By Pulkit Sharma December 2013 The reason why relationships don’t work out is because most of us are operating out of the wounds dealt by past relationships, says Pulkit Sharma Anil came to me for psychotherapy during his fourth attempt at forming a love relationship. Reena and he had been seeing each other for about six months, and he was messed up. At times he felt attached to her, and thought that he should enter into a commitment. Soon after this conclusion, he became suspicious that she did not have genuine feelings for him, and felt a strong repulsion. Interestingly, he harboured a similar conflict in his previous relationships as well. He felt close to the person, felt like going ahead, but all of a sudden became suspicious, and broke off the relationship. Sessions of psychoanalysis revealed that Anil had a strong separation anxiety due to the traumatic loss of an early caregiver. As a result, he felt scared of deep attachments, and found superficial relationships safer. Although he yearned for a deep relationship, the moment he got close to someone, he feared loss and as a result terminated that relationship. The past baggage from an early relationship was having an adverse effect on his present relationships. Past to the present Deep down everyone craves for blissful relationships. Yet, it is commonly observed that relationships are fraught with conflicts and pain. Despite sincere attempts to remain close, people move apart. The root cause of a majority of relationship problems is the past baggage that people carry into their present. Each relationship leaves a strong imprint in the person’s subconscious mind about their own self and others. For instance, a relationship where an individual received love and care makes them feel that they are good, desirable and worthy of someone’s attention and that the other person is caring, loving and trustworthy. On the contrary, a relationship where an individual was deprived and neglected, makes them feel that they are defective, bad and needy, and that the other person is cold, cruel and withholding. Whenever someone attempts to form a new relationship, the mind is coloured by positive and negative experiences from early relationships. Based on their subconscious imprinting, people continue to see themselves and the other person in a biased manner. It is the source of all relationship problems. Further, due to such predispositions people make wrong choices, thus intensifying relationship conflicts. Five patterns However, if we become more self-aware and understand the patterns of relating, we can be free from past baggage. It enables us to look, feel, and behave, differently in our relationships. As a result, the elusive close bond that we eternally search for can become a reality. In my work as a psychologist, I often notice five common dysfunctional patterns from past baggage: 1. Hot and cold Some people blow hot and cold in their relationships, seeing their partner as all good, or alternatively as all bad. Their view of the partner shifts from one extreme to another without any middle ground. They develop intense attachments quickly and idolise the partner. But as soon as they experience the slightest disappointment, they lose all faith in them. Over time, the relationship breaks down due to these repeated cycles. The pattern is created because they have had past relational experiences with people who were inconsistent in commitment. As a result, in order to avoid the possibility of experiencing pain again, they remain fearful, and use unrealistically strict standards for the partner. In order to be free from this dysfunctional pattern, they need to rationally examine their feelings. They will find that they have little tolerance for pain, and they are looking for a fantasy-like relationship, to avoid the possibility of experiencing pain again. People erroneously consider pain to be a part of the self. Giving up such a faulty notion can help them to form a stable and satisfying relationship. Mindful and non-judgmental witnessing of one’s pain decreases it and heals the self. Pain is an experience, while self is our entire being. With repeated witnessing, the person’s identification with pain decreases. The person realises that pain is just an experience, and the self is different from pain. The fear that the partner will traumatise them fades away, and the person is able to see the partner in a loving and rational manner. 2. Becoming the caretaker There are relationships where an individual becomes a parent figure and goes to extremes to fulfil the needs of the partner. The partner often develops a disturbed, self-centred, and aggressive attitude, but the person keeps on giving unconditional love and care. The fantasy is that the monster will melt, or the baby will grow up with care. However, there is hardly any change because the partner feels that no matter what they do, the person will always be there to support. This causes burnout and trauma. People become caretakers because they have a hidden deprived part of the self. They deny this part and locate it in the other person. By caring for the other person, they vicariously derive satisfaction. In order to break this pattern, the person needs to connect with the neglected part of their self. It is often a part that wanted love, care and support, but remained unfulfilled. They need to understand and nurture it. They need to enter into an inner dialogue with it, telling it that it is no more alone and vulnerable. This part needs to be told that it is good and worthy of being loved and cared for. Once the part revives, the person will give up the need to play a self-sacrificing caretaker. They will love others and expect reciprocity. This leads to development of a mutually satisfying relationship. 3. Love-sex disintegration In some cases, the person loves someone deeply, but does not feel sexually attracted to that person. They often cheat on their partner, and pursue casual sexual encounters. Although sexual awareness and freedom in our society has increased, people continue to find it murky. People are yet to develop reverence towards sexuality. Parents pass on this attitude to children either explicitly or subtly. This leads to a split between tender love, and erotic desire in a person’s mind. The lack of capacity to integrate erotic desire and tender love results in developing an intensely gratifying sexual relation with one person, and an intense love/desire for another person. In order to heal this, the individual needs to understand and question the split. They need to challenge the negative attitude they hold towards sexuality and change it. Problems continue till the time the person sees sexuality as a bodily need. Romantic love, bonding, and sexual enjoyment, are integrated in a normal and healthy love relationship. Sexuality is a pathway to connect to another being, and experience a merger. The merger leads to an expansion in consciousness. A person reaches such a stage when they are able to see sexual desire as a growth-oriented and spiritual part of their self. 4. Chasing a star Another category of people includes those who wish to have larger than life personalities as their partners. They chase people who are objects of envy. A girl who had been looking for a matrimonial alliance for the last 10 years told her psychologist that she wanted to find a partner whom she can show off to the entire world. Deep down, these individuals feel extremely inferior, and have low self-esteem. They search for partners who are extremely wealthy, intelligent, good looking, courageous or popular, so that by virtue of association, they can fuel their shattered narcissism. However, relationships formed on such a pattern lack depth, and several conflicts crop up after the initial phase of excitement. As feelings of inferiority continue to haunt them, they start hating the partner. To break the pattern, they need to work on their sense of self. Rather than going after what society admires, they should become aware of their own unique potentials and strengths. Once they create space to live out this hidden creative side, they will develop healthy self-love and respect. Consequently, they will find their search for superhuman partners silly, and will be happy to share life with a guy or girl next door. A person with a strong sense of self seeks a partner, and not a showpiece. 5. No strings attached Several people prefer to enter into casual, superficial, ‘no-strings attached’ relationships. If the relationship starts getting deeper, they feel either repulsed, or confused about their feelings. They may either terminate the relationship and look for another casual encounter, or indulge in infidelity. Thus, they convince themselves that they are free and detached. The main cause of such a pattern is that they suffer from intense attachment anxiety, and run away from depth in a relationship. Fear of loss of ego haunts them. Intervention requires identifying and working through feelings of attachment anxiety, and being prepared to dissolve the ego. They need to understand that the ego is a small exterior layer of their self. It is not their complete self. Once they understand that, they see attachment and merger as joyful. They are not scared of losing their ego, and give it up voluntarily. It brings eternal peace and happiness. Most often when problems crop up in a relationship, people tend to blame the partner, and terminate the relationship. While there is no denying that the partner may have a role to play in the relationship conflict, people never bother to look within to see how they may be contributing to the mess. A lot of answers can be found if we look within. Once our self is ready to heal and knows the correct methods, an exciting and fulfilling journey in relationships can begin.
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