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What Attracts Us to Bad Relationships

Old 08-08-2012, 07:40 AM
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What Attracts Us to Bad Relationships

Came across this article at PsychCentral that relates to my codependency, perhaps yours too.

What Attracts Us to Bad Relationships?
By Nathan Feiles, LMSW

bad relationshipsWhat qualities do you look for in a partner? Charming, sweet, good smile, sexy, smart, good to their family and so on? So many people look for similar qualities in a partner, but it’s common to see people in relationships where their partner can be hurtful, neglectful, disrespectful, or downright mean at times.

How did they end up with this kind of person?

Attraction is an interesting and tricky psychology, and in order to shed some light on why people at times choose partners who are unhealthy for them, it’s first necessary to understand how attraction works.

What Causes People to Become Attracted?

If your answer is “good looks,” believe it or not, this is hardly an indicator of what causes a person to choose a relationship. Finding a person to be “attractive” isn’t the same as being emotionally drawn to them.

Who we become attracted to has a lot to do with how we grew up. But it’s not as simple as finding someone who reminds us of our parents. What’s crucial in attraction is that we find a person who re-creates the psychological environment of our childhood — an emotional comfort zone — while also setting up the potential for the repair of issues that were present in our childhood.

This comfort zone was created psychologically as we grew up, based on the role we played with our caretakers.

How Do Our Parents Fit In?

Dr. Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy, discusses attraction in terms of what he calls “The Lost Self.” Essentially, as we developed into the world, we learned to suppress emotional pieces of who we are based on experiences that we had. For example, if we learned through consequences that showing anger was bad, anger may have become a piece of our disowned selves since we learned to disconnect from anger.

We may have learned to smile when angry, or joke, or anything that will help us avoid being in touch with our anger, since experiencing anger was somehow threatening to us.

But with attraction, Hendrix asserts that we become drawn to someone who can connect to the emotional areas that we disowned — e.g. someone who can be outwardly expressive of anger would be very attractive to someone who’s disowned outward feelings of anger.

Hendrix also asserts that we are attracted to people who encompass positive and negative qualities of our caretakers. Early in relationships, the comfort zone described above brings a sense of euphoria, fooling us into believing that we’re finally going to repair those issues from our childhood that we never repaired with our parents.

Early in the relationship, our subconscious interprets our partner’s negative qualities as the potential for repair (potential holds a positive emotion). However, after the honeymoon phase of a relationship passes, those same negative qualities that helped bring two people together start to become annoying and irritating.

We start to see that our new relationship isn’t really going to resolve our childhood issues, and now we are left to deal with similar frustrations of similar issues that we experienced in childhood!

Comfortable Isn’t Always Healthy

There’s more to the attraction mechanism than this (e.g. attachment, relationship role modeling, etc.), but what’s important here is that our subconscious seeks familiarity, potential for repair and someone who can elicit our suppressed emotional selves, whether or not it’s a healthy relationship for us.

So for people who were abused by their caretakers as children, it makes sense that they could end up with a person who is also abusive. In a sense, the comfort zone says, “I’ve lived in this type of environment before, and therefore I already know how to function in it and deal with it. It’s comfortable to me and I feel at home here.”

Understanding these properties of what emotionally draws us to someone, it’s part of our job as people to learn about our own relationship patterns, especially if we’ve had a history of unhealthy relationships. If our upbringing has wired us for unhealthy relationship environments as adults, it may take some professional therapy to psychologically re-wire our attraction mechanism to seek healthy relationships.

No one is destined to unhealthy relationships — we are molded into it, and we can be molded back. With a bit of motivation and determination, it is possible to have the healthy relationship we desire.
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Old 08-08-2012, 09:56 AM
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Oh no, here comes my daddy issues...

Interestingly enough, it is me who vents their anger, and exah who insists it is always "frustration" that he feels. Never calls it by its name.
I know anger is a huge trigger for him.
Me...I'd rather get in somebody's face anyday of the week than hold it in.

Dad had a hair-trigger temper...I'm usually successful at thinking before I react these days.
Exah was frightened by my temper (his mommy issues) yet thrilled to have caused it....
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Old 08-08-2012, 10:50 AM
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Well, in my situation, I initially thought AX was very sensitive, gentle, etc. I thought he was very communicative and sweet. He comes across as very nice, not particularly "manly" in a lot of ways...the "sensitive type". It wasn't til time went on and his alcoholism was revealed to me that I found out he was an angry drunk. Really, really angry. So even though I grew up with an angry father, I tend to be attracted to men who have even tempers and don't have rage issues. It's pretty ironic, though, because in my last two relationships, I eventually realized I was dating men with serious anger who acted it out in passive agressive ways. What fun!

I know I have a long history of attracting screwed up men because I come across as strong and caring and they are looking for someone to take care of them. I honestly don't want to come across that way anymore. I feel like just falling apart so someone will take care of me for a change!
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Old 08-08-2012, 11:30 AM
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When I read "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix, it was like a bright light came on for me. Finally, an explanation for that "connection," that "soulmate" mentality. My perception and definition of love had been all messed up. Now I know that feeling that way has more to do with the things I need to work on within myself than some predestined romantic "love of my life."

