Trauma Repetition

Posted on April 9, 2015


“So many times I thought I’d found someone only to be surprised at this person that they really were.  And the person that I am has always kept things on the run, but I swear I’ll change my ways, and now I’m just sitting in the sun.  I’m sitting in the sun, waiting for my lover to come.”  Ryan Montbleau

This week is my wife’s spring break (she is a teacher) and so I took off work also.  We are spending some time in Laguna Beach.  If you know the area, amongst all of the art galleries and trendy restaurants are these quirky little storefront shops and offices.  While taking a walk this morning, I saw a sign in a storefront window display, “Soulmate Wanted, Compulsive Liar a Plus, Send Picture of Someone Else.”  As a therapist, I was fascinated by this.  A small part of this was that the statement was presented as a form of art.  The sign was probably two feet by four feet.  A bold font was in front with the same message in a larger more feint font repeated in the background.

The more interesting part was to reflect on what the artist was trying to say.  I have a few possible suppositions.  First, the artist could be attributing the dishonesty to him(her)self, and that what would make the sought after person a soulmate would be to have similar traits.  This seemed, though, like the less likely interpretation.  My second thought (and this seemed more likely) is that the artist has been through a serious of relationships in which they[1] have thought to have found a soulmate only to discover that the “soulmate” was a compulsive liar.

“My picker is broken” seems to have become a fairly common expression in explaining multiple failures to select a comparatively healthy partner.  I don’t think I really buy it.  I think your picker works just fine.  The issue is what your picker is programmed to select for you.  I am usually not particularly Freudian in my thinking, but in this case I suspect there is some unresolved past issue that is getting repeated in these relationships.  Often someone who repeatedly gets involved in unhealthy relationships is repeating some past trauma.  Saying this is not about “blaming the victim” but rather asserting that there is something that happened to you that, should it get resolved, would help you stop repeating this pattern.

Think about this for a moment.  If you have had this sort of unhealthy relationship, can you look back in hindsight and see how the signs were there early on?  If you answered, “no”, watch your film of the relationship again.  Were you too quick to push forward despite the red flags?  Was there a part of you that wanted to believe the lies to help make this person who you wanted (needed) them to be?

The answer to this problem is not to look for the opposite of what you had in the last relationship.  I know a woman who felt suffocated in her first marriage by a husband who wanted the two of them to be together 100% of the time.  In her second marriage, she had a husband who cared little for being with her.  Neither was satisfying.  Both ended in divorce.

Here are some better answers.  First, take a look at how you got there and what caused you to make the partner choices that you did.  If there is trauma in your history, getting some healing around the trauma could help adjust your “picker’s” selection criteria.  If you came from a family with significant dysfunction, you may want to get some help learning what healthy relationships look like.  Second, go slow.  We all try to present the best version of ourselves early in relationship.  Early on, we are on our best behavior.  Over time, who we really are is going to come out.  This is problematic if you become too attached to someone before you really know them.  The biggest culprit in this is having sex too early in the relationship.  Your brain is designed to attach during sex.  The hormone oxytocin is released and your brain goes, “aah, here is my partner.”  This really helps with bonding if the person really is your life partner.  It is problematic if the person is still a veritable stranger.

There is always a reason why we make the choices we do.  If the choices you have been making are ones you regret, it might behoove you to take a look at why you make those choices.  Therapy can help.

[1] Let’s just use “they.”  Not the best English but it saves me writing and you reading “he or she” repeatedly.

Posted in: Relationships, Trauma