing with a problem.

The better you are at handling a problem by assessing the talents and tendencies of those around you the better it is for you and everyone involved. And it doesn’t take much. Just ask yourself: Is this person a schemer, savior, struggler or sufferer? Then act accordingly.

Now, I should reiterate that no one is always a sufferer or a savior. These are just representative models of four different ways people respond to crisis. People have tendencies. But they’ll likely react differently to emotional problems than they respond to fiscal emergencies.

Let me say that again, I’m now suggesting you or anyone else always responds to every crisis or problem with the same reaction. Nuh uh. But you may notice that you and others tend to react with the same responses to certain problems over and over again.

Like when it comes to money, perhaps your boyfriend’s first idea is always to scheme his way out of trouble. Or perhaps, your roommate tends to be a complainer and will suffer her way through any money crisis she encounters. Or perhaps, you constantly loan her money to help get her by, never knowing when you might see that money again, but you can’t help but act as her savior. And secretly, or not so secretly, you wish she was more like your other roommate who struggles at her second job to make sure she has her bills covered.

Basically, I don’t suggest that you use these as labels to define yourself or others. They work best as handles – they are a way to grasp and understand a person’s troublesome behavior and give it a name. If you can name the dynamic it can help you deal with a person who’s in the grip of a crisis. If anything, this is meant as a tool of empathy and understanding. Also, no one response is better or worse than another. These aren’t judgments or qualitative assessments. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.

Sufferers may sound like complainers, but they also spark rebellions. Strugglers may seem diligent and industrious but Bukowski used to struggle through a bottle of booze a day. Anything can be work if you put your mind to it. Saviors may be quick to crawl up on the cross and die for everyone else, but they also hold groups together with their sacrifices. Schemers are not merely selfish operators always looking out for number one. Samantha Jones was loyal to her girls and that’s why she was fast to share a plan to get revenge, or help her friend bed a man, or get them all a better table for drinks.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. There is no one better way to be, mostly, because we’re talking about people and personalities. But when you can figure out what type of behavior you’re dealing with, if you can determine if they’re: a schemer, savior, struggler or sufferer … it seems to oil the hinges of group dynamics.