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Posts Tagged ‘child within’

Groucho Marx once said he would never join a club that would have him as a member.

That’s how one of my patients seems to run her romantic life.

Somehow she always seems to chase the guys who don’t want her – but has no time for the guys who do.

This is a common syndrome, which therapists term “the seductive-withholding love object.”

Here’s how it works:

My patient, like plenty of people, had parents who were impossible to please.  Hers were especially so.  Her father was a cold, distant math professor; her mother a schizophrenic, lost in a maze of paranoid delusions.  They were less interested in their daughter than they were in themselves.

But children are parent-pleasing machines.  They are the product of evolutionary forces that ensure that the child who best pleases his parents is the most likely to survive – and so pass on his genes for parent-pleasing.

If a child cannot please a parent, he has failed in his evolutionary mission.  He places the fault within, and blames himself.

Later in life, he unconsciously continues his hopeless childhood mission – trying to win over people who withhold love.

That’s why my patient chases seductive-withholding love objects.

This syndrome leads to a lot of pursuing people who aren’t interested in you.

Even worse – you end up ignoring attempts at closeness from people who ARE into you.

If you are used to chasing seductive-withholding love objects, you will probably respond to an accepting, interested love object with anxiety or disgust.  You will wonder why someone would want you, when you are clearly not lovable – and it will make you nervous, to try to live up to their positive image of you.  You might also feel a twinge of disgust for a person who would openly pursue someone like you, whom no one should truly want, since even your parents turned you away when you came asking for care.

That’s a bad situation.

What to do about it?

As always, the answer in psychotherapy is AWARENESS.

If I said you were standing in a pot of water over a fire – you’d probably jump out.

Being made aware of your situation might convince you to change your behavior.

One final thought.  The seductive-withholding love object is a powerful force in human societies – in fact, it’s how the military turns young people into fighting machines.

That tough-as-nails drill sergeant who treats the new recruits like dirt?  Yup – a seductive-withholding love object.  They’ll do anything to please him.

By the time he grudgingly acknowledges that they might be okay after all…he’s got them hooked.  And so does the military.

They’ll obediently follow orders, even if it puts their life in danger.

Anything to locate approval and love.

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One of my patients came to me last week looking like he’d just been through a war.

He plopped down in a chair and began to weep.

It didn’t take me long to realize he’d been “dumped.”  At least, that’s how he characterized it.

But I don’t believe getting “dumped” exists.  Here’s why:

First, the obvious reason – you don’t want to go out with anyone who doesn’t want to go out with you.  It doesn’t make any sense, and even if you could go out with someone who doesn’t want to go out with you, it wouldn’t be fair to the other person to to you – you both deserve better.

Second, a partnership is a system of two.  Nothing is unilateral in a partnership.  If your partner “dumped” you, and you’re surprised, that means you’ve been ignoring signals and your partner has been colluding with you in not bringing you his honest feelings.  You’ve been in a conspiracy together to avoid something you both have to face – the organic reality of what you have, where your relationship really is.

Why do people do this?  Because they are acting like children – regressing, under stress, into the child they still are inside and relating to their partner the way a child relates to a parent instead of as an equal, another adult.

A partnership must have balance – the balance that comes from two whole people – not two half-people – coming together to share a walk down the path of life.  You share a common goal – that shining city far away down the path – and you choose to walk there together, and to enjoy one another’s company along the way.

To exist in a successful partnership, you must first learn to love yourself.  A child cannot love himself because he doesn’t know himself – he looks to his parent to tell him who he is, that he is good, that he is worthy of love.  If a child is rejected, he feels he has failed in his evolutionary mission to survive by pleasing his parent, and so he places the fault within himself and concludes he must be bad, unloveable.  But an adult is different – he is self-sufficient, and he can be his own parent – tell himself he is worthy of love.

We all wear a price tag around our neck – and we assign the price.  That price tag shouldn’t say “best offer accepted” – it should say “one millions dollars.”  Otherwise you will be giving yourself away for too low a price to someone who doesn’t deserve you.

That’s why you need to love yourself in order to parent yourself.  And you need to parent yourself in order to separate from the child and become an adult.

You must be an adult in order to join forces with another adult and share experience together, as equal partners.

An equal partner in a balanced relationship cannot “dump” another equal partner.  That would violate the laws of physics.

So no – my patient wasn’t “dumped.”  No one ever gets dumped.  You just find out you have some work to do on yourself before you enter another relationship.

Most of that work is learning to love the child you once were – and still are.

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