“Self, Other, We.”
Part 5: The Vacillator
At the end of his day, Steven bounded through the door, excited to see his wife Kathy. He could hardly wait for a big hug and kiss. But upon entering, he suddenly found himself overtaken by a deep dread and disappointment. Kathy’s eyes were fixed upon their newborn who had just awakened from a nap. “Well hello there precious!” Kathy said smiling. A minute later with her eyes still focused on the baby, she said “Hey Steven” over her shoulder.
Instead of celebrating the arrival of their newborn, Steven watched her for another few moments and when he concluded Kathy was “too busy” to turn around and acknowledge him, he let out a sigh and in a disgusted tone said, “I remember when you used to talk to me like that!” Caught off guard, Kathy’s happy mom moment vanished into thin air and her blood ran cold as fear gripped her… yet again.
Self: As with the pleaser, Vacillators are inherently very insecure at their core. Like the pleaser, they have an insatiable desire for accolades and affirmations. But instead of feeling fear like the Pleaser, they feel anger toward the “other person who made me feel this way.” Additionally, because of not being seen (some form of abandonment) early in their lives, they suffer from intense shame which comes from childhood experiences in which they felt personally rejected by their caregiver. While Steven is absolutely convinced Kathy caused him to feel dread and disappointment, the reality is that Kathy only triggered an old theme inside Steven… if I don’t feel seen and adored by you, I feel horrible and you’re to blame. The reality is we all experience the averted gaze of others. To a secure person, its normal and natural and they can easily tolerate others being interested in something else besides them. To the Vacillator, they are immediately dysregulated. Self is not strong enough to stand alone.
Other: Vacillators can be summarized then as:
- Having an excessive need for “other” to see and adore them.
- Are easily dysregulated by “other’s” response or lack thereof,
- Universally believe that “other” is to blame for how they feel.
- Are preoccupied with “others” as they are constantly watching, observing and hyper-analyzing every move and gesture to “guess” whether what they’ve seen is friendly or hostile, accepting or rejecting, welcoming, or dismissing. While their conclusions are most often inaccurate, they remain convinced they are right and other is wrong.
We: As we can observe from Steven’s response to Kathy, “we” is either the most exciting wonderful thing in the whole world or it’s the worst. “We” is either all good or all bad. When triggered (a current event pulls up historical pain which magnifies the present situation) the Vacillator’s feelings of rejection and shame are so overwhelming that they are involuntarily overtaken and held hostage by dark and depressing emotions. When this happens, they pull away emotionally and lash out at the other person believing they are responsible in total for their misery and must be punished, corrected, and reprimanded for their behavior.
The backlash is always out of proportion to the incident and the bad mood can last for days as the Vacillator retreats to review and rehearse the hurtful exchange. While their historical attachment wounds are lost on them, they walk through life chronically hurt by others and after being hurt by a person “for the last time” they drop the relationship and move on to a new relationship where there is no history of hurts and they start all over again. Their string of broken relationships is always the fault of others, for their core of shame acts as an invisible shield preventing them from attributing any fault to themselves.
Growth goals: I love Vacillators and have deep empathy for them. We receive letters and e-mails weekly from Vacillators who upon hearing this information feel understood for the first time in their lives. “This explains my life! Thank you!” Here are a few growth goals that will start your journey toward earned secure attachment.
- Accept the fact that you have a wound and your reactivity is not healthy.
- Believe that you were not responsible for your attachment injury… others were. But keep in mind that this is not to blame them but rather to explain your reactivity.
- Decide that you want to become a voting member in your life’s formation and development. When you were little you didn’t have a vote. You weren’t seen! But now as an adult or teen you can begin casting votes and making decisions that will change your destiny. Over time, you can become a different person with healthier and happier relationships.
- Face and grieve the losses in your childhood. Allow your anger and sadness to be focused in the past rather than upon present relationships.
- Learn to tell your spouse / friend that you are triggered and ask to be seen, acknowledged, and heard. Asking is hard for Vacillators because it feels second best. “If you loved me, you would just know what I need.” This is a childlike wish that makes asking for things very hard for the Vacillator. Learning to ask for what we want is a key for healthy adult relationships. No friend or spouse is a mind reader.
- Learn to integrate good and bad to find the healthy middle. When Steven came home, he was interrupting a special moment between two other family members. He must learn to wait his turn, allow love to be given to others, and enjoy the time with Kathy when the baby is asleep and they have time to re-connect.
Reread the Vacillator chapter in our book How We Love and start working through the How We Love Workbook chapters 1-4 and 7.
Blessings on your journey of love,
Milan (for Milan & Kay)
“Self, Other, We.”
