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  • Writer's pictureHolly-Marie St. Pierre

Why Do I Put Up With This Stuff?! Why You Stay in a Bad Relationship.

Tired and frustrated young woman of color

This is something I recently heard from an exasperated client. They said it after they had shared some very vulnerable stuff about the ways she had been abused, coerced and manipulated by her significant other. Although she had not felt loved or cared for in years, she was completely flummoxed about why she couldn't rally the gumption to leave. Mind you, there was no discussion of finances and resources being too tight. This made the topic even more embarrassing for her. And yet, for many years she had experienced a kind of paralysis--knowing what she needed to do and not being able to do it. Why was this happening to her?

Sadly, their experience is not extraordinary. I have worked with, heard of or known many, many people (including myself!) in the same predicament. It doesn't seem to matter how educated, smart, or independent they are, they share the inability to take positive action for themselves and better their situation. (By the way, I am not referring to people who cannot leave due to fear they will be chased by a violent partner and harmed or worse.) While their situations may be varied and they are individually unique, I have observed they share one commonality--Attachment wounds.

Baby grasping adult hand--attachment

Attachment Theory is a well researched concept about how our relationships with our primary caregivers affects how we show up in our adult relationships. Attachment Theory was first explored and developed by John Bowlby (1907 - 1990), a British psychoanalyst, who was interested in understanding infant behavior when separated from a primary caregiver. Due to his studies, he came to believe it was possible that the distress the infant experienced was an adaptive response needed to ensure survival. In mammalian species, infants are more likely to survive to adulthood if they can maintain a close proximity to their primary caregiver(s). His theory was further explored and developed by Mary Salter Ainsworth (1909-1999), among others. If the infant/child's emotional relationship (attunement) to their primary caregiver is less than adequate, due to stressors or worse, neglect or abandonment, the child will subconsciously internalize negative beliefs about their self-worth. "When children are uncertain or pessimistic about their value, they strive to understand what will please their parents and they try to become that. . . . If a child is told, verbally or nonverbally, that he has little value, . . . (they) feel desperate for redemption in the eyes of the person who is withholding love, which can include any person on whom the child depends" (Schwartz, R. C. & Sweezy, M., 2020, pp. 36 & 37). Unfortunately, these beliefs or failures in attunement will powerfully shape the important relationships they choose to engage in as adults. This is where the frustration, shame and grief come into the picture like for my client mentioned above.

Solitary child--missing attunement with others

No matter how much they might recognize they are unhappy and in a toxic situation, they have an incredibly difficult time gathering clarity or strength to make a decision to improve their situation. Unbeknownst to them, their experiences as a child and their resulting beliefs about their self-worth continue to influence them. They often give their significant other way too many chances, painfully hoping something will magically change in their partner or they themselves will heroically change some perceived character flaw that will cause their partner to appraise them with eyes fresh with respect and desire. Sadly, my experience, both personally and professionally is that this doesn't happen.

Emotionally distanced couple

It's not going to happen because they are stuck in a subconscious cycle of yearning to heal the original attachment wound they received from their primary caregiver(s). The healing isn't going to occur from an outward source or relationship. It has to come from within. How does that happen? How does one approach the journey of self-healing or re-parenting?

It's not an easy path, but it's definitely doable. And thankfully, you possess the answers about what that path looks like for you. You might not be able to envision it because it has been obscured by the detachment from intuition or self that comes from attachment wounds. This is where a skilled, attachment, trauma informed therapist, like me, can help. I will walk with you to uncover your unique road to healing and creating the loving and caring relationships you deserve.

If you're ready to feel more consistent joy and love in your life and would like support, you can contact me through my website to arrange a complimentary consultation.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Schwartz, R. C. & Sweezy, M., 2020, Internal Family Systems Therapy, 2nd ed., Guilford Press.



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