Who and Why We Attract – Re-explained
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program.
- Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
- Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
- Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
- GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019)
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The Law of Our Attractions
Carl Jung said that everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. People have twisted his words to mean that what we don’t like in another is what is wrong with us. It’s not quite that simple.
It is a GPYB Program Concept that “water seeks its own level.” This is a very important concept that is unique to this program. It truly helps you to understand what is going on in relationships. It means that if we want to know what is missing in us, what is lacking in us, what unfinished business we have, what our inner struggles are, we need not look further than the person we are involved with.
Usually our attraction to someone and our choice of a mate will tell us what we need to know about ourselves and the work we need to do if we listen carefully and look closely. Sometimes one person can encompass all of what we are looking for and sometimes we change our choices to accommodate different issues. As we grow and change, our choice of mate continues to reflect what we still need to work on.
Robin Norwood said, “It is a spiritual principal that we will continue to encounter others who will embody the opportunity for us to learn our most pressing lesson. When we learn to overcome the problem in ourselves, our ‘teachers’ fade away.”
This means that we find the exact people we need to “work out” our issues with – except that is NOT how you work out issues. You work out issues in therapy and other healing places, NOT in relationships with similarly dysfunctional people. It’s how the codependent is attracted to the person who needs fixing, the narcissist, the alcoholic, the ne’er do well. It’s how the person with abandonment issues is attracted to the person with enmeshment issues and they do the “I love you, go away” dance until the relationship is in tatters.
This is why (and people HATE to hear this), GPYB says that chemistry is over-rated. Many times it’s our dysfunction saying hello to another person’s dysfunction. We are EXCITED to get the chance to WIN over that we have not managed to win over before. Here is yet ANOTHER alcoholic I get to dance with in order to win the love of my alcoholic father. Here is yet another emotionally unavailable person that I get to win the love of my withholding mother. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Hate to break it to you, kids, but that is what chemistry is. The MORE chemistry you feel, the crazier the relationship is going to be. A healthy relationship is much quieter at the start. You might say, “boring….” You might say, “There’s no attraction….” but it means you need the excitement of meeting someone who provides an opportunity to resolve your unresolved issues…but – sorry – it’s NOT the place where you will resolve it. And your initial excitement is going to lead to a HUGE fall later on.
Who We Choose Reflects One of Three Things
When we are unhealthy, our mates will reflect one of three things and sometimes more than one of these things:
What we are used to;
What is unfinished business within us that we seek to conquer;
Issues within us that we refuse to acknowledge.
These three things are the reasons that the GPYB program is replete with inventories. That is why I insist upon at least one inventory to be done in GPYB Boot Camp and for each client. In boot camp we typically do the Relationship Inventory (even if it’s been done before) or more than one (each boot camper has his or her own path and some do one and some do more than one), we sometimes do the Life Inventory and we do the Standards and Compatibility Inventory. These inventories are absolutely necessary to figuring out what went wrong and how to get on the right path to a healthy life.
While the boot camp written assignments are optional for the most part, there are some required one and at least one inventory is required in boot camp and more than one is encouraged. I give feedback on inventories and many times I write under the “Five Special Things” section, “What is so special about this?” Many times readers, clients, boot campers don’t KNOW that this is not so special. They don’t KNOW that it should be EXPECTED in EVERY relationship. That’s okay. I didn’t know it either.
The GPYB book and the GBOT book each contain the Relationship Inventory and the Life Inventory. These two inventories are included in every book because they are the CORNERSTONE of breakup recovery and getting healthy in future relationships.
Why? Because these inventories will reveal your relationship patterns and your early wounds. I included these inventories in the books because these exercises helped my clients for many years as it did for me when I was looking at my “historical stew” – the many moving parts of your background and upbringing that contribute to who you are today and why you do what you do (a friend of mine called hers a hysterical stew). We have to go back to early relationships to figure out why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s absolutely impossible to get healthy without this.
If we have had a parent who was engulfing and one who was never there, we might go back and forth between mates of the two extremes or try to find someone who can be both. We will continue to act out our unfinished business, hoping on a subconscious level, to “win” over that which we have never won. We continually gravitate to people who represent our unfinished business hoping that we can finish it this time.
The irony is that we pick people exactly like those before and it can never be finished this way. We pick people who make us comfortable. It’s not necessary comfort, but comfortable because it’s familiar – meaning LIKE FAMILY. We are comfortable around that which we know, which is, many times a dysfunctional person who has the capacity to hurt us and probably will.
