Oh man, I have been working with some very frustrated pursuers in the last few weeks. I’ve been seeing the Withdrawers open up, start connecting to their feelings, and give the Pursuers exactly what they have been asking for. Then as soon as the Withdrawer shares, the Pursuer, who understandably can’t take this change in quite yet, bulldozes the Withdrawer.
I watched Rebecca Jorgensen and Sue Johnson's Trainer Talk on "Strident Pursuers" and it was such a helpful reminder of how to work with amped up Pursuers. First Sue reminded us that when the Pursuer is minimizing and batting away this vulnerable piece the Withdrawer has given them, they are feeling threatened. She counsels us to slow down at that moment, and reflect what just happened. Sue reminds us that our job is to describe what is happening instead of blaming them for what is happening. Um, guiltyyyyyy. I’ve been getting too controlling with my Pursuers this week and this one hit close to home.
Sue says she’ll repeat a version of this about five times, making it much harder for the Pursuer to dismiss what the Withdrawer said. I’m imagining something like:
“It’s so difficult to take this in, when (repeat cue)?”
“When you hear your partner say (repeat cue), something happens for you?”
“So your partner just opened up, he just said I do feel hurt when you do this, and then you (repeat Pursuer response)?”
“It’s such a big risk for him to say that to you, but for you, am I understanding this right? Somehow it doesn’t quite click into place inside, it doesn’t tell you what you’re needing to hear?”
And the ultimate evoking:
“When he comes and puts his heart in your hands, it’s so hard to take that in? What happens in this moment?”
Sue reminds us that in The Strange Situation, with insecure attachment the child does refuse the comforting from the mother. So we see that play out in the room. The Withdrawer starts offering comfort, what the Pursuer has wanted all along, and the Pursuer isn’t feeling securely attached enough to take it in. The Withdrawer is a stranger to them in this moment – this isn’t the person they know! They might even feel angry- where was this all these years they’ve been making do on very little emotional connection, thinking it was all their partner has been capable of? It helps me remember that what I’m seeing play out is normal and expected with insecure attachment.
In this trainer talk Sue also gave me a good kick in the pants, because she and Rebecca were talking about how the therapist can start to get fatigued after validating the frustrated Pursuer five times in a row, and still seeing the Pursuer fire a bullet at the opening up Withdrawer. Sue reminded us that our job is “relentless empathy”, and no matter how many times they need it, our job is to go in with that really intentional validation and slowness. I tried it last night and I could definitely feel a shift with calming down my Pursuer better than in my previous sessions this week when I was getting stern with my Pursuers.
Man, that is a muscle to build, isn’t it? I thought I was empathetic but working with strident pursuers is helping me realizing that that muscle needs to get even stronger in the room.
* The above picture is from Parks and Recreation, and one of my all time favorite Pursuers – Leslie Knope.