Common Problems for Each of the Love Styles in Therapy
Each of the love style responds in predictable ways to therapy. Here are some of the issues we see over and over. Therapists need to understand and be able to navigate these common issues.
Avoiders: Avoiders don’t see any problem with their past. They often have vague memories and say, “It was fine.” They may be annoyed when asked to identify feelings. When asked to explore emotions or try something uncomfortable, avoiders do better if given logical explanations as to the goals and methods for making progress and are reminded of the big picture routinely. Avoiders hate feeling inadequate (which they will feel a lot in therapy) and need reminders of what they missed as kids and how that is related to their current struggles.
Pleasers: Try to be the best client ever and have difficulty disagreeing with the therapist. Pleasers need to work on boundaries and speaking their mind, even with their therapist. As with everyone, pleasers want to make their therapist happy. They often keep an eye on their mate and monitor their reaction to anything they are saying to make sure they aren’t going to be in trouble with their spouse when the session is over. Speaking the truth and being honest even if it makes someone mad is an important step of growth.
Vacillators: Vacillators tend to idealize a therapist at first believing they are the answer to their problems. Their agenda is, “Fix my spouse, they are the problem.” Vacillators easily feel misunderstood and want to tell the therapist detailed stories to prove their point. This can take up the full hour. If the therapist doesn’t direct the session, the vacillator will! Vacillators feel deeply rejected and misunderstood when confronted by the therapist about their part in relational struggles. When challenged, vacillators quickly feel “all bad” and are filled with shame. This is a miserable feeling that makes them feel flawed and unwanted. They get rid of this feeling by getting angry and making others “all bad”. Accepting feedback and sticking with the process is important for the vacillator. Over time the vacillator often makes the therapist “all bad” when the counselor doesn’t see things the vacillator’s way. They tend to leave therapy in a huff and may try to find another therapist who will see only their point of view.
Controllers: Controllers often challenge the therapist authority feeling threatened by giving anyone else any kind of power. They may intimidate and test the therapist boundaries. I connect with controllers by helping them understand how the painful childhood experiences are at the root of the current anger they feel. Getting to the grief will be the most important challenge for the controller. Both men and women who are controllers are some of the most sensitive people under all that anger and intimidation. This trait just got obliterated in their childhood as it was not safe to be sensitive.
Victims: Victims are so use to living without hope they don’t often expect much from therapy. They need lots of encouragement that small changes can make a big difference. Of course, safety is the first concern. If the couple is a controller victim duo, the therapist should meet privately with the victim to check for physical or emotional abuse. The victim needs to learn to stand up to the controller, but may be in danger doing so. Safely is of foremost importance when working with a victim.
We will be in Pittsburgh this weekend! Hope to see some of you there!