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
The Motley Ms.
Hi! My name is Melinda. I'm a saved-by-grace-er, lifelong learner, INFJ, health & fitness trynabe, Mom, #vanlifer, mental health vlogger, and Director & Clinical Supervisor at a Child & Family Therapy Practice in Northern California.
The Motley Ms
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