Isolators & Fusers
(kam's notes from Harville Hendrix workshop)
(This article on "fusers & isolators" gives some general patterns of behaviours possible
from each one of us in the dance of relationship. It is also possible to change; being a
fuser in one moment & an isolator the next or a fuser in one relationship & a isolator in the next. )
hope it helps love kam
The fuser grew up with an unsatisfied need for attachment.
The isolator grew up with an unsatisfied need for autonomy.
The fuser is relieved by commitment, as it reduces the fear of abandonment.
The isolator is triggered by commitment fearing absorption.
The isolator needs space & respect for freedom which heals the wound of isolation & smothering. The isolator initiates contact & holds while their partner stretches to initiate distance & give freedom. This heals the partners wound of neglect.
Everyday of their married lives, husbands and wives push against this invisible relationship boundary (fuser/isolator dynamics) in an attempt to satisfy their dual needs for attachment and autonomy. Most of the time, each individual fixates on one of those needs: one person habitually advances, in an effort to satisfy unmet needs for attachment; the other habitually retreats, in an effort to satisfy unmet needs for autonomy. For a variety of reasons, the person who typically advances begins to retreat. The partner who habitually retreats turns around in amazement: where’s my pursuer? To everyone’s surprise, the isolator suddenly discovers an unmet need for closeness. The pattern is reversed, like the flip-flop of magnetic poles, and now the isolator does the pursuing. It’s as if all couples collude to maintain a set distance between them.
An isolator's guide to Fusers & *reactivity
Fusers primary sense of safety & security in the world comes from maintaining close emotional contact with others. (at that time with that partner) Events which separate or threaten to separate them from important others in their life, even brief or minor ones, can trigger their worst unconscious fear, that of abandonment (& death). Fusers seek to avoid losing their relationship with others in a variety of ways, including:
Actively pursuing physical & emotional intimacy & closeness
Being willing to put aside their own needs or expression of self, in deference to their other's needs
Attempts to force the other by "upping the emotional thermostat" when other methods fail
Two types of events will trigger strong reactivity in fusers;
Conflict because conflict equals distance & distance hints at potential abandonment.
Withdrawal & lack of follow through because the fuser's childhood caretakers were so good at giving & then withdrawing their love & availability
Perceived or real rejection via emotional distancing (silence, excessive exiting, etc) will thus cause reactivity in a fuser. The single greatest cause of fuser reactivity is an implied or outright threat to end the relationship. It is not necessary that the threat state a decision to leave as the fuser will quickly add that interpretation to even the most remote suggestion that the relationship might someday terminate. The fear of losing a relationship, even a poor relationship, is so intense that a fuser would rather assume the worst is happening rather than live with the possibility it might happen. Also, assuming the worst offers the fuser his/her best hope of preventing a life threatening event from occurring.
The reactive fuser, if he or she is also a Maximiser, will not be shy about expressing his/her needs & feelings. They may raise their voice, cry, slam or throw things, try to instill guilt or otherwise manipulate their partner into re-establishing harmony & contact.
While isolators need space to calm down, fusers need just the opposite: closure & contact.
A fuser's guide to Isolators & reactivity
Isolators 'unconscious' fear is that of psychological suffocation or engulfment by the needs or emotional demands of another person. (At that time with that partner)Not surprisingly, isolators are most at ease when given space. Isolators might enjoy closeness, but only in measured amounts. Isolators tend to be Minimisers & often not very in touch with, nor do they care to be in touch with, their feelings.
The greatest source of reactivity for isolators is the feeling of being controlled by the emotional demands of another person. As soon as isolators begin to feel pressured, they will dig in their heels & refuse to comply with even the simplest of requests, even those that they themselves would describe as perfectly reasonable. This is reactivity in the isolator, & once it has been set in motion, the isolator's attention shifts almost exclusively to the process rather than the content of a discussion. The isolator's goal at this point is to re-establish a sense of personal control over his or her autonomy & space. To this end, he or she will typically "shut down" all systems until a feeling of safety has been regained.
In general, isolators achieve & maintain their sense of personal safety by:
Being in control of themselves at all times
Keeping a degree of psychological & physical distance (i.e., a safety zone) between themselves & others
Minimizing or denying their own feelings, needs or wants, both positive & negative
Discouraging strong or upset feelings in others by "keeping the peace" & "walking on eggshells"
By increasing physical or emotional withdrawal when other methods fail
*Reactivity: The fear & automatic self-protectiveness that arise when, to the old brain, one's psychological or physical survival has been threatened. This automatic survival instinct has been programmed into us over millions of years of evolution.
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