When we get close to someone new, it can bring unresolved issues from our past to the surface. Suddenly, we're very cognizant of the very things that we might want to avoid dealing with, like pains from a past breakup. Over and over again, I've seen relationships sabotaged or crumble apart because one or both partners are unaware that they bring a backlog of hurts, fears, and ambivalence from their past into present interactions.
The first step in getting out from the shadow of your past is to gain awareness. Relationship experts Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D. write, "A close relationship is a powerful light force, and like any strong light it casts a large shadow. When you stand in the light of a close relationship, you must learn to deal with the shadow." Perhaps it's because intimate relationships bring the possibility of love and closeness, that we are confronted with wounds from our past. For instance, Diana, a woman I interviewed for my book Love We Can Be Sure Of, overgeneralizes her fear of being hurt in the past. She expects to lose and has become accustomed to losing.
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Diana is a petite brunette with bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile. She is smart, well-composed, and pursuing a career in advertising sales. At 24 years old, she is aware that she sabotages relationships that might be good for her. Diana's tendency is to fall in love (a little too quickly), break up and then make up in a cyclical pattern with a partner who she knows is wrong for her. But in spite of her on-again, off-again romances, she can't seem to pull away from guys who are unavailable.
With great intensity in her voice, Diana says, "It's almost as if I'm addicted to pain. It's like I'm so familiar with that adrenaline rush that I get from being in a bad relationship, I don't feel comfortable with a guy who treats me right."
In their breakthrough book Conscious Loving, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks write: "Conflict can be powerfully addictive. Some of us are conflict junkies, and that addiction lasts far longer than substance abuse addictions. We may be attached to the drama of fights, even if we protest mightily that we want serenity." Diana has become addicted to pain and feels uncomfortable when things are calm.
Fear of failure in a relationship that might be good for us can also hold us back and prevent us from being our best selves. It limits us by causing anxiety and fosters a pessimistic attitude about the future. We fear that when we open up ourselves to other people, they will hurt us and we will lose out on love. Fear of relationship failure is something Diana knows well. Many times, even in the most blissful of moments with a partner, there is a lingering thought in the back of her head that the relationship will not work; that it will come crashing down on her.
Diana explains: "I have fear, and that is all. Fear of relationship failure. I ask myself, how will I get out of it? I'm afraid to follow the pattern of my parents. I'm also scared to open myself up to someone, probably because of fear of being rejected and vulnerable."
Diana knows in her head that she deserves a healthy relationship, but she continues to sabotage those that might lead to commitment. Currently, she's dating Justin who hasn't given her any reason to doubt his intentions — at least nothing Diana can pinpoint. However, in the past, she's been drawn to men who are all wrong for her. She says, "I meet a nice guy like Justin who is fun to be around but when it comes to getting serious, I always bail out."
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What is it that keeps Diana in a cycle of pursuing self-destructive relationships and sabotaging healthy ones? For many people, pain is a familiar feeling. Conflict is what's comfortable. Dealing with an unavailable man or woman is in our wheelhouse. A partner who wants nothing more than to be with us and make our happiness his or her top priority is alien. Keep reading...
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