“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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Say the words aloud to yourself several times throughout the day.
4. 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).
5. 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 Week: 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 (http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/discovering-your-love-style-pt1 and http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/discovering-your-love-style-pt2). 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
Holding Time: Exercise # 3
Hold your spouse until you are both relaxed and your breathing is in sync. Ask your spouse to describe a current stressor. Ask them to pick three words off the list of Soul Words to describe how that stressor makes them feel. Listen and empathize. Don’t fix or problem solve.
While you are learning to have holding times, pick a stressor that is not about your spouse! It is easier to learn to hold and listen when it’s not a personal complaint.
Holding Time: Exercise #2
Hold your spouse until you are both relaxed and your breathing is in sync. Then make eye contact by asking your spouse to look into your eyes. Share a positive, special memory with your spouse that has meaning for you. Be aware and try to communicate as much with your eyes as you do with your words.
Listen to your spouse as they share a favorite memory and try to take their words into your soul as you make eye contact.
Switch roles and repeat.
Holding Time Part 4
Here are some specific ways to try a holding. Our advice is to make a clear distinction between holding and sex. We all need nurturing, comforting touch that isn’t sexual. Learn to communicate directly as a couple and make it clear when you want to give or receive touch that is non-sexual and when your touch is an invitation to have sex.
Exercise #1: Quiet Relaxing Holding. 20 minutes
Pick a quiet time with as few interruptions as possible. I know this is a challenge if you have small children. Find a comfortable spot and put on some relaxing music. Take 10 minute turns so each spouse is both a giver and receiver. Don’t talk and close your eyes. Be quietly present in the experience and notice what you feel. Try and sync your breathing so you are inhaling and exhaling in the same rhythm with one another. Use pillows and support so you can both relax as much as possible during this experience.
Holding Time for Vacillators
Since a vacillator longs for connection you might think they would be excited about holding time. Since Vacillators want connection without being vulnerable it can feel like a risky proposition. What if I like it and my spouse never offers again? What if I feel too exposed? Asking directly for what they want or need is very difficult for the Vacillator. Some Vacillators may be too mad at their spouse to offer or accept a holding time.
We find Vacillators often express anger and are unaware of the anxiety and more vulnerable feelings under the anger. Vacillators must learn to find soul words on the feelings words list and ask for a holding time before the anger erupts. Often the anxiety is about something the Vacillator is ruminating on so be aware of preoccupied states and ask for help with the anxiety. This is a key to the Vacillator’s growth.
Vacillators like to feel needed and if they are not angry at their spouse they can hold their spouse quite comfortably. The Vacillator’s tendency to be in an “all good” or “all bad” mood or state of mind can make the Vacillator unpredictable in their willingness to give to their spouse. Vacillators can find more middle ground if they are willing to give or receive a holding time, when they aren’t “in the mood”.
Holding time for Controllers and Victims
Chaotic attachment and childhood trauma go hand in hand. This group usually had lots of difficult experiences and little to no comfort when they were kids. Tenderness can bring buried pain to the surface so these folks may unconsciously avoid comfort. Gentle, empathetic touch and kindness may make the Controller or Victim very uncomfortable. Their tears are deeply buried and holding time can bring them to the surface. It’s difficult to look back at painful memories but buried trauma is carried in the body and it takes a lot of effort to hold inside. Grief and comfort help heal these painful memories and free the body to be fully alive and relaxed in the present moment.
For women or men who were trapped as kids or sexually abused, holding can sometimes be a trigger. It’s important to discuss any negative feelings that arise during a holding time as these reactions can be reminders of childhood trauma.
It takes a level of safety to engage in holding and if there is physical or emotional abuse in the current relationship, it isn’t safe. Holding is a vulnerable giving of oneself into the arms of another. In some cases the regulation of emotions and the ability to have a calm conversation needs to be the first goal.
In the next few weeks we will give you some specific ideas for holding times. Write to us and let us know if you try these exercises. We would love your feedback.
We are pleased to announce that the audio version of the How We Love book is now available at christianaudio.com!