Favorite Defenses – the Vacillator

Vacillators defend very differently.  They often follow a pattern of defenses that repeat in the same order.  Vacillators have high hopes for connection and will wade into conflict or even stir the pot to get things moving toward their idealized hopes.

Idealization:  Seeing life through rose colored glasses.  Exaggerating the positive qualities of self or others to avoid the pain of reality or the possibility of rejection.

Vacillators often start relationships with this defense in place.  “He’s so wonderful.”

“I’ve met my soul mate.”  Longing for the consistent predictable connection they did not get as kids, they idealize new situations as a way of protecting themselves from the possibility of disappointment or rejection.

Projection:  Transferring one own badness or unwanted feelings or qualities onto others.

This is a tricky one because it happens in a flash, often outside the awareness of the vacillator.  As children vacillators experienced some connection but then periods of rejection, abandonment, and neglect.  These are bad, confusing feelings and the child feels unlovable, flawed and powerless.  They desperately want to feel loved, seen and special again.  These are the very feelings vacillators try and defend against because they don’t ever want to feel again.

As adults, when things start to go wrong in a relationship (and they always do) vacillators feel a flash of shame, anxiety, unworthiness and fear of abandonment.  This is intolerable and quickly replaced by anger at who ever stirred up these feelings.  The spouse, friend, etc. who caused this old feeling to emerge is suddenly seen as bad, rejecting, flawed and neglectful.  The vacillator is angry that this person, in whom they had such high hopes, is now making them feel so much pain.  They don’t see the childhood roots of this feeling.

Devaluation:  Exaggerated feelings of badness are attributed to self or other.  Vacillators now move to the third defense.  Devaluation.  Unable to tolerate feeling bad, flawed or unlovable like they did as a child, they devalue the person who has disappointed.

Splitting:  This is a mechanism in which the person views himself or herself as all good or all bad, failing to integrate the positive and negative qualities of self and others into a cohesive whole.  The person may alternate between idealizing and devaluing the same person.

This defense describes the core defense of the vacillator.  It’s like idealizing, projection and devaluing all rolled up into one idea or term.  The vacillator can’t tolerate the feeling of being bad or flawed because it is to painful, feels fatal, final and hopeless.  So when the vacillator feels this, they flip into idealizing themselves, devaluing others. It looks like pride…always having to be right.  In reality it’s protection against the pain of feeling unlovable.     This is why integrating good and bad is such an important growth goal for the vacillator.  In reality the vacillator is good and bad and so are others.

Copyright © 2009 Milan and Kay Yerkovich


10 Responses to “Favorite Defenses – the Vacillator”

Vacillator and codependency seem to be about the same thing. Would like to know your thoughts on this, or if you can differentiate them for me if you disagree.

The Pleaser fits the co-dependent profile more than the Vacillator. Pleasers are caretakers, lack boundaries and rarely get angry. They minimize problems and are often not honest to avoid conflict. The Vacillator does get angry and points out problems. The Vacillator can please to try and make connection happen but when disappointed will become angry and may pull away and distance for a period of time. The defense of the vacillator is idealization. They would like things to be ideal so they can avoid the painful childhood feelings of shame, rejection and abandonment. Of course life is not ideal so they protest and want others to “improve.” They are internally hard on themselves but this is a private affair and others don’t see this internal dynamic of shame and self -blame. Hope this helps. Kay

I can’t believe how eye opening this has been for me. I’m very curious to know what is the best way to respond to a vacillator when they are in “attack” mode; that moment where they feel rejected or abandoned and their hurt comes out as anger. My husband is a vacillator and is the most wonderful, smart, generous person until his abandonment fear is triggered then it comes out in strong accusations and sometimes withholding. I want to be sensitive to his hurt without allowing myself to be a doormat. How can I firmly tell him I love him but I won’t neglect other priorities (kids, housework, self care) just because he is feeling wrongfully ignored? I’d like to be able to do it without angering him further. In the past I’ve tried to be strong which seemed to make him say he felt more misunderstood than ever, but if I tried to apologize and be “nice” it seemed like too little too late. Plus I was getting resentful for feeling like I was always on eggshells. Thank you so much for these eye opening posts!!!

Will he take any responsibility for his history and how it’s playing out? Try this… I can tell you’re triggered and feeling like you did when you were growing up. I care about your feelings I would love to comfort you for those memories. Your anger and your withdrawal push me away. I need to go right now and I’m reminding you I love you. Make an effort (schedule time) to ask about memories and listen to his feelings. The fist chapter in the workbook will help you do this. Blessings. Kay

This advise is very helpful. My wife a vacillator and myself an avoider I always worry what to say in the right situation so i make her feel heard and understood. Similar situation as Elana above my wife got angry with me , she describes it as bringing a charged battery to discussions if someone doesn’t own their wrong doing. She admits and is aware that she has had years of her own family not owning their wrongs and how that is hurftul. I just don’t know how to respond to her, do i say something similar above “I care about your feelings I would love to comfort you for those memories (which I do) But is it insensitive to point out that her anger in our current situation is more of her past hurt and I would hope that she can separate the two?

I hope you have the book and the workbook. In the back of the vacillator chapter of the workbook there is a section called how to help the vacillator. It has a lot of helpful ideas. Our phrase for a charged battery is that she is being triggered. Your behavior causes her past hurts to flood into the present. It’s best to offer comfort when she’s not presently triggered. At another time, tell her you want to hear about specific memories when she wasn’t listen to and people didn’t own their behavior. Always ask her to pick three feelings off the soul words list when you have these conversations The more she talks about her childhood memories the less the triggers will be activated. Hopefully you will not take her exaggerated response so personally when you realize she’s been doing this before she ever met you. It’s fair to say to the vacillator…It’s hard for me to listen and stay with you when you’re angry. It’s hard for me to listen and stay with you when you’re angry I’d be glad to listen when you can talk to me in a calm way. Blessings, kay

Unfortunately my Vacillator wife ( i am the avoider) has asked for a divorce and is looking to hire a mediator. In this tense time for a vacillator she says she is confident in her decision, how can i reach her to tell her that i don’t think this is the right thing? Or is this a time that i give her space or she wouldn’t even have the ears to hear my disagreement with going through the divorce. I did listen to a youtube video on an avoider husband saying that ” a divorce is just a piece of paper I will still love you and will be here for you until you remarry”. This was going to be my approach as I don’t think I can say anything that will “change her mind” or make be curious about going back into counseling ( we were never serious about our counseling).

How can i empathize with the vacillator when something does not turn our ideal like the picture that they had in their mind? What can I say in that moment o make them feel heard and understood? My wife told me that she had this ideal picture of how it was going to be but that is not the case.

This post was really eye openning for me, I read myself in this. I had a recent separation and my vacillation was the cause of it, and it has been very painfull recovering from it. especially because im trying to work and improve myself in the process and it has been hard. How can i change and be better ? how do i stop from making ppl walk on eggshells around me ?

The workbook that goes with the book has a chapter for each love style to help you grow. Be aware of the “shame pit” when you feel all bad about yourself. This is almost a universal experience for vacillators and is a private experience no one knows about. Anxiety and shame are some of what drives the anger and blame cycle as well as a history of abandonment. I’m glad you’re growing. Pain is the one thing that gets our attention. I’m sorry for your pain but I hope it changes you for the better. Blessings kay

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.