Dating Again: What Does Healthy Look Like? Part One discusses the importance of taking time to heal from abusive relationship(s). It also explains the necessity of identifying and resolving the issues that lead one to choose toxic relationship partners.
Dating Again: How Do You Benefit by Not Having Healthy Relationships? Part Two examines the secondary gains (i.e., unconscious motivators) of continuing to have unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships. In other words, what do you get out of continuing to have one-sided relationships with emotionally immature, irrational, unstable, selfish, self-absorbed jerks?
There are reasons that explain your pattern of unsatisfying and unhealthy relationships in which you’ve been exploited, manipulated, mistreated and taken for granted while being expected to do and give more. Oftentimes, people who’ve had a series of toxic relationship partners find healthier women and men boring. Or, at the very least, not as exciting and attractive.
Healthy isn’t boring. It’s what makes a consistently stable, satisfying and contented life possible. If you find healthier women or men “boring” or “lacking chemistry,” this is a you issue, not a healthy people issue. In other words, you are turned off by emotionally stable, kind, high quality adults and are turned on by abusive, exploitative, immature broken adults. Perhaps it’s time to do figure out why and do something about that? Or, you can continue to repeat the old toxic patterns. Your choice.
Tolerate Appreciate the Mundane.
Recently, a gentleman in recovery (alcoholism) left a comment on one of my YouTube videos. He described his decades long attraction to crazy women and the subsequent toxic, chaotic relationships he’s had with them. His Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor advised him that if he couldn’t learn to “tolerate the mundane” in people, he should abstain from relationships altogether lest he continue to create drama and discord in his life. That is, if he values his sobriety. Sadly for him, the man stated he’s unable to tolerate the mundane and has subsequently stopped seeking relationships.
What this man’s sponsor calls “the mundane,” I would call emotionally mature, stable, accountable, empathetic, rational adults who possess integrity, emotional depth, boundaries and are capable of healthy reciprocal adult relationships — you know, normal. For example, adults who don’t create drama out of boredom, or because they enjoy the adrenaline rush. Adults who have emotional depth rather than emotional intensity.
Have you ever wondered how many people would find your former partners as exciting, irresistible, rumination-worthy, magnetic or impossible to let go of as you do or did? Healthier adults wouldn’t find your ex (or exes) remotely tempting. At least, not after experiencing the crazy and the abuse. Even if the ex(es) are objectively super hot. In fact, healthier individuals would likely be repelled by your ex’s behavior. They wouldn’t hatch self-disrespecting schemes to win back her or his love and admiration. Nor would they negatively compare healthier potential partners to the toxic exes.
Why is this kind of individual your Kryptonite?
It’s likely due to several parenting childhood issues including relational betrayal and trauma. Trauma can be acute, like physical beatings or sexual abuse. It can also be cumulative traumata (i.e., smaller emotional or physical deprivations or intrusions). For example, a mother who consistently ignores/neglects her son to chase after and then keep her next boyfriend or husband. Or, a father who pushes his daughter away when she wants his help with homework or to engage with him because he’s busy watching the news or surfing the Internet. A more extreme example would be a mentally ill mother who flies into rages and then goes catatonic, requiring the child to become her caregiver.
If these smaller traumas happen consistently enough over time, the child’s self-concept is damaged. Patrick Carnes, PhD (1997) explains:
The younger the age at the time of the relational trauma, the greater the potential impact due to the effect on the attachment, or emotional bond, with the primary caregiver. This is because the quality of attachment actually affects the brain of the developing child. With a healthy attachment, the child comes to expect a sense of security, being valued, and enjoyment from relationships, whereas with an unhealthy attachment, the child comes to expect insecurity, being devalued, and stress from relationships. These early attachment experiences begin to lay the foundation for our future self-esteem and how to be social with others. It’s where we begin to learn about interpersonal boundaries and what our role in a relationship is. It’s where we learn how to recognize our social and emotional needs and how to fulfill them. Whether it’s with the primary caregiver, family members, teachers, friends, or romantic or marriage partners, it’s in relationships that we form about ourselves and our world.”
When our primary childhood relationships are characterized by severe trauma or cumulative relational traumata, it facilitates a faulty belief system regarding how we see ourselves, others and our relationships.
One of the reasons it can be so difficult to give up toxic people and relationships is the “excitement” factor. Finding someone who reinforces our distorted beliefs about ourselves, others and relationships can produce a high or “chemistry.” Wheeeeeee!!!! Here’s another crazy like mom or dad I can play out my old stuff with except THIS TIME there’ll be a happily ever after!
This is why healthier people wouldn’t be excited by or obsess over your ex. Healthier people had healthier parenting that facilitated healthier senses of self, others and relationships that don’t include relationships with someone like your ex. Therefore, they’re attracted to people in the same ballpark of healthy rather than finding consistently kind, predictable stable adults boring, unexciting and “mundane.”
