How did I manage to marry my mother? He seemed so different from her but, in truth, he wasn’t. How did I manage not to see that he was treating me the same way as my mother always has? It’s so discouraging.
The simple truth is all of us—loved or not—are drawn to the familiar and, unconsciously, we’re attracted to what we know. This is actually a really great formula for success if you were raised by parents who loved and supported you. The chances are very good that you’ll ferret out those people who are interested in control and manipulation in a heartbeat, and end up with someone who’s looking for the same things you are: mutual interdependence, open communication, intimacy, and support. That isn’t true for the insecurely attached daughter whose emotional needs weren’t met in childhood, especially if she’s anxiously attached.
Two marriages, one worse than the next! The first was a control freak, the second a classic narcissist. At the moment, I just don’t trust myself enough to even do more than go out on the occasional date. How can someone get to the age of 45 and remain so clueless?
Women with an anxious/preoccupied style of attachment seem especially vulnerable to recreating the emotional circumstances of their childhoods in their adult romantic relationships. Following are five reasons it’s so easy to keep making the same mistake over and again.
- We respond to love withheld
Getting her mother to love her is the unloved daughter’s quest and she’s done everything she can to win it since early childhood. Growing up this way makes you think about love as something that has to be earned or fought for—not something freely given. So when an anxious daughter encounters an intimate partner who seems emotionally available one moment and not the next, his behavior may panic her but she’ll register his behavior as normal and familiar. It won’t be a red flag the way it would be to someone who knows what love is and isn’t. And while his withdrawal will make her angry and sad, it will also make her redouble her efforts to get him back.
- We love kiss-and-make-up scenarios
Because she doesn’t really know what love looks like in action or what it feels like, her understanding of love is limited to winning it in the end or somehow being worthy of it. Yes, this is a scenario played out to the strains of “Someday My Prince Will Come” and the make-up after the fight or withdrawal makes her feel loved and reassured, even though it shouldn’t.
- We think a roller coaster ride is romantic
Unloved daughters—especially anxious ones who can be very emotionally volatile themselves—frequently mistake the ups and downs of a roller coaster relationship for passion. The extremes they feel—the rush of believing that their lover still cares and the agony of fearing being left—are both exciting and exhausting at once. Of course, this isn’t what true passion looks like but she doesn’t know that. This confusion explains why unloved daughters are often drawn to those high in narcissistic traits; they mistake the game playing, which serves the narcissist’s own purposes, for passion as well.
- We normalize mistreatment
Daughters who were mocked, marginalized, ignored, or constantly criticized in childhood—yes, it’s called verbal abuse—may actually become tone deaf to certain kinds of manipulation and bad treatment because they are oh-so familiar. Because they’ve rationalized their treatment, they actually not recognize put-downs as hostility or efforts to control them as destructive to intimacy. They may easily fall into the trap of believing that they are somehow to blame for their partners’ abuse; self-blame is another legacy of childhood.
- We’re ever hopeful—and love fairytale endings
Because she’s equally focused on getting love and avoiding rejection, any nice gesture by her partner will seem meaningful and significant, even if it’s bracketed by some really lousy behaviors. The good moments—yes, it’s intermittent reinforcement at work—send her soaring and feeling as though her Glass Slipper moment is about to happen. Because she doesn’t know what real connection looks like, she’s likely to fall for something way less than the dream she’s chasing.
Only by seeing our childhood wounds and learning to heal from them can we begin to make better and different choices.
Photograph by Charlie Foster. Copyright free. Unsplash.com