L
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Old 08-08-2012, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by LaTeeDa View Post
When I read "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix, it was like a bright light came on for me. Finally, an explanation for that "connection," that "soulmate" mentality. My perception and definition of love had been all messed up. Now I know that feeling that way has more to do with the things I need to work on within myself than some predestined romantic "love of my life."

L
I have that book somewhere - I should go back and read it
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Old 08-08-2012, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by ZiggyB View Post
I have that book somewhere - I should go back and read it
And do the exercises, too. Very enlightening.......

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Old 08-09-2012, 04:34 AM
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I have completely accepted the fact that I have a "broken picker" and that throughout my dating years I dated a lot of very nice, very successful men that would have made good partners but had zero attraction. No... the guy who got my interest and my brain chemicals and hormones to light up like a fireworks show was Mr. Suave smooth operator that I would be drawn to like a candle to the flame. On most occassions I would see the clear danger signs and resist the urge to get entangled ... but ... there were a few those guys that I simply had to stick my hand on that hot burner repeatedly.

I am single, happy and drunk free for the moment and plan to stay that way for a good long while and to help me "remember" I visit here a lot and read and still go to alanon.

My picker is not fixed it is a daily reprieve and I keep it contained with it's own little program of F&F...lol.
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Old 08-09-2012, 04:44 AM
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I understand what the article is saying, but it feels over complicated and oversimplistic at the same time, there are no light bubs going off for me., although parts of it chime about what I understand about myself.

For me the "comfort zone" (which is very much the wrong term) part of it is that I only know how to relate emotionally to people who act/think/feel in the same way as I learned to, or was around when I was growing up. Those who act in a different way (either "more healthily" - whatever that means, or dysfunctional in a different way) I cannot make a connection with because I can't understand them on any deep level and they can't understand me: we may get physically attracted, but nothing emotional occurs because we cannot communciate at all emotionally.

It is not simply more "comfortable" for me to relate to people who relate/think/feel/understand the world in a way I have been exposed to, it is more that these are the only people it is possible for me to connect to. Essentially, emotionally, anyone else is alien species.

My "pool" of people available for emotional attraction is limited, and limited to certain types, I do not choose to stay in an unhealthy "comfort zone", the choice was
a) make emotional connections within this pool
b) make no emotional connections or
c) learn how these other species view the world in order to explore connecting with them.

I didn't know "c" existed until very recently, because I had no idea that people viewed and experienced the world on such a fundamentally different level than "we" (my pool) did.

So I think the bunkum about being "subconciously" fooled into thinking that by being attracted to someone who is flawed in the same way my parents were flawed I can fix unresolved issues from my childhood or being attracted to people who exhibit things that I have squashed or subsumed (e.g. childhood desire for nose-picking in public) is just that, bunkum. But that's just my opinion.

people are often also attracted to people who had similar childhoods in terms of schooling, geography, family size, housing, religion, "notions of class", education, wealth and other "commonalities", would seem to be more about common languages and understanding, than anything else?
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Old 08-09-2012, 05:54 AM
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I think we are all different in how we respond to trauma experienced in childhood and in my case I repress memories and of course, cannot remember my babyhood. I know my parents very very detached and I had an assortment of nannies as a baby and small child some of which were crazy b's. One of them was so nasty that I remember running as a very small child to my father (extremely detached alcoholic) screaming for him not to leave me. God knows what abuse I have repressed from that crazy woman who was just one of many.

I am very attracted to broken men... handsome guys with large egos and inferiority complexes (to be revealed later in the relationship after the honeymoon/illusion phase is winding down) and that is my dad... same guy. I relate to the emotionally unavailable broken handsome charming illusion and the game is I have to fix "Prince Charming" in the rough.

I have my number and it goes back to dear old dad... who never once said I love you and I never got a hug in my entire life. not once. He ranted, raved, terrorized, demeaned, threatened to kill us all for years and I want to recreate and fix him.

He died alone after driving us all away and the cause of death was "chronic alcoholism".

sad.

on a brighter note while I still have a broken picker I have made sure that my children have very, very sophisticated pickers and do not repeat mistakes that mommy made. Counseling, rigorous honesty and transparency when they were old enough to connect the dots on dad and his addictions broke the cycle of addiction and codependency.

And that is the best we can do with our knowledge... break the cycle for our own children who will become the adults and we help them sharpen their own "pickers" so they are attracted to men that are not broken.
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Old 08-09-2012, 06:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Hopeworks View Post
I am very attracted to broken men... handsome guys with large egos and inferiority complexes (to be revealed later in the relationship after the honeymoon/illusion phase is winding down) and that is my dad... same guy. I relate to the emotionally unavailable broken handsome charming illusion and the game is I have to fix "Prince Charming" in the rough.
I get the large ego with the inferiority complex.

I don't have to fix prince charming...I have to get his approval, as he is the authority, the strong man, the knight in shining armor.
Most of that is good, actually, as I too play well my part of being his princess.
It breaks down when I still need to get his approval while I am fighting him on his authoritarian nature simultaneously, as I reject authority being a grown woman now.
That combination is a recipe for problems, and I end up feeling like a "bad girl".
I want to break the stubborn authoritarian side, but I don't want to make the knight cry, because that frightens me...dad never cried.
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