Book Chapter: The Push-Me, Pull-You Dance

Here is The Push-Me Pull-You Dance, one of the Three Most Damaging Relationship Dances. The fear of abandonment is the driving force this dance. I first identified this dance while working with couples to improve their relationship. Whenever we would get on track, one of them would make a move in this dance, and suddenly, his or her partner would fall to pieces.

Because being left is such a primal fear, many people regress or take action without thinking when faced with the threat of abandonment. Once you understand the moves in this dance, you can be free of these highly manipulative, unconscious moves.

(I recommend you PRINT out this long chapter and highlight the behaviors you have used in the past. People who change fastest are those who identify their damaging patterns and review that information three times over a three week period. Go for it! You can stop falling into these dances, if choose to do the work.)


The Push-Me, Pull-You Dance

Like The Dance of Drama, this dance has three predictable moves that create relationship problems.
The three moves in this dance are:

The Push Me- Pull You Dance Steps

The Dance Step:

The Behavior:

The Message:

The Abandonment Move

To Leave

“I Don’t Need You”

The Clinging Move

To Hold On

“I Need You”

The Rejection Move

To Push-Away

“Go Away”

As with The Dance of Drama, these roles can be played out in very subtle or dramatic ways.

As you look at this dance in more detail, see if you can identify:

  • Any ways you have played out these roles
  • Other people in your life who play these roles
  • Your reactions/feelings when someone else plays these roles

As you learn to identify this dance, you might be surprised at the many ways it is played out. This doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships. For example, I have worked with many parents who cannot tolerate their children pouting and pulling away from them. Because of this, instead of setting healthy limits, the parents give into their children’s demands. By doing this the parents are inadvertently training the children to manipulate by using this powerful ploy, The Abandonment Move. You will learn more about that in this chapter.

A Brief Overview
Here is a brief description of the three moves. Notice all the ways you may have done these.

When you use “The Rejection Move”, you push someone away. The goal is to make someone feel rejected and hurt. As a result he will either Cling or Abandon. If he clings, he will feel anxious, have less status, and become more accommodating and needy. If he abandons, he will sever connection with you and leave.

When you use “The Clinging Move”, you desperately hang on tight, When engaged in this dance, your “one-down”, needy position propels your mate into rejecting you.

When you do “The Abandonment Move”, you pull away all your connection from your mate. You might do it by leaving the room or just by withdrawing your attention. As a result your mate will either respond by clinging or one upping you by pulling the abandonment move as well. If because of her anxiety, she clings, she stops focusing on what she wants and dives into meeting your demands.

Remember, these moves and motivations are usually unplanned and unconscious. But they are strong. And, just like with The Dance of Drama, once you understand the dance, you can see the pattern of predictable reactions as you switch from one position to another.

Watch below as Michael and Angela do The Push-Me Pull-You Dance:

Story: Michael Goes To Angela’s House

Smiling, Michael knocks on Angela’s door. He has two tickets to see his favorite band tonight. Angela, opens the door. She is still in her bathrobe. She tells him about her sick dog and her visit to the veterinarian, he interrupts, “Come on. We better get going. We’re already late.”

Annoyed, Angela pushes him away. She uses The Rejection Move by saying, “If this performance is so important to you, then just go! Just leave!” After exchanging cross words, Michael coolly turns away from her using The Abandonment Move by saying, “Fine, I don’t need you to go with me, I’m sure I can find someone else who’d like to go.” Without looking back, he leaves.

Three days later, Angela stops by to see Michael at his office. When she sees him, she takes his arm, holding tightly. In a needy tone of voice, using The Clinging Move, she says she’s making his favorite dish tonight. She asks if he would like to come over. She says, “I’ve missed you.” as she pulls him closer. Still stuck in The Abandonment Move he acts disinterested. After a few moments of no response from him, she drops her hands. Shifting gears into The Abandonment Move, like him, she casually glances at her watch and coolly says, “Well, I’ve got to get back to work and I’m pretty busy tonight anyway.”

But as she turns to leave, Michael’s voice suddenly term grabs her. Using The Clinging Move, he quickly says, “No, wait, don’t go. I really want to see you.” He quickly puts his arm around her.

In a clipped tone, Angela brusquely turns away abandoning,, as she says, ” I’ve got to go. I’ve got things to do today. Bye.” As she leaves, Michael can still feel himself wanting to pull her back.

