Formerly loving partners can quickly turn callous when their emotional needs aren't met
Josh and Rachel, both in their mid-twenties were together for a year and a half.
During that time everyone who knew them would describe them as really intense and into each other. Texts, e-mails and phonecalls would fly back and forth many times a day. They seemed inseparable.
Then one day, they argue. Nothing major, just the kind of stuff couples fall out about from time to time. Friction caused by different perspectives and different needs.
Rachel expected a cooling down period then a resumption of where they had left off.
Josh cut off emotionally and went looking elsewhere to meet his needs. He approached people on facebook and a dating site.
For Rachel it was as if Josh had a personality change. Where was her loving Josh? The man she had shared so many personal exchanges with? What really surprised Rachel was the sheer callousness with which Josh acted. It’s as if he didn’t care one jot for her, (‘his Rachel’s) feelings. How could he be so un-loving so quickly?
Clients, like buses, tend to come in threes. Recently I’ve seen three similar demonstrations of such callousness. I use the term callousness to refer to a person who can seem extremely callous in the pursuit of their emotional needs. There is a similar pattern in all three cases.
In my book ‘Take Charge of Your Life With NLP” I use the metaphor of the inner child to apply to the emotional self, and inner adult to refer more to the logical, rational self. The inner child, just like a real child, contains a wealth of emotional aspects and facets, but occasionally one aspect will dominate the limelight more than others. So we have the ‘hurt’ inner child (an adult who goes around projecting the hurt they experienced in the past); the ‘angry’ inner child (an adult who goes around taking offence at any slight hurt). And we have the ‘callous’ inner child.
What Makes a Person Callous?
In two of the cases I saw, the person who acted callously as an adult was adopted as a child. In the third case, the person was sent to live with his aunt and uncle for a few years before returning to his mother and father. In other words, he was adopted in spirit.
The inner-child of all these people has very strong underlying fears related to abandonment and rejection. As a result, the inner-child has developed seemingly very callous coping mechanisms to deal with real or perceived abandonment.
Callousness is essentially a no-nonsense survival strategy to secure love. It is so powerful that it takes over and acts like tunnel vision, with no thought afforded to collateral damage to others in the process.
Now the fact that all three of these people could be very loving, demonstrative and affectionate was well established. Indeed, two of them could be described as having very involved, co-dependent relationship patterns.
But when it looked like their partner could not love them in the way they needed, they instantly cut off all their ‘connections’ of love, and sought to get their needs elsewhere, in what seemed like a very callous way in contrast to their previous loving behaviour.
Don’t get me wrong, the affection displayed before to their partners was very genuine. We can all quickly feel hurt by the ones we love and react with instinctive
hate towards our partner because of such wounded love. But what goes up quickly tends to come down quickly, and we return to our previous relationship default settings.
What is interesting here in these other cases was the speed of the change.
Once the ‘abandonment button’ had been pressed, it was as if a permanent switch had been pressed that switched a person from being lovey-dovey one moment to up-rooting and severing all connections in the next.
When most people come to the realisation that their partner cannot meet their emotional needs in balance, there tends to be some phase of deliberation. They may try talking to their partner; they usually ask their friends or family for advice about what to do; they suggest counselling sessions to their partner to see if their problems can be resolved. Even if things cannot be resolved and a break-up ensures, the partner that broke up the relationship tends to be sad, upset, or feel guilty. They may force themselves to go out on a date, more because they hate staying home alone, but their heart tends not to be in it, and they effectively are not ready to date for weeks, often months.
Callous people will jump back into action as soon as the criteria of ‘he/she doesn’t love me the way I want’ is met. They will simply (and immediately) look elsewhere. They do not need a grieving period, they do not need to readjust; they do not need to work at letting go of sentimental mementos.
Moreover, the distress or state of their partner, the partner they once loved intensely, will suddenly no longer be of any major concern, it does not relate to their new goal of securing love from a new source.
I don’t think the main intention behind this callous behaviour is necessarily even punishment. It seemed to me that the main intent behind such behaviour was a very survival based self-interest expressed as a clinical and pragmatic appraisal of the situation towards which they can seem incredibly goal focused and driven – or callous – in their new pursuit.
These are not mean or bad people (if you read my book you’ll know I don’t believe in judgements anyway). The reactions of a callous inner child lie on the more extreme end of a spectrum that we all belong on. It is the same behaviour we all have, just distilled and concentrated.
One has to understand the context in which the inner child developed these defences. Working with abandonment tends not to be a speedy process, as it is such a primal instinctive fear. The first port of call is to seek to defuse some of the emotional charge driving that old primal fear. Then the self-parenting techniques outlined in Take Charge will keep drip feeding the message that the inner child is safe now and it’s not about abandonment anymore.