Traits of a Secure Connector:
I am not afraid of conflict because I have skills to discuss, compromise and most often resolve conflict.
What was conflict like in your home growing up? Loud? Chaotic? A free-for-all? Non-existent? Did you observe repairs after something went wrong? Conflict is a part of life and the Bible is full of many examples of relational struggles. Conflict is not scary for someone who grew up in a home where conflict was acknowledged, talked through and most often resolved. What skills do we need to resolve conflict?
Honesty: Milan and I spent the first 15 years avoiding conflict and we had to be less than truthful to do this. Avoiders don’t like the messy emotions that come with conflict and pleasers are afraid of anger and separation so often in these homes conflict is minimized, ignored or spiritualized away. (I’ll just forgive; turn the other cheek, etc.) The bible says speak the truth in love. (Eph. 4) Sometimes the truth hurts. At times it’s frightening to be honest. It’s a risk. But nothing will change and growth will be at a stalemate in our most important relationships if we are not honest.
Control over Reactivity
We can’t listen if we are reactive. Reactivity means we are quick to respond to stress with fight, flight or freeze and in any of these states our ability to manage our emotions is compromised. How does reactivity block our ability to handle conflict? Reactivity blocks reason!! When you are reactive, you cannot listen. You cannot separate the past from the present. You cannot say things in a loving way. You cannot entertain another’s point of view or differing perspective. To resolve conflict we must learn to respond, not react. Let’s look at the common things that make each of the love styles over react.
Avoiders get reactive when someone is emotional and needy. They flee. Crying kids, a weeping spouse, or emotional upheavals cause avoiders to react. A person who is “needy” and asks for “too much” also irritates avoiders. Introverted avoiders may withdraw and detach while extroverted avoiders may use anger and annoyance to make emotions stop. Somewhere in their past avoiders learned it was not safe to feel and need so they learned to be independent and self-sufficient. They don’t know what to do with emotions, so they overreact. Avoiders stop overreacting when they allow themselves to feel and need once again. Handling conflict means learning to be comfortable with and manage difficult emotions.
Pleasers are good news junkies. Conflict is to be avoided. Anger makes the pleaser freeze. They overreact to bad news, negative feelings and stressful circumstances with alarm….make it stop! Pleasers don’t look on the surface like they are overreacting, but if we could see all that goes on under the surface it would be obvious. When pleasers cannot make it all OK they get anxious, frantic and uneasy. They go into hyper drive to find a solution so they can calm down. Somewhere in their past, pleasers learned that anger and criticism were too painful to endure and must be avoided. Or, they absorbed the fear of their parent and feel life is scary and they must protect those they love from anything negative. Pleasers stop overreacting when they deal with the fear and anxiety that drives their lives. Learning to tolerate anger, ask hard questions, and process difficult feelings helps them respond rather than react.
Vacillators overreact (fight response to stress) when they are disappointed, have to wait, or feel abandoned or invisible. Since they are looking for the consistent connection they missed as kids, when they don’t get it they feel unloved and marginalized. This anxiety around abandonment is so miserable anger and blame stop the anxiety and shame of wanting and not having.
A vacillator’s overreaction is easy to see. They get angry and are not afraid to let you know how they feel. Introverted vacillators may be quiet and sulk, but everyone in the family knows they are mad and upset. Let’s not give the vacillator the bad rap. The avoiders fleeing and the pleasers freezing may look “nicer” but in reality they are just as destructive to honest, calm, communication.
Vacillators stop overreacting when they learn to accept the good and the bad together instead of idealizing and then devaluing. Overreactions happen at the point where shame shifts to anger and the devaluing then justifies the anger. Learning to take this private experience of shame and anxiety into relationship rather than move to anger and devaluation helps stop the cycle. Asking directly for what they want, rather than hoping others mind read, also helps. Learning to manage this cycle opens the vacillator to be able to listen and share without getting derailed.
Controllers overreact to just about everything because they convert every vulnerable feeling into anger. They control so they don’t have to feel the painful vulnerable emotions of childhood….terror, shame, humiliation, inadequacy, powerlessness, hopelessness and confusion to name a few. As long as they keep control of people and circumstances, these painful feelings can be kept at arm’s length. Facing their childhood pain and learning to accept comfort takes away the need for so much anger and control. Less anger….less reactivity. Less reactivity gives the ability to listen and resolve.
Victims overreact to anger and intimidation. It’s easy for them to feel the frozen terror they felt as kids. It’s difficult to remain an adult if one is paralyzed by fear and terror. The victims freezing can move beyond the pleasers panic to dissociation. It appears that a victim under reacts, but it’s important to remember that victims learned to tolerate the intolerable as kids. It’s hard to recognize, as an adult, what is normal and what is not normal. Victims have to learn the importance of safety to blossom and grow. They need to discover the importance of boundaries and exercise their “no” muscle so they have a voice. Victims can also overreact and dump all the stored up anger onto kids when the scary partner is not home. Unresolved grief and anger is the fuel for these overreactions. Facing the past and working though unresolved trauma is so important for both victims and controllers.
Working on recognizing our harmful love style and growing toward a secure connector means we are learning to control our knee jerk reaction to fight, flee or freeze. When conflict is really resolved we experience a moment of intimacy. We listened. We were listened too. Connection is restored.
Thanks for listening!