Later, they both wonder, “What is going on?” Amidst the power plays, neither one really got what they wanted. Love and connection. This is the Push-Me, Pull-You Dance.

Sometimes it is blatant with dramatic gestures like in a soap opera. Other times it is more subtle, using innuendoes. Still other times, it may not involve words at all. There is simply the distinct sense of pushing, pulling and leaving.

As you read the descriptions of these three dance steps, think about your relationships. Notice ways you may have done this dance.

The Abandonment Move “I don’t need you”

When someone is using The Abandonment Move, she might be feeling hurt and is trying to express it in a way to get what she needs. She wants someone to be sensitive and attentive to her needs.

When someone is using the abandonment move, she might be feeling overwhelmed and upset and doesn’t know what else to do. Maybe she is angry and just wants to leave. Maybe she needs more attention and isn’t getting it.

In any case she’s trying to resolve something and is leaving or threatening to leave to see if this will work.

Off Balance
As you will see later in this book, knowing how and when to disengage from someone is a powerful and useful tool. In fact “disengaged” is one of the six healthy boundary solutions you will learn in chapter 13. But when does healthy disengaging become the manipulative Abandonment Move? When does it turn into The Push Me- Pull You Dance?

Just as with The Dance of Drama, the three moves in The Push Me- Pull You Dance could be something you learned through childhood role modeling or they could be something you do when you are regressed. Remember, regression is when you are triggered into a younger age part of you and operate from childhood strategies, emotions or beliefs.

We’ve all been that pouty, hurt little kid who pulls away from mom to see if we can get a reaction. Ideally, we all grow up at some point. But even the best of us get regressed once in a while. When this happens your wise, adult self has headed off to Hawaii to get a tan while your regressed child self is busy running the show. What a mess. Ouch!

Here are a few signs that you might be using The Abandonment Move:

  • You feel young or defiant
  • There is an “I’ll show you” attitude as you leave
  • You state or imply your partner (employee etc.) is replaceable
  • You are secretly happy when your mate gets anxious as you leave or threatened to leave
  • You coldly hold an “I don’t care” attitude
  • You Reject Others’ Attempts to get you to connect with them

The Abandonment Move in Action
A classic sales technique uses The Abandonment Move. The friendly sales person offers a product and, if the customer hesitates, the seller pulls herself and the product away. The anxiety of this loss propels the unknowing customer into accepting things that, in reality, are really acceptable. Inevitably, the customer later regrets the compromises.

For example: Once I was working with a new graphic designer to create a logo. We had brainstormed different ideas and I was excited for our follow-up meeting.

When we met she laid several logo designs out on the table. Each had some features I could use, but none were just right. After discussing the project for ten minutes the engaging designer suddenly shifted gears. She sat back and coolly said, “Well, I guess none of these will work. So I’ll just take these and go.”

As she began to pick up her drawings, I felt an urge to pick one, even though it wasn’t what I wanted. The anxiety in my chest signaled me that something was going on. I observed myself and noted the dynamic. I started chuckling to myself as I realized she, consciously or unconsciously, had just used The Abandonment Move by withdrawing all her energy, support and attention.

Recognizing this, I immediately calmed. I said, “As I mentioned earlier, if you can combine these two, I think it will work. Shall we get back to work?” It was as if I had turned on a magic switch and her entire energy and attitude changed. In a short period of time we made the changes and I ended up with a wonderful new logo.

How many times have you compromised something that you later regretted because of your fear of abandonment? If you don’t understand The Abandonment Move and the fear of abandonment, you may end up with more than just the wrong logo. You might end up in a job you hate, a marriage you resent and a life full of regrets. Ouch!

“When an inner situation is not made conscious,
it appears outside as fate.”
Carl Jung

Other examples
Sometimes you recognize you are using The Abandonment Move by examining your behaviors. Other times you will identify it by pinpointing your underlying emotions or motivations.

