“Self, Other, We.” Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2

“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.”

Dear Olivia,

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.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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,
Milan

“Self, Other, We.” Part 2: The Avoider

“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: The Pleaser

Upcoming Event!

Hi everyone,

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.

Holding Times – Part 2

Why Holding is Difficult for Avoiders and Pleasers?

Avoiders find holding time awkward as they most often grew up with parents who showed minimal to no affection and offered little comfort. If coached, they may be willing to try and hold their spouse, but certainly would not ask for a holding in return. One avoider husband I know held his wife as she shared some painful memories. She cried a lot and all those emotions were a bit overwhelming for him, but he is trying to grow and he did a good job. When she later asked to hold him he said, “I don’t dwell on pain, I just move on.” Now being an avoider myself, I understand this thinking. We worked hard to not feel pain, so why dig it up? There are three compelling reasons.

First, if we are going to be transformed into the image of Christ, we need to be able to feel. (See last week’s blog).
Second, holding gives an opportunity to receive what was missed as a kid. Nurture. Comfort. Being heard. Being known. Avoiders have no idea that nurturing can relieve stress. They have to experience comfort in order to value it. Third, avoiders end up resentful because they are always being asked to give something, but need little to nothing in return. I cannot tell you how often I hear from the spouses of avoiders, “He or she does not need me.” Avoiders need to learn to receive. There is no better way than to allow your spouse to hold you.

Holding Time for Pleasers:

Pleasers are givers not receivers. Of all the types, they have to give to soothe their own anxiety about others being unhappy or distressed. They are hyper attuned to the needs of others; a skill they learned in childhood. By the time marriage occurs, they have had years of practice in the giving, caretaking role. As a result, they never ask for much and are absolutely terrible receivers. They are so unaware of their own feelings and needs that it does not occur to them to ask for comfort when they are stressed.

Now most of you know that Milan is a pleaser and I am an avoider. So, how easy do you think it was for us to learn to do holding times? The answer should be obvious. It was difficult.
Neither of us wanted to be vulnerable, but we knew it was an important skill we were missing in our marriage and parenting.
So, we kept at it. Over time it got easier, safer and we felt more competent.

What did we do when strong emotions of grief emerged during a holding? We agreed that holding time was not a time to fix or problem solve. The goal was to learn to be together, listen, validate and comfort. If your spouse feels an emotion, say what you see. “I see this makes you tearful and sad.” “I see your eyes welling up with tears.” Give permission: “I’m glad you are sharing those feelings with me.” “This is a safe place for you to feel.” “It makes me feel needed and special when you are vulnerable with me.”

I wish we could describe the results and the blessings of giving one another comfort. It has been more than worth every awkward moment. As we get older, we find life brings more loss. We have a safe place to feel the sadness and process the grief. We have healed many of our childhood wounds as we have comforted one another through painful memories.

Next week we will look at Vacillators and Chaotic love styles and holding time. So, how’s it going for you? Have you tried it? Let us know how it goes. You have to make yourself uncomfortable in order to grow.

Blessings!

Common Problems for Each of the Love Styles in Therapy

Common Problems for Each of the Love Styles in Therapy

Each of the love style responds in predictable ways to therapy. Here are some of the issues we see over and over. Therapists need to understand and be able to navigate these common issues.

Avoiders: Avoiders don’t see any problem with their past. They often have vague memories and say, “It was fine.” They may be annoyed when asked to identify feelings. When asked to explore emotions or try something uncomfortable, avoiders do better if given logical explanations as to the goals and methods for making progress and are reminded of the big picture routinely. Avoiders hate feeling inadequate (which they will feel a lot in therapy) and need reminders of what they missed as kids and how that is related to their current struggles.

Pleasers: Try to be the best client ever and have difficulty disagreeing with the therapist. Pleasers need to work on boundaries and speaking their mind, even with their therapist. As with everyone, pleasers want to make their therapist happy. They often keep an eye on their mate and monitor their reaction to anything they are saying to make sure they aren’t going to be in trouble with their spouse when the session is over. Speaking the truth and being honest even if it makes someone mad is an important step of growth.

