Thursday, November 19, 2009

Women and Bad Relationship Choices

You all know who she is. Or maybe she is you. She drives 200 miles across state lines to meet the 'really great guy' she met on the internet. She always seems to find the man who is chronically unemployed or underemployed, who requires her support. Her boyfriends or partners often cheat on her. Or sometimes they are married or otherwise unavailable. Or they are so self-focused that they never plan anything or do anything with her that is not related to meeting their own needs. Sometimes they are emotionally absent or emotionally or physically abusive. Sometimes they are addicts. Sometimes it turns out that all they wanted was the sex that she too quickly offered.

Why do some women make these bad relationship choices, over and over again?

First, let's talk about self-concept. Her ideas about herself, her sense of her value and her conclusions about things to which she is entitled are formed early on in life. These earlier life experiences inform her about what she can expect from the world, and communicate to her about how others will value her. This woman, like all of us, is guided by her internalized model of relationships and the quality of attachment in her early life experiences (see previous postings for a discussion of attachment). Her self-concept is also impacted by her experiences in society at large. The woman who has had an earlier life in which she experienced excessive criticism, deprivation, devaluation and denigration, whether subtle or overt, whether in her family and/or in society at large, will come to view herself in a less than positive light. She may feel that there limits to what she can expect from the others, from the world and in relationships. Being treated as 'less than' in her relationship may, unfortunately, not be foreign for her. Therefore, to engage in a relationship in which she may not be sufficiently valued may be ego-syntonic and thus hardly noticed at all.

Denial is also a powerful psychological tool, aimed at helping her tolerate what would otherwise be felt to be intolerable. Is it not easier for her to believe that she is deeply cared for, rather than acknowledge that she is being exploited? Is it not less painful to believe that he is pining and longing and for her and will soon leave his non-understanding wife, than to believe that he is no more able to offer her a whole relationship than he is his wife? And besides, his drinking really isn't that bad. Powerful denial is required to protect the woman from the pain of these realities. She may have such a history of denying reality, or needing to deny a painful reality (or her reality being denied) that she can too easily convince herself of the most foolish things. When she is offered a crumb, she mistakes it for (or converts it into) a whole cake. She convinces herself that her belly is full and that she is truly being satisfied. Or she convinces herself that she really doesn't need very much. Yet, a crumb is still a crumb.

Are you a woman who keeps making bad relationship choices? Think about the messages you got about yourself and your value during your childhood. For example, were you seen as special, a burden, demanding, needy, greedy, bad, beautiful, invisible, stupid, intelligent? What role did you occupy in the relationships with your family? Do you feel any of those feelings in your life today? What do you think you should expect in a relationship? What do you think any woman should expect in a relationship? What boundaries do you feel are appropriate for you to set in a relationship? What are you really getting in the relationship that you have now?

Are you getting the whole cake, or are you settling for crumbs?

15 comments:

  1. This is so well written I am a psychotherapist in Studio City, CA. With this problem we could fill every venue within the U.S.. I would also be one in the audiance after 29 years of therapy with some of the best. I enjoyed reading your blog about a difficult issue with for some the journey is long towards resolving. Hopefully there is learning a long the way. I think there is and that is what gives me hope for all of us.

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  2. The instinctual brain has no capacity to learn and grow from experience and keeps repeating the same things over and over again. When a person has grown up having to defend oneself against pervasive physical or psychological threats or violent behavior, survival is the very best that the person can hope for. Unfortunately, that is the pattern that keeps getting played out as the brain directs responses to ensure survival rather than being able to engage in self actualizing or rational decision making. We like to believe that these women who are caught up in survival patterns actually have the capacity to make different (rational) choices. It is my hope that with more understanding as demonstrated in this article, methods for reducing fear such as teaching mindfulness and the practice of meditation, and less judgment of their choices while they struggle will go a long way to help them shift from surviving to thriving.

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    Replies
    1. I hate to break this to you, but people like myself exist that can change their emotions directly. Such as "I feel euphoria when I see person X" and without any kind of prompting say several swift kicks to the shin from them to train my brain to say "Bad" when they are around, in an unintelligible static of mental processes, can simply make that "I feel nothing when I see person X"

      An example? Yesterday I realized I looked at transgender women (MtW) as disgusting. After about 15 minutes I decided against feeling disgust, and simply stopped.

      Another problem I see is that the only standard a person can truly hold for others is to hold them to the example they set.

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  3. But what about women who have had a good upbringing and have a healthy sense of self yet are unable to find a man with these attributes and end up in a bad relationship?

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    Replies
    1. Maybe those women were looking in the wrong place.

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    2. When women are young and suffering depression are they,more likely to pick men who are unable to love them?
      Why do they feel they can help/rescue men who are wounded in their own personalities?

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  4. Womens also unable to make a commitment because their also compares her new partner to some perfect fantasy man of her dreams.

    cletsey

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  5. Karen knows all about this

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  6. Im going through this exact issue. He wont let me work. I dont know how to drive. I know noone in the state im in. I have a 9 month old baby by him and i cant take her and not be financally stable. im only 21 and hes 37. he lied to me online and ive been stuck ever since. i do not know of any resourses that can help me in my area. im in louisiana, im from iowa. ive been here for two years. help :o

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    Replies
    1. Nonsense. This man is not holding you hostage. YOU chose to be with him, and continue to CHOOSE to stay with him. Stop this foolish victimhood behavior. Pick up the phone and call your folks, telling them to get you out of there if indeed you don't want to be with him. No one is interested in your behavior as a two-year old toddler.

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  7. Since it's understood that women make bad decisions I say we take the decisions away from them. Men should be the head of any relationship and men should have control over reproduction and sex. You want patriarchy, we'll give you patriarchy.

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  8. So Once you recognize this pattern in your life how do you stop?Especially when the selection of men is so poor to begin with?

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    ReplyDelete
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