By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Referenced from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s book “How We Love”
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. It will be followed by a practical article with steps for dealing with your vacillator imprint. That article can be found here .
After two years of staying home to look after her daughter, Shauna is exhausted with it. So she hires a nanny and goes back to work. Whenever she hands Kylie over to the nanny, the toddler screams and cries. But when Shauna returns in the afternoon, Kylie refuses to go to her. When her mother finally gets a hold of her, Kylie squirms and hits her with tiny fists. Kylie is well on her way to developing what Milan and Kay Yerkovich call a “vacillator imprint” in their book “How We Love.”
Not Enough Love
Adults with a vacillator imprint struggle with getting enough love in a relationship. This is not because their partner is withholding, but rather because they need so much affection. As children, their parents often left them for long periods of time, and when they did reach out to them, it was always on the parent’s terms. Their mother may have smothered them with affection during their infancy, but began to push them away when they needed them less as they got older. Their father may have reached out to them when they finally got old enough to be interesting, but their interactions centered on what he wanted to do.
Vacillators learn to read others and shape their behavior based on what the other person wants from them in order to avoid rejection. Because they transform themselves into a perfect match for their partner, they fall intensely into relationships. But reality inevitably rubs the shine off their romance. “When a partner does not provide the consistent intense connection hoped for, vacillators are easily hurt and, because of their predisposed sensitivities, have an uncanny ability to remember earlier infractions.” (95) As with all relationships, the vacillator eventually begins to realize their beloved is not perfect. But, because of their imprint, the hurt and betrayal they feel over this are staggering. Their intermittent childhood abandonment taught them relationships cannot last, so, at the first sign of imperfection, they often sabotage these relationships rather than be rejected. They are so focused on the emotions of others they fail to see their own brokenness. This fixation on how their partner hurts them motivates them to end the relationship.
Emotional Powder Keg
“Acutely sensitive to disappointments or possible rejections in relationships, vacillator’s feelings get hurt when their high expectations are not met. And many respond with anger.” (89) Vacillator adults tend to set the emotional temperature for the house. If they are happy, everyone else is happy. But if they are upset about something, it sets everyone else on edge, looking to avoid an outburst. They often feel justified in their anger because it is over a perceived slight, or rejection, from someone else. They tend to exaggerate their emotions to draw attention to themselves and maintain contact – withdrawing into a cloud of resentment until the “guilty” party pursues them. But they fail to see the burden their emotional tyranny places on everyone else and how it creates a double standard where everyone else avoids upsetting the vacillator parent.
Of the five personality styles detailed in “How We Love,” the authors say the “vacillator” has the least self-awareness. This is because they are so focused on looking outward to determine how others are reacting to them (whether they are reaching for them as intensely as the vacillator expects them to) that they have no sensory capacity left over to examine their own behavior.
What the Bible Says About Emotional Tyranny
There are at least five verses in Proverbs that reiterate how living anywhere other than home is better than living with a touchy spouse. Vacillators become touchy spouses when they exaggerate how mad or hurt they are in order to draw their spouse in looking for forgiveness. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” Rom. 12:18 (NJKV) The more you learn about your imprint and how to overcome it, the better equipped you will be to live at peace with your family. You will not feel anxious waiting for your spouse to abandon you, and your children will be able to relax because they are no longer walking on eggshells when they are home.
The Lord would not be called, “the God of peace,” if he enjoyed seeing his children live anxious lives waiting for the bottom to drop out of their relationships. This article is accompanied by another article that details practical steps from “How We Love,” aimed at helping vacillator adults alter their imprint. LINK TO IT In addition to reviewing these exercises, consider sitting down with a professional Christian counselor. Counselors have the tools to help you understand your flawed approach to relationships, help you understand why you operate that way, and how to correct it. The proven therapeutic techniques and spiritual guidance of a professional Christian counselor can assist you during your journey to personal growth and fixing your marriage problems.
Image cc: freedigitalphotos Stuart Miles Father carrying his crying child