by Glynis Sherwood MEd
I love him but I don’t feel loved back. But I can’t let go. This is the
third time I’ve been in a relationship like this. ~ Diane – age 36
If this statement seems familiar to you, then – without intending it – you may be caught in a cycle of pursuing hurtful relationships with emotionally unavailable people. Sometimes this pattern is referred to as ‘relationship addiction’. All you know is that it hurts – you feel repeatedly rejected, unappreciated or taken advantage of. Your needs aren’t met and you end up feeling bad about yourself. Worst of all is that the more your partner rejects you, the more you cling on, fearing the grief of losing him/her will be worse than the disappointment of the relationship itself.
Obsessive aka Addictive Relationships
The seeds of attraction to hurtful relationships get sown in childhood. When children do not get their emotional needs met by parents, due to neglect, repeated criticism or abuse, then negative relationship dynamics become normalized. The child may also come to believe that they are not loveable. At the same time, there is an ongoing healthy drive by these kids to experience a positive love relationship that gets carried into adulthood. This is all well and good, unless you choose the ‘Devil You Know’.
Why Choose the Devil You Know?
The ‘devil you know’ is very attractive because s/he is familiar. Your subconscious mind recognizes them, as they possess similar characteristics – both good and bad – to the parent(s) who neglected or rejected you. Your subconscious mind wants to heal that original broken relationship, so you can feel loveable and whole. You can heal that breach, but never by choosing the Devil You Know.
What to Do Instead of Choosing the Devil You Know
• Be honest with yourself – admit that choosing the ‘Devil You Know’ has only delivered hurt rather than the love you seek and deserve.
• Be aware early in a relationship – especially with someone you feel super attracted to – of any signs of neglect, unfair criticism, commitment phobia, or conditional support from your partner. If you see any of these signs, raise them with your partner. If s/he shows a lack of understanding, denial and/or an unwillingness to change, end the relationship.
• Recognize your triggers – what drives you towards the Devil You Know. Often it is feelings of unlovability or unworthiness to receive love, and believing that you can only be restored to wholeness in a love relationship. If you feel overly excited in the presence of the person you are obsessed about, insecure and worried about rejection, and/or panicked when you are apart, this is a sign that you have likely chosen to be with another version of the Devil You Know.
• Understand that real love doesn’t hurt. Real love makes you feel valued, cared for and stronger about yourself. Perhaps you have a hard time recognizing genuine love, or it feels uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just unfamiliar. Back away from painful relationships with the Devil You Know, and give yourself a chance to heal and learn how to identify real love.
• As you learn more about love and your emotional needs, avoid getting into relationships that are highly emotionally charged, or go too fast. This is a warning sign that you may be going after the Devil You Know.
• If you start dating someone who seems likable, caring and dependable, but start feeling bored or turned off, slow down and give the relationship a chance. Be patient and understanding with yourself. You may have to learn to be attracted to people who are good to and for you, rather than those who are exciting but will leave you stranded.
• If you feel stuck, confused or can’t stop pursuing the Devil You Know, contact Glynis Sherwood, an addiction and relationship trauma therapist who helps people recover from addictive relationship dynamics.
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Certified Addictions Counsellor is a Psychotherapist specializing in recovery from Relationship Addiction, Chronic Anxiety, Grief and Family Scapegoating.