Markers of Humility: Can You Apologize – Vacillators and Controllers/Victims

Back to the subject of humility and apologies.  We have looked at the avoider and pleaser in terms of their difficulties with apologies and what they need to apologize for.  Now let’s turn our attention to the Vacillator and Controller/Victim love  styles.

Vacillators:  Vacillators have a very difficult time with apologies because to own their own part in the problematic dynamics of relationships means they must own (out loud) their flaws.  (To do this makes a vacillator feel “all bad”).  Remember vacillators tend to swing between all good and all bad.    In their private, internal thoughts vacillators struggle with feelings of being unlovable, flawed and are waiting and expecting to be misunderstood, mistreated and abandoned.  Those internal struggles are well hidden from the world at large.

Vacillators are reactive, blaming and angry when others make them feel left out or unwanted  in the present.  So the focus becomes how others make them feel “bad”.  With this outward preoccupation about the actions and behaviors of others, their self reflection skills are often deficient.  A growing vacillator will learn to apologize for their impulsive reactivity and anger which hurts others.  They will learn to acknowledge and grieve the childhood wounds that drive this behavior and risk asking for comfort.  They will apologize for the push/pull, come here/go away signals that confuse their family members.

Here is a great apology I hear from a vacillator in my office.  “I’m really sorry for being so mad at you all weekend.  I realize I was hoping you would guess what I needed and respond like I hoped.  I forgot to take responsibility for clearly asking for what I want and need.”  I have him a round of applause for that statement.

Here is another example of a growing vacillator learning to apologize.  “I want to apologize for that angry outburst this morning.  You don’t deserve those unkind words.  I’m trying to learn to share about hurt not anger.  I’m sorry for being hurtful with my words and I’d like to try again to do a better job at sharing my feelings.  Could we have a “do over” and I’ll make an effort to talk about hurt not anger.  Is now a good time?”

Controllers and Victims:   These folks should have heard daily apologies from their parents for the chaotic, traumatic events of their childhood. Unfortunately, most people from difficult childhoods never heard the words, “I’m sorry,” in their lifetime.  It’s another missing piece of good modeling that was absent in their homes growing up.  Controllers and victims need to start in a very unusual place to learn to apologize. They need to hear the voice of our tender Lord grieving and apologizing for the sinful choices of others that cost them so much pain when they were little.  They need to learn to have compassion for the child they once were just as Jesus does.  When taking about their own childhood experiences, controllers and victims are just as dismissive, uncaring and indifferent to the child they once were as their parents were to them growing up.

Jesus might say, “I have all your tears in a bottle.”  I know the day you made a vow never to cry again and I don’t blame you. No one cared about your tears.   I have given people the freedom of choice but sometimes they choose to do and say things that are very heartbreaking.  You stopped crying, but I never stopped crying for you.  I know what it’s like to be mistreated, hit, accused falsely, misunderstood and suffer at the hands of another.  I know the feeling of betrayal and pain.  I understand the pain of having to accept the choices and decisions of others. I live outside of time and see you at every age at the same time.  I see the hurt child in you and have great compassion.  You must learn to see yourself through my eyes.”

A controller or victim talking to the child they once were would sound like this.  “I don’t like to even think about you it’s too painful.  You never really got to be a kid.  No one has ever heard, acknowledged or comforted your pain, including me.  I’m sorry for ignoring you and trying so hard forget you ever existed.  I’m sorry I’m so afraid of your pain.

One has to acknowledge their own pain before they can ever be sympathetic to another person pain.  Of course, over time this apology should extend to people in our present life.  It might sound like this.  Father to son:  “I never really realized how much my anger hurt you.  My own father was very angry and I have buried the hurt he caused me for years.  My feelings about it were buried and locked away.  So I could hurt you the same way without really feeling what it was doing to you.  Now that I’m letting myself remember, I can see your pain when I get angry.  I’m so sorry and I want to learn better ways of dealing with my feelings.”

Humility means we are able to apologize.  I’ve worked with families who say horrible things and leave the scene of the conflict without resolution.  Some time later family members resume contact and are “nice” as though nothing happened.  This is very unhealthy because no one has to take responsibility for their actions.  Responsibility for ones actions means making confessions and apologies and then truly working to change that which is hurtful in us.


3 Responses to “Markers of Humility: Can You Apologize – Vacillators and Controllers/Victims”

My wife and I have both agreed that I am an avoider and she is a vacillator. This is so true as she does not want to apologize for how she has contributed to a recent fight. I have been able to recognize how my avoider tendencies triggered her anger and have since apologized and explained how I plan to interact going forward. When I asked her to recognize how her anger hurt me, she said that I need to get angry at you in order for you to listen to me and I wouldn’t change how I reacted. Is there a better way to “reason” with a vacillator? Is there a better way to relate with a vacillator in order for them to recognize how harmful their anger can be?

Totally unfair. The whole goal for the vacillator is to express hurt not anger. I’m proud of you for acknowledging your part. Don’t engage when she’s angry. Tell her you would love to listen when she can communicate in a soft voice. She has to want to change. You can’t say anything differently. Your request was fair and reasonable. Blessings. Kay

I have been thinking about what you wrote above Kay for a few days and I tried hard not to avoid my feelings or negative feelings and took the time to share some of the hurt I have felt with my wife. Unfortunately, this only hurt her more, she admittedly has built a wall. I have read your books and every blog post I can get my hand on and we are totally in the vacillator voider pattern, I can see it, but she doesn’t like it when I bring this up. I want to reach her behind all the hurt she feels, but right now she won’t let me in. Do I continue to pursue her or let her have her space?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.