Vacillators: Vacillators tend to idealize a therapist at first believing they are the answer to their problems. Their agenda is, “Fix my spouse, they are the problem.” Vacillators easily feel misunderstood and want to tell the therapist detailed stories to prove their point. This can take up the full hour. If the therapist doesn’t direct the session, the vacillator will! Vacillators feel deeply rejected and misunderstood when confronted by the therapist about their part in relational struggles. When challenged, vacillators quickly feel “all bad” and are filled with shame. This is a miserable feeling that makes them feel flawed and unwanted. They get rid of this feeling by getting angry and making others “all bad”. Accepting feedback and sticking with the process is important for the vacillator. Over time the vacillator often makes the therapist “all bad” when the counselor doesn’t see things the vacillator’s way. They tend to leave therapy in a huff and may try to find another therapist who will see only their point of view.

Controllers: Controllers often challenge the therapist authority feeling threatened by giving anyone else any kind of power. They may intimidate and test the therapist boundaries. I connect with controllers by helping them understand how the painful childhood experiences are at the root of the current anger they feel. Getting to the grief will be the most important challenge for the controller. Both men and women who are controllers are some of the most sensitive people under all that anger and intimidation. This trait just got obliterated in their childhood as it was not safe to be sensitive.

Victims: Victims are so use to living without hope they don’t often expect much from therapy. They need lots of encouragement that small changes can make a big difference. Of course, safety is the first concern. If the couple is a controller victim duo, the therapist should meet privately with the victim to check for physical or emotional abuse. The victim needs to learn to stand up to the controller, but may be in danger doing so. Safely is of foremost importance when working with a victim.

We will be in Pittsburgh this weekend! Hope to see some of you there!

Blessings,
Kay

Psychological or Biblical?

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 ….a note of explanation.

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 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 it’s 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 Sprit. 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 seeing us seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). 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 them. You might say we were still blind as to 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 that I read these studies. As I read 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.

Blessings,
Kay

Holiday Tips

Here is a great reminder from a blog Kay wrote last year on how to handle the Holidays!

Here is a good rule when you are going to be around difficult relatives. Predict what will happen. You know them well. Talk with your spouse or kids (if they are old enough) about what you predict. Then have a sense of humor when it happens. Give someone in your family a thumbs up….”see, there it was…my prediction just came true. The goal? You know you are an adult around your family and relatives if when you leave you are not disappointed, angry, or hurt. After all what did you expect?

Avoider: Learn to feel…black and white to color. Jesus came to earth because he feels love and desire. Ask Him to wake you up this holiday season to the importance of relationships. That’s what the coming of our savior was all about; winning our hearts and meeting our deepest need. It wasn’t about tasks as much as expressing love. Frozen, tundra heart of the avoider waits to be unthawed. It stings to unthaw a frost bit hand. Ask Jesus to melts the ice until you are free to live in the color of emotion and accept your needs as important and worth meeting.

Pleaser: Pleaser season giving giving, giving. Stop. Quiet. Look .listen. What can you receive? Ask for help. Sit with people and talk instead of cleaning or doing dishes. The holidays mean we are around relatives who might hurt us with insensitive words. Maybe someone in our own family won’t appreciate all the work and effort you have made. Jesus proved hurt and rejection aren’t deadly. Glorious birth, then rejection. Death before resurrection. No fear. Rejection can be transformed into resurrection.

Vacillator: No idyllic Christmas. Just real. Jesus birth was messy not ideal. Let the season be good and bad. It won’t be as good as you hope and something will go wrong. So when it does, don’t over react , go all bad and suffer. Let it roll off. Let good and bad live close together in the days ahead. Jesus came into our world a broken place and still He accepts us as broken. Learn to let yourself and those around you be imperfect and messy. It’s a part of life.