Part 4: The Pleaser
If the Avoider could be described as self-sufficient, self-reliant and requiring little to no emotional reassurance from others, then The Pleaser would be just the opposite.
June was happy her husband was in such a good mood on their first Saturday off in two weeks. She had gotten up early and made George’s favorite breakfast of bacon, eggs, and waffles. As breakfast was finishing, June brought coffee refills to her husband as he finished showering. After breakfast, she watched her husband’s mood suddenly darken as he was gazing out the window. He bolted out the back-door muttering obscenities under his breath. Panic overtook June and she followed him onto the driveway. “What’s wrong George?” she screamed. George stood there motionless staring at the fluid puddle coming out from underneath his newly purchased SUV. When June saw the leak on the driveway she became nauseous and dizzy.
She hovered over George who by now was under the vehicle with rags and tool boxes. She kept trying to get some word of assurance from George but he had clammed up and was oblivious to her distress. “Here is a pillow for your head”, “I don’t need a #$@*# pillow.” Just then, his elbow knocked over a glass of water. “Who put that *&%@# glass there.” “I was just trying to help” June said sheepishly. “If I want water, I’ll get it myself! Leave me alone!!”
As June walked away, she thought to herself, “My day is ruined.”
Self: Whereas the Avoider is self-sufficient and seemingly not in need of others, the Pleaser in contrast is highly insecure about themselves. Self isn’t strong enough to manage life by themselves. Somewhere in their past they experienced fear, criticism, or confusion that lead to a hypervigilant fixation upon others for guidance, reassurance, and affirmation. Self simply isn’t enough, they need someone to hold their hand to help them walk through life.
Other: Instead of a hypo-dependence upon others like the Avoider, they have a hyper-dependence upon others telling them in one way or another that they are ok. Hence the Pleaser is ok only if Other is ok. Thus, June was unable to differentiate from George and his mood became her mood. How sad that her day was “ruined” because George was upset.
We: So, June could not separate from the distressing situation. In her hypervigilance, she kept trying to guess what would make George happy. Pillow? Glass of water? As sweet as these gestures may seem, they were vain attempts to do something pleasing so she could feel better. Her gifts were disingenuous. They weren’t for him, rather they were for herself. Her well-meaning but ill-timed intrusions only further separated them. “We” as gone. She was alone and scared.
Growth Goals: Not a pretty picture! Lest you feel my portrayal of the pleaser is too harsh, may I say that I was in fact writing about my own life (changing genders of course). It was a miserable existence and very debilitating. One day I became aware of the pattern and was sickened by it. I decided I had to grow up, become an emotional adult and leave the old me behind. The growth goals for the Pleaser are located on pages 326-333 of our book How We Love as well as ways to help the pleaser if you are married to one. Here are a few growth highlights that helped me.
- A decision to leave this broken part of me behind.
- Asking Kay to tell me when she saw the unhealthy Pleaser manifesting in relationship, thus, learning to tolerate criticism and disapproval.
- I had to learn to separate from the distress of others. I learned to see their distress but to not be undone by it. Over time, I learned to observe, comment and offer help and then walk away and wait for their request for help… If it ever came. Many times, they solved the problem themselves.
- I learned to separate from others to allow them to travel the emotional difficulties we all experience without going on their ride. As a result, I learned to be concerned but not consumed by the distress and fluctuations of others.
- I learned to be ok by myself and build self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-regulation when stressed and alone. I realized my scared feelings were the “little me” inside a grown man’s body. The inside didn’t match the outside. By tackling graduate school, triathlons, and martial arts, I learned to cope with stress and adversity, stand strong and prevail.
- Lastly, I leaned to tolerate being still and quiet for long periods of time. I learned to face the fearful emotions that bubbled up. And guess what? I didn’t die. Eventually I’ve become very comfortable with solitude and silence even in the presence of others.
Ironically, I’ve never felt closer to others.
Thanks for listening,
Milan (for Kay and Milan)
We are SO excited to announce that we have a new product specifically designed for Therapists, Counselors and other lay people who want to learn Milan and Kay’s approach to using Attachment Theory in a counseling setting.
Most couples can describe their core pattern; a repetitive, reactive interchange that happens over and over. Many therapists try to modify the symptoms and complaints generated by this frustrating dance without understanding and addressing the roots. These tenacious cycles are created as each spouse’s attachment injuries collide in marriage. In our approach (Attachment Core Pattern Therapy) we help couples define the attachment wounds that drive the cycle and recognize the source of their reactivity. We help couples recognize the core pattern as the enemy, not each other. Breaking out of the core pattern and moving toward secure connection is the goal of ACPT Couples Therapy. Singles, divorcees, and individuals can identify their attachment style, deepen their self-awareness and understand why others react in predictable ways.
