NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Be Part of the Answer

Are you a woman who usually falls for men who are considered so-called "bad boys" and neither you nor your friends understand why these guys are so irresistible to you?

What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to Many Women?

It Seems Counterintuitive: Women Who Are Usually Stable and Responsible Fall for "Bad Boys" 
Often, it seems completely counterintuitive because the woman who falls for "bad boys" is often the woman who is the most stable, responsible and kind person who never gets into trouble herself, but she falls in love with guys who are edgy, constantly in trouble, emotionally unavailable and sometimes abusive, and constantly breaking her heart.

Just a note before I go on:  I'm using the phrase "bad boys" as a shorthand expression that most people understand without having to go into a lot of detail.  But, in fact, I have a lot of empathy for these men, who often have a long history of trauma, and underneath that tough exterior, there's often a lot of fear and shame.  Of course, working with them as a psychotherapist is different from being in a romantic relationship or married to them and in a lot of emotional pain. 

Why Are So Many Women Drawn to "Bad Boys"?
There can be as many reasons as there are women who fall for guys who have a reputation for being "bad."

Some psychotherapists believe that women who are drawn to "bad boys" are working through unresolved trauma from their family history, especially if they had a father who was unreliable, irresponsible, and emotionally abusive.

Other psychotherapists believe that this dynamic involves a woman's need to "rescue" the man, who is often traumatized and in need of a lot of emotional support.

Other therapists believe that women in these types of relationships are masochistic.

All of the above theories, either individually or in combination, might apply to some women sometimes, but it often doesn't explain this dynamic for many women who had loving, stable fathers and who are not masochistic or in need of rescuing people.

The Brain Reward Circuit and an Irresistible Attraction to "Bad Boys"
Another interesting theory, proposed by Richard A. Friedman, MD, in his article, "I Heart Unpredictable Love" (NY Times) is that this type of attraction involves the brain reward circuit (see link below for the article).

According to Dr. Friedman, the brain reward circuit is a primitive part of the brain that is exquisitely attuned to rewards, whether they are rewards of money, sex, or food.

When the reward is unanticipated, the circuit releases dopamine which gives the person a pleasurable and exciting feeling.

Unpredictable Love and the Brain Reward Circuit

As a result, when you're involved with someone who is unpredictable, as so-called "bad boys" tend to be, you get a sense of pleasure and excitement from the brain reward circuit.  This, in turn, fuels your attraction and obsession, from the brain reward circuit.

It can feel like an "addiction" in much the same way that people who gamble compulsively feel addicted to gambling.  The difference is that you're "gambling" with the unpredictable nature of the relationship as well as your own well-being.

Often, you're unaware of this sense of pleasure and excitement that's being generated by the brain reward circuit.  In fact, your rational mind might be telling you that this guy isn't at all good for you and you should stay away.  But when the brain reward circuit is releasing the dopamine, you might find yourself with this "bad boy" despite what you know rationally.

Does This Mean That You'll Always Be Attracted to "Bad Boys" For the Rest of Your Life?
I've worked with many women who found themselves irresistibly drawn to so-called "bad boys" and who were able to overcome this problem.

Unfortunately, for some women, it often takes a lot of emotional pain before they override their brain chemistry to make healthy choices for themselves.  But just because you feel a sense of pleasure and excitement doesn't mean that you can't make healthy decisions for yourself.  You can.

Getting Help in Therapy
Relationships with "bad boys" can take its toll on you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That's a high price to pay.  And many women discover that, after being in a few of these types of relationships, they aren't as emotionally resilient as they used to be and it gets harder to move on.

If you have tried on your own to stop getting in emotionally unhealthy relationships, but you can't do it on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional.

If you're motivated to change, you can learn how to override the impulse to get involved with men who are constantly hurting you.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist. 

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Also, read my blog article:
The Heartbreak of the On Again-Off Again Relationship

I Heart Unpredictable Love - by Richard A. Friedman - New York Times