Why do people act in an inconsistent manner? Why is the same person loving, kind and helpful one day (or minute) and spewing hate, threats and insults the next? Who are they, really? The nice one or the mean one? And for Pete's sake, how can I know when they are going to be one or the other?!
Our easy answer is splitting- someone can't handle the ambivalent, the gray area. They need to make sense of the world in simple terms so they turn everything black or white- good or bad.
But Wait- There's More!
Okay, I agree. I believe that splitting is a thing and some people do it for the sake of clarity. But I also think there's more. From my experience and understanding, people go "Jekyll & Hyde" as a mechanism of self-defense.
You see, your loved one may be a nice, cooperative person. They may really care about you (and other people). Those promises you hear, those kind gestures you see, may all be genuine and authentic.
Then there's a trigger. Perceived perhaps by only your loved one. Perceived perhaps by only your loved one's unconscious. And your loved one's limbic system lights up. It's fight-or-flight time, baby. Your loved one's danger alarm has sounded and he or she is ready to rumble. It doesn't matter if you are the cause of the trigger or not. You are most like the suspected cause of the trigger and therefore to blame. You are the enemy.
"But I get triggered and I don't act that!" you might say. This may very well be true. You see, individual responses to triggers are different. Not everyone does a Hyde. That is why our human stress-response is no longer recognized as simply 'flight or fight.' It is now recognized as a 4F response- fight, flight, fawn or freeze.
So, while your lovey may respond with fight (which has now become your experienced threat), you in turn may respond with...
- flight (shutting down or running away)
- fawn (trying to fix, placate or please), or
- freeze (going blank, disassociation).
If you think about it, none of these 4F's are productive in a relationship. They are however, helpful for survival. Think about a bear protecting her cubs or a gazelle fleeing when faced with the odds of becoming dinner.
That's Great, But How Does This Help Me?
Now that we know this behavior is simply a manifestation of biology, we can
1) stop taking it so personally when it happens
2) bring some understanding to our own experience so our limbic systems don't catch on fire,
3) offer some compassion and support to Boo when we notice he or she is having a 4F response, and
4) talk about it when he or she is calm and rational.
Relationship can be hard work, my friends, especially when the one we love has a sensitive stress-response. Remember to take care of you! - M
Photo credit: www.tes.com/teaching-resource
Trauma research credit: Bessel van der Kolk and Dan Siegel
Most of us chose our love interest in this way: We find someone attractive, witty and bright (or whatever qualities we find appealing) and we begin to ask this person (in non-direct ways, of course) "Am I good for you?!"
Am I beautiful or handsome? Do you find me funny and intelligent? Am I a good cook / conversationalist / provider...? We put our best foot forward. We try to impress, woo and seduce. We play "Pick me!"
When we could rather be asking, "Are YOU good for ME?" (See this video on codependency and enabling for more info on this subject.)
Specifically: Will you protect my heart? Will you be a good friend as well as a lover? What can I expect on a day-today reality in relationship with you? In effect, should I pick you?
Below are more detailed questions we might not only ask the potential partner directly (their response to the questions themselves will be telling), but ask ourselves in relation to the behaviors and attitudes we see in the potential partner, as well...
Tell me how you know that you are a person of integrity?
What are your core values and how are they played out in your daily life?
How will you protect my investment in you?
How will you remain faithful in your commitment- even during the difficult times?
Are you good for me emotionally, spiritually and physically? In what ways would I be able to experience this as a reality in my life?
How will you challenge me to grow as a person?
Will you pray with me and for me? Tell me about that.
How can I see that you are a good parent (or good parent material) and a healthy role model for my children and/or our future children?
Who are you when no one is looking?
Tell me about a time when you persevered in an impossible situation?
Tell me about a time when you helped another person through a difficult time?
How do you handle conflict, rejection and life's traumas?
What struggles have you overcome and which ones are you still facing?
How have you sufficiently dealt with your baggage to the point where you can be fully present in an adult-to-adult relationship?
How do you handle temptation?
Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 or 20 years? What is your plan to get there?
How do you balance your desires with the desires of those whom you love?
What do you usually do in your free time?
On a scale of 1-10, how important is faith, physical beauty, honesty, education, television, fast food, exercise, money, material possessions, time with extended family, attending religious activities, hosting parties, career advancement, etc.
This getting-to-know-you process may take time. Not everyone is forthcoming with their faults or weaknesses. Often, people are not even aware of their shortcomings, as these are often covered with denial, projection, minimization or rationalization. (All relationship red flags, by the way.)
We may need to slowly get to the new person's habits, quirks, values and blind spots before investing too much of our emotions into the relationship. This goes against our modern-day quick-fix, convenience, slide left or right society. But, it will provide us with less heartache in the long run.
Not everyone is a "good fit" when it comes to romance or long-term commitments. Not everyone will have the ability or desire to be a good mate. How much pain can we avoid if we slow down and take the time to learn this information before we are overly involved with emotions, legalities, marriage, kids, or other commitments?
I wish I knew then what I know now;
Wouldn't dive in; wouldn't bow down.
Gravity hurts; you made it so sweet
Until I woke up - on the concrete.
- Katy Perry, Wide Awake
Choose to love wisely, my friends - M
photo credit: pixabay
topic credit: Toby Rice Drews and John Lee
Years ago, I prayed to be transparent, authentic and bold. And I believe that God has answered my prayer, and is continuing to do a work in me to make me more of these things- and other things, besides.
I am thankful.
The process of ripping off the masks and pretensions, is an excruciating process. Letting go of "who I want to be" and "who the world says I should be" and "what I want everyone to believe" is not easy.
It's vulnerable. And it's uncertain.
Yet it's amazingly beautiful.
May you experience the beauty of letting go, - M
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. - Isaiah 61:3
photo credit: https://www.cmalliance.org/
The Motley Ms.
Hi! My name is Melinda (or Mel, if you like). I'm a saved-by-grace-er, lifelong learner, INFJ, health & fitness trynabe, Mom, mental health vlogger (hey! go subscribe!!) and Child & Family Therapist - not necessarily in that order (well, except the first one). If you want to see my business-y side, check out my super-professional business website.
The Motley Ms
The Therapist's Therapy Blog