By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
This article is part of a series about the personality imprints covered in “How We Love.” You can find an introductory article about imprints here. This article is a practical follow-up article to an article explaining the avoider imprint. You can find that article here.
The authors do not recommend trying to accomplish the following tasks in a few days. They suggest you take a week or
two to be certain you are an avoider and then share with someone which aspects of your character or experiences put you in that category. After you are settled there, start on the steps below. Take as long as you need to go through them. It may take a few weeks or even months to get to the root of your problems.
“Act on the suggestions for as long as it takes to see results. However, if an issue doesn’t seem to apply to you, don’t spend time there. Move on and try something else.” (319)
1. Read Psalm 69. Make a note of all the feelings described. Mark any emotions you’ve felt in the last months.
2. Sometimes the Lord will use the memory of a painful event from the past to bring to the surface certain feelings we need to deal with. Can you think of an event God may be using to heighten certain feelings? Why might this be important? The Bible says we are to love the Lord with all our heart; can you do that if you numb your feelings?
• Because avoiders have so little practice acknowledging and dealing with their feelings, it is incredibly difficult for them to begin to do this. But it is essential for their emotional and relationship health that they learn how to recognize what they are feeling and expand their range of emotions. The authors suggest making a list of “feelings” words, placing it where you can look at it often, and referencing it when you have trouble understanding what you’re feeling.
3. After making your list of emotions, mark which ones are hardest for you to experience or share. Which are easier?
4. When was the last time you cried? Why were you upset? Has there ever been a time when you thought crying would be OK, but you just couldn’t?
5. What event from your childhood or adolescence may have been the reason you shut away your emotions? Write a journal entry about it, and later, share it with your spouse.
6. When can you remember being comforted as a child or an adult? Share one or two of these times with your spouse. If you can’t remember any, what would it look like if someone comforted you? Write these thoughts in a journal entry or share them with your spouse.
7. Avoiders tend to not have a lot of memories of their childhood. Do you think this is true for you? Find someone to talk to about this. If you do not have someone to talk to, journal about it. Focus on a few key memories, or specific characteristics, about your parents that may explain why you imprinted as an avoider. While you’re thinking about this, do you notice any emotions cropping up? What were they? If you did not feel anything, think about what emotions you might have felt during these experiences.
• The authors said it is crucial you find a way to express your childhood memories. If you choose to journal about them before talking with someone about them, make sure to talk to someone about what you wrote. If you don’t have many memories, talk to someone who is familiar with your childhood or look through some photos and see what they trigger.
• While Avoiders are typically not attuned to their emotions; they also tend to not notice sensations in their bodies. Be aware of how your body tenses when you feel certain emotions, how you may unconsciously cross your arms, droop your shoulders, or change your breathing. If it is difficult for you to notice these things by yourself, ask someone to pay attention to how you react to emotional moments and describe it to you.
8. Ready to reenact the best scene from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s “Baby Mama?” Grab a loved one and ask them to make eye contact with you for one or two minutes. What do you feel while you do this?
9. Close your eyes and try to imagine your parents’ eyes. What would they say to you if they were here? How does your body react to this imagining? Do the same with the opposite parent. Make notes of what the experience would be like and how it makes you feel for both scenarios. Later, share your notes with someone who loves you.
• Avoiders struggle with listening to other people’s emotions; they have trained themselves to mentally detach and emotionally disengage. When you see someone who is upset, take a second to pray the Lord would give you the courage and wisdom to help this person. Part of working out of your avoider imprint is learning how to move toward your loved ones when you see they are upset, rather than leaving them to struggle alone. This will probably make you feel anxious, but that’s good because it means you are feeling emotions. Let the person know you are anxious and unsure of what to do, but you want to help.
• While you talk to them about their problem, ask how you can help them. Do they need to vent or would they rather find a solution? If they would rather vent, remark aloud on what you observe. E.g.) “I notice this makes you sad,” or “I see you’re mad about what your coworker did.” If the person would rather problem solve, ask which part of the problem is giving them the most trouble. Ask them if they would appreciate your help coming up with some potential solutions.
• The authors also recommend asking someone for help even if you don’t think you need it. (Remember, avoiders unintentionally create distance between them and their spouse by tackling all their challenges alone.) But rather than asking for help with practical tasks such as doing the dishes or fixing a chair, focus on your emotional needs. If you feel stressed, tell someone what you need. “I need a hug,” or “I need to talk about this.” The Yerkovichs’ want you to know they understand how hard it is to ask for emotional help when you have done the opposite almost your entire life. They encourage you to pray the Lord will give you the awareness to recognize what you need and then the courage to ask for help. They recommend setting a goal of sharing your needs at least once a day.
• While you do this, journal brief entries about your attempts to pray and share your needs and how it makes you feel.
11. Another big challenge for avoiders is to include other people when they make decisions. The next time you make a decision, ask your spouse to help you. This will also help your spouse to feel more included in your life. Journal about this experience.
How Christian Counseling Can Help Avoiders
While these steps are a great jumping off point for working out of your avoider imprint, trying to change core behaviors you’ve had a lifetime to entrench is almost impossible alone. Consider making an appointment with a Christian counselor to get specifics on your individual imprint and how it affects your relationships. Having a professional you can sit down with every week or so to talk to about your progress is more productive than struggling alone. The counselor can help you during discouraging periods of limited growth by reminding you of what you have accomplished so far and helping you make sense of where you are in the process.
Also, if you are married, a Christian marriage counselor can sit down with both partners to discuss how your individual imprints affect your marriage and what you can do to better relate to one another. Remember, God doesn’t want us to go through life ignoring other people. He made us social creatures for a reason.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com – “Male Crying” by David Castillo Dominici
“Stacked Notebooks” by Jomphong
“Man Comforts Woman” by David Castillo Dominici