Healthier individuals don’t find love bombing difficult to resist. It’s experienced as desperate, over the top and even creepy. Why are codependents and people with a history of trauma bond relationships susceptible to it? Again, it usually goes back to childhood parenting issues.
Did you get enough attention as a child from your mom and dad? Did you feel like the most important person in their world? Did your mom and dad make you feel secure or did you feel unimportant? Did your mom and dad treat you like you were a nuisance, a burden or getting in the way of their good time? Is it any wonder love bombing feels so good and exciting to you?
Because the love bombing is so emotionally intense, you believe you’re with someone who’s the real deal — your soul mate, twin flame, perfect match, etc. In actuality, they are the perfect match to play out your unresolved childhood issues of self-worth. To be clear, this is not a good thing! The emotional intensity may appear glittery and sparkly, but it’s fools gold.
Emotional intensity isn’t the same thing as emotional depth. Dysfunctional, toxic and/or personality disordered individuals are highly emotional intense, but their emotions shallow and fleeting, not deep and lasting. It’s a manifestation of their pathology, not their capacity to love. The instantaneous intensity of emotion upon first meeting them can feel seductive, hypnotic and euphoric. This is what feels like “exciting chemistry.”
Many of my clients have yet to experience true emotional intimacy. You can’t have true emotional intimacy without emotional depth. Real emotional intimacy grows over time. It requires reciprocal empathy, emotional attunement and the willingness to be vulnerable with each others respective old wounds, insecurities and sore spots.
But you and the crazy exes told each other everything about each other within the first few days (or hours) of meeting! Of course, it was meant to be!
That speaks to a mutual lack of boundaries, not intimacy. The intensity of the love bombing often has the effect of priming you to open up and reveal your personal information to a predator. Most likely a predator who’s just that right combination of mom and dad dysfunction. Just like a few pints of beer will loosen your lips and lead you to reveal things you ordinarily wouldn’t, so can love bombing.
This isn’t the magic of finding someone who “gets” you. It’s the behavior of a predator who’s data mining in order to better manipulate you. It feels exciting because you mistakenly believe you’ve found that special someone with whom you can fast track intimacy and love — just like you’ve longed for since childhood. Finally, someone who instantly recognizes your worth, goodness and special-ness — just like your parent(s) didn’t.
Look, healthier people have boundaries. They don’t go from 0 to 100. There isn’t a fast track to deep and abiding intimacy. Healthier women and men don’t open up the vault within minutes of meeting you. Nor will they try to pry your secrets out of you within minutes of meeting you. Many clients confuse this with a lack of interest and/or “connection.”
Sometimes, it’s genuinely a lack of interest and connection. Other times, it’s because a client doesn’t know how to build healthy connections and gradually develop trust and intimacy. An example of the latter would be when the prospective girlfriend/boyfriend is interested in meeting a client for a second date, and the client balks.
When I ask why, the client will usually say he didn’t feel a connection or “overwhelming” attraction. When I ask, “Is she/he physically attractive? Financially independent? Positive? Did she/he regale you with crises and traumas? Does she/he have a wide range of interests? Good conversationalist? Intelligent? Okay, then. What’s the problem?”
The client will either make excuses about not being able to quantify chemistry. Or, they go silent. The problem usually lies with the client. If you struggle with similar issues, it’s likely healthier women and men don’t:
- a) make you feel special via love bombing (i.e., flattery so thick you could frost a cake with it);
- b) make you feel special by unloading their entire traumatic/chaotic relationship drama history onto you;
- c) make you feel special because their life is in disarray and are in need of “rescuing” (i.e., someone who’s willing to pay the tab and push the broom behind their self-created messes);
- d) make you feel special by making sexual innuendo and/or advances within the first meeting or two;
- e) make you feel special because they don’t immediately talk or hint about a future together;
- f) make you feel special because they don’t aggressively pursue you/chase after you.
Love bombing creates an exciting illusion of intimacy and safety, but it doesn’t last.
There are stages to developing trust and intimacy. Healthier people don’t come on like gangbusters. It takes time to feel secure enough to share your vulnerabilities with another person. This is how healthy adults get to know one another.
Did your mom or dad inappropriately overshare the details of their adult problems and adult relationships with you as a child? Mom and/or dad didn’t do that because you were special. They did that because they were dysfunctional individuals who didn’t have healthy boundaries. It’s also a form of child abuse called parentification.
Abusers will ferret out your deep dark secrets and vulnerabilities with determined speed. Do you confuse this intense curiosity with a woman or man being “really into you”? Knowledge is power. Ferreting out your vulnerabilities with speed and intensity creates a false sense of intimacy.
