Vacillators defend very differently. They often follow a pattern of defenses that repeat in the same order. Vacillators have high hopes for connection and will wade into conflict or even stir the pot to get things moving toward their idealized hopes.
Idealization: Seeing life through rose colored glasses. Exaggerating the positive qualities of self or others to avoid the pain of reality or the possibility of rejection.
Vacillators often start relationships with this defense in place. “He’s so wonderful.”
“I’ve met my soul mate.” Longing for the consistent predictable connection they did not get as kids, they idealize new situations as a way of protecting themselves from the possibility of disappointment or rejection.
Projection: Transferring one own badness or unwanted feelings or qualities onto others.
This is a tricky one because it happens in a flash, often outside the awareness of the vacillator. As children vacillators experienced some connection but then periods of rejection, abandonment, and neglect. These are bad, confusing feelings and the child feels unlovable, flawed and powerless. They desperately want to feel loved, seen and special again. These are the very feelings vacillators try and defend against because they don’t ever want to feel again.
As adults, when things start to go wrong in a relationship (and they always do) vacillators feel a flash of shame, anxiety, unworthiness and fear of abandonment. This is intolerable and quickly replaced by anger at who ever stirred up these feelings. The spouse, friend, etc. who caused this old feeling to emerge is suddenly seen as bad, rejecting, flawed and neglectful. The vacillator is angry that this person, in whom they had such high hopes, is now making them feel so much pain. They don’t see the childhood roots of this feeling.
Devaluation: Exaggerated feelings of badness are attributed to self or other. Vacillators now move to the third defense. Devaluation. Unable to tolerate feeling bad, flawed or unlovable like they did as a child, they devalue the person who has disappointed.
Splitting: This is a mechanism in which the person views himself or herself as all good or all bad, failing to integrate the positive and negative qualities of self and others into a cohesive whole. The person may alternate between idealizing and devaluing the same person.
This defense describes the core defense of the vacillator. It’s like idealizing, projection and devaluing all rolled up into one idea or term. The vacillator can’t tolerate the feeling of being bad or flawed because it is to painful, feels fatal, final and hopeless. So when the vacillator feels this, they flip into idealizing themselves, devaluing others. It looks like pride…always having to be right. In reality it’s protection against the pain of feeling unlovable. This is why integrating good and bad is such an important growth goal for the vacillator. In reality the vacillator is good and bad and so are others.
Copyright © 2009 Milan and Kay Yerkovich