This 6 hour course includes:
- Two DVD’s and 93 power point slides.
- Syllabus 100 pages including
- Six Attachment Styles
- Explanations of the most common core patterns
- Therapist and client friendly diagrams to identify attachment styles and core patterns
- Handouts you can copy and give to couples.
- A copy of the Vacillator/Avoider Core Pattern.
This is one of the most common core patterns of couples seeking therapy and the file contains a diagram of the core pattern and a full description of this interaction with interventions and growth goals
For more information, including and an introductory video from Milan and Kay, please click here.
Also, please join us for our annual Therapist Training in Orange County, CA on July 28th, 2017. For more information, or to register for this event, please click here.
“Self, Other, We.”
Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2
I thought it prudent to pause in the series to respond to a great question from one of our readers named Olivia. I hope her question and my response will be helpful to many of you in your journey of love.
“Your post https://howwelove.com/blog/self-other-we-part-2-the-avoider/17654/ resonated with me. I got to the end and really wished for a section on growth goals for *the person dealing with an avoider*. My husband is the avoider, and we are in a vicious cycle in which I keep pointing out ways in which he is not “there” for me, and he keeps trying to “make up for it.” But when what he does is a reaction to my disappointment/anger and not something initiated of his own desire and will, I can’t bring myself to accept it as a meaningful expression of his love. If you can’t tell yet, I’m the vacillator. Is he just not capable of what I want and therefore I’m continually beating him up emotionally for not doing the impossible? Please help.”
Thank you for your wonderful question. Here are a few suggestions that you can find in our book How We Love on pages 324-326 in the section “Helping Avoiders.”
- Please understand that your anger at his inability to “see you” the way you want to be seen will be the primary precipitator of the vicious cycle you describe. In other words, your abandonment wounds fuel the rage you feel when he is not attentive to your emotional needs. This is the first area you must work on, if not you will permanently hold him at arm’s length and you’ll never become close because he will be afraid of you. Spend time in the Vacillator section of the workbook to work on your historical losses. Share your thoughts with him in a humble way and ask him for help in your recovery.
- Stay Calm: Anger repels them and causes them to clam up. Share vulnerable emotions i.e. I’m lonely, scared etc. Being angry with Avoiders for their lack of emotional development is like being angry with your bicycle because it won’t go fast enough on the freeway. It simply can’t keep up with the cars in its present condition.
- Give gentle feedback when they pull away. Let them know they just faded away in the discussion. Ask them where they went? Ask if they were emotionally triggered which led to shutting down. Empathize with their discomfort and pain. Give them time to recover.
- Tell them you want to understand their history. There is a reason they don’t connect emotionally. They never learned how!!!! They were never asked how they felt or what emotions they were experiencing in life.
- Don’t discount small efforts: The most consistent complaint we hear from spouses of Vacillators is “I can never do it right.” Your “lack of acceptance” of his attempts at love will only discourage and dissuade him from even trying. Learn to say “Thank you.”
I hope this is helpful, even if it is a small start. Kay is a fully recovered avoider, so I resonate with your frustration in the early years of our marriage. I had to follow these steps myself and they really worked!!!!
Thanks for listening,
“Self, Other, We.”
Part 2: The Avoider
“Can’t you see me struggling? I do all the work of going to Costco, the least you could do is help me get these heavy boxes through the door! Are you blind? You just sit there staring at your phone. Don’t just look at me, say something!”
Carrie sat there motionless… her mind spinning and searching for something to say. All she could think of was how to get off the hot seat. No words came. She just froze and stared.
Finally, she got up and went to the car, filled her arms with groceries and made the first of three round trips. After going back outside to close the car doors, Carrie decided to get busy and wash the car. “Maybe that will make him happy” she thought.
Sound familiar? Of course! We have all encountered emotionally avoidant individuals who seemingly cannot “see” others very well. How does the Avoider love style relate to the concepts of “Self, Other, We?”
Self: Having grown up in a home where they did not experience emotional and relational connection with an attuned parent, they were inadvertently trained to believe they were on their own. Just like the 1099 contractor who operates independently and rarely consults with others, the Avoider’s natural perception of “self” is that they are on their own to figure out life. Operating out of this self- sufficient base, they correspondingly assume others are similar and will eventually figure out how to go it alone just like they do.
