There are two fundamentally distinct types of “I keep choosing awful partners.” One of them arises from simply not knowing any better — a mere problem of immaturity or ignorance. The other results from much deeper developmental wounds and can be discouragingly difficult to resolve. People often refer to this as Broken Picker Syndrome.
I’d like to help readers determine if they are in either of these camps and share some helpful resources for personal growth. As always, I recommend starting with a basic understanding of attachment theory if you want to know anything about human relationships.
Your attachment style determines the way you regard and relate to yourself and others. An estimated fifty percent of people have a secure attachment style, while the other half have insecure attachment styles of various types. These include anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant (disorganized) attachment.
Anyone can have low emotional intelligence or limited relationship skills relative to what is necessary for a healthy partnership. I think most parents, as a rule, are fucking winging it, and schools do a bang-up job of educating our hearts. But those with a secure attachment style have only to learn about best practices for dating, boundary-setting, self-care, nonviolent communication and so forth in order to improve their emotional maturity and love life.
Insecure attachers, on the other hand, can learn all the same things and still be compulsively drawn into the same types of dysfunctional relationships over and over again.
Broken Picker Syndrome
The compulsive nature of insecurely attached relationships is what inspires people to use words like broken and syndrome. It appears neurotic, dysfunctional, and utterly baffling.
Some people exclusively date narcissists or sex addicts. Others seem to gravitate towards broken, immature, dysfunctional fixer-uppers. There is the type who is into bad boy or bad girl personas that inevitably burn the relationship to the ground. Many people date super charming people and cannot believe it every single time they turn out to be emotionally unavailable, just like their last partner. There are folks who literally only date abusive or alcoholic partners. What in the actual fuck is that all about?
At face value, none of this makes any sense. But when you look beneath the surface at the underlying causes and conditions (trauma, shame, attachment style, unmet needs, etc.) it makes all the sense in the world.
If you’d like to get to the bottom of your relationship challenges, here are a few good places to begin.
Identify Your Attachment Style
Take the ECR Quiz (Experiences in Close Relationships) to determine your attachment style.
If you score secure, you may not be afflicted with Broken Picker Syndrome at all, and I recommend simply discovering your love language, reading up on intimacy and adult relationships. Maybe a little relationship coaching.
For those who score disorganized (fearful-avoidant attachment), you may actually be attracted to any other type of insecurely attached person. It’s probable that you are carrying some trauma, whether you know it or not, and you simultaneously crave safety in a relationship, yet often feel that relationships aren’t safe. This could be the most confusing and frustrating attachment style.
For any insecurely attached person, it’s possible that you may be suffering from Broken Picker Syndrome. I would recommend reading Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody, which covers both anxious and avoidant patterns. Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller is also a great resource for understanding how attachment theory impacts all of your relationships.
Identify Your Trauma
The very act of being birthed is traumatic as shit. So if you’re here, you’ve been through trauma. It’s all part of the human experience. People wrongly assume that the word trauma only refers to war veterans and survivors of gnarly accidents or vicious abuse. This is false. Some say that trauma is the root of all addictive behaviors, as they are all maladaptive ways of regulating one’s nervous system.
Now, it turns out there are various types of shock trauma, developmental trauma, relational trauma, and inherited generational trauma, all in varying degrees of severity and impact. So there is no quick and easy way to air out all of your deepest emotional wounds in one shot. But here is a good place to start:
Take the ACE Quiz (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to identify your experience with the ten most common forms of childhood trauma.
The higher you score from 0 to 10, the more likely you are to have trouble with all types of addiction, mental illness, physical diseases, and yes, Broken Picker Syndrome. The strong, positive correlation is both remarkable and unsurprising.
Depending on your results, your next move might be to read some of the brilliant works of Nadine Burke Harris, Gabor Maté, Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Alice Miller, Gretchen Schmelzer, or Mark Wolynn. There is so much great literature on the effects of trauma. You will find no shortage.
Whether you’re into reading or not, you should definitely consider seeing a trauma-informed therapist. Self-awareness and knowledge are absolutely vital to begin your healing journey. But knowledge alone will get you nowhere. And processing or healing from trauma is not effectively done in isolation. Please get help.
Let The Healing Begin!
This article is intended to get you from zero to one. It is not the panacea you may be looking for. This is just the beginning. I want you to trade in your WTF is wrong with me? for a more kind and gentle Oh, this is a common condition that I can recover from with proper guidance and support.
Broken Picker Syndrome has been around since the dawn of time. I mean, have you read Romeo and Juliet? What a shit show that turned out to be. There is nothing quite as old or pervasive in our history books as botched human relationships. Have you heard of King Henry VIII? This guy was a fucking paragon of emotional ineptitude and relational depravity who beheaded two of his six wives. And he ruled England for thirty-eight years!
My point is you’re not alone. In fact, Broken Picker Syndrome may be less of an illness and more of a commonplace manifestation of the human condition. Having suffered from BPS myself, I know just how awful it can feel, but I also know that there is tremendous hope for your recovery. You just gotta participate in the healing process.
Because “try, try again” is not a strategy for success.
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