45: Pursuers and Distancers

When triggered, narcissists try to maintain power and forget about their need for connection.

When triggered, you try to maintain the connection and forget about yourself.

– Darlene Lancer, LMFT, JD

Darlene Lancer at Codependency writes a lot of good things on the topic of codependency. I’ve learned a lot from her in confronting my entitlements and navigating other people’s.

Recently Lancer posted a spot-on article on how I experienced the end of my last relationship. Although, I probably wouldn’t ascribe Painter’s need for power and control while in discomfort simply as narcissism. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not.

Her behaviors don’t matter right now.

For many people the behaviors Lancer describes is perhaps more about attachment styles and skillfulness when confronting discomfort and less about pathology.

Over time, I’ve come to realize, I tend to choose partners that lean heavily on emotional distancing when in distress. When there is a conflict they run and find excuses for their ghosting, triangulating, abuse, cruelty, passive-aggressiveness, and silence.

Of course, as a Pursuer, when in conflict I find excuses to excuse their ghosting, triangulating, abuse, cruelty, passive-aggressiveness, and silence. After all, my narrative has often been it is all my fault — even when it isn’t.

Like a rocket, Distancers shift energy away from themselves so they can gain speed and distance. They burn away people trying to reconnect. For Distancers, they need to escape their own discomfort, and in the process blame the person they are burning away from for destructive behaviors.

Distancers are pursuing their entitlement to good and imagine if the situation is out of sight and out of mind they will feel good.

I do the opposite. 

I self-immolate. I throw myself into the exhaust. I direct the same aggression the Distancer externalizes, inwardardly. All I can see is the discomfort and because I take on the emotional burden I imagine creating a solution is solely my burden.

When there is distress, I tend to pursue connection. When there is chaos, I pursue reconciliation, intimacy, and closeness. I pursue forgiveness.

I forget about my needs and throw myself into the sword, hoping to make the Distancer feel better or offer myself a Tribute to demonstrate my fidelity. Even when the Distancer’s need to run away is what is driving the chaos.

Anything to help them avoid their discomfort and prove my worth. Once they reconfirm my worth I am able to avoid the discomforts I feel over my own internal chaos.

And in this Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic exists the patterns with Painter.

I’m practicing not falling into that pattern.

As I have reiterated to Chef, I am not interested in pursuing relationships. Instead, for the last three years and nine months, I have pursued growth and walked away from people that prefer drama to growth. I have walked away from numerous relationships where their need to be pursued hijacks their obligation to participate in the relationship as an equal. Where their commitment to the pattern trumps their commitment to growth.

An unintended outcome of pursuing growth while in relationship with Chef is I have nurtured a relationship with someone that doesn’t distance in an abusive way. She doesn’t show her rage and blame me when she throws a vase down the hallway like Beatrix. She doesn’t hide her rage and blame me as she triangulates a smear campaign like Painter. 

And with Chef I don’t have to sacrifice my identity to maintain connection. Chef doesn’t need me to pursue her or be her Hero. Unlike in previous relationships I don’t feel like I need to prove my value to be accepted and loved. Unlike in previous relationships, the focus of the relationship with Chef isn’t on her entitlement or fragile ego.

Today I have a relationship with a person willing to sit with discomfort (mine and hers) and doesn’t just open up the throttle and burn the earth behind her. 

Frankly, at times the relationsip with Chef can feel disconcerting. I’m never sure how to behave in a secure functioning relationships…I mean besides not sleeping with an ex.

Due to my life experiences historically I believe I am responsible for the harmony of the relationship and that means being the Hero and pretending I am not feeling insecure, frightened, or confused. I have learned that I am allowed to act on my needs, wants, and vulnerabilities even when, especially when, it creates discomfort for others. I can do this because Chef sees me as an equal and not as her Hero or Tribute. She knows herself well enough to not take on my burdens when I am struggling.

In the past my responses to the discomfort my partners were experiencing was too often to be assumptive about their needs and wants. In the process, my attempts to protect other people by Heroing would create relationship chaos as I struggled to express my internal needs and wants externally.

As I struggled to tell, and live my truths.

There are moments I’m often confused and bored by the stability in my relationship with Chef. I mean, if I’m not responsible for constantly attending to her ego and entitlement while driving connection and demonstrating my value, who am I? What is my role? What am I to do with the available emotional, physical, financial, and mental resources?

I mean, besides, build a deck on the back of the house.

Suggested Reading

“27: Thoughts on the Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic.” Love Letters to a Healing Heart, 2 Feb. 2018, http://www.cadconfessional.com/2018/02/02/pursuer-distancer-relationships-infidelity. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.

“33: Thought on the Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic (Part 2).” Love Letters to a Healing Heart, 8 Feb. 2018, http://www.cadconfessional.com/2018/02/08/thought-on-the-pursuer-distancer-dynamic-part-2/. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.

“46: The Silent Treatment.” Love Letters to a Healing Heart, 11 Sept. 2019, http://www.cadconfessional.com/2019/09/11/46-the-silent-treatment/. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.

“Are You the Pursuer or the Distancer in Your Relationship?” Psychology Today, 2017, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201704/are-you-the-pursuer-or-the-distancer-in-your-relationship. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.

“Ways We Prevent Intimacy: The Pursuer/Distancer Pattern.” Psychology Today, 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/loose-girl/201404/ways-we-prevent-intimacy-the-pursuerdistancer-pattern. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.

“What Is Codependency? Codependency Symptoms and Recovery by Darlene Lancer, MFT.” What Is Codependency?, 23 July 2021, http://www.whatiscodependency.com/. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.