Why do Relationships fail for the Abused?
I know this is a hard topic to delve into but last week, I was really inspired to reflect on it in terms of my own experiences and beliefs. I hope you find this valuable.
Last week, I wrote a blog on using more empowering terms for the adults who have experienced sexual abuse in their childhood. Have a read here.
Before we start though, let’s define a “relationship” and let’s define “failure”.
To me, all relationships are about “relating” but for the purposes of this blog, let’s define relationship as a romantic one. We form romantic relationships when we can authentically relate to another human being; have a mutual romantic interest, love, and connection; and we can see ourselves with them for a duration that is significant to us.
Defining “failure” is probably harder. What if we have a romantic relationship with someone, have an amazing time together and then grow apart after a few years. Is this a failure? To me, it’s not. For me, failure lies in the quality and experience of the relationship rather than the duration. A relationship is a failure if the partners aren’t allowed to be themselves; if they don’t feel loved, respected and cared for; if they don’t share values, and mutually beneficial life goals; and don’t grow individually as well as together during the relationship.
Having said that it would be quite safe to assume that we all bring in our own baggage into the relationship. This baggage may include our own trauma, our belief system, our experiences and our expectations of what we believe a “relationship” is. If we are unconscious about it, these belief systems can collide with our partner’s belief systems and create friction or conflict. If we are conscious though, these differences become a pathway for us to communicate openly, create understanding and love, and grow together.
I have had many failed relationships. In fact, for a long long time, my life was all about failed relationships. I used to wonder “where are all the good men?”. I used to say things like “Why me?”, or “Why is it so hard?”. The answers came when I stopped looking outside and started looking into my own world.
My experiences have taught me that our external world always matches up to our internal world. If we believe that we don’t deserve love, we will have people in our lives who won’t love us. If we believe that life is hard, our brain will make sure that life feels hard to us.
I believed that I didn’t deserve love (coz obviously I was a bad person). Guess what! I met many men, who were so wounded and shut down that they didn’t have any space for me in their world. I didn’t feel that I was loved or respected. I felt used.
In my recent past, I also believed that “I need to be responsible for myself and others”. Guess what! I met men who were either not smarter than me; or in awe of me; or carried repressed anger in themselves and in all these situations, I played the same thing over and over again – suppress my needs and be responsible for them!
Isn’t it mind boggling? Yeah for me too. But time and again, I have learnt that all I need to do is change my internal world and my external world will follow. This doesn’t mean that relationship doesn’t require work or that we stop growing. All it means is that we are not driven by our unconscious trauma effects and we can consciously enter into a loving and fulfilling relationship and also not enter into relationships that don’t work for us (I think this is equally important).
Dr. John Demartini says that if we want to know what our values are, all we need to do is look at our life because it is a manifestation of our values.
From that perspective, relationships become a great way for us to discover what unconscious beliefs are driving us and what was the “lesson”. In fact, there is no greater way to uncover our own beliefs than to be in a relationship. If I hadn’t attracted these wounded men, I wouldn’t have known that I didn’t love myself. If I hadn’t attracted these men who enabled me to become more responsible for them, I wouldn’t have discovered my unconscious triggers that cause this particular behaviour. How could I ever call a relationship “failure”? It’s a great blessing even when it doesn’t work out because it enables me to find out who I am and become free of the limiting beliefs that don’t serve me anymore.
Diving Deep into the Relationship Failure
In many ways relationship failures can be a complex phenomena. Our minds are so complex that sometimes, it’s hard to understand even ourselves, let alone another. but there are some key points that can make this slightly simpler. These key points can be applied to any relationship and may change how you see that relationship. Here they are:
How does brain form reality?
You can think of our brain as the largest search engine in the entire Universe. We see green colour as “green” because first, the brain receives the visual signal from our environment, compares it with the data bank inside and returns the result “green”.
When we see a piece of jewellery, we recognise it because it exists as a myriad of tiny related samples in our databank and all our brain needs to do is to perform a light-speed search on various parameters such as colour, shape, context, and environment etc. and get the answer so we can say “What a beautiful silver necklace!” when we see one.
When we see something for the first time, we don’t understand it coz it is “unfamiliar” to the brain. Someone has to explain to us what it means and even then it may take a few goes for us to fully understand and make the “new” become “familiar”. This is true when we enrol into a new course, try a new adventure, or do something for the first time.
You could say that “reality” is nothing but a result of google search inside our brain. We don’t have capacity to understand what doesn’t already exists inside our mind in some shape or form.
This now brings us to our next key point – which is “Selective Attention”
Selective Attention – We only see part not whole
Our sensory inputs (eyes, skin, smell, taste, ears) receive about 11 million bits of information per second. Brain can only process about 50-60 bits per second. This means that our “reality” is about 0.0005% of what is actually happening around us.
This is pretty shocking, isn’t? We are aware of less than 1% of what is going on around us. This is why different people have a different sense of “reality” even when they are in the same situation. I find it hard to comprehend how we can perceive a situation and then think that we are so “right” about what we believe happened because technically speaking, we just can’t tell.
Our brain will “ignore or delete” most of the information that it receives. This deletion happens based on what is unknown, unfamiliar, and insignificant etc.
This is called selective attention phenomena. Without it, I think we would go crazy with the overwhelm of the information around us. In many ways, this phenomena helps us make sense of the world but it can also be dangerous because we may ignore or delete information that is quite significant but unfamiliar for us
Putting it all together
In many ways, our brains just wanna be “right”. Have you heard yourself say this “I knew I was right!” or “See, I knew that men can’t be trusted” or “Why do I bother, women just can’t love or can’t be faithful”. It feels to us that our reality keeps on “confirming” our beliefs.
Well! you miss more than 99% of the reality most of the times because of your brain’s processing capacity. It is very likely that even if you have an experience where “you weren’t right”, or “men could be trusted” or “women can love” that your brain will ignore it because it doesn’t match your internal world.
How do we change these belief systems? By uncovering, and exploring and transforming. My biggest one “I don’t deserve love” was transformed by “Automatic Writing” (Stay tuned for my blog on this topic). I am still working on transforming “I need to be responsible for myself and others” but I feel that its hold on me is getting weaker.
So how do you know if you have transformed a belief that doesn’t work for you?
If you are repeating the same pattern in your relationship, your beliefs still drive you but if your relationship has changed… Congratulations! you have unpacked and dissolved your belief that was no longer working for you. And now you are on to the next one!
This is the dance of life. We form these beliefs when we were children and some of us in more traumatic ways than others. We can let these beliefs drive us or we can be brave and look at our world, look at our life’s manifestations and consciously uncover and transform these beliefs.
- An article in technology Review about brain’s processing speed.
- An article from Britannica about brain’s processing power.
- McLeod, S. A. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/attention-models.html