Other: Because they were never trained to examine their own emotions, they lack self- awareness and self-reflection skills. As a result, they are unskilled in correlating the link between their indescribable emotional states and the reactions they produce. For when Carrie was emotionally distressed, all she knew to do was to busy herself with the task of washing the car. She had no awareness that emotional stress was animating her behavior. Most importantly, she did not know how to take her stress into relationships for relief. Because of her own deficiencies, her ability to detect distress in her husband was non-existent. Because she could not see into her own soul, she was unable to anticipate the emotional needs of others or have empathy for their struggle.
We: Lastly, the self-sufficient person doesn’t need others. So why would her husband need her help unload the groceries? She had learned from an early age that others were of little practical use, so she’d had grown used to not needing them. So why did her husband need her? “We” is complicated and messy, so “me” is all I need!
After washing the car, Carrie returned to the kitchen and asked, “So what’s for lunch?” It never crossed her mind to talk with her husband about the earlier altercation.
Growth Goals (for the emotionally avoidant individual): Should you decide that you’ve experienced the above scenario one too many times and that you are tired of the pain it creates here are some steps you can take every day for the rest of your life that will yield better relational outcomes.
- Remind yourself daily of your decision to not stay the way your family your shaped you. Back then you were not a voting member, but now you have a choice to transform your life toward a more secure connector which will open new relational vistas.
- Carry a feelings word list with you wherever you go. When you’re uncomfortable inside, find the word(s) on the list that best describe your emotional state. Write them down in a small pocket journal along with the date.
- Say the words aloud to yourself several times throughout the day.
- At the end of the day when you are reunited with loved ones, take a deep breath, and share your emotional words with your family (age appropriate).
- With the Soul Words list available for others to see, take another deep breath, and ask each family member what emotions they felt throughout the day. Get ready to have a meaningful conversation. Don’t fix anyone, just listen, repeat back what you heard and validate to them how difficult that may have been.
6. Group hug.
Thanks for listening,
Milan & Kay
Next: The Pleaser
“Self, Other, We.”
When she was two years old, Lindsey had learned that when she was uncomfortable or distressed, she could turn to Mom and Dad for help. There she would find relief and comfort from attentive and attuned parents. Additionally, their soothing touch and voice tones would settle her agitation and she would feel peaceful. Though pre-verbal and unable to comprehend the attachment process that was taking place, powerful lessons were being deposited deep into her soul that would become an imprint that would last a lifetime.
As she graduated from college at twenty-two years of age, she found herself facing a difficult challenge. Stay in her college town and pursue a relationship with her boyfriend whom she deeply loved or accept an offer to attend a graduate program at a university five hundred miles away?
Acceptance letter in hand, her first phone call was to her Mom and Dad who arranged to meet with her and process the pros and cons of the decision as well as the strong emotions accompanying both choices. Though she knew she would have to make the final decision on her own, she found wisdom and emotional comfort from her parents that was reassuring and helpful.
What Lindsey had unconsciously learned at two years of age and then consciously applied in adulthood was a healthy and vibrant dynamic between Self, Other and We. Regarding “Self” Lindsey knew deep down inside that she would be “seen” or acknowledged by “others” and was of sufficient value that Mom and Dad would welcome her request for connection. She instinctively knew that the community of “we” was a valuable commodity, and the notion of an isolated life as a “me” never crossed her mind.
This healthy balance between independence, inter-dependence and dependence is called Secure Connection. It represents the model to which we all aspire as a friend, spouse, or parent. However, the insecure attachment styles of the Avoider, Pleaser, Vacillator, Controller, or Victim each falls short of this balanced model. For the next few weeks, we’ll discuss each of the love styles and the choices they can make to become more securely attached to the people who are of greatest importance.
There is hope for all of us! If we didn’t learn secure attachment in our childhood, then we can earn secure attachment as adults by learning new things and making healthy choices.
Thanks for listening,
Milan & Kay
We are reaching out to let you know that Milan and Kay will be doing a How We Love workshop in North Carolina this weekend. For all of the event details, please click here.
We would love to see you there!
Also, we are introducing a new Core Pattern CD to add to existing ones. The Controller-Avoider CD is now available on the website. You can get it here!
We will have new blogs from Milan and Kay coming very soon. We appreciate all of you and your support.
We are so excited to announce:
Our two day Focus on the Family broadcast titled, “Discovering Your Love Style” is scheduled to re-air Monday, December 19, and Tuesday, December 20, 2016 as part of Focus on the Family’s Best of 2016 programs.
On the scheduled airdate, the streaming audio of this broadcast will appear on Their broadcast page – www.focusonthefamily.com/radio – along with a brief description. Their Facebook and Twitter pages will also link to the website on the airdate.
