I am starting to doubt the medical model of mental health. I am not so sure anymore that when we chose challenging relationships that it means we are having a personality defect or are attracted to the “wrong person”. I am beginning to believe that our soul – the part of us that is consistent, calm and free from anxiety – choses people who confront us in ways that force us to grow.
The way I learned about psychotherapy was that we are essentially shaped in our families: our parents and siblings and close relatives are the first major influences in our lives and form our beliefs about what relationships should look like.
I still believe that. Yet, another aspect of this model is that we continue to be attracted to the same type of people who in some ways resemble our family members. If your father wasn’t really there for you or was absent in your childhood, chances are that you will feel attracted to a similarly unavailable person as you look for a partner. Or, if your mother was depressed and unresponsive as you were growing up, you may feel drawn to someone who too can be moody or uncaring of your needs.
Freud called this dynamic the “repetition compulsion”: somehow we are prone to make the same mistakes over and over until it hits us over the head that we are supposed to do something different, and we have learned our lesson. Many therapists will tell you to stay away from the same type of personality you keep feeling drawn to, because you will never get what you want, and just settle for the nice guy who may be good for you but don’t really feel an attraction to.
But the real lesson is that we have to engage in these relationships to some degree in order to learn about ourselves. We have to feel the despair of not getting what we want from an unavailable person in order to learn that we have to stop looking to others for the fulfillment of our every need. That first and foremost we have to take a close look at ourselves and what we want from life and what we can and should expect from others.
That doesn’t mean we have to stay in a relationship that is chronically frustrating or lifeless. It means that we unconsciously chose it on order to learn about ourselves and to try to overcome what was missing from childhood. If your partner doesn’t embark on this path of growth with you, you don’t have to do all the work alone. If it feels like there is no interest or willingness whatsoever to learn and grow together, it may be time to allow the relationship to end.
The soul wants to grow. It can grow within a relationship, when both partners recognize that unhealthy patterns need to be addressed. Or it can grow in a relationship where both partners are in agreement that they want to continue to learn together.
If neither possibility is on the horizon the soul must move on by itself and find other relationships where it can continue to grow.