Are you stuck in an unhealthy relationship pattern? Do you make the same relationship choices that ultimately lead to the same unhappy conclusions? For example, pointless unresolved conflict, unmet needs, disappointment, trauma, mistrust, betrayal, deepened insecurities and loneliness? Have the majority of your relationships been with essentially the same person? Meaning different people with similar issues vis-à-vis their ability (or lack thereof) to form healthy attachments and relationships?
If so, you have a type. And it’s unhealthy; possibly self-destructive. Your rational mind knows it’s impossible to have mutually satisfying relationships with narcissists, borderlines and other self-absorbed, irrational and emotionally immature people. But you keep choosing these people as your partners!
There’s much more to it than having a “bad picker.” Which, by the way, is an expression that just doesn’t sound right. “Bad picker.” Don’t like it.
Thinking back on past spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends, do you recognize a type? I don’t mean brunettes vs. redheads, school teachers vs. nurses or drives a pick-up truck vs. a BMW. I’m referring to personality characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, poor communication skills, inability to solve problems, inability to tolerate intimacy, hypocritical, cold, asexual or hyper-sexual, etc. These qualities and abilities are the important stuff. At least, much more important than a mutual passion for windsurfing, enjoying travel, “loving to laugh” and the ability to comfortably go from black tie/black dress to blue jeans [INSERT EYEBALL SPRAIN-INDUCING EYE ROLL HERE].
What’s your dysfunctional type?
Maybe you’ve never thought about this before. That’s okay. Take a moment to consider it now. Do you have a habit of choosing women or men who are:
- Unavailable (i.e., either in another relationship or emotionally unavailable, e.g., because they’re still hung up on an ex)
- Unreliable (e.g., empty/broken promises, disappear/reappear)
- Unpredictable (and I don’t mean showing up with a bouquet of tulips and your favorite Hefeweizen out of the blue!)
- Emotionally abusive
- Physically abusive
- Financially exploitative
- Emotionally manipulative (e.g., guilt trips, shaming)
- Insecure and have low self-esteem
- Possessive or jealous
- Explosive in anger
- Uninterested in you and the things that matter to you
- Dismissive of your feelings and needs
- Self-absorbed and selfish
- Still involved in other relationships (e.g., still fighting with an ex spouse or partner)
- Dependent or “don’t need anyone”
- Emotionally distant or walled off
- Jealous or controlling
- Unable to commit
- Unable to express/give and receive love
- Personality disordered
- Mentally ill
- Emotionally unstable
- Emotionally immature
- Addicts or alcoholics
- Emotionally troubled
- Professional victims
- Too quick to begin relationships and end them just as quickly
- Emotionally intense yet emotionally shallow (i.e., running hot or cold, or extreme highs and lows)
- Insecure or avoidant (attachment style)
Now imagine talking to a friend who asks you to describe a new love interest. Would you be gushing over any of these qualities? I hope not. Although, that’d be a funny skit.
“Oh my gosh! I met the most amazing woman on Tinder last week! She’s emotionally labile, financially irresponsible, a pathological liar, has 12 other dudes orbiting her and looked at her phone continuously throughout our date! She’s not technically hot, but she was nice to me and told me I’m the most amazing man she’s ever known in under 3 days! I’m head over heels!”
You gush over the false self or mask of the person you think you’ve met. The person they want you to believe they are. The person you want them to be. If you’ve dated multiple versions of women or men with similar issues, please consider that you’re the other common denominator in this unhealthy pattern. Yes, they’re awful, but you keep falling for them, dating and/or marrying them.
In another instance of sometimes you find the best quotes in the strangest places, I’ll share one from Big Little Lies, season 2. “None of us really see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
In my experience, this is especially true of codependents and personality disordered individuals who project onto each other during the love bombing stage. Healthier people project and then withdraw their projections after the honeymoon stage ends (i.e., the non-pathological version of the love bombing stage). However, the discrepancies between who the individuals really are vs. the idealized projections are far less extreme.
In other words, there’s still a strong resemblance to the projected idealized person. For example, he’s still the same great guy, but now you know he burps, his boxer shorts land on the floor around the hamper (not in the hamper) and, for some reason, he collects rubber ducks. (Actually, I used to have a rubber duck collection.)
It’s different when codependents and the disordered withdraw their projections. The false selves are vastly different from the authentic selves. Sometimes to the point that the borderline or narcissist looks physically different once the illusion dissolves. (Clients have reported this and I’ve experienced it as well). And, of course, the NPD or BPD accuses you of having changed once you see through their false self to the broken, bitter, angry child underneath the mask.