These individuals may even claim they can’t trust you unless you reveal all to them. They will claim to have shared all their secrets with you. Never mind that these kinds of people are usually pathological liars and mirror their prey (i.e., pretend they possess your good qualities and share your interests) during the love bombing stage.
This super fast personal sharing also creates a powerful bond, but an unhealthy one. We either trust and feel secure with people who know us best, or fear the people who know us best. It’s how these individuals gain the upper hand and are then so able to manipulate you. Just like you mom and/or dad did to you.
Think back on your past relationships and almost relationships (i.e., people you could’ve explored a relationship with, but didn’t). Who did you share the most personal stuff with? The exes who made your life a torment? Or, healthier men and women who didn’t vomit their life stories at you on the first date and respected your boundaries regarding personal disclosure?
Do you still believe that not weaseling your personal information indicates a lack of caring? Could it be the other person figures you’ll open up when you’re ready? Do you know how to determine when you’re ready?
I’m willing to bet you gave it up to the predators fairly quickly and have clammed up out of fear with healthier people. Why? Probably because the love bombing gave you a false sense of security. In other words, the love bombing made it seem like the ex was so smitten and interested, you felt safe she or he wouldn’t reject you if you revealed yourself to them.
In reality, the opposite is true. People who love bomb you aren’t safe. These are the same people who later reject you for who you are after fawning that you’re the most amazing man or woman ever.
Normal, healthy people aren’t mundane. They’re actually pretty interesting, but not in a reality show kind of way. They have depth. They have real interests beyond the self-absorbed navel gazing of narcissists and borderlines. Soap operas and reality shows aren’t interesting. Titillating perhaps, but utterly devoid of substance. These shows and people’s lives who mimic them provide a vicarious thrill of observing human train wreckage and high drama.
Investing time and effort in gradually getting to know someone over time doesn’t have the intense initial skyrocket effect of love bombing. Boundaries aren’t especially exciting either, and neither are people who respect them. When we respect each others boundaries, there’s usually no drama.
Abnormal, unhealthy people are chaotic, intense and chock full of drama. It’s also a renewable source of abject misery. It might be exciting to pet a tiger. It’s not terribly exciting when the tiger bites your arm off and permanently disfigures you, though.
How to begin to develop an appreciation of the mundane.
If you want healthier, mutually satisfying, lasting relationships, developing an appreciation of the mundane is essential. Healthy people and relationships are predictable, consistent and stable. There aren’t wild gyrations between hot and cold, raging and then pretending the rage episode didn’t happen, disappearing and reappearing, circular arguments and recycling old conflicts over and over again. The mundane is characterized by contentment, calm, a sense of well-being and mutual satisfaction.
Basically, you’ll need to reset your emotional thermostat. To develop an appreciation of the kick from espresso rather than destroying yourself on a cocaine high. To find a warm bath soothing rather than scalding yourself in a pot of boiling water. You’ll also need to modify your own behavior. In other words, learn how to gradually build intimacy and trust. For starters:
- Do a boundary inventory. Do you have any? Do you know what a boundary is? What would healthy boundaries look like for you?
- What has been your relationship role or identity? Caregiver? Rescuer? People pleaser? Doormat? What will your new relationship role or identity be?
- What bad communication habits did you develop in your former toxic relationships? For example, no more disappearing into your old hidey holes, expecting others to drag you out and pry out whatever it is that’s bothering you. If you’re upset or need/want something you’re not getting, speak up. A healthy partner won’t ridicule you for it or deny you of it if it’s reasonable and within their power to give to you.
- Identify your old defense mechanisms that have protected you in toxic relationships, but won’t fly with healthier partners like avoidance, passive-aggressiveness, guilt trips, playing the martyr, etc.
- Identify what’s acceptable vs. unacceptable in the way a potential partner treats you.
- Level up. No more boundary-less, self-absorbed, love bombing, perpetual human drama/crisis machines.
- How can you make yourself lovable to a potential partner? If it involves any codependent behaviors, that needs to stop. No more rescuing. No more fixing. No more jumping in and volunteering to help someone you’ve just met. No more lying to yourself about a person’s “potential.” If you can’t accept someone as they are, move along.
- Identify all the “mundane” things that are good in your life. Do you like your coffee maker? Cuddling with your dogs. Sitting in your favorite chair? Having food in the fridge? Being in good physical health? Appreciate what you have. Find pleasure and contentment in them. This will make you more attractive to healthier people and vice versa.
Healthy relationships don’t have extreme highs and lows. They don’t leave you feeling worthless and separate from the rest of humanity. Haven’t you had enough of the emotional roller coaster ride?
I’ll be working on Part Four of the Dating Again series, so please check back. This one was meant to be about the costs or secondary losses of becoming healthier. Instead, as often happens, I jumped tracks onto another train of thought. Please bear with me. We’ll get there!
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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