“Why do I always fall for the wrong guy?” I must admit it’s a question I asked myself a few times. And when listening to a very interesting podcast with Dr Frank Anderson on Trauma and Internal Family System, the answer came in a reaI “aha” moment.
To be honest, I already knew the answer – or rather, let’s take the grandiosity out of this – my answer. But this very smart psychiatrist and psychotherapist summed it up with a few elegant sentences : “Most adult romantic attractions are really us trying to heal an early attachment wound. Instead of seeking this healing from another person, what we need to do is seek the relationship, get triggered an activated, and then do our work.”
This is brilliant.
Let’s have a look at these few sentences.
Most attractions are us trying to heal an old wound
Of course, while we are in the throws of these attractions, sometimes violently obsessive ones, we do not feel we are seeking salvation or healing. We are convinced we have found a soulmate. Even if this person is not available, highly dysfunctional, or downright dangerous. We believe our love will make everything all right (this time).
But then normal life returns either because the relationship has never started, has failed, or after it has succeeded and we are now in a normal relationship and magical thinking has left. Sometimes we can look back and realize we have dated, or tried to date, the same person all along – with a different name and face, but you know, basically the same. And the relationship, or absence thereof, has basically looked and felt the same as well.
If there is a pattern, we probably are trying to heal an old wound, using different relationships with the same dynamic, over and over again.
In my case, it could be a figure of authority, unavailable, and showing some interest in me (real of fantasized). Or a man who had certain personality traits like narcissism. Best of all: everything at once.
And I have lived my childhood with a narcissistic, married, sexually violent father.
It may seem very obvious stated like this of course, but it took me a very long time to be able to state it that way. Denial is a powerful, far reaching mechanism. It took me years to understand my father was who we was. And years to understand most men are different, so I could be more discriminate.
What we need to do instead is do our work
Nobody can heal us, except ourselves – granted, with the support of others, and if it can be a supportive partner, then it is terrific. But the only person who can really heal us, is us.
I believe we all initially carry this fantasy that someone is coming. We feel terrible, but someone is coming to save us. A prince charming will appear and make us feel all right. It can also be a charming princess of course, depending on our preferences.
It will not work. Nobody’s coming.
I know. I’m really sorry.
If we feel terrible without a relationship, we will feel the same inside a relationship, once the romantic highs fade – and they can fade quickly indeed. It is not the job of a romantic relationship, or any relationship, to heal us. Other people are not here to heal us. Even if they wanted to, they would not be able to, the same way it is impossible to heal someone with broken bones from the outside. The healing happens inside ourselves, mainly because of what we do.
Of course, we don’t necessarily know what to do. This is where books, podcasts, blogs and therapists are useful. They can guide us out of our illusion that some magical person will solve all our problems, and into problem solving. It is the only way.
Now, I have read versions of what I am writing now several times before really getting it. I read them, and believed fervently they did not apply to me. I needed a few iterations of miserably failed relationships to get it.
We all need to have our experiences. But knowing other people frame it differently can help to get it sooner, I think. A guide gives directions we do not necessarily follow, but when we get lost a few times and don’t know what else to do, we backtrack to find the guide and hear him or her out.
Follow the attraction anyway
The wounded part of us is hidden deep down inside ourselves, usually well protected. To put space between this wounded part and our day to day experience, we can use addictions, dissociation (a favorite of mine), intellectualization, compulsive activity, whatever. The result is that our wounded self is not readily accessible. We can actually be very functional, even when carrying a difficult past.
When we get activated by a potential romantic relationship, it touches our wounded self though. This part of us, hoping to be held and healed, comes out. This is what makes us so vulnerable in relationships. This is also why what we feel seems disproportionate sometimes, or not adapted to the situation. We can seem weird from the other side of the relationship. Or we can fit into an unhealthy dance, like the narcissistic – codependent dance, or the avoidant – insecure dance.
If the trauma we went through is significant, the relationship can bring a tremendous amount of pain. We firmly believe we are in the present, but we are in fact feeling and acting from the past. If we are suffering from repeated limerence, or love addiction, we can be sure this is what is happening.
This is our chance. Yes, being limerent or lost in love addiction feels terrible. But it full of hope as well : we are in contact with our wounded self, and can begin real recovery.
After years of doing my work, I still get into limerent episodes although less intense and shorter than before. But each one gets me to a better place. And I hope every one of us will take every attraction, even for the wrong guy, for what it is: a part of us trying to push us into healing.
So the wrong guy may not be the wrong guy after all: he may be a perfect healing opportunity. It all depends on us and if we manage to turn around and look into ourselves .