We all know the old cliche – “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.” As cliche as it is, it holds true – especially true – in relationships. When we hop from one relationship to another one without coming up for air – or examining our role, our behaviors in the relationship – we end up in the same type of toxic relationships and create a pattern in partner seeking. But for many, this repetition takes on a special meaning for the child who has experienced abuse and neglect from a parent – their ‘first family’, or their family of origin. Without deeply examining the impact of abuse a person experienced, the likelihood this will continually get played out in relationships is great.
For example, a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, rejection or intense frustration with this parent struggles to survive. Psychologically they are placed in a very difficult situation. In order to survive their life, they must deny their reality. – it’s just how they survive. They do this by often hiding their feelings, particularly through suppressing their anger and rage at their parent. They feel and experience despair. After all, they are just a child. They have limited coping mechanisms. They use the suppression as their coping mechanism because they need their parent to protect and provide for them – even if that means suffering from abuse and neglect.
They cling to hope – for a better today, a better tomorrow. They hope that their parent will change. They convince themselves that if they just do something different, if they are smarter, perfect enough – their parent will love them unconditionally. They put all the focus on themselves to change as they hope for a better future. They long to be loved and supported unconditionally and feel they must be the one that makes the changes. The child believes – mistakenly – that they are the problem and, therefore, change must come from them. They believe they actually hold the power to change the relationship (though clearly they don’t and this isn’t their job). They try over and over again – albeit unsuccessfully – to fix and improve the relationship. What they don’t understand – because, after all, how could they, they are a child – that the problem lies with the parent, not them.
Fast forward to the future. The wounded child is now an adult and seeking a relationship. Whom do they have an attraction towards? Someone who resembles their critical and unavailable parent – most often psychologically – with whom they had difficulties. They attempt, subconsciously and unsuccessfully, to recreate the relationship they had with their destructive parent in an effort to change the outcome of the relationship. They continue to carry the hope that things will be better. A new relationship provides a new opportunity to be something different, something they can really fix or transform them. They do this in a subconscious attempt to win their parents’ love – something they could never do before.
Despite the despair of this not working, they continue to do this. Many often understand that on some level that this is not possible, but they still continue to do this – just like they while growing up. They look inward to fix the problem and believe they are the problem. They think, if only… However, repeating this behavior in relationships only keeps people stuck, feeling inferior, and inadequate as a partner. But this is simply not the case.
How does healing begin? First the wounded child must accept the traumatic events of his/her life because they really did suffer. It was not their fault. They were abused, neglected, and given love only conditionally – the worse kind. Only once the wounded child has accepted the reality of his or her situation and the unavailability of the parent, can he/she then start to move on and move away psychologically from his abusive parent. Eventually, forgiving the abuser. Acceptance of their reality helps to move them away from how their life started. The compulsion to repeat these relationship patterns loses its control and power enabling the wounded child to be set free.
They are free to live life on their own terms, have and embrace new, healthy relationships, and free to hope for a different future – one filled with healthy relationships and unconditional love from their partner.
This blog was originally posted on Womensemergence.com