Another thing we might do is go to the completely opposite end of the spectrum, looking for people who are the opposite of what we have known but if they are still at the extreme ends, there is a whole different set of dysfunction there and in our relationship we will try to cast them in the roles we know. We will work the last nerve of our partner until they are the one abandoning us or enmeshing us or behaving in a way familiar to what we know.
We will also accuse them of being what we know (and they get tired of denying it ) and they get fed up and go. We orchestrate our many problems. If a person with abandonment issues is with someone with enmeshment issues, they will start the dance at some point. The person who has abandonment issues will sense the partner moving away in what can be a normal process in a relationship. The person feeling abandoned (real or perceived) will start to reach for the person with enmeshment issues. The person with enmeshment issues will start to flee, feeling engulfed, and then, GUESS WHAT? He or she will abandon the person who has abandonment issues. They will run out like their hair is on fire…yelling, “Trying to control me! AIYIYI!” And the person with abandonment issues will wail, “I KNEW IT! Left again!” or “I thought you would never leave me!” and they go round and round (unless the person fleeing is waaaaaay down the road).
A supreme struggle commences and the relationship can never work because we only know things one way and even if we are initially attracted to the opposite, we will work to make it into what we know.
Whether compliance or rebellion from our partner follows, we are in deep trouble.
We also attract people who will represent our chances to play out our core issues. For example, if abandonment and abuse are our core issues, we will gravitate to abusive partners. After the abuse, the abuser will show, at some point, “abuser’s remorse” begging the abused partner to stay, swearing to change, promising that it is all going to be different from now on…this “famous final scene” that plays out within days of a particularly brutal abusive episode satisfies the unfinished business of abandonment. And the victim stays…and prays that the change is real – that is how desperate they are for love and to not be abandoned. Please let this be true. But, it’s not. And the cycle continues….
Winning Over Our Un-Won Battles of Childhood
In acting out our unfinished business, we are seeking to conquer it, to have triumph over that which has hurt us. People who have been abandoned seek mates who will abandon them but who will dangle “I’m staying forever” in front of them. Getting involved with abusers inevitably results in the “abuser’s remorse” scene, which gives comfort to the abandonment issues because it is a tease that “I’m staying forever to make things up to you.” Abusers give grandiose promises when they are trying to pull their victim back into the relationship and the victim finds comfort in these promises.
When things go back to normal the victim is not only abused again, but also abandoned…and yet they hang on until the abuser is, once again, sorry and promising to be different and never leave. This is the cycle of abuse.
This is not to blame the victim but to show how abused people can recreate their situation over and over again until they go to their own places to heal their own wounds and not try to hold sway over it in relationships. It’s never going to happen.
Another person who stays in cyclical relationships is the person with low self-esteem. If you have low self-esteem you will be attracted to people who eventually make sure that you will never feel good about yourself. When you are fed up and ready to leave, they will sweet talk you and tell you things about you that you know, somewhere deep inside, to be true. You hang onto the compliments like a thirsty person hangs onto water. But eventually you do something to be insulted again. The insulter, like the abuser, will gaslight you and convince you that it’s your fault that you’re back here again. And in some ways it’s not that it’s your fault, but you have got to take responsibility and GET OUT.
The road away from low self-esteem is to be found via the GPYB Power! Affirmations. They are an important, integral part of the program.
The only way to heal the wounds is to face them and not try to act them out with equally deficient people.
Abusers rarely, if ever, change. Narcissists don’t change. Sociopaths don’t change. People who put you down don’t change. Alcoholics only change if they stop drinking and CHANGE the person who drank (otherwise they are just on a dry drunk and dry drunks are not capable of healthy relationships – they put down the drink but don’t change the nasty person they are…they just change into a person with no excuses (I was drunk!)).
The only way to “win” over these types is to leave and work on the issues in therapy and in support groups and GPYB boot camp etc. . People kid themselves when they think “it will be different this time.” No it will not be. GET OUT and stay out of relationships until you have done your work.
There is a payoff to being in dysfunctional relationships. The chaos on the outside keeps us from the chaos on the inside. Usually people who are involved in highly emotional, dramatic relationships are not only used to it and it also gives them an “out” from having to look at their own stuff. How can you go inward if what is happening outside is so exhausting, emotionally draining and time consuming? You can’t. That is the payoff. So long as we are involved in these high wire acts of a relationship, we never have to do our own work. And that is another reason why we find these people so exciting…so “chemical inducing” – because being on a high wire is a death-defying experience that causes heart pounding, hand-shaking, knocking knees, physical reaction. A person who causes this reaction in us is, in a word: BAD for us.
