So, you’ve read The Vacillator Love Style and leaned back, sighing, “That’s me.” Now what? What can you do if you recognize you’re a vacillator? Are you doomed to searching forever for the affection and attention you’ve waited so long to find?
No. No, you don’t. You can maximize your strengths and work through your weaknesses with the power of the Holy Spirit to develop into a Secure Connector.
What’s At the Core?
The first step to becoming a secure connector is learning to recognize and notice what lies at your core. You may not have realized it, but at your core, you have a very intense, conflicting feeling about the relationships that matter to you. There is a root of hurt and abandonment that leaves you concerned that:
- you will never be truly understood.
- you will never be consistently loved.
- everyone you care about will let you down.
- you will never find lasting love.
- you will always be left out and overlooked.
- any closeness you do feel will not last.
- loving attention you do receive will not continue or fill you up.
- the person you care about will always pull away.
- the passion is doomed to always die.
Consider Why You Are Here
It started with your imprint from growing up in an environment in which the love you so desperately needed from your parents was not reliable. You couldn’t count on it to be there when you needed it.
Determine for yourself what situation might have impacted you in childhood to get you to this place.
- Did you have a parent that was only spontaneously close and caring?
- Did you feel like you were always waiting for that parent to be present with you and sincerely care about knowing and understanding you?
- Did you have a parent who at some times at least made you feel like “the special one” or their “favorite,” overindulging you and giving you constant attention?
- Did you have a parent who often traveled for work or was often away serving in the military?
- Did you have a parent with a mental illness such as bipolar that might have caused mood swings that significantly affected your relationship?
- Did you feel like your parents were never really there for you when you needed them (but expected you to want them when they were ready to be there for you)?
Consider What Makes You Upset Now
Prayerfully consider what motivates you to feel so much conflict about your relationships. Do you fear others will detach from you? Are you constantly reading nonverbal cues of others and deducing that they are rejecting you in some way?
According to research on key patterns leading to divorce, one of the clues that your relationship is headed for shipwreck is if one or both people in the relationship practice “mind-reading.” This is when someone looks at the words, nonverbal cues and behavior of another person and deduces what the person must be thinking. We can’t know what another person is actually thinking. Only God can know that. If we believe we can and insist on assuming we know what a person is thinking without asking them directly, then we are the ones responsible for destroying our relationships. The alternative here is, if you are concerned about a relationship, to express your feelings to that person in a non-accusing, seeking-to-understand way, such as:
When X happened, I felt X. Could you help me understand your perspective on that?
(If you find it helpful, you can use Milan and Kay’s Soul Word’s list available here).
Stop the Mind Reading
Take a note of what assumptions you’ve made recently about people you care about from their words, actions, gestures and expressions. Write them down. Recognize these are only guesses. Begin to verbally check each assumption you notice. Ask the person you are stressed about, “I can tell you are upset. Is it something I caused in some way?,” or “You seem distant. Did I upset you in some way?”
Deal With Anger and Resentment
If you could have told your parents one thing when you were little- one thing that they would have listened to- what would you have said? Maybe part of some of these ring true:
- Please pay attention to me!
- Come here and listen to me!
- Value me more than your work/activities/(fill in the blank).
- I need you to spend time completely with me (not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too).
If you don’t deal with your anger towards your parents- if you don’t grieve your loss and forgive for your own sake- your anger will be vented on those you care about most (definitely your children).
No child gives full attention on their own at all times. It is a virtue that must be patiently, persistently encouraged in their lives. You must be able to patiently train them to give full attention to anyone speaking to them. Unfortunately, if you are carrying around a trunk of bitterness and anger towards your parents for not paying attention and listening, that trunk is going to open up and spill out on your children when they don’t pay attention. For a child, your vented anger, like a snowball with years of rolling from your childhood, is too much for a grocery store moment when your child doesn’t listen and obey the first time. It could crush your child’s spirit and severely damage their relationship with you (and their relationships in general).
Work with a trained counselor, be part of a support group, seek friends who will pray for you. If you tend to have a high level of reactivity that you can’t control, these people can help. Make it a priority for you to patiently work through your own pain, grieve what you lost in your childhood, and forgive those who hurt you. When you get angry with your child or spouse or friend, think- “Is this feeling familiar? Does it remind me of how I felt as a child? Likely, your feeling is more intense than the situation demands, because it is carrying that trunk of childhood pain that rolls into a growing snowball of pain as you travel through life. Try to learn to separate what hurt is rising up from the current situation and what pain is weighing you down from the past. Recognize when those feelings of 7-year-old you rise up. Comfort yourself that now you are an adult. You can make different choices to protect and care for yourself.