After the airdate, the program will be posted here for 31 days ( part 1 and part 2). Please note that this specific address might still be ‘under construction’ at this time, but will be complete by the airdate.
Also on the broadcast page, look for the Focus “Station Finder” to find stations that carry the program in your area. In addition, a downloadable podcast will be available on iTunes (just search for Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast).
Psychological or Biblical?
Milan and I encounter this question many times as we teach and speak around the country. Is psychology unbiblical? How can psychology be helpful if it is humanistic and man centered? Just in case you readers are wondering how we integrate all this into our beliefs as Christians, here is what we teach on the subject.
Psychology by definition refers to the study of the human mind and mental states by observations, categorizing and labeling characteristics of human behavior.
Psychology is man’s observation of human behavior and the categorization of these observations into names of illnesses or disorders by lists of symptoms. Medical journals observe and categorize illness in the same way. If you have a certain list of symptoms the Doctor says, “You have a cold or virus.” If your medical symptoms match another list, perhaps you have gall bladder problems. Are medical journals “biblical”? No. Are psychological journals “biblical”? No. Do they contain wisdom to label and diagnoses problems? Yes. Do they give the ultimate solutions on how those problems originated or are solved? (Sin and Salvation) No. Can they be helpful to identify diagnosis and help a person identify exactly how they need to be treated or where they need to grow? Yes.
Yes, No, Yes, No….did you follow that? Think of it this way. If we look at the world from a Biblical perspective, we know the world is broken because of sin. You are broken. I am broken. All of creation is broken. Roman 8:20-22 says, “For the creation was subjected to futility , not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. All creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.”
Christ is the solution. “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life.” Christ’s work on the cross rescues us from sin and brokenness. As we accept the sacrifice of the cross on our behalf as payment for our sin, we are adopted into God’s family and given the Holy Spirit. God then calls us to grow into the likeness of Christ. After salvation, God sees us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Of course our mate has a hard time perceiving us as seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places! (Eph 2:6). Rather, they see us as imperfect and incomplete and lacking in many ways. This is because we are not yet transformed practically into being Christ-like.
How does God show me where I’m not like Him? How does God show me what parts of my being still resemble brokenness rather than holiness? The Bible is certainly the primary source. The more I know God and His character the more I will see the goal; what I am becoming in the process of sanctification. Milan and I see psychology as a secondary source of identifying brokenness.
Milan and I were married for 15 years and very serious about our commitment to Christ and open and willing to grow. We did some changing during those years. We learned a lot about our faith. But we were still very stuck in some tenacious marriage dynamics that were hurtful and no amount of prayer or bible study had changed these frustrating patterns. You might say we were still blind as to what was at the root of some areas of brokenness.
God used my studies in attachment theory (psychology) to pinpoint some injuries (sin done to us) and resulting behaviors (our own sin) that were blocking growth in our marriage. I believe it was an answer to our prayers for wisdom as I read these studies. As I discovered the characteristics of an Avoider and how this imprint occurs I clearly saw my own experience in my family of origin. As I read the adult characteristics of the Avoider, I clearly saw how that brokenness affected my parenting and marriage.
I began to confess. I don’t really know how to bond. I am afraid of my feelings, especially painful feelings. I am too independent. I don’t really know how to need God or others on any deep or vulnerable level. I could go on and on. These confessions turned to prayers. God, help me learn to feel. Help me learn to risk being vulnerable. Help me learn to show my pain to you and others. Help me learn to receive comfort.
There was a giant leap in my growth. God was the source in leading me. God was the source in giving me the Holy Spirit as a guide. God was the source in helping me identify and make these healing changes. He just used a sprinkling of psychology along the way to help my confession and prayers go from vague (help me be the wife and mother you want me to be) to more specific requests I just mentioned above.
Next week, I’m going to talk about one more benefit of psychology and medicine in terms of spiritual growth.
Holding Time: Exercise #4
Holder: Hold your spouse until you are both relaxed and your breathing is in sync. Ask your spouse to share a difficult childhood memory. (Avoiders: this may be more about what you missed than a traumatic event). Ask your spouse to share three feelings about this memory. Don’t fix or problem solve. Try and see your spouse as a child experiencing that event or absence of connection.
Think of a child that you are around in your current life that is the same age as you were when you experienced the memory you are sharing. Sometimes we forget how young and vulnerable we were! Try and visualize the memory as you share it.
We hope you have enjoyed this series on Holding Times. The more you practice the more natural and comforting it will become.
Milan and Kay will be in Chatsworth, CA on May 7th for a How We Love Workshop. For more details, please click on the Events tab at howwelove.com