We’ve all experienced a break up or two at some point in our lives. They’re usually unpleasant, but eventually we move on and begin a new relationship with someone else. Some relationships however, seem to never end and leave us feeling like we’ll never get over them.
It’s normal to grieve the ending of a relationship. The difference between a normal, healthy break up and an unhealthy break up is that in a normal relationship, individuals retain their own identity. Their whole lives aren’t dependent upon the other person. They have lives inside their relationships and outside of their relationships. They can get sad and emotional when it ends, but they’re not going to slip into a major depressive episode. People, who know their worth, know that the sun will come out again and they will love again in time.
Unhealthy people get stuck and can’t seem to find their way out of their grief. They will try anything to dull the pain and they spend every waking minute pining and hoping that the object of their obsession will come back. They are ready and willing to accept any lame excuse. They don’t care about why they left, or the manner in which they left, they just want them back.
Some people in this situation will jump right back into the dating pool, hoping for a replacement, or at the very least a distraction. They will meet a really great guy, or girl that they really wanted to like, but just couldn’t and they explain it away as having no chemistry, or they’ll say, “I’m just not feeling it.” There is a reason for that. In my blog entitled Are You Mistaking Intensity for Intimacy? I describe how unhealthy relationships go through cycles of extreme highs and extreme lows and that a normal relationship just doesn’t match the same level of intensity.
These peaks and valleys are caused by repeated break-ups and repeated reconciliations, where your emotions are always soaring and crashing. Each person never has both feet in the relationship at the same time. This type of relationship is characterized by its fast pace. There’s quick pursuit, love bombing, quick intimacy, followed by an even swifter departure. The partner who is constantly being left, develops addiction-like cravings for the high intensity feelings that normal relationships just can’t provide.
That’s why, when we meet a perfectly normal person, who seems genuinely interested in us, our minds keep going back to the partner, who mistreated us. Normal relationships, in contrast, feel boring because they are more flat lined. There is much less drama, with no high intensity peaks and no low intensity valleys. It’s steady and slowly evolves from infatuation, in the early stages, into a deeper form of love. This is the path of true intimacy. When we engage with intimacy dodgers, we make the mistake of calling those high intensity feelings love and we waltz on past the real thing.
We remain fixated on the one that keeps hurting us, because we’ve developed a craving for those high intensity feelings and we know that we’re not going to experience them with anyone else. What we don’t realize is that those feelings, while they do feel good, are actually extremely harmful and unhealthy, because they only occur in unstable, high risk relationships.
Another reason we can’t seem to let go of these types is because we’ve come to believe that we have a deep and special connection with them. What we know is that shared trauma strengthens the connection, even when the trauma is being caused by the one you have the ‘connection’ with. In my blog entitled Why Do I Still Love Him: Understanding Trauma Bonds, I discuss how trauma bonds can happen to anyone, at any time and very quickly. They are the high intensity connections we make with abusive individuals, who tend to hold a form of power over us.
In The Betrayal Bond, Dr Patrick Carnes tells us that three elements must be present for a trauma bond to form. There must be:
- A power differential (One person behaves in an oppressive, controlling and dominant manner).
- Intermittent rewards (Random moments of kindness and tenderness, mixed in with painful and hurtful treatment).
- Periods of high arousal (defined as intense feelings of fear, anxiety, excitement, or any emotion that puts your nervous system on high alert) followed by periods of intense bonding (making up).
What happens in these situations is that when our ability to feel good is wrapped up in another and at their whim, we become oppressed and this oppression creates dependency. Anytime we give away our personal power, we become bound to their will. We become weak, needy, anxious and fearful.
Many of us talk about the abusive people in our lives and use words like best friend or soul mate. That we would call someone, who is responsible for causing us such intense pain, our soul mate, seems to defy reason, but anyone that can play with our emotions like a yo-yo on a string yields a great deal of control over us. They hold the keys to our emotions, so we develop a dependency on them, in the same way an individual develops a dependency on a narcotic.
This is why it is essential to make a bee line out of the relationship when you notice a persistent pattern of breaking up and reconciling, breaking up and reconciling. If you continue this cycle you increase the risk of developing a trauma bond, which keeps you fixated and stuck in a relationship that seems to never end.
If you identify with a high intensity relationship please see my blog Trauma Bonds Part 2 where I list some of Patrick Carnes exercises on how to extricate yourself from this type of relationship. For a full accounting get Carnes’ book, Betrayal Bonds: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships and stop looking for those peaks and valleys in your relationships and instead start planting your seeds in the stable flat lands of a healthy relationship.
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive our weekly posts right to your inbox and like us on Facebook. If you’re subscribing via a mobile device click on the desktop option at the very bottom of the page to bring up the subscriber box.
Image courtesy of teddybear(picnic) at freedigitalphotos.net