  • Instead of talking through a disagreement you walk off in a huff
  • When someone displeases you, you “suddenly” are too busy to see them, until they grovel or go overboard trying to contact you
  • Someone says “no” to you, and in response you ignore his messages for several days
  • You “pointedly” ignore someone at an event, making sure she sees you doing it
  • You meet your spouse’s friendly advances with a cold, nonchalant aloofness
  • After you withdraw, you keenly are aware if your partner notices your shunning behavior

The Abandonment Move: Why It Works
The Abandonment Move is the most powerful manipulative move you can use. It gets an immediate primal response. Why? Because it threatens our safety and survival. Or at least it feels like it does.

On an infant level, we know we will only survive if we can get our caretaker’s attention. Without it we die. So the fear of abandonment is a very real problem, if you are a child.

For a child, abandonment threatens his very survival.

As an adult, when this abandonment fear gets activated, it means you’ve regressed to a child state. And you will do whatever you can to stop it. Perhaps you become desperate, subservient or clingy. You repeatedly ask, “Do you love me?” You do whatever you can to get someone to stay. If you are feeling alone, you might reach out to find anyone to temporarily fill that void, even if it is clearly a bad choice.

Maybe you become angry and threatening. Or maybe you protect yourself by acting like you don’t care. All these moves are ways you deal with the threat of abandonment.

These great ideas come from:
Jovanna Casey
© 2013

What Happens To You

The hard thing about using The Abandonment Move is, once you get used to doing it, you can find it hard to stop, especially if you are with someone who falls for this stuff. As your child-self gets more and more power, you begins to feel safest manipulating people this way. Eventually, you lose respect for yourself and the people you love.

Because this move puts you in a position of power, it is up to you to identify exactly how you do this move and commit to stopping it. Don’t wait for someone else to bust you.

One more thing, as long as you keep doing these dances, healthy people, those who want an honest, intimate relationships, are going to steer clear of you. They have no interest in having a relationship, personal or professional, with someone who acts this way. So, get busy changing your behavior so you can create great relationships.

Who “Wins”?
You might think you “win” by continually getting your way by using the threat of abandonment. But who really wins? Nobody. You can’t really trust the love or connection you got, because you know you manipulated it.

Your fear of being open and vulnerable is getting in the way of your relationship success. You lose. Ouch!

You Like the Power
Whether you want to admit it or not, there’s a part of you that really likes to see your friends or mate squirm when you use The Abandonment Move. If you are dedicated to using this technique, you’ll test people early in the relationship to see if they respond to it. If they don’t, you think they are “not very interesting” and move on.

You might believe if someone gives up their preferences, dreams and desires, for fear of losing you it proves you are loved or lovable. But it doesn’t mean this. It means you are using The Abandonment Move and they are falling for it. Be aware if you have been unconsciously testing your loved ones this way.

Manipulating with Fear
I think you can see by now, you are manipulating with fear when you use this move. There are many people that will put up with extreme abuse if they feel threatened with abandonment. You can be belittling, controlling, condescending or cruel as long as your loved one is insecure enough to put up with it. If you truly want deeper relationships, you have to look at all the ways, no matter how small, you send your partner messages like “You are replaceable, you aren’t that valuable, I could easily leave you and I don’t care that much”.

The Abandonment Move and Abusive Relationships
This move is a common dynamic in abusive relationships. If you are in a relationship with someone who pulls this on you, you are in jeopardy of losing more and more of your self-confidence and self-esteem. If you feel afraid when someone uses this tactic, you are feeling a very young part of yourself that feels worthless. You can heal this part of you in therapy and not let the fear of abandonment run your life. Like I said before, there are many people out there who are really nice and wouldn’t want you to be afraid.

The Switch: When Abandoning Turns To Clinging
There is a delicate balance in this dance where each person knows when the other has gone too far. For example, let’s say you’ve just used The Abandonment Move with your friend because she wouldn’t change her plans for you. She sent you one follow-up message and you’ve purposely ignored it. You just used The Abandonment Move.

Before, when you ignored her messages, it worked. She would get anxious and change her plans to do whatever you wanted. If you didn’t reply back soon enough she would send you a series of needy messages begging you to call her. Eventually, she would drive over to your house, where you would coolly answered the door, ignoring her frantic appearance and tell her you are busy. That usually got her back in line so she would behave herself and not assert herself again.

But this time, she’s not calling you back. You wait until you suddenly realize she’s not waiting for you to respond to her. What the hell is going on? Did she start therapy? Did she read this book? Whatever the case, you realize you just pushed it too far, too often or too much. You shift gears and send her a friendly little hello. And when she doesn’t reply immediately, you begin to wonder and worry. Then you try to track her down. You have just switched to the Clinging Move, just another part of the dance.

