As I travel up the California coast with my husband, I am watching our interactions through the new lenses I obtained at the Attachment Conference. My high-strung husband goes into "mobilization" when stressed. (According to Porges, his myelenated vagal nerve switches on, he starts looking for danger, every stimulus is suspect, and bcomes unable to connect—first no safety, thus no connection) So if we are lost in yet another strange town, or in a hurry to catch the dawn/dusk light for his photographs, I lose my sweet, connected guy. He’s told me many times that when he is in this state, "Everything is a problem to be dealt with, including you." Van der Hart would explain it, in his somatoform theory of dissociation, as Doug being in a flight or fight state. Either way, it’s helpful to get another lens through which to see what is happening "over there" in my beloved.
What happens to me when Doug switches out of the relaxed, playful, relational self into the hypervigilant, self-protective self? I’ve had various responses, depending on my baseline state, self-awareness, and patience at any given time. I’ve hunkered down to wait until it’s over (a favorite childhood reflex in an intense family). I’ve complained and told him to relax (this tends to escalate both of us, I can get mobilized, too. Then it’s real fun at our house). I’ve worked to get Doug physically grounded and present (the fix-it caregiver in me does this and it has worked). I’ve consciously noted the state and given him space, without shutting down (more and more in the last several years). And I talk it over with him. This has varied results. Doug, in this state, sees most stimulus as attacking. Gottman would say that he was flooded. So would I. Humor can disarm that, sometimes,
"I am the evil enemy whose only thought is to make you miserable."
"How did you know what I was thinking?"
"I’m a trained professional."
"And you put up with me anyway!"
"Yeah, I can’t help it. I’m attached."
At this point Doug may still be hyped up, but not in complete mobilization. He’s relational. I’ve got my guy back. The one who sees me as evil has disappeared. I don’t have to do "hunker" or "protest" of "fix it" or even mindful space-giving. Relief!