Due to my specialties, most everyone I’ve ever served sees themselves as uniquely screwed up in a manner and to a degree that no other person has ever been. The military term for this is “FUBAR” (F’ed Up Beyond All Recognition). It’s a mix of relief and embarrassment when we discover that millions of us have gone through very similar things and have felt and behaved in the same fashions.
Nobody wants to discover that their conditions are literally in a text book (the problems, not the solutions – those are in books no college class assigns). It feels like being a cliché. I worked with a young man years ago who put it in a healthy perspective. “I’m glad to learn that what I’ve been through is common. That means no one has to invent a way for me to get better. I can simply do what’s worked for millions of others.”
We get better. We stop drinking, cutting, purging, drugging, burning, or doing other things that destroy us. We start building a life. We pursue or reclaim the things we most wanted: a good job, real friend, good relationships with family, better health, and it’s great until we go looking for love (I can’t resist) “in all the wrong places.”
Most of us follow a recipe for the perfect partnership that only works in romantic comedies. The concept of “following your heart” is a bad idea for those of us with a long history of self-deception. Our hearts tell us, “It’ll be different this time” when in truth, we’ve picked one more partner who is not only selfish, but likely FUBAR.
This is usually where people whine to me, “I only attract assholes/crazy people.” No, you’re simply sticking with the kind of people you’re most familiar with. If you’re raised by sick and selfish people, you feel drawn to sick and selfish people because you intuitively know how to be and what is expected of you.
If we don’t feel worthy of a healthy partner, we seek someone to rescue. Our shame and distorted sense of self dictate our choices. We focus on the worst in ourselves and the best in them. We try to do for them what they’re unwilling to do for themselves. We compromise our own healing and growth by teaching them to depend on us.
These approaches always end in disaster, as do the bonds we form in the midst of desperation (countless romances are started in rehabs, homeless shelters, and psych hospitals). We’re terrified of being alone and we want to believe that finding the right person and being loved by them will fix everything.
But it doesn’t fix anything. That’s an inside job. We seek to bond to others while we remain detached from self. We will continue to pick the wrong people until we come to relate to ourselves with self-respect, self-care, and rigorous honesty.
Broken people love unabashedly and unsustainably. We are the proverbial moths drawn to the flame.
What most of us are truly seeking is the kind of love that ought to have come from a mom and/or a dad, not from a lover. We insatiably seek approval from others instead of becoming someone we accept and approve of.
The opposite of selfish is selfless. To be selfless is to have little or no sense of identity. Until we integrate the pieces of our broken selves, we remain emotionally immature and incapable of growing together in partnership. As E.E. Cummings wrote, “It takes great courage to grow up and become who you really are.” This is amongst the greatest investments we can make. The more we grow and heal, the more we have to offer to another, and the more we stop cheating ourselves.