By Sandra L. Brown, M.A.
Too often our relationship selection is generated more from attraction than anything else. So knowing 'who' and 'what types' you are attracted to will help you understand your patterns of selection. Some people choose characteristics--helpfulness, humor, gentleness or on the other hand aloof, emotionally unavailable or bad boyz representing qualities they seem to be drawn to. Other people are more physical in their attraction and find the physicality of someone either a 'go' or a 'no.' Maybe you like blondes or blue eyes which drives your pattern of selection.
Unfortunately, sometimes “Traumatic Attraction" seems to drive our patterns of selection. Those who have been abused (especially as children) can have unusual and destructive patterns of selection. While this may seem the opposite of what you would expect from this kind of childhood history, these patterns are largely driven by unresolved trauma. People who were raised in alcoholic, dysfunctional, or abusive homes are likely to repeat those exact patterns in their selection of a partner. They often select individuals who have similar 'characteristics' to the abusive/neglectful/addicted adult they grew up with or were exposed to. The characteristics could be physical (how they look) or behavioral (how they act) or emotional (how they abuse/neglect).
The unresolved abuse issue drives them to selecting abusers for relationships. Today, they are mystified as to why they keep picking abusive/neglectful/addicted people for relationship partners. The rule of thumb in traumatic attractions is, "That which remains unresolved, revolves around and around through our lives until it is resolved."
So, when you have no idea that attraction (good, bad, or dysfunctional) is guiding your selections, you just keep picking the same way and getting the same thing. But because the world keeps using the word 'love' you use it too and you label your attraction-based-choices (that are largely dysfunctional) as 'love' and then you become confused about the nature of this thing called 'love' too.
Your attraction is NOT love. It is merely attraction. What DOES or DOES NOT happen IN the
relationship may be more reflective of 'love' than anything else.
Remember the saying, "Love is patient, love is kind, love does not seek its own..."? It helps to reflect how love is 'other centered' not in a codependent and frantic or needy way but in a way that helps others be interdependent in relationships. Love is often attributed to positive 'attributes' such as:
Joy - love smiling
Peace - love resting
Patience - love waiting
Kindness - love showing itself sensitive to others' feelings
Goodness - love making allowances
Faithfulness - love proving constant
Gentleness - love yielding
Self-control - love triumphing over selfish inclinations
"As long as we believe that someone else has the power to make us happy then we are setting ourselves up to be victims"
(From: Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
The opposite of healthy love is what we often call 'toxic' love. Sometimes understanding what toxic 'looks like' helps us to see what real 'love' should look like too. Here is a short list of the characteristics of Love vs. Toxic Love (compiled with the help of the work of Melody Beattie and Terence Gorski.)
1. Love - Development of self first priority.
Toxic love - Obsession with relationship.
2. Love - Room to grow, expand; desire for other to grow.
Toxic love - Security, comfort in sameness; intensity of need seen as proof of love (may really be fear, insecurity, loneliness)
3. Love - Separate interests; other friends; maintain other meaningful relationships.
Toxic love - Total involvement; limited social life; neglect old friends, interests.
4. Love - Encouragement of each other's expanding; secure in own worth.
Toxic love - Preoccupation with other's behavior; fear of other changing.
5. Love - Appropriate Trust (i.e. trusting partner to behave according to fundamental nature.)
Toxic love - Jealousy; possessiveness; fear of competition; protects "supply."
6. Love - Compromise, negotiation or taking turns at leading. Problem solving together.
Toxic love - Power plays for control; blaming; passive or aggressive manipulation.
7. Love - Embracing of each other's individuality.
Toxic love - Trying to change other to own image.
8. Love - Relationship deals with all aspects of reality.
Toxic love - Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant.
9. Love - Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other's mood.
Toxic love - Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.
10. Love - Loving detachment (healthy concern about partner, while letting go.)
Toxic love - Fusion (being obsessed with each other's problems and feelings.)
11. Love - Sex is free choice growing out of caring & friendship.
Toxic love - Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification.
12. Love - Ability to enjoy being alone.
Toxic love - Unable to endure separation; clinging.
13. Love - Cycle of comfort and contentment.
Toxic love - Cycle of pain and despair.
Love is not supposed to be painful. There is pain involved in any relationship but if it is painful most of the time then something is not working. There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship - it is natural and healthy to desire that. If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment - it is a lesson.
Sandra L. Brown, M.A. is the CEO and Founder of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education.