Why am I only attracted to jerks? Mean guys suck but nice guys are a turn off…what’s wrong with me? [from a woman]
Tale as old as time, sister. But it doesn’t have to be like that— not by a long shot. The short version of the story is that at some point in your psychological development you most likely internalized the belief that you only deserved love if you were taking care of or rescuing someone else; and that your feelings were inconsequential. There are a number of potential origins for this entrenched belief. Your subconscious may be mirroring relationship dynamics that were prevalent in your family.
Many of us forge our relationship skills based on the behavior we were surrounded by in our families of origin, and it’s often not until we emerge from that sometimes dysfunctional cocoon that we realize something’s not working.
In relationship, do you tend to seek out people who are troubled? Are you compelled by the opportunity to take care of someone? Some theorize that those entrenched in dysfunctional relationship patterns are not only repeating patterns modeled during their formative years, but are also seeking the love and attention they missed out on growing up. Meaning, the deep attraction you feel to that dark brooding jerk is really a manifestation of your unmet needs for love and validation.
Unfortunately, duplicating dysfunctional relationship patterns only serves to further validate the message that the love you receive has to come at such a high cost, and that you’re only worthy of love if you’re taking care of or rescuing someone. And while these dysfunctional relationships reinforce feelings of low self-worth and rejection for you, they also reinforce the message for the other person that they can’t take care of themselves, that they need to be rescued, and that their autonomy is marginal at best. In essence, you have two people futilely searching the other for vital aspects of themselves. This is not a healthy relationship.
Freud’s concept of ‘repetition compulsion’ speaks to this dynamic. In repetition compulsion, a person seeks to revisit or re-experience a traumatic event. Some posit this return to past pain is to allow an opportunity for mastery over what was previously a traumatic event.
If any of this sounds familiar or resonates for you, take heart. You can’t go back and get a do-over. None of us get to choose the family we’re born into. But you do have from this moment forward to begin discovering for yourself the love that you are so deserving of. It will be your task to discover that unconditional love that you missed out on growing up, your task to learn to take care of yourself and to have that self-care be it’s own reward. There’s not a magic switch to flip and the change won’t happen overnight. The support of a mental health counselor may help, as you seek to redefine your personal boundaries and hone your relationship skills. It will be a process, but one that will be invaluable and will continue to enrich you and your relationships for the rest of your life. And someday that dark brooding jerk in the corner won’t be able to cast that old ancient spell on you. Good luck.