It’s more natural for you to express anger than sadness. You may even feel your anger is justified. However, expressing sadness directly has the power to create the vulnerability and connection you long for. Be careful not to communicate sadness indirectly through pouting or withdrawal. These will create the opposite effect from what you want. While the person may respond by trying to draw you out, inside they are not feeling the connection to you that you are hoping to create. If you continue with pouting and withdrawal, their perception of you is likely to go down and bitterness is likely to grow instead. If instead you tell them directly how you are feeling sad and why, this opens up a chance to create lasting connection.
Learn to Be Fully Present
Pay attention to where your thoughts are when you are with your children. How often are your thoughts fully focused on your kids? How often are you preoccupied by playing out relationship scenarios in your head or being concerned by feelings of rejection or fear that someone is pulling away or not understanding you?
Your children are smart. They recognize when you are physically present but not really there for them and with them. They are waiting for you, just as you were waiting for your parents. They are hurting, wondering and stressing over when you will be emotionally present with them, just as you may be wondering and stressing over when another person will finally be emotionally present with you.
Don’t imprint your own children to be vacillators. Learn to be emotionally present with them. It will take time. It will take work. It won’t take all your time or work. But you must devote significant time and attention to this until it becomes natural.
When you are at their game- watch it. When you are sitting with them on the couch, look in their eyes and sincerely listen to them. Ask them more questions to understand better. When they are asking you to watch them, look up, watch them, and let them know how they did. When you are with them, be with them. Fully. Present. When you tuck them in, take time to ask them about the high and low points of their day. Plan for extra time. If they open up to you, rejoice! And take the time to listen. It will mean the world to them, just as it would have to you.
Don’t get lost in your thoughts, lost in your phone, lost in your work. Now, if you stay home, you have other things to take care of. You can’t be 100% focused on your kids 100% of the time. However, if you spent 10 minutes with your toddler completely focused on them, playing what they want to or talking about what they want to, that would go a long way for your child. If you have to shift gears then and do something else, your child will likely feel content to play alone for some time, having felt truly loved by your full attention. So break up the things you need to do with time spent giving full attention to your child. If your child seems clingy, is following you around, is acting out, or is doing something that usually gets your attention, that is a good sign that he/she feels a need for Mom or Dad time.
Your child is saying, “I need you. Please be there for me. Please love me.” Your child is wondering, “Do I matter to you? Do you care about me?” Don’t push away your child, but rather push away your inner world of conflicting thoughts. Better yet, commit that world to God so you can be fully present with your kids. Seek to be there for them they need you (which is not always going to be when you want to). This season is short. It leaves a big imprint. Seek to be there for your kids when they need you (which is not always going to be when you want to). Stamp on them the imprint of always loved, always wanted, always welcome with you.
Full attention is important in all of your relationships. Friends and family know when you are not truly listening or truly present with them. Be engaged and enjoy the richness of truly knowing and being known.
When you are not feeling seen, special, wanted, and connected, be careful. You are tempted to be overcome by old emotions. Those feelings from childhood are likely clouding over your vision and intensifying the emotions you feel from your current experience. Check yourself to be sure you aren’t mind-reading. Check with the other person to be sure you are really hearing the situation from their point of view. And by all means, check in with your 7-year-old self and those painful feelings of being unwanted, unseen, unimportant, alone, and abandoned.
Your temptation is to heap all of those emotions that rise up on this person in the present. You are tempted to devalue that person, maybe just in your heart, but perhaps to the listening ears in your life. You may even exaggerate or embellish the story in a way that makes the other person seem worse- to yourself and others. This is never the loving thing to do. Be sure you are obeying Ephesians 4:29-32:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
When your overwhelming feelings rise up, you may not only devalue the person, but also the relationship. You may decide to be done with that friendship, done with that family member, or done with your marriage. If you mean it and follow through on that inclination, you may be walking away from really valuable relationships unnecessarily (and in some cases walking away from God’s call for you). If you threaten those things, you are likely to weaken or destroy the relationship. Even mentioning divorce to a spouse severely damages the relationship. Comments about being done with a person are, for most people, enough to make them begin walking for the door (even though they never thought about doing that before. They are only doing it because you have said you are done with them). Unfortunately, for most people, you only have to say something like that once to cause a severe disconnect that will likely not be repaired. So, be very careful with what you verbalize. Never use your words in anger to hurt someone expecting they will forget what you said later.
Don’t Flip the Switch
For family members of a vacillator, they often feel like a switch flips in you. You feel a relationship is all good or all bad. When you are ruminating, it is all bad. When you’ve gone back to feeling it’s “all good,” it likely isn’t “all good” for the other person. You may have said or done something very hurtful when you were feeling it was “all bad.” When you go back to feeling its “all good,” it will never feel that way for the other person unless their feelings and hurt are dealt with directly, lovingly, humbly and carefully by you. Learn to listen to them and work through their sadness and pain. Learn to apologize when you’ve hurt them. Recognize that you may have hurt them in your anger and that it is not okay. If you have slandered them to others, you will need to make amends by going back and correcting false perceptions you’ve communicated to others. If you have damaged the relationship with strong statements about “being done,” or “wanting to break up” or “wanting a divorce,” you need to recognize that if you are feeling disconnection in the relationship, it is likely something you created- not the other person. You will need to seek to make that right and to change the way you talk.