Controller: Holidays can be reminders of painful childhood times. Think about your feelings about Christmas. Are they overly idealized to make up for all you suffered as a child? Or do you just barely tolerate the holidays because of how miserable they were growing up? It’s time of a reality based redo. Try to make this Christmas something “little you” can enjoy. Remember your anger is a cover for tender feelings. Something will probably upset you so when it does, look for the vulnerable feeling when you feel angry.

Victim: Jesus tolerated the intolerable on the cross. He understands your pain. Find solace in His love. Find Jesus in the days ahead in His gift of creation. Look, see, hear, touch the wonder. You are His wonder too. He came to this earth for you because you are loveable, worthy and He rejoices when you become His child. He is a good parent and he desires you. Dwell on Romans 8.

Milan and Kay have welcomed two new grandchildren into the family in the past couple of weeks. Busy times full of love and gratitude!

We would love to have you join us in January for a local How We Love our Kids event at Grace Fellowship church. Please click on the events tab to find the event and see all of the details.

We have just introduced a new Secure Connector CD and audio download. Last year, Milan and Kay wrote a whole blog series on all of the traits of the Secure Connector and we received great feedback. They have recorded many of the thoughts and tips from that series on this new CD. All of the Love Style Lectures are on sale this month! This includes all of the individual Love Style CDs and downloads! Great stocking stuffers!!

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and look forward to growing more with you in the New Year!

Avoider – Avoider Core Pattern

We are thrilled to announce that all of the new Attachment Core Pattern Therapy packages are now available. Recently we trademarked “Attachment Core Pattern Therapy” ™ and have written new material which greatly expands the “Duets” section from the book. Milan and Kay have produced sixty minute CDs explaining each of the Core Patterns and interventions for how to get out of them. Additionally, each CD includes an extensive PDF file with a diagram of the Core Pattern as well as a written description and interventions for change.
The new series includes:
• Attachment Core Pattern Therapy ™ Overview
• The Vacillator-Avoider Core Pattern
• The Avoider-Pleaser Core Pattern
• The Vacillator-Pleaser Core Pattern
• The Controller-Vacillator Core Pattern
• The Controller-Victim Core Pattern
• The Vacillator-Vacillator Core Pattern
• Less Common Patterns: Avoider-Avoider and Pleaser-Pleaser

Next week we will highlight the last Core Pattern: Pleaser-Pleaser. All of the Attachment Core Pattern Therapy packages will continue to be on sale through the end of November. Beginning in December, they will go to regular price and we will have another special for December. For more information please go to: www.howwelove.com

Avoider – Avoider Core Pattern

Nothing seems to ruffle this couple. Conflict will be avoided unless it can be rationally discussed. Affection will be minimal and often a family pet gets more touch than the couple give to one another. Of all the combinations, this one is most likely to not want children. If children do enter the family, the system will be stressed as babies and toddlers are a bundle of feelings and needs. Arguments may ensue over division of labor.
This couple seems to sail along with few problems and no prominent Core Pattern until a crisis hits that breaks the lid off of shut down feelings. At this point, one person will start to feel and need support on some level, and their spouse will struggle and feel inadequate to make this shift. This couple rarely comes to therapy unless a crisis has forced tension into the relationship and the pair begins to struggle. A Core Pattern may emerge after a crisis where the spouse in pain feels unsupported and let down by their mate’s lack of empathy.

Blessings!

