The Oddly Healthy Reason People Choose Partners Who 'Trigger' Past Wounds

It is not about finding someone who does not trigger you. It is about finding someone who you feel safe being triggered by.

couple going through problems Ostanina Anna / Shutterstock

Some things get easier with time, but relationships are not one of those things. The thing is, as we date, we encounter traits we love and traits we realize we cannot live with. As time goes on, each list grows longer, and we think we are getting clear about what it is that we want. This might be true, but we are also getting pickier as the dating pool gets smaller.

As our database of experiences increases, so do our triggers. If you experience an abusive relationship with someone who tilts their head in thought, you might feel like something is off when you notice your new partner doing the same. All the information we have accumulated causes us to have a ‘type’ — but what happens when our type is wrong for us?


We get stuck in a string of short-term relationships with unpleasant endings.

The good news is, we can learn from these endings by looking at the relationships and connecting the problems we experienced in them with our childhood experiences.

RELATED: A Midlife Reckoning With Childhood Trauma: When Unprocessed Grief Rears Its Head

Most of us have felt a spark for someone we knew was not right for us. We are often attracted to partners who reinforce how we feel about ourselves. If you are feeling insecure and afraid, you will attract partners that make you perpetuate those feelings. As children, we developed attachment patterns based on what needs were or were not met by our primary caregivers.


This has become the foundation for our relationships. If we felt rejected or unloved, we tend to seek relationships that recreate that experience. On an unconscious level, we attempt to heal our old wounds by re-creating our past trauma in hopes of a better outcome.

No, seeking out people who re-traumatize us does not make sense. 

Why would we seek out people that make us feel bad about ourselves? We think back to the beginning of our past relationships, and we can recall justifying the attraction. They were funny, good looking, and made the world’s best lasagna.

But ask yourself, were there some initial signs? Self-awareness is the first step.


We have to be aware that we are attracted to people who are not great for us. What are the negative traits of your type? Do you continuously gravitate towards unavailable partners but find yourself attracted to mysterious people with a faraway look in their eyes? Become self-aware and start to make those connections.

Unresolved trauma and destructive patterns do not just affect our romantic relationships. The scars and wounds of unresolved trauma can leave us with a distorted sense of self and the people around us. It can negatively impact all of our relationships and interactions.

RELATED: Experts Share 4 Subtle Signs You're Still Living With Trauma

Three ways trauma shows up in our non-romantic relationship & offers chances for us to grow:

1. Friendship

You might tell yourself to sweep your trauma under a rug and get on with it, but your subconscious has a different plan. Your subconscious needs you to heal, and if that means choosing friends that help you re-create traumatizing situations in hopes of a better outcome, then so be it. Perhaps you choose friends that sabotage your happiness or make you feel guilty for certain things that you do.


2. Employers & Colleagues

Unresolved destructive patterns and trauma do not just lead to decreased productivity, they can cause you to pursue work in the wrong field. Perhaps my parents wanted me to be a doctor and now I am miserable in my field. Yet I lack the perspective to see any possibility for a reroute. I might stay at a job that does not pay well because I do not think highly enough of myself. Or I might hire people who will keep the company stagnant because I fear success.

3. Acquaintances

People with unresolved trauma tend to develop mechanisms to protect themselves from re-experiencing it. These coping mechanisms can be unhealthy and cause difficulties that prevent them from forming healthy relationships. Your unresolved trauma will cause you to be constantly triggered and when you are triggered, you will react emotionally.

Someone might be dropping their kids off at school when another parent honks. They immediately look up annoyed because they are waiting patiently for the person in front of them and cannot move. Meanwhile the parent who honked was simply trying to warn the car next to them about a small kitten running across the street. They look over and see the other person’s dirty look and a school drop-off nemesis is born.


Once we see our patterns, we have to make a conscious effort to break them

If we continuously gravitate towards unavailable partners, we need to try with someone who showers us with affection. They are the ones who want to hold your hand, text you good morning and good night, and put their arm around you at the movies. If we always pursue, we should try being pursued. We repeat things because they are familiar, so we need to actively push ourselves towards the unfamiliar.

Because our beliefs stem from early experiences, they are deeply embedded. The desire to bolt when someone hugs you in public can be great for someone who got punished for showing affection in public as a child. Even when you are 70 years old and you barely remember your childhood, the emotional foundation remains.

We need to seek out partners with a secure attachment style who challenge our defenses

It is not about finding someone who does not trigger you. It is about finding someone who you feel safe being triggered by.


In this uncomfortable new relationship, you will feel a sense of fight or flight. Maintain awareness as your mind attempts to steer you back towards what is familiar. The particularly challenging part is our belief that relationships should be effortless and enjoyable.

Although there are moments when this is true, there are plenty of other moments when you will feel challenged, uncomfortable, or triggered. When this becomes a regular occurrence, we tend to leave the relationship to avoid the growing pains, creating temporary relief for the sake of long-term benefits. Breaking your destructive patterns and diffusing your triggers will require conscious effort, time, and discomfort.

If you keep escaping the relationship as soon as you are uncomfortable, you are just accelerating the cycle. Relationships are complicated. It is in your best interest to get your mind and heart on the same page.


RELATED: Esther Perel Shares The Big Myth That Keeps Couples Trapped In Conflict

Erika Jordan is an internationally acclaimed love and relationship expert, NLP practitioner, author, and media personality, and a leader in the field of digital romance and online dating.