This blog post has been updated and moved to https://www.justinkhughes.com/jog/setpoints-why-being-negative-will-make-you-stable.
How did this happen again? Do I have a sign on my face that says, ‘Take advantage of me’?
A common counseling topic is addressing habitual and self-destructive patterns in relationships. For the person that keeps getting stuck and attracting the same jerk over and over again, I have good news: there are clear, identifiable characteristics that actually do make you a magnet for certain types of people.
Addictions, compulsive, and impulsive behavior. Each of these keep us from feeling true emotions; they insulate us from reality. And in so doing, they keep us from seeing things as they truly are.
Betrayal Bonds and patterns of abuse. In the classic work, Betrayal Bonds, renowned addiction specialist Dr. Patrick Carnes poignantly notes that people who experience trauma in relationships (and who don’t deal with the trauma) are often bound in some way to the same person/type who deeply, and often repeatedly, hurts them.
Codependency. A person who is codependent finds their identity in fixing others and ensuring everything goes well. In so doing, they often lose their own sense of self and boundaries. See Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
Cognitive distortions. If you have harmful thought patterns that are not based in truth, you won’t be in touch with what’s really going on or what is actually needed to be healthy. See Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.
Depression. Low motivation and energy along with hopelessness all make healthy decisions difficult, especially if another person fills a void.
Lack of Direction or Spiritual Anchor. Confusion as to who you are and what you are doing with your life goes hand-in-hand with picking the wrong person. If you don’t know who you are, how can you express yourself and be understood?
Law of Complementary Personalities. The saying, ‘opposites attract,’ often is true when it comes to negative relationship styles. For example, a passive person pairs with an aggressive person, often attracted to their leadership (or on the flip side, attracted to how easy-going the other is). Someone who is pathologically controlling must find someone who can be pathologically controlled. The two fit together like sweet tea on hot Texas day.
Learned Helplessness. Elephants who are originally chained down will later believe they can’t escape when they only are held by a flimsy rope connected to a stake in the ground. Have you learned helplessness? Do you stay in a relationship because you don’t think it will get any better, or because it would get a lot worse if you made changes?
Love Addiction. When a person is addicted to the “high” of falling in love, often they miss important signs and signals and get into unhealthy relationships. Check out Pia Mellody’s Facing Love Addiction.
Poor Emotion Management. Not knowing how to identify and regulate emotions leads to a lack of self-control and direction.
Training. I love the phrase: We train others how to treat us. Examples are letting people into your personal space, not letting someone know they’ve harmed you, and not telling others your wants/needs. All of these train others. Do you stand up for respect and honor for yourself and others?
Self-Esteem Issues. If we look hyper-negatively at ourselves, any person who seems to boost our self-view will make do.
Self-sabotage. Due to insecurity, a person fears getting something good, so they inadvertently or intentionally damage opportunities. Too much potential threat is involved.
Toxic Shame. If you consistently see your value as worthless, you won’t make decisions to secure respect and love. A great read on this is John Bradshaw’s work, Healing the Shame That Binds You.
These are just a beginning. Knowing underlying patterns is only a start to changing them. If you see yourself in these descriptions, write it out and talk to a trusted person about what you want to change. After all, acknowledging a problem is the BIG first step. If you need more help, this is why counselors exist!
From a counseling perspective, when I study communication between politicians, businesses, and portrayals in the media, I often shake my head. It’s pretty bleak. Some of the very same dysfunctional communication that happens in unhappy and unsuccessful relationships is often present in these environments- and shown as an example.
Effective communication, like most anything else of value, takes work and practice. Unfortunately, a lot of models of communication from environments like those listed above are about winning and being “one-up” from another person. You will never get very close to another if this is your stance. True intimacy is knowing someone and being known by them- not putting another down, trying to win, or being “right.”
When I was a counseling intern, I was struck by a question my supervisor posed to a client in group therapy: “Do you want to win the argument or keep your spouse?” Good question. What are our priorities? It’s a good idea to look at them. Because whatever you ultimately are seeking will come through in your communication patterns. Do you truly seek to understand, to know, and to connect? Or are you trying to win, to defeat, and to be the big-shot?
Here’s a few helpful pointers on assertive and kind communication:
-Mutual respect (their thoughts/feelings matter, and so do yours)
-Reflect (share) what you think you heard
-Strive to understand what the other REALLY means
-Ask lots of questions
-Be concise, if possible
-Say no when it’s called for
-If reasonable, thank the person for sharing
-Let another person know they are important
-To love and care for another requires that you set healthy boundaries
-Ask the other person how you can approach something
-Use “I” statements (saying “you,” especially in conflict, often comes across as blaming)
-Remember you are human– be patient with others as they are, too