How to do it in a healthy way– Abandonment Vs. Disengaging
If you stop using The Abandonment Move, does that mean you can never pull away from a conversation or leave a relationship? Of course not. Knowing how and when to leave an interaction or end a relationship is important if you’re going to have a life filled with good relationships.

But once you know this move, you will realize you weren’t trying to end or leave anything. You were trying to get the upper hand and keep the relationship going, albeit in a damaging way.

When you use “disengaged”, one of the six healthy boundary solutions, you are making an adult choice. It is calm, well thought out decision not a knee-jerk, childlike reaction. When you use disengaged, others might still think you are trying to manipulate them or threaten them, but you know inside you have simply made a quiet, grounded decision to separate yourself, momentarily or permanently, from the relationship. There is no underlying, manipulative hidden agenda.

The Abandonment Move: Why it’s hard to stop and why you’ll be glad when you do
When you play The Abandonment Move, you are in the power position. You are in charge of when and how separations occur. To you, this feels better than taking the chance someone could leave you. You might enjoy the feeling of power as you watch your partner squirm, collapse and finally allow you to do whatever you want. You don’t need to be accountable for your behavior in the relationship because she doesn’t have the strength to take a stand. If she does, you just leave her. Or at least threaten to.

Once you stop doing this dance, you’ll finally deal with your fears of abandonment. You will be more open and vulnerable in a way that creates intimacy. Sure, it might feel scary at first, but the payoff is worth it. You’ll know the love you get is authentic. When you feel bad or angry, you’ll discuss it openly instead of manipulating or scaring others. And you’ll pick partners who are confident and open instead of needy and insecure.

The Clinging Move “I need you”

When someone is using The Clinging Move, she’s trying to get across how much she wants or needs somebody. She is being open, undefended and vulnerable with her feelings. She wants to express her love and connection.
And what’s wrong with that, especially in this world where so many people are defended?

Off Balance
But just as someone authentically needing help is different than someone playing the victim role, someone trying to engage is different than someone using The Clinging Move. So, when does “engaging” turn into The Clinging Move?

The clinging move has an underlying level of desperation. When you use the clinging move, not only are you coming from a one down position, you are setting up others to abandoned or reject you. This is a predictable part of the dance. You ignore the subtle or not-so-subtle signs from others to back off and when they finally need a break they have to leave or push you away. And, predictably, you get your payoff – you feel abandoned or rejected. Then you can play the victim card – “I’ve been done wrong”.

Here are a few signs that you might be using The Clinging Move:

  • You feel like a scared, needy little kid
  • You push others to tell you they love you
  • You keep asking for reassurance
  • You are annoying, invasive or needy in how you connect with others
  • You feel insecure or less than others
  • You are afraid of people leaving you
  • Inadvertently, you set it up so others reject you

The Clinging Move In Action
Here is an example of the clinging move in action. Emma wants to have more connection with Randy. All along she sensed he was more distant than her. But she hoped to change that. Unconsciously, she was doing the very things that would drive him further away.

If he wasn’t paying enough attention to her, she would cuddle with him on the sofa when he got home. Even though he didn’t reciprocate, she would pick up his arm and put it around her squeezing and tighter. It got to the point where he felt overwhelmed and just wanted to walk away.

During the day, while he was at work, she would send him “cute little notes” just to say “hello”. He quickly learned if he didn’t respond to her, when he would get home she would act hurt. So answering her messages began to feel like a burden.

When they would go to a neighborhood block party, she wouldn’t leave his side. Instead, she held on to him.

You may be setting up the very distance
that you’ve been trying to avoid.

Have you done this to? Have you let your insecurity or neediness drive your actions? If so, you may be setting up the very distance that you’ve been trying to avoid. Your child regression neediness feels overwhelming to others and eventually they just need to get away.

Other Examples
Sometimes you’ll be able to see you’ve been using the clinging move by identifying specific behaviors. Other times you will notice it as an underlying urge that colors what you say and do.

