It may seem like it. If you were raised in a dysfunctional family (and most of us are to some degree), you are carrying baggage from how you were treated and how you observed others being treated in your family. As children, we are open and vulnerable to all the positive and negative actions around us. We take them in, without the advantage of age or knowledge to help us filter what we observe. We don’t know if the actions and attitudes we see around us are reasonable or dysfunctional.
If the marriage relationship pattern you observed included disrespect and/or abuse, those negative patterns are implanted forever in your subconscious memories. And here is the bad news, when you are stressed or under pressure, you are likely to automatically revert to those behavior and thought patterns….even though you consciously reject them! If you felt insecure or abandoned due to the instability in your family, you are likely to react to relationship stresses by feeling insecure or fearing abandonment.
Here is a true story, from one of my clients, of severe family dysfunction, (the names have been changed):
When Sarah was five years old, she cut her sister’s hair. This is actually a fairly common thing for children to do. But her father over-reacted in a very damaging way. He told her she had been very bad and couldn’t be in their family any more. He had her pack a small suitcase and take her favorite doll. He then drove her to a distant neighborhood and parked in front of a stranger’s home. He told her to get out of the car and knock on their door and ask if she could live with them. Of course she was crying and begging to stay in the car, but he pushed her out and then drove away!
While still crying, she walked to the door with her little suitcase and doll. When she knocked on the door a man opened it. She asked if she could live with him. Of course this man was dumbfounded to find a small child crying on his door step, asking to live with him.
At this point her father drove back up and started yelling at her to get back in the car. She did. And he told her, “See, he doesn’t want you either. No one wants you.” Then he drove her to a crossroads in the country where no houses could be seen. Again he told her to get out of the car, and again he drove off leaving her crying with her suitcase and doll. In tears she sat down at the roadside.
A short while later two young men in a pickup truck stopped and asked her if she needed help. Although she didn’t know it, apparently her father was parked where he could see her. At this point he drove back and yelled at her to get in the car. She did and he told her again, “No one wants you and I don’t either, but I guess you’ll have to stay with us for now.” He then took her home.
Perhaps you can imagine the devastation this deeply abusive behavior caused in this young child. Our parents are who we depend on to care for and protect us. When a parent severely betrays that trust, it is deeply damaging to the psyche of a child and the negative effects are long term.
This client is now 40 years old. Although she is an unusually beautiful woman, she has never had a long-term, stable relationship. She has had many short-term relationships, the longest of which lasted only two years. Most of them ended in some form of betrayal or abandonment. Men who acted like jerks!
Why has she chosen men who abandon her like her father did? You might think she would try to avoid that. And she does try to avoid it! But here’s the thing, we carry the dysfunctional patterns we learned in childhood, and we subconsciously repeat them, even when we are consciously trying to avoid them.
But, we CAN break the negative relationship patterns we carry! This lovely young woman has now been in coaching with me for only five weeks. In that short amount of time she has already learned how to recognize the difference between men who behave badly (like her father) and men who are emotionally healthy. Now she is choosing to set boundaries that protect herself from emotional abuse. For the first time in her life she feels empowered. And even more important, she knows she has value and is worth the effort to choose to associate only with good men in her life. No more jerks for Sarah!
I have a 3 step system to help women learn new relationship patterns. For more information about how to improve your relationships, send an email to: [email protected].
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