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?