Ok, put your science hat on for just a minute. What I’m talking about with Pursuers and Withdrawers are attachment styles. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth pioneered this concept in their work with mothers and children in the 1900s. Dr. Sue Johnson, Mario Mikulincer, Philip Shaver, amongst many others have developed this further into adult attachment styles in our current lifetime.
Essentially the theory says, we have three primary ways we attach to people: Anxious (Pursuer), Avoidant (Withdrawer), or Disorganized (Rapid switching between the two)
We all have combinations of Pursuer and Withdrawer within us, but we generally are more dominant in one.
Let’s get to know Pursuers better.
I think of the Pursuers as the relationship thermometers. Their systems are usually quite aware of feeling disconnected, even if it’s a tiny moment. Disconnection sends a danger signal to the Pursuers brain, and the Pursuer wants to immediately resolve that bad feeling. Whereas a Withdrawer may experience the same moment and try to self-soothe and move on, a Pursuer will generally try to address or correct what caused the disconnection.
On the outside, Pursuers often use tactics like:
Demanding answers or more words
Instructing their partner on how to say or do something better
On the inside, Pursuers often feel like they are doing most of the work, and that their partner doesn’t care enough to engage with them. While Pursuers are generally the ones who are more verbal in complaints, there are also many times they are holding back, hoping that maybe, just this time, they might actually get their partner to connect with them.
Pursuers pursue because they believe nothing will get resolved if you don’t talk about things. They’re not wrong! If we just ignored and dismissed everything, there isn’t much opportunity for growth or change. But they also are feeling quite anxious with disconnection, and disconnection from their partners is truly an unbearable feeling. Pursuers sometimes feel they are the only ones who care about reconnection.
Pursuers often feel quite alone. They long for more emotional comforting and connection from their partners, and sometimes more help and a feeling of doing things like a team.
I want Pursuers to leave therapy knowing that their emotions are not too much, and that they truly can receive help and comfort once they feel safe enough to ask for it in a vulnerable way.
For more, Hold Me Tight is an excellent book in understanding how this plays out in adult relationships.