Why Do People Who Want Healthy Relationships End Up Choosing People Who Hurt Them?
The Power of Unconscious Unmet Emotional Needs From Childhood
Most of the time, there are unconscious processes operating in these situations. The pull of these types of romantic relationships can feel like two magnets that are drawn together with such a powerful force. In the beginning, this powerful connection adds to the feeling that "this feels so right."
Usually, what drives these powerful attractions that, in the end don't work out, are one or both person's unmet childhood needs. In these situations, two people come together, without even realizing, based on unresolved unmet emotional needs from childhood.
When these unconscious unmet emotional needs get triggered in a romantic dynamic, they feel powerfully compelling. Often, people will feel these strong feelings after a very short time, not realizing that what's driving these feelings are unconscious memories from the past.
The following is a fictionalized vignette based on a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed:
When Nina started therapy, her boyfriend had just ended their relationship. This was the third relationship in a row where things didn't work out for Nina. She was feeling very discouraged because she was in her mid-30s, and she couldn't understand why this kept happening to her.
As far as Nina was concerned, at the beginning of all of these relationships, she was very happy. Then, over time, Nina said, each of these men revealed other sides to their personalities that they had not revealed at the beginning.
When Nina meet her last boyfriend, Scott, she fell head over heals in love with him. Even on that first day, she felt like she had known him all her life. There was something very familiar about him.
They moved in together after just a couple of months. Initially, Nina felt very excited and happy about being with Scott. She thought about him all day long and couldn't wait to see him at night. She fantasized about getting married and having children with him. She thought to herself that she had finally met the man of her dreams.
But by the third month, Scott seemed to change. He was more irritable and critical of Nina. Nina tried to appease him in every way that she could to no avail. She couldn't believe this was happening to her again, and she assumed that, since she kept experiencing this in all her relationships, somehow, she must be doing something wrong. But she didn't know what it was.
For the next two years, Nina exhausted herself trying to make Scott happy. But it seemed that no matter what she did, he just seemed more and more dissatisfied. Then, one day he packed up his things while she was out and left without warning. He left some cash for his half of the rent, but there was no note and no explanation. Nina tried to reach him, but he didn't respond to her calls or her email. She was devastated.
Looking at Nina's family history, I discovered that all of Nina's boyfriends engaged in similar behavior patterns to her father, who left the family abruptly when Nina was four. Unconsciously, Nina was playing out her childhood trauma over and over again in her adult romantic relationships.
As we talked about each of her relationships, she was able to see that there had been early warning signs from the beginning that she was in denial about all along. In hindsight, she could see that she had gotten involved with each of these men too quickly and, in her initial excitement about the relationship, she overlooked red flags.
We also discovered that Nina had many unmet childhood emotional needs because her mother was too overwhelmed to nurture Nina as a child. Knowing at an early age that her mother was overwhelmed, Nina pushed down her emotional needs and attempted to act like a grown up. But this came at a tremendous cost to her emotionally. And, in her adult romantic relationships, she was reenacting her childhood trauma.
We used Somatic Experiencing and EMDR to gradually work through her childhood trauma. Then, Nina worked on developing healthier relationships.
The composite scenario above is a common experience for adults who experienced childhood trauma. If you're usually attracted to people who hurt you, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed psychotherapist who works with trauma and who has experience helping clients to overcome this problem.
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.
I have helped many clients to overcome their emotional trauma so they could lead more fulfilling lives.
To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist
To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org