Avoider-Pleaser Core Pattern

We are thrilled to announce that all of the new Attachment Core Pattern Therapy packages are now available. Recently we trademarked “Attachment Core Pattern Therapy” ™ and have written new material which greatly expands the “Duets” section from the book. Milan and Kay have produced sixty minute CDs explaining each of the Core Patterns and interventions for how to get out of them. Additionally, each CD includes an extensive PDF file with a diagram of the Core Pattern as well as a written description and interventions for change.
The new series includes:
• Attachment Core Pattern Therapy ™ Overview
• The Vacillator-Avoider Core Pattern
• The Avoider-Pleaser Core Pattern
• The Vacillator-Pleaser Core Pattern
• The Controller-Vacillator Core Pattern
• The Controller-Victim Core Pattern
• The Vacillator-Vacillator Core Pattern
• Less Common Patterns: Avoider-Avoider and Pleaser-Pleaser

For the next few weeks, we will be giving you a brief description and overview of each of these Core Patterns. – See more at: www.howwelove.com

Avoider-Pleaser Core Pattern

Over time, the Pleaser begins to feel rejected by the Avoider’s independent, self-sufficient relational style. The Avoider’s tendency to disengage and detach makes the Pleaser feel anxious about the relationship wondering, “What is wrong?” “Am I making my spouse happy?” As the Pleaser feels cut off, they pursue to close the gap and lower their own anxiety. They wonder why the Avoider doesn’t seem to want or need them as much as they used to.

The Avoider becomes annoyed when the Pleaser interprets their need for space as a personal rejection. This is baffling to the Avoider who has always been independent and self-sufficient. They began to see the Pleaser as smothering and too needy so they distance and continue to be self-sufficient as they have always been.

The irritation of the Avoider increases the Pleaser’s anxiety. Why isn’t their spouse happier? Why don’t they want to be closer? The Pleaser increases their efforts to win approval and begins to resent the fact that they give more in the relationship. This irritates the Avoider, because they were not asking for anything in the first place. And so, the dance continues. Since both the Pleaser and Avoider are adverse to conflict and difficult emotions, most problems are minimized and not addressed. Honest difficult conversations are rare in this pair.

Blessings!

Vacillator-Avoider Core Pattern

We are thrilled to announce that all of the new Attachment Core Pattern Therapy packages are now available. Recently we trademarked “Attachment Core Pattern Therapy” ™ and have written new material which greatly expands the “Duets” section from the book. Milan and Kay have produced sixty minute CDs explaining each of the Core Patterns and interventions for how to get out of them. Additionally, each CD includes an extensive PDF file with a diagram of the Core Pattern as well as a written description and interventions for change.

The new series includes:
• Attachment Core Pattern Therapy ™ Overview
• The Vacillator-Avoider Core Pattern
• The Avoider-Pleaser Core Pattern
• The Pleaser-Vacillator Core Pattern
• The Controller-Vacillator Core Pattern
• The Controller-Victim Core Pattern
• The Vacillator-Vacillator Core Pattern
• Less Common Patterns: Avoider-Avoider and Pleaser-Pleaser

For the next few weeks, we will be giving you a brief description and overview of each of these Core Patterns.

Vacillator-Avoider Core PatternAs the love styles collide, the Avoider feels constantly in “trouble” for disappointing their spouse. The passionate connection and the intense good feelings of the early relationship are replaced with the Vacillator’s passionate anger, hurt and disappointment as “real life” sets in. As the Vacillator devalues the relationship, the Avoider retreats and reverts to the independent lifestyle they adopted in their childhood home.
The Vacillator feels devastated when the “passionate connection” is lost. They feel angry, betrayed, and abandoned as they discover the Avoider’s lack of ability to connect. They do not understand that because the Avoider never experienced close emotional connections growing up, they cannot understand or value what the Vacillator wants. Initially, Vacillators are willing to work hard to get the Avoider to respond and engage. Over time, however, they become increasingly angry when the Avoider is incapable of providing the consistent, passionate connection they desire. Unlike the Pleaser, they voice their anger, further driving the Avoider into a mode of retreat.
The Vacillator goes through a pattern of protest, despair and detachment over and over when their idealized hopes and dreams don’t materialize. Over time they may give up and detach and appear to be a detached Avoider when in fact they are a Vacillator who has given up hope.

We hope you enjoy these and find hope that change is possible with God’s grace and hard work!

Blessings!