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It is well known psychological theory that what is unconscious will continue to permeate our lives until it is conscious.
This sentiment was first expressed by depth psychology pioneers Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. A sentiment that is now validated via emerging research in the fields of interpersonal neurobiology, attachment theory, intergenerational trauma, and epigenetics.
It was Freud, in all his flaws and faults, who was the one who coined the term “repetition compulsion.” This concept represents the idea that we will continue to replay what is internally unreconcilable, unresolved, and repressed until we get it just “right.”
This means that we will continue to press play on our past until our present moment offers us an experience of peace. We will continue to seek out situations, people, places, and relationships that offer us the healing and the holding that our heart needs to unburden from the hurt inflicted years ago.
I don’t need psychological theory from Jung or Freud, or data from emerging fields of research to feel confident in this concept. I also don’t need the hundreds of stories clients have trusted me with to appreciate the full breadth of what depth psychology put forward decades ago.
What was put forward decades ago, when distilled in sentiment, is the knowledge that trauma lives within the marrow of our bones and being. That suffering resides within our flesh and continues to alter our lived experience until resolved. Our body and brain adapt after adverse moments of pain in such a way that both are pursuing release.
I say that I don’t need theory, research, or my clinical experience to understand this concept, not because I don’t value those sources of knowing. I do.
I advise you to be wary of people who don’t value those sources of knowing.
I say it because instead of turning to external sources, I just need to be real with myself about the patterns amongst my past romantic partners in comparison to the wounds inflicted when I was young.
My history of sexual exploitation and abuse is the natural rationale behind why I have found myself again and again in adult romantic relationship dynamics where deception, infidelity, addiction, sexual abuse, neglect, verbal degradation, and utter disappearing are commonalities.
You see, just like my clients, I have continued to try and solve the wounds of my younger self through adult partnerships by partnering with people who knew just the right buttons to press to detonate despair that was decades old.
Just like my clients, I have never entered one of those romantic relationships consciously thinking that the human I was loving would press detonate. I, like my clients, unconsciously pursued these partners seeking real love, adornment, and relational repair with them.
Freud would say that—that my unconscious found people who were of similar makeup to the first men who abused me to get it “right” with. From this perspective, if these men in my adult life could offer me love, the wounds of abuse in my childhood would consequentially be healed. I would be redeemed.
Neuroscience would say that my central nervous system and the mirror neurons within my prefrontal cortex had become hardwired and patterned to seek out what was already known. Therefore, my past experiences of abuse within my body would be biologically driving me to partner with people who had central nervous systems that mirrored the physiological and neurological makeup of those who first abused me. If one of those central nervous systems, that mirrored my original abusers could offer me love, the wounds of abuse in my childhood would consequentially be healed. I would be redeemed.
Although this sounds simple, straightforward, and sweet, if we follow the impulse of the unconscious or central nervous system, all we will do is have another experience of pain that mirrors the wounds of our younger selves.
This is why awareness is absolutely essential when we are embarking on the journey of creating a new type of love. This creation requires healing wounds created when we were young.
We all have wounds. Some are just bigger than others. But every human has them.
When we are on this path, it is necessary, from my perspective, to look ruthlessly into our adult romantic relationship dynamics. For when we are honest with ourselves about what we have participated in, we are presented the chance to change.
Not sure what I mean? I’ll tell you mine.
When I look into my romantic relationship history there is…
A string of infidelity.
A string of sexually degrading relationships.
A string of partnerships that included addiction.
A string of nonconsensual sex in intimate partnership.
A string of female friends betraying our connection for validation.
It is often easier to see how we have been hurt than to see how we have been hoping for healing.
Not sure what I mean again? I’ll move past more shame and tell you how I have tried to find healing. In my unconscious mind, I believed that:
If that man with the lingering eyes could be satisfied with just my skin,
then I would finally be enough.
If I could remove the feelings of degradation from the sexual acts of that man,
then I would be normal and no longer be sexually traumatized from my childhood.
If that man who enjoys cocaine more than Sunday brunch with me could be sober,
then I would never be hurt by someone in relationship to substance ever again.
These are some of the ways I have unconsciously hoped for healing via partnering with people who were more like phantoms from my past than present moment partners. These people, though, didn’t offer me healing directly; they instead poisoned the vessel of my body with more pain.
Pain that eventually became so big that I paused.
I paused long enough to do what I am encouraging you to do.
To look back at your past. To find the patterns.
To piece together the metaphorical puzzle.
To find the peace that you are seeking via partnership.
Because, the uncomfortable truth is that until we acknowledge the pain of our childhoods, the realm of romantic relationships will continue to be a domain of pain.