Familiar but not Healthy


By now it’s probably obvious to you that your relationships with your earliest caregivers (usually mother and father but sometimes other people too) shape how you see yourself and the patterns that you seek in your relationships with others too. For those who don’t believe their own experience of this phenomenon (i.e., they keep winding up with friends or lovers who treat them similarly to how their parents treated them), there is ample psychological research to support it (I especially like _The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy_ by L. Cozolino or _Attachment in Psychotherapy_ by D. Wallin).

What I find interesting and troubling about this is that many people say they want certain, healthier things in their love lives and other relationships, like mutual respect, reciprocity, to be heard and appreciated, etc., but when they have a glimpse of it, they become uncomfortable and some even reject this new behavior. Why? They may feel they don’t deserve the new, healthier components of the relationship. They may view it as suspect — no one has ever offered those things and been truly nice to them unless at some point they had a hidden, harmful agenda. And still others just feel mismatched to the new behavior — it doesn’t feel familiar enough to them to accept.

Needless to say, working on this is not an overnight fix. It involves many layers of self-esteem, relationships with others from their past, and creating a new story that says, “I am worthy of a good relationship and I will accept no less.” Overlooking bad behavior is often preferred over suffering rejection or loneliness, but one must be willing to risk that in order to create this new relationship. It can also be hard to accept that loved ones don’t have the skills or capabilities, or even willingness, to try to act differently towards you in a relationship. But without that recognition, it is hard to move forward and have the relationship you want with them.

However, I don’t want to discourage you from making this effort. Often what is familiar is very limiting and sometimes damaging to your self esteem and relationships. If you have the courage to change this, I will be by your side helping you. Once you learn to assert and love yourself, and create a new pattern of behavior, it will be much easier to accept healthy, reciprocal and loving behavior. Not only will it be better for you, it will be the new familiar, the new normal. Then when people run the same old game of exploitation, abuse, or manipulation on you, that will seem unacceptable. You’ll be able to say, “no thank you” and turn to the relationships you say you want.

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