Mom? Dad? Not again! Repeating past relationships in the present.
If you’re stuck in a dead end relationship pattern with the same type of person, it’s likely because you’re recreating earlier relationships from childhood or adolescence. Until you achieve some clarity regarding your choice of romantic partners, you’ll tend to be attracted to and attract the same kind of person because it feels familiar. Especially if it recreates the intense emotional highs and lows of a dysfunctional family of origin.
These people feel familiar due to your early childhood and adolescent relationship experiences. It’s what you know. Perhaps you don’t realize that there are other ways to be in a relationship. Or, perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to date healthier women and men, but found them boring or not as exciting.
If your type is dysfunctional and crazy, there are healthier partners and relationships to be had. People who are open to relationships and will value you rather than shut you out, reject you, exploit you, ignore you or, in extreme cases, demean and abuse you. However, you’ll first need to begin getting your issues in order, so the familiarity of the toxic and dysfunctional feels bad (not exciting) and healthier and functional feels refreshingly, wonderfully good.
In my Dating Again series, I discuss common secondary gains related to repeating unhealthy relationship patterns and secondary losses related to becoming healthier and having healthier relationships. Secondary gains and losses are unconscious motivators that reinforce old self-sabotaging, self-destructive, self-defeating attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes people have a conscious awareness of them. More often than not, people are unaware of the secondary gains and losses that keep them stuck.
How can you tell if your choices are shaped by secondary gains and losses? Your rational mind wants to become healthier and have healthier relationships, but you keep falling for hopelessly damaged, toxic and/or personality disordered women or men. This is often an indication that your unconscious emotional child self is in conflict with your conscious rational adult self.
The conscious rational adult mind knows relationships with someone who’s self-absorbed, selfish, emotionally, immature, cruel, dishonest, avoidant or [choose your favorite dysfunction] won’t work. The unconscious emotional child self believes you can make it work with someone like dear old demented mom or dad if you just try harder and become “more” or “enough.”
When you’re stuck in a toxic relationship pattern, it’s often because you’re trying to get a different outcome in your adult relationships than you had in childhood with your parents and other adults who hurt you or didn’t meet your needs. This is why you choose partners who are no more capable of meeting your needs and loving you than your parents, family or your first intimate relationship partners were.
Before proceeding to the next section, go back and review the list of dysfunctional traits above. Which of these characteristics describe your mom and dad? Are they the same ones your spouse(s), girlfriends, boyfriends and exes possess? If they’d shown you these qualities instead of love bombing you, would you have pursued a relationship with them?
Parents have absolute power and control over their kids. Thus, screwed up moms and dads don’t have to love bomb children. As children, we revere our parents, even the incredibly abusive ones. No wooing necessary. Parents are gods to their kids. *As an aside, some toxic parents love bomb the kids as part of a parental alienation campaign, but that’s a separate topic.
Typically, codependents are susceptible to love bombing because they think they’re getting the opposite of their crazy, cruel, disinterested, cold mom or dad. And then, SURPRISE! Mom? Dad? Not again! When the love bombing stops, it’s emotionally jarring.
The mask of the false self comes off and it’s another version of your parent(s). Instead of accepting reality, codependents often blame themselves. “What happened?! What did I do wrong?! What do I need to do to return to being flattered, loved up and feeling special?!”
There’s nothing you can do. You were conned. You thought you were getting the opposite when, in reality, it’s just more of the same. Then you fall into the old childhood role of trying to fix your messed up parent/partner. Forget the Oedipus Complex. It’s the Sisyphus Complex. You keep pushing that boulder uphill only to have it crush you on its descent to the bottom. Over and over again.
Self-sabotaging relationship beliefs.
So what creates the elements of secondary gains and losses? The faulty self-defeating beliefs you learned as a child about yourself, relationships and your role in relationships. These beliefs inform the secondary losses and gains the unconscious emotional child self fears. They’re obstacles to having the kind of relationship your conscious rational adult mind wants.
Whether you’re aware of them or not, these beliefs shape your relationship choices. The following are some of the more common faulty relationship beliefs learned in dysfunctional families:
- You have to work hard to earn someone’s love.
- You can’t just be who you are and be loved. So you become the hero, knight in shining armor, nice guy, good girl, cool girl, Mr. or Ms. Helper, etc.
- You have to prove that you’re “good enough” in order for someone to love you.
- You must be perfect to be loved.
- Love is suffering and longing.
