Almost all of us have, at some time or other, run into an old flame and felt the desire to reconnect. What draws us is a mix of nostalgia and the desire to correct past mistakes, to “get it right” this time.
The problem is that many of the former relationships to which we find ourselves drawn as abuse survivors were, to put it mildly, toxic.
Why do we save the love letters of a man who repeatedly cheated on us? Why are we tempted to call the boyfriend who stole our charge cards and emptied our bank account? Why do we find ourselves checking Facebook for the ex who put us in the emergency room?
The answer is not that time heals all wounds. It is not that we are seeking closure, that we enjoy pain…or that we are simply too dim to know better.
One reason is familiarity. There is something powerfully familiar about these toxic relationships. They evoke buried memories from our past, memories we once associated with love.
Such memories are not generally in the forefront of our consciousness. But a woman whose father was sharp and impatient with her as a child is likely to choose a partner with the same shortcomings. A man whose mother was elusive and unresponsive is likely to find women with those qualities attractive.
The more closely an adult relationship mirrors the abuse we experienced in childhood, the more emotional power that relationship will hold for us. And the more appealing that partner will seem. It is as if we are wrestling with an irresistible force.
That force is not, however, love.
This series will continue next week.
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