When you keep making the same mistakes in your relationships over and over again, it's probably not a coincidence. Whether you always choose the wrong partner or always reject the right one, your actions are most likely being driven by deep unconscious fears and needs over which you may have little control. To gain more control over your actions, you'll have to face the compulsions that drive them.
When a person experiences something deeply painful, such as a sense of rejection and abandonment from a loved one, you might think they would go out of their way to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. However, this is often not the case. Instead, many people feel unconsciously compelled to recreate the same story but make it end in some other way, thus healing the original wound. The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud called this a "repetition compulsion."
Same Story, Same Ending
Freud thought that repetition compulsion began in young childhood. For example, if you had a parent that was distant and rejected you, you might feel compelled to date people who have a similar quality because you feel unconsciously compelled to earn their love and affection. Unfortunately, a sad story will always end the same way no matter how many times you read it. The same thing is true of relationships. If you keep finding yourself attracted to people who end up hurting you in one way or another, it may be because you are trying to change the ending to a story that hurt you. However, repeating the pattern over and over will just cause you to experience the same pain again and again.
Not all relationship patterns can be explained by repetition compulsion. If you find yourself sabotaging your relationships by cheating on your partner or breaking things off when they start to get serious, you may be trying to avoid emotional risk. It's sad to lose a partner because you made a mistake, but perhaps not as devastating as to have your heart broken after really opening up and taking a chance. This is also true if you find yourself only getting involved with people who are not functional enough to have a serious, committed relationship. Because the relationship has a built-in limitation, you can pursue it with little fear that it will ever turn into anything significant enough to involve real risk. You might be able to avoid heartbreak by sabotaging your relationships, but you'll miss any chance at real intimacy or long-term happiness, too.
The antidote to unconscious action is conscious action. You can change any of the patterns described here by approaching your relationships from a different angle. Instead of always going out with the people you feel immediately drawn to, explore the possibilities with other types of people. When you feel compelled to end a relationship or do something that would endanger it, ask yourself why you feel that way and if you really want to close the door on your relationship. Unconscious compulsions can be powerful, so don't expect it to be easy. Rather than living the same story over and over while hoping for a different ending, you'll need to find your way into a different type of story.
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