  • You say “I love you” with a palatable, expectation that others say “I love you” back
  • Your insecurity comes through as you ask “where are you, where have you been, where you going?”
  • You cuddle or physically hang on to another person ignoring their body language that says to stop it
  • You repeatedly ask for reassurance about your lovability or your being wanted
  • You have a multitude of “innocent” ways of constantly connecting with the other person
  • You make the other person have to end conversations instead of doing it yourself
  • You answer others phone messages in lightning speed
  • You have a perverse feeling of satisfaction when you have been rejected again
  • You feel “good” when others feel guilty for rejecting you
  • You don’t leave when it’s time to leave

What Happens To You
When you use The Clinging Move, you are trying to get assurance that you are lovable or wanted. But, unfortunately, you drive people away with your neediness or you get some reassurance but it won’t sink in because you know you forced them into giving it to you.

Because of this, you are in an endless cycle of still not feeling truly valuable. And so you try again. Once you resolve your feelings of unworthiness, your self-confidence is quite appealing. Which is very attractive to people who want to have healthy relationships.

You Can’t Stand The Waiting
in using the clinging move, because of your constant neediness, you are always ready to be there. You are the one who creates the momentum and opportunity for connection in the relationship. You never let your partner move towards you because you are too quick to make things happen. Your friend or partner never gets to experience what it is like to not have you there. He never gets to miss you.

If you want to develop healthy relationships, you are going to learn to tolerate those empty spaces. And if you find out that your friend or date is less invested in the relationship than you are, you get to find out fast. Before you have invested a lot of time and energy. Before you have children, move to a new city or give your heart away.

Oh, I’m Such A Victim
Perhaps you use The Clinging Move as another way to be a passive aggressive victim. You push and push for more connection by asking for more attention or physical closeness when it is obvious your mate needs time alone. You ignore his subtle or gentle ways of telling you “no” until he finally has to get more intense or brusque in setting limits with you.

Then you act “hurt” by his actions and get to put him in the role of a rejecting bully. You secretly feel delighted when he apologizes for being mean. Now he’ll make it up to you. Of course, none of this ever satisfies what you really want which is true connection.

The Switch: When Clinging Gets Mad

If you are still in the dance and realize your clinging is not going to work, you shift gears. No longer in the one down clinging position, you flip to abandoning or rejecting.

Perhaps you use The Abandonment Move as you pull away with a pouty “you have hurt me” look on your face, Or you suddenly are cold and disinterested in your partner. You carefully watch to see if your partner will take the bait.

Or perhaps, instead of using The Abandonment Move, you go for The Rejection Move. You push him away saying “Why don’t you just leave?”. Or you attack with a series of well-aimed criticisms designed to wound and forced him to leave you. And when he finally does, you feel a small victory but you also feel pain. This is The Push Me Pull You Dance. Ouch!

How to do it in a healthy way– Clinging Vs. Connecting
If you stop using The Clinging Move, does this mean you can never have needs? Does it mean you should never feel vulnerable or insecure? No, we are all human and have those feelings now and then. But there is a distinct flavor difference when you are doing this dance instead of openly trying to get what you want.

When you are connecting, instead of initiating this dance, you might simply say: “I’m needing a little extra loving right now, are you up for it?” Or “would you mind spending some extra time together today, I’m feeling disconnected and want to connect with you?” If your partner is not up for this, you don’t push the point because you know it would be a setup. You know, bottom line, it’s up to you to find a way to calm and soothe yourself.

For many people, the urge to continue engaging in these dances is a sign of regression. The Clinging Move, for example, might be driven by regression that creates an insatiable need for reassurance you cannot fill. The quick relief you get when your partner tells you “I love you” lasts for only a brief period of time before you are searching for reassurance again.

To stay out of this dance, it’s important to know how to identify and comfort your inner child.
Learn more on our website about regression.

The Clinging Move: Why it’s hard to stop and why you’ll be glad when you do

When you use The Clinging Move to try to get what you need once in a while it works. Once in a while you get that extra hugging closeness, and reassurance that he will never leave you. And that momentary relief you feel is worth all the effort. And that’s why it’s hard to stop.

When you stop using this move, at first you might feel little shaky. You think you need something from someone else for you to feel safe or worthy. But when you stop this dance you also, stop looking outside yourself for your self-worth.

