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!