How and Why Avoiders Control Others
We all have a “need” to control others.
Everybody does it.
Some more than others.
Sometimes it’s healthy.
Sometimes it’s not.
Recall that last week we began by asking the question “Why do we control others?
We answered by saying “Because the behavior of others (or the lack thereof) causes us to become agitated, insecure or fearful inside and we seek to modify their behavior to make ourselves feel more comfortable.”
We then said, “Generally (not always) the need to control is directly proportional to our internal security. The more insecure and fearful we are inside, the more controlling of others we become. In contrast, the more we’re internally secure, the less controlling we are of others.”
Remember, Avoiders desire to avoid the intense emotions and neediness of themselves and others. So, they “control” others by deciding (often unconsciously) the closeness and distance between themselves and others to create safe emotional distancing when they feel overwhelmed.
Here is what the “formula” looks like:
Approaching intense emotions / neediness of others > internal insecurity and fear (sometimes panic) > distancing of others > relief and comfort.
While this rarely ever brings relational resolution and intimacy, they do this distancing expressly for the purpose of making themselves more comfortable. This in turn leaves others feeling frustrated and angry because the avoider refuses to engage, exchange ideas and emotions which feels like abandonment to the person trying to connect.
They consciously and unconsciously control this space by a variety of avoidance techniques and separating emotions. They control by refusing to fully listen to others, evading people and difficult problems, not answering the phone, engrossing themselves in projects or tasks, ignoring emotions and last but not least using anger to control the approaching person.
A woman called my office and asked about premarital counseling with her fiancé. She added that this was a second marriage for each and there had already been domestic violence within the relationship. She went on to say that he has slapped her and pushed her.
Assuring her that verbal and physical violence was never a healthy option and it should never take place in a healthy relationship, I followed my intuition and asked her, “What were you doing just before he slapped and pushed you.” A long period of silence was broken by a softer more shameful tone of voice. “It was New Years Eve and we had been drinking and I was talking to him about problems and he began to ignore me. The louder I got the more he ‘checked out’ and he turned up the TV. So I got in his face and was screaming at him telling him to listen to me. He snapped, screamed at me to get away, slapped my face and pushed me away.”
I told her he was most likely an Avoider and she was most likely a Vacillator and that he was controlling the distance to protect himself like any animal trapped in a corner.
How did he control her in an attempt to make himself more comfortable? He used ignoring, checking out, TV volume control and when none of these worked, he played the ultimate “separating emotion” card… anger accompanied with violence.
She said they were getting married in three months, the date was set and she was not open to my suggestions to delay the wedding. I refused to see them in my office, as my goal in premarital counseling would have been to talk them out of marriage altogether or delay it two or three years. With that level of unhealthiness, they would never stand a chance of succeeding in marriage and six to nine sessions of premarital would have been worthless in trying to overcome four decades of attachment injuries in each of their lives.
“What is one thing that I can do as an Avoider to become less controlling?” You need to become an excellentlistener. “But let each of you be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19).” As you learn to listen and ask good questions, you will gradually learn to gain “control” over people’s emotions by “leaning in” to the emotions and problems of others.
Remember: To be thoroughly heard and understood will always diffuse the intensity of others. To avoid them is to inflame them.
Over the next three weeks we will continue to look at the rest of the attachment styles and discover how each of them is controlling in their own unique way and how to grow and become healthier.
Thanks and blessings,
Milan & Kay
Next week:“How and Why Pleasers Control Others.”
how does this apply to Avoiders?