The respect you develop for yourself is worth it. And because you respect yourself, you create relationships based on self-respect instead of neediness. You are more likely to honor your values and hold true to your own soul when conflict occurs because you know there is something much worse than somebody abandoning you. What is worse? You abandoning yourself. And because you know this you will not abandon yourself again

The Rejection Move “Go Away”

When someone is using The Rejection Move, she is often overwhelmed by feeling hurt. She might be filled with emotion, and just needs some space to regroup, deal with her feelings, and calm herself.

Or maybe she is angry and is trying to express how upset she is. And maybe, in her pain, she is stuck in a knee-jerk response trying to hurt the one she feels harmed her.

Off Balance
What turns a simple need for time alone or the expression of upset feelings into The Rejection Move? When you are using The Rejection Move, there is an underlying urge to hurt or manipulate someone else. Similar to the little child who is mad at her mommy, you shove away your partner who has displeased you.

You reject her advances of affection, reject her offerings of help and reject her attempts to connect. If she doesn’t feel hurt or anxious at this point, you dive into a more obvious form of rejection. You start attacking her. You bring up everything you can think of that your beloved feels ashamed about; every mistake they have made, every failure and everything they feel insecure about.

Unconsciously, when you do this dance, you are either trying to force someone to prove they love you or trying to prove to yourself that they don’t. If they take the bait and do this dance with you, they will try to prove they love you by going into anxious overdrive offering one form of love after another in hopes that you will finally receive it. Or, after enough rejection or attacks from you, they finally leave and you feel abandoned. Ouch!

Here are a few signs that you might be using The Rejection Move:

  • You feel like a defiant, pouty child
  • You are “unsatisfy-able”
  • You feel angry at your partner and want to hurt him back
  • Instead of leaving if you are upset, you try to make him leave you
  • You feel stuck pushing him away even though you know you want comfort and connection
  • You nitpick and criticize until he goes away
  • You physically push him away when he is close to you

The Rejection Move In Action
Here’s an example of Michael using the rejection move. Michael and Todd, another architect at the firm, had both been at a meeting with a prospective client. When the client finally decided to work with the firm, she said she only wanted to work with Todd.

Todd and Michael had always gotten along well, but after this, things changed. Each time Todd offered to help out on something, as he had in the past, Michael rejected his offer of assistance. Todd would offer to pick up something for lunch, and Michael would curtly reply “no thanks.” At group meetings, where different members of the team would toss out ideas, Michael would be openly enthusiastic of everyone’s ideas except Todd’s. With Todd, Michael would ridicule his idea and then move onto another topic.

Feeling something was off, at first Todd increased his attempts to get Michael to interact with him. But when he saw the pattern, he suddenly realized this was The Push-Me, Pull-You Dance. And he knew that reaching out to Michael, in spite of his constant rejection, would only perpetuate the dance. So instead he shifted gears, stayed upbeat and friendly but did not keep reaching out to connect. After a while Michael’s resentment decreased and, since Todd had not reacted negatively to the dance, it was easier for them to fall back into a friendlier way of interacting.

Other Examples
Sometimes you can see you have been using The Rejection Move by examining your words or behavior. Other times you will notice it lies in your attitude towards others

  • You change from a pattern of being openly friendly or receptive to someone into a hostile, cold or neutral response to them
  • You find “legitimate” reasons to keep rejecting someone’s ideas
  • You feel a perverse pleasure in someone’s continued attempts to get you to connect with them, all the while knowing you will never accept their attempts
  • You push away with your words, you might even say “Go away! Just leave!”
  • You act innocent or nonchalant when your partner anxiously wonders why
  • You have not replied to their calls or texts when in the past you had a pattern of immediately responding
  • You feel an underlying emotion of anger, hurt or revenge

What Happens To You
When you use The Rejection Move, you are trying to get something you need. Usually it means you feel hurt and need to deal with your feelings.. But, as with all the other dances, this move will ensure you will never get what you really need. If you succeed in hurting the other person through your rejection you get only brief satisfaction. If you succeed in forcing them to leave, you only feel sad and lonely again.

And if you succeed in getting your partner to feel anxious or guilty, you have set in motion a pattern you will eventually regret. You need to deal directly with your feelings and talk with others about what you want instead of letting this hurt inner-child dynamic take over.

