After being a stay-at-home mom for three years, Kelly is ready for a change. She decides to return to the workplace and finds a full-time babysitter to care for her three-year-old son, Nathan. Every morning, when the babysitter arrives, Nathan starts sobbing and clings to his mommy’s leg, making it very difficult for her to walk out the door. But then in the evenings when she gets home from work, Nathan wraps his little arms around the babysitter’s neck and refuses to let go. When Kelly finally manages to pick him up, he thrashes around and screams, “Let me go! I don’t want you here!”
In the book, “How We Love,” Milan and Kay Yerkovich would describe this behavior as the early onset of developing a “vacillator imprint.” According to the authors, people develop a vacillator imprint when they grow up in a home with sporadic inconsistent displays of affection or periods of connection with their parents.
Adults with a vacillator imprint need a lot of affection and struggle to get enough love in a relationship. As children, their parents may have abandoned them for periods of time and when they did reach out, it was always on the parent’s terms. Perhaps their mother lavished them with affection when they were very young, but shooed them away as they got older. Their father may have shown interest when they finally grew old enough to be able to do fun things, but their interactions always revolved around his desires and interests. These patterns of inconsistent affection have lasting effects.
Vacillators learn to read others and shape their behavior based on what the other person wants from them in order to avoid rejection. Because they transform themselves into a perfect match for their partner, they fall intensely into relationships. But inevitably, reality hits at some point and the vacillator realized the relationship is not as sparkly and perfect as he or she first assumed. “When a partner does not provide the consistent, intense connection hoped for, vacillators are easily hurt and, because of their predisposed sensitivities, have an uncanny ability to remember earlier infractions.” Because of their imprint, the hurt and betrayal that vacillators feel is significant.
The abandonment and sporadic affection they experienced as children taught them that relationships cannot last – so at the first hint of a crack in the relationship, they often do something destructive to damage the bond before they succumb to another rejection.
An Emotional Time Bomb
As the authors explain, “Acutely sensitive to disappointments or possible rejections in relationships, vacillator’s feelings get hurt when their high expectations are not met. And many respond with anger.” It’s common for households with vacillator adults to bend to the vacillator’s emotions. If they are happy, everyone else is happy – but if they are upset, everyone else walks on eggshells, trying to avoid an outburst.
Adults with a vacillator imprint are so focused on how others are responding to them that they have very little self-awareness. They usually feel justified in their anger because they believe they have been genuinely offended. They tend to exaggerate their emotions to draw attention to themselves and maintain contact – pulling away in seclusion until the “offending” person seeks reconciliation. However, they don’t see how their unpredictable emotions and responses affect other people.
Living with an Emotionally Unstable Spouse
The book of Proverbs says that it is easier and preferable to live anywhere else besides at home with a quarrelsome spouse. When adults with a vacillator imprint exaggerate their emotions in order to get attention from their spouse, it places the partner in a difficult and exhausting situation. As it says in Romans, ““If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18, NJKV).
If you think you or someone you love may have a vacillator imprint, do what you can to learn more about this condition. By learning about its causes and effects, you will become more equipped to overcome it and thus enjoy a more peaceful home environment. You may also consider enlisting the assistance of a professional Christian counselor in Spokane. A trained Christian counselor will be able to help you discover the causes of your emotional responses and develop a strategy to work toward emotional stability and dependence on God.
“How We Love,” by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
“Let’s look this over,” courtesy of ambermcauley, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Family PDA,” courtesy of 1Anna1, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Family Fun in the Rain,” courtesy of Noah Hinton, unsplash,com, CC0 Public Domain License, 10-spcc-noah-hinton; “Daddy’s Kiss,” courtesy of Kisss, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License 10-spcc-parent-and-child