How Do I Communicate?
When you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, unwanted, or hurt, give yourself a moment. But don’t do it by saying angrily, “I’m done” or “That’s it.” This is very unsettling for your family. Instead, say as Milan and Kay suggest,
“I need a few moments to compose myself and/or respond properly”
Check out the soul words list and come back and express your feelings in soft, low tones. Don’t jump around to past pain and experiences. Focus on the one thing that just happened. Instead of going on and on, try to use the fewest words you can to make your point. All of these things will help you to be heard and understood. To see how your love style impacts your children and to more on how to build up your children, strengthen your relationship with them and communicate with them, check out: Transformational Parenting for the Vacillator.
I Feel X. I Need Y.
Indirect communication will only leave you disappointed. Speak directly about what you are feeling and what you need. Learn to listen to what others feel and need as well. Try this pattern:
When you _____ I feel______. OR When _____happens I feel _____.
Next time, could you _________. OR I need _____________.
Mitigate the Passion
While you are passionate and intense, you have to recognize that everyone in your life has their own personality. In many cases, they communicate love, passion, and intensity in a different way, in a different tone, in a different intensity level than you. This doesn’t mean they love you less. No one can give you all their attention all the time. That isn’t realistic. Learn to set realistic expectations for those you love and to hear love from them in the way they communicate it.
Manage Your Stress
Part of good self-care is dealing with that stress that takes your heart and mind captive. God longs to help you process your thoughts and feelings about all your relationships. He says He wants to guard your heart and mind with His peace that surpasses all understanding. What is the road to this?
Pray. Casting all your anxiety on Him with gratitude. Read more about this in God Longs To Do This For You.
Have an outlet– something fun to do- something you enjoy doing, even if you have to do it alone. There’s real, solid science behind it.
Exercise. During season’s I’d stopped exercising, when I’d restart, I’d realize just how depressed I had been by the contrasting feeling after I restarted. Exercising regularly can really help. And sometimes you just need to Give Yourself a Break.
Breathe deeply. I’ve be fascinated by Stig Severinsen’s ability to hold his breath for over 22 minutes. Breathing deeply turns off your stress system, and turns on the system in your body that calms you. In a breathing training I recently saw, Stig recommended breathing and out in a 1:2 ration (for example, in 2 seconds out 4). Another option is to breath in, hold, breath out in a 1:4:2 ration (for example, in 3 seconds, hold 12, out 6).
Where Should I Start?
Pick one thing discussed in this article. Pray and ask God for help on that one aspect. As you see progress on one, move to another. If you try them all at once, you will likely feel overwhelmed- that none of it is working- and you will give up. Don’t be all or nothing about yourself and your relationships. This is worth the effort and the effort will pay off over time. Stick with it. One by one.
If you are having trouble putting a name to what you are feeling, check out Naming Emotions for Spouses and Kids. Just remember, you may be feeling overpowering anger toward someone you love for something they did, but there is almost always another emotion underneath that. Perhaps it is fear over losing that person or abandonment that takes you back to something you experienced long ago. That buried emotion is the best one to identify and share with the one you love. The Comfort Circle is Milan and Kay’s best way to do that.
How Will I Know When I’m Making Progress?
When you can see both good and bad in anything, you can rejoice. It will be difficult to develop this perspective, but worth every effort you put in. When you are angry and give yourself space, stop the well-worn pathways in your brain that default to rumination. Take time to think of 3 good things about that person or situation. You won’t want to, but do it anyway. You are never to angry to take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). When things seem all good to you, don’t be afraid to talk about another person’s perspective on it. Really listen to them, even if it threatens your idealistic view of the situation. Recognize you are not “all bad” if you admit you need to apologize. When you can honestly see good and bad in every person and situation, being thankful for the good, you will know that you have made significant progress toward being a secure connector.
Join Me On The Journey
I’m on this journey, too, of seeing how my imprint affects all of my relationships. Oftentimes, it isn’t pretty. But, it’s a joy to see God working in me, helping me notice more and make changes that count, even if they seem small. How can loved ones come alongside a Vacillator? Check out Help! I’m Married to a Vacillator.
Want To Know More?
Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share). Subscribe so you don’t miss the other love styles!
More Posts In the Series:
If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.
- The Vacillator Love Style
- Transformational Parenting for the Vacillator
- Help! I’m Married to a Vacillator
- Naming Emotions for Spouses and Kids
- The Comfort Circle
The key teachings of this post are consolidated from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s excellent resources:
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.
Copyright © 2020 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.