Two people arguing in the sunset

Why do we choose unhealthy relationships?

Have you ever wondered why you or others keep ending up in the same sorts of unhealthy relationship patterns time and time again? Maybe it starts well but over time you come to realise that it is the same old thing. Adult relationships play out the relationship patterns that we learn in childhood, so until we understand our style of relating to others and how to change it, we keep perpetually living out the same cycles over and over again. This is known as attachment styles.

When we’re young we learn how to keep our caregivers close to us. It’s really clever survival behaviour. We learn from a very young age what works best according to how responsive they are to our needs; whether they answer our cries, whether crying constantly reminds our parent that we exist or whether it overwhelms them and so it’s better to hardly cry at all.

In an ideal world, our needs will be well attended to. We can use our caregiver as a secure base to explore the world from. We feel safe and that we can rely upon them. They take responsibility for us and our needs. Ideally, our caregiver is able to help us name our feelings and explain to us why we feel what we do, for example, “you’re feeling sad because your toy broke”, “you miss your friend who has just gone home”, or “you feel angry that they snatched from you.” If our needs are well attended to, we develop an inner secure base, which acts like an inner nurturing parent, so as adults we can process what happens to us and can be resilient. We also feel loved, valued and important. We feel confident and secure on the inside. This is the ideal.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have such an ideal experience. It might be that one or both of our parents was an alcoholic, had a mental health issue, was very depressed or was so busy and caught up in their own lives that they didn’t know how to give us what we needed as a child. Maybe a parent left or died, or you didn’t know them. It might be they were young, or that they hadn’t healed their past wounds so didn’t know how to meet our needs well.

We’re drawn to adult relationships with people that mirror our early relationships. We feel safe with what we know, even if what we know hurts us. This further reinforces the idea we can’t be lovable and the feeling there’s something wrong with us, and so continues the cycle.

Often our parent or caregiver hasn’t been taught how to express their own feelings so they don’t know how to teach us how to do this. When our needs aren’t met well or consistently, we develop an anxious way of being. This can look different according to the environment we experience, but leads to feeling unimportant, insecure, finding it hard to trust others or rely upon them. It leads to feeling overwhelmed easily, which is often called anxiety. We feel like there is something wrong with us, that we’re worthless, or bad on the inside. It is due to our experience, but it feels like there’s something wrong with who we are. We tell ourselves that if our own parent who should love us treats us like this, then we must be unlovable and it must be what we deserve. How could anyone else love us if our own parent can’t love us easily?

Counselling can be a safe space where you can learn to heal from less than ideal relationships and learn to do things differently. It’s not about blaming your parent or caregiver or partner, but understanding why they couldn’t give you what you needed, how they didn’t have the ‘adulting’ skills themselves, and learning how to be the parent for yourself that you never got to have.

You can choose yourself. You can heal from unhealthy relationships you’ve experienced so you can be free to choose and connect differently.

It’s never too late to do this important work for yourself. Choose yourself and to give yourself what you’ve always longed to receive from others.

I’m not currently taking on clients, but I am working on a course about reparenting yourself. Learn to meet your own needs and give yourself what you’ve always longed to receive from others. if you’d like to be notified when it’s ready, or drop me a message if you’d like to go on a waiting list for when I’m taking on new clients.

Find out about my workshop: Love Yourself First