Dysfunctional relationships are home to the wounded parts of ourselves. It is where they came from and where they always return.
A seed needs soil, water, and sunlight to become a healthy plant. Without these necessities, it will not grow or flower. The same is true for people. A human self requires love, safety, and nurturing to thrive and blossom.
If you did not get these needs met as a child, your self is probably underdeveloped. And because the self is the very organ of perception for all of life’s experiences, having a stunted or wounded self is the biggest problem you could ever have. I cannot emphasize this enough.
The Healing Fantasy
Just like a plant reaches for the sun, young minds yearn to have their needs met. Children of abusive, neglectful, or dysfunctional parents fantasize about one day getting what they need. This is often accompanied by self-abandonment as kids take up roles like “Mommy’s little helper” or “Daddy’s little angel” in an effort to get love and attention.
If I do well in school, then they’ll praise me. If I excel in sports, then they’ll show up for me. I’ll learn how to be strong and not cry anymore, then they’ll appreciate me. If I do everything for them, surely they’ll be good to me.
Young children cannot fathom the possibility that their parents are incompetent. And when they spend all of their formative years craving love from someone incapable of giving it to them, it’s logical that this becomes their deepest adult desire. This is why people recreate parental relationships with the partners they pick — they’re still chasing the same ghosts of their childhood.
The guy with the raging mother somehow only dates violent women. The lady who grew up with a drug-addicted father is always dating addicts. How about kids with workaholic parents who were never around? You guessed it — they find unavailable partners.
So when people say, “She’s not my type,” or “I’m just not into him,” often what they’re saying is, “I don’t think that person can fulfill my healing fantasy.” People subconsciously want their romantic relationships to fill a hole in their childhood. But it doesn’t work that way.
The Healing Reality
To heal, we have to rediscover the authentic self we traded in for the approval of others. We must abandon our codependent roles and reattach the parts of ourselves we amputated so we could fit into someone else’s box. It starts with self-awareness and requires a ton of self-love, self-care, and self-discipline.
In a dysfunctional childhood, many believed they had to choose between being themselves or getting their needs met. By becoming our own healthy parent, we can finally fulfill those unmet needs while also embracing and nurturing our true selves.
Much of this healing work can and should be done while you’re single, if possible. Making yourself your primary relationship is the best way to cultivate self-love without distraction. But eventually, this healing business must continue within a relationship.
Attraction as a Desire to Heal
Healthy folks aren’t swooned by the walking wounded. Hurt people are attracted to each other because they provide a mutual opportunity to grow. Someone who was abused as a child doesn’t heal by avoiding abuse for the rest of her life. True healing occurs when she learns to love and protect herself in the face of abuse.
So, attraction arises when two people hold the key to each other’s healing. If neither one of them knows that they are being called to improve, then the relationship goes down in blame flames.
If only one partner is willing to evolve, then that person can either stay the same to maintain the relationship or change and grow out of it. This is a tough dilemma where one must choose between healing and connection.
The third and ideal possibility is where both partners are committed to growth. This is the only way to have a healthy, satisfying, long-term relationship.
If you keep finding yourself in dysfunctional relationships like I once did, that means you’ve got some work to do. I was not able to heal myself. I needed to get help from therapists, coaches, support groups, and mentors. For quite a while, I stayed single and focused on improving my relationship with myself. Once I understood that my salvation didn’t lie in another human being, then I could start dating again. Now I’m happily married to a healthy, loving partner, and my life is just delightful.
If you’re ready to change, I suggest asking for help. It’s the best thing I ever did.
When we finally heal our wounds, we stop returning to the crime scene, looking for answers.