When You Can’t Separate
You might use The Rejection move when you’re trying to get some time alone. If you have fear of abandonment, or a tendency to get into a victim position, it’s hard for you to speak up and initiate separation. So instead, you set it up to make the other person leave you.

For example, here’s how Emma did The Rejection Move:

After a long day of being home alone with her baby, Emma needed a break. When her husband, Randy, came home from Work and, instead of asking him to take the baby for a while and give her some time alone, she began to nitpick him. Complaining about all the unfinished repair jobs around the house she pushed him away with her blaming. When he finally started getting angry, she ended their conversation with an explosive “Fine! Why don’t you just leave and take the baby! You don’t want to be here anyway.”

In a huff, he bundled off their daughter to the nursery room. Even though Emma was upset, she felt an odd sort of relief now that she was finally getting the time alone that she needed. Ouch!

Prove That You Love Me
On the flipside, you might use this move when you’re trying to get someone else to “prove” that they love you. In this damaging power play, you reject him through your criticisms or refusal to accept his offers of connection. As he tries harder and harder to get you to accept him, you keep pushing him away. The hidden question is “am I worth fighting for?”.

He might try hard for a while but, unless he is very insecure, he will and should give up. This is when you sense you’ve pushed things too far and then you do The Switch.

The Switch: When Rejecting Flips

When you’ve pushed it too far using The Rejection Move you know something has changed. Your friend stops trying to get you to connect with them. And you are left with nothing to fight with, the struggle is done. So you quickly shift gears. You start acting cute, charming and inviting. You are interested in what he has to say and what he wants. You suddenly feel like doing special little things for him to pull him closer to you. This is you using The Clinging Move. And if he doesn’t know this dance, he will feel relieved as you both “enjoy” your renewed connection. I wonder how often he will fall for this?

There may be times you choose The Rejection Move and he just won’t leave! You push and push and still he hangs around. If you are craving that feeling of being left this just won’t do. So, you come up with a reason why you are so exasperated with him to justify you leaving. Using The Abandonment Move, you leave but blame it on him..

Personally, I think this stuff can be a lot of fun! The back-and-forth drama and all the big feelings. How exciting. But seriously, do you really think you can get what you need when you do this stuff?

These great ideas come from:
Jovanna Casey
© 2013

How to do it in a healthy way– Rejecting Vs. Being Upset
If you stop using The Rejection Move, does that mean it’s never okay to get mad at someone? Of course not. You can’t have great relationships if you won’t speak up when things upset you. But there’s a huge difference between an angry child getting mad and a grounded, wise adult being upset.

And by now, I hope you know better than to approach a problem when you are feeling victimy and blaming. As an adult, you can share what has been upsetting you without putting someone down. It’s okay that you know what you want, so calmly and clearly share what has been happening and what you would like to be different. When you do this, you are setting the stage for a really good pattern in your relationship. You are creating the basis for new way of relating and understanding each other.

The Rejection Move: Why it’s hard to stop and why you’ll be glad when you do

When you feel hurt, you want revenge, what a better way to do this than to reject someone? And for you, the payoff may be worth it as you see your friend or lover pull away as they feel wounded by your attacks or rejection. You feel justified and redeemed. He hurt you, you hurt him back. You might feel powerful in your ability to wound others but you don’t end up liking yourself in the end.

When you stop using this move, you have to risk being more vulnerable and open. Scary isn’t it? But as you will see, it is well worth it. You will be more open and revealing and in doing so you invite this from others. You create a feeling of safety and intimacy. And isn’t that what you really wanted?

He Who Cares Least “Wins”
In The Push-Me Pull-You Dance, the position of “power” goes to the person who acts like they care the least. You “win” by not needing others. You are least vulnerable. Of course, in reality, really, you are losing. You lose the chance for open, honest relationships. When you are willing to stop “winning” in other words, to stop acting like you don’t care, it is easier to step out of the dance.

The Perfect Dance –The One That Keeps On Wounding

If you’ve ever been shocked or amazed that, once again, you’ve gotten into another painful relationship that is just like the one you left, you are not alone. Like many people, if you have unresolved pain from past relationships you are unconsciously searching for someone to help you resolve it. Unfortunately, this means your radar is set to find or attract someone who is just as numb, intrusive, abusive, defended or absent as your original relationship partner was. And then dance begins again.