Instead jonesing on “chemistry” and staying caught up in the “repeated patterns of the past” it is time to step outside and take responsibility for that which we own. Which is our own stuff. It is time to make peace with the peace, acknowledge that “chemistry” is overrated and we have WORK TO DO!
Even if we consider ourselves the “good” person – the good actor in relationships – the one who has been wronged by so many for so long, there is NO WAY our partner is responsible for everything. Every dsyfunctional bananahead has his or her enabler. The enabler feels like a savior and/or a martyr and cannot, for the life of them, understand how they are responsible for all that is going wrong. The addict is the problem. Right? WRONG. The enabler/codependent/savior is often responsible for a lot that is going wrong including not making the addict responsible for his or her own behavior.
Many enablers are too busy sailing on the good ship Self Righteous to be able to see their complicity in the on-going sickness of the relationship. They are getting something from the sick relationship and they have some stake in keeping things status quo. Yet to tell an addict’s partner this is to risk bursting their self-righteous balloon. Often the addict has an easier time of getting help than the codependent. The codependent just sees him or herself as so GOOD, that it’s hard to convince them that they need to change. They say, “I have a good heart….” (no dear, you’re a fool). “I’m just generous to a fault….” (no dear, you’re a fool). “I like to help people…” (no dear….[okay you get the drift])
And so it goes…every situation has its person who needs help and boundaries and standards and investigation of what happened way back when….think of your own situation and what you own and take responsibility for it.
Water seeks its own level. Look at who you are attracting. Look at who you have been attracted to. What does it say about you?
To Commit or Not To Commit, That is the Question
Not every relationship is in that extreme category. But we can still look at our relationships to determine what in us needs attention. For example, if we have been in relationships with people who cannot commit, we must look at ourselves and find out if we are trying to finish unfinished business or perhaps we ourselves cannot commit. This is the “issues within us we are afraid to acknowledge” type of relationship.
Usually people who are involved with commitment-phobes are either trying to resolve an unresolved relationship with a distant parent OR they are afraid of intimacy and cannot act it out on their own, or both.
If you are still trying to “win” over the distant caretaker, you will be attracted to people who are not emotionally available for one reason or another. If you are afraid of intimacy because you’ve been hurt so many times before, you might be attracted to someone who cannot or will not become intimate. You not only quell your fear of intimacy but you have someone to blame. Sometimes one partner is the person who acts out the same issue for both partners. Usually in commitment-phobic relationships, this is the case. It is harder for the person who thinks they DO WANT intimacy because it is difficult for them to admit that they really don’t and they truly hurt over the other person’s inability to commit. I have had people argue with me that YES I DO WANT COMMITMENT, but their behavior – involvement in a string of relationships with people who can’t or won’t commit – tells me otherwise.
The GPYB Program:
The Way To Look At It All, Fix It and Move Onto Healthier Relationships
The GPYB Program is a program of Observation, Preparation and Cultivation of the cognitive, the behavioral and the psychodynamic. The books, the workbooks, the boot camps etc. all take all of these tools and use them to help you heal your inner hurts, your unresolved grief, your unwon battles of the past to help you become a healthy, functional, boundary-having, standard-having person with SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE about relationships, life, love and attraction that you will never again be in relationships as bad as the one that drove you to GPYB.
If you look at your partner and your issues with him or her, you can be clued into who in your past you still have issues with. Our relationships are our best reflection of our emotional health. No relationship can be healthier than its sickest partner. If we are used to chaos and dysfunction, we will gravitate toward that. It is not only what we are used to but it keeps our minds off of what is wrong inside us.
If our family was a dysfunctional mess, we are attracted to dysfunctional messes. It’s what we KNOW and until we change our comfort zones, it will continue to be what we know.
The GPYB Program teaches about comfort zones, especially in the Power! Affirmations booklet and in boot camps, how to change them and how to develop NEW comfort zones so that you are NO LONGER comfortable around that which you know. You CANNOT change the type of people you are attracted to without the work of changing your comfort zones. And like all things GPYB, it happens through Observation, Preparation and Cultivation of the Cognitive, the Behavioral and the Psychodynamic (how you think, how you act and what happened to you long ago). By understanding how all this works together and doing the work, you will CHANGE the people you are attracted to and who are attracted to you. The crazies will fade away and you will no longer find them exciting and fun.
Look at your partner and learn from that what YOU need to work on in yourself and then GO DO THE WORK. You can learn much from doing your inventories, going to therapy and digging up what messages and seeds were planted long ago.
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