If you find yourself in one unhealthy relationship after another, feeling alone, afraid and emotionally used up, it is likely you are choosing the same person over and over, just with a different look and circumstances.

These relationships are hardly ever chosen by taking your time, making sure they are the right compliment to you and that they meet your needs. They are usually chosen out of fear. They also are often chosen or dictated by the unhealthy person, as these people are great at finding the right individual to meet their needs, regardless of yours. They can sense fear and desperation a mile away. They may look like a “white knight” when they appear but there is usually a dark underside that you will discover at some point.

Fear does many things to us and believe it or not it also is usually the culprit behind choosing unavailable partners, whether it be emotionally unavailable or actual physically unavailable such as in married individuals looking to cheat.

Dysfunctional thinking patterns learned in childhood or early adulthood are what I usually find to be behind the fear. Fear develops in response to the things you believe to be true, or your “schemas”, as they are called in psychology. So if your “schema” or belief is that you are unlovable or sure to be abandoned in any relationship, you will choose differently than if you possessed a different belief. If you believe that relationships are unstable and can’t be trusted you will choose differently than if you believed otherwise.

Your emotional history may include feelings of abandonment, real or threatened and an insecure attachment style. These usually occur together. Your emotional history may include messages from toxic others that you are “not good enough”, “unloveable” or any other number of mean spirited things that these people dream up to say to hurt or control you.

These feelings, when left unchecked tend to develop into anxiety, depression and even chronic anger. Your self esteem tanks and you begin to behave in ways you might not have if given different and better messages. Your job for self preservation is to understand these messages were lies and weapons of child-like people, not the gospel about yourself. You have bought into their toxic program for you and it may be dictating your entire life. This does not mean you are mentally ill, you are just operating from the wrong belief system. Unlearn these beliefs and you change your whole approach to life, not just relationships.

These choices are made to protect yourself and often out of desperation. Subconsciously you are seeking to reduce emotional pain and fear. The fear of the pain of abandonment by someone that really matters a lot and is a valuable partner. Just think, if you choose a mediocre partner or one with major emotional deficits, it is not as painful to lose them as it is to lose a real jewel. You tell yourself they weren’t that great anyway and move on. The fear of putting your neck out there for a real jewel to abandon is just too much.

The other phenomenon taking place is that you are choosing beneath you because you believe that is all you can get. You don’t even dream you could do better so you tolerate a bunch of crap from someone who doesn’t deserve you and make excuses for them or take care of them, enable their problems or any other self destructive life sucking behavior that fits their agenda. You tolerate it so they wont leave you. If they need you to care for them or put up with them they wont leave you. You will tolerate this out of the fear of being alone. Alone is better than this. Alone leaves you free to find better.

If you are in a relationship with a married person that is going nowhere it is likely the same thing going on. You desperately cling to the relationship with the hope they will end their marriage and be with you but that isn’t usually the case. That happens in the minority of cases. Especially if there are children involved. The married person typically wants to have some validation and excitement outside of their marriage and hasn’t given a lot of thought about your emotional needs. But you are settling for second place, and that is not a good place to be for your mental health. You are validating your own fears of not being good enough and being “lucky” just to find this person.

So what steps do you take to unravel this pattern?

  • Build your self esteem and self confidence-There are many great resources, books, therapists and coaches who can help you. Focus on these, not depression and anxiety. One will take care of the other most times.
  • See the emotional schemas of your past as false-Identify where they came from, who said them and why. Sweep them from your belief bank, knowing they were lies that you came to believe out of no fault of your own.
  • Go about building a life with only things you love in it and that are good for you-Take small steps to make this happen every day. Join a group with common interests, change something in your home that has been bugging you, anything that feels good and makes you feel in control of your own life. Do away with things that exhaust you and are toxic.
  • Take your time getting to know people you are instantly attracted to-Perverse as it might sound, they may be wrong for you. We are comfortable with the schemas we know even if they are bad for us. I know this sounds weird but it is true. We don’t like new and scary in our emotional world as we don’t know how to handle it. Uncomfortable as they are we know how to handle the dysfunctional patterns we are used to .
  • Watch for “red flags” early on that signal emotional unavailable or worse-Learn to trust yourself and move on quickly.
  • Try to get yourself as financially independent as possible-Many bad relationship choices also come down to financial need and fear. Think of the freedom that comes with scheduling and building your own life, free from toxic input or emotional neglect.
  • Get your needs met-If you are currently in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person and want to stay or have to stay in it for now, it will be necessary for you to find ways to meet your emotional needs. Again, join groups with similar interests where you can discuss and share ideas, join a church or spiritual group, book club or sport. Spend time with your good friends who love you and family. Find new friends. The key is feeling heard, valuable and that you can share without fear of recrimination for what you say.