At first meeting, you celebrate because this person seems different than all the rest. But after the honeymoon period, you find the deeper unresolved dynamics begin to emerge.

Take a look at The Push-Me Pull-You Dance, for example. Let’s say you have a fear of abandonment. You will unconsciously be drawn to someone who has an aversion of being smothered or of losing himself. This is what is happening with Emma and Randy. She constantly craved more connection and has an underlying anxiety from her fear of abandonment. Randy on the other hand, is determined to not let anyone control him. He has an aversion to anyone getting demanding, needy or clingy with him. And this is the dance they play out. She grows more anxious as he distances, withdrawing into himself or spending time alone. In response to his increased withdrawal, she gets even more desperate.

Emotional Blackmail
Emotional blackmail is when someone plays off your emotions as a threat to get you to do something. You can see in this dance, different ways emotional blackmail is used. Someone using the threat of abandonment motivates unaware or insecure people to collapse into fear and obedience. The threat is “If you don’t do this, I will leave you”. When someone uses The Rejection Move, the threat is “If you aren’t sorry for hurting me, I will hurt you.”

When using The Clinging Move for emotional blackmail, people often weave in threats of self-harm.

The threat is “If you leave me, I will harm myself and it will be your fault. I will make you regret leaving me.”

Here is an example someone shared with me:

“I wanted to break up with my boyfriend, but every time I started to do it, he would dive into despair or anxiety.

Clinging, he would plead his love for me. He said he wouldn’t want to live without me. Then he got angry. He told me if I left, he would go on a drinking binge and probably die in a car accident. He said it would be my fault. I knew I had to go, but I was terrified. What if he killed himself? Would it be my fault? I didn’t know what to do.”

Her boyfriend was playing on her fears and was trying to get her to take responsibility for his behaviors. Once she understood the dynamics of this dance, she realized what he had been doing. No longer willing to be emotionally blackmailed, she calmly told him she knew she was not responsible for what he chose to do. And she let him know that if he made threats like this again she would take them seriously and immediately call the police and his immediate family every time.

The first time she did this he was shocked. He acted as if she had betrayed him. Instead of feeling scared or guilty, she let him know she was no longer willing to act she was in charge of what he did. And she let him know, once again, that she would be contacting his family and the police any time he said he would harm himself.

If someone threatens to harm himself, do not hesitate to call the police, family and friends. Call the police every time this threat is made. This way you remove the secrecy of this manipulative move and, if he needs help, he will get it.

Overview Chart of The Push-Me, Pull-You Dance:
Here are some quick descriptions of these three roles. It is not only what you say and do it is how you do it. The underlying attitude, emotion or energy is what defines these roles.

The Abandoning Move

Pouting, withdrawing, pull away, dramatic turning away and leaving, energetically withdrawing, cold, aloof, hottie

Ignoring invitations to connect, pointedly not noticing or ignoring, being cool and aloof when normally friendly, making eye contact and then quickly turning away with a cold aloof or hurt attitude

minimal responsiveness, for example: one word answers

I don’t need you

Coldly saying “Well if you want to be that way” with an implied threat of “you are going to regret this later on”

I don’t care

The Clinging Move

Needy, physically or energetically clinging, trying to make conversations go beyond their natural ending point, somewhat invasive with wanting something more, insecure child approach

I need you

Don’t leave me

I can’t live without you

Questions and comments are designed to keep the other person engaged

The Rejection Move

Name calling, belittling comments, laser sharp jabs at someone’s inadequacies, blaming, pushing away verbally or physically with hostility, pushing away verbally or physically with a victimy


Go away

Why don’t you just go?

What is wrong with you?

I can’t stand you

Bulleted Summary of Chapter

  • The Push–Me, Pull-You Dance is one of the three most damaging relationship dances.
  • The three moves are The Abandonment Move, The Rejection Move and The Clinging Move.
  • The Abandonment Move activates a primal anxiety and is highly manipulative.
  • Emotional blackmail motivates you through guilt or fear to do things you don’t want to do.
  • When you are regressed, it is easy to fall into doing this dance.
  • Learning each of these moves will help you avoid this dance.
  • Resolving your earliest relationship experiences, typically with your family of origin, will clear the way to healthier relationships.

These great ideas come from:
Jovanna Casey
© 2013

End of this chapter Push Pull

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