- It’s your job to make your partner happy.
- Your feelings, needs and rights are secondary to your partner’s.
- You have to go along with, like, or agree with everything your partner likes or wants, or you’ll lose them.
- You need to ignore or hide your needs and feelings in order to meet all of your partner’s needs.
- Being honest about your feelings, wants and needs will result in pain, rejection and/or rage.
- If someone loves you they should be able to read your mind or intuit how you’re feeling and what you want without having to tell them.
- Your partner should be able to meet all your needs.
- Your partner should enjoy doing all the things you do and like all of the same people you like.
- Your partner should prove he or she cares by spending money on you and paying for trips, dinners and gifts.
- If someone really loves you there will never be any conflict.
- If people rely on you and need you they won’t leave you.
- If you try hard enough you can fix someone into being nice to you and loving you.
Do any of these statements resonate with you? Do you understand why they’re screwed up and unhealthy? Do they reflect the relationship choices you’ve made or the exes who chose you? What are healthier and more functional opposites to these faulty beliefs?
Stop should-ing all over yourself! Self-destructive beliefs about the self.
In addition to faulty relationship beliefs, negative beliefs about the self are also extremely problematic in one’s capacity to form healthier relationships. Whenever we make statements that use the words should, always, must, never, or have to it usually means we’re placing unreasonably high expectations on others and ourselves. This usually leads to anger, disappointment, hurt and frustration, which makes it difficult to have healthier relationships.
A faulty relationship belief system reinforces your fears and self-doubts and perpetuates poor relationship choices. If you think so little of yourself, you’ll likely continue to attract people who’ll treat you poorly. ***Or worse, will reject healthier women and men who won’t mistreat you because you’ll think there’s something wrong with them for seeing value and worth in you.***
Common self-defeating beliefs include:
- I’m unlovable.
- No one would love me if they really knew me.
- I’ll eventually be rejected, so I’ll protect myself by pushing others away.
- I don’t deserve love.
- Nothing ever works out for me.
- I’m cursed.
- I’m not good enough for a healthier person.
- I’m not attractive enough.
- I’m not thin enough, tall enough, muscular enough, petite enough, etc.
- I’m not smart enough.
- I’m too damaged.
- I don’t make enough money.
- I’m not interesting enough.
- There’s something wrong with me.
- I never get anything good or can’t have good things.
Sound familiar? Are these the thoughts and sentiments that have become a familiar refrain in the Cavern of Self-Defeating Self-Torture and Despair™, where the Grey Goose flows and the Ella Fitzgerald – Cole Porter songbook plays on an endless loop? Well, that’s where I still go occasionally when someone in the present is shitty to me in ways that my parents and ex-partners were in the past. At least for a little bit.
Until I remember to remind myself that someone else’s shitty-ness toward me is about them, not me. This is one of those hurts that I don’t know ever entirely goes away for codependents and the trauma bonded. It may always remain the initial reflexive response. It is possible to snap oneself out of it much more quickly, shake it off and get back on the proper mental track, however.
Who first made you feel and believe this about yourself? You weren’t born into this world feeling and thinking this garbage. None of us are. It’s put in your head by the kind of parents who dump their issues onto their children to carry for them.
These beliefs and fears also arise from observing your parents marriage and by how they treated you. They weren’t relationship role models. Consequently, you choose partners who treat you in familiar similar ways, which reinforces your negative beliefs about yourself.
How do you correct this? One way is to stop yourself when these thoughts occur, reality test them and replace the negative statements with loving positive self-statements. How can you realistically expect to feel good about yourself and have confidence in your ability to be an attractive partner to others with this kind of self-defeating nonsense floating around in your head? You can’t. This is why it’s essential to identify, disrupt and replace these old beliefs with healthier new ones.
If you don’t, you allow what happened to you way back when to control your here and now. You don’t have to allow your adult life and the course of your adult relationships be defined by what happened to you in the past. You can take control of your life as an adult. You don’t have to be dependent on the approval of toxic people who aren’t likely to give it to you anyway anymore. Let go of the old beliefs and adopt new and healthier ones. In some ways, it’s like flipping on a light switch in your mind.
When you do this, you may see some things from the past that you’d rather not deal with, but they will continue to control you and lead you to make poor relationship choices if you don’t. All of this is fully under your control. Unlike trying to change or fix others.
In Part 2, I’ll discuss self-defeating problem-
solving creating behaviors and self-destructive relationship beliefs and attitudes vs. healthier beliefs and behaviors.
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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