Attraction: What our relationships tell us about ourselves

Attraction ‘at trac tion’ late Middle English denoting the action of a poultice in drawing matter from the tissues

I’ve had numerous conversations with my brother-in-law, a clinical psychologist who focuses his practice on children and early childhood trauma. A revealing dynamic he has shared is the difference in play between healthy children and those that have experienced trauma. For healthy children, they experience play where conflict, say over a mutually desired toy, is experienced in the moment and then passes as quickly as it came. Children who have suffered trauma, however, hang on to the conflict and repeatedly experience the drama projecting it into one play interaction to the next.

The implication of the latter case is profound as the children grow into adults; the cycle of transferring and projecting the unresolved trauma and drama from one relationship to the other becomes relentless. Most of us can think of a person or two whom we have known that continually is trapped in this cycle. Whether at work, in our family or some other community circle, there are those that are prone to conflict and drama and often just the thought of interacting with them creates stress. Or perhaps, others become stressed when they know they have to interact with us! You see, we all fall victim to this transference and projection of unresolved trauma to a degree because trauma in our childhood is unavoidable. Even for the most well adjusted person, whether through a loss of a pet, a grandparent, a frayed friendship, or the divorce of parents or worse, we all experience trauma which then sets in motion the lifelong pursuit of our nature to heal. Yet many don’t.

For many, and as has been the case for myself for years, healing can be nothing more than a slog of repeated drama. Life is like a hamster on a wheel, just more of the same conflict transferred from one relationship to another. To understand this, we have to unpack the nature of relationship. Relationship, like a poultice, draws out what we need from others, and draws out what they need from us. And yet neither person is prepared for the bitter medicine of what results. The problem comes from our expectation of the relationship. We expect that it will make us better, make us whole, and yet that is not the purpose of it. The purpose of the relationship is to draw out of each other what we are meant to learn. And in many cases, we are unwilling to learn what we are confronted with; that perhaps it is us that is the problem. That we need to make changes and choose another way of being.

When we do choose to learn from the relationship, often the purpose of the relationship itself is fulfilled and comes to an end. A sign of healing is knowing when to let go or continue in the vein of an entirely new contract where both parties have come to a new depth of understanding of themselves and the other. It is rare, but it happens. A few years ago I made the decision to stop initiating contact with my friendships. This was primarily an inner exercise to challenge my need for validation and approval of others, but it was also an experiment of sorts to see how many of them would reach out to me, and for what reason. Several did not respond to the silence, another handful did but had something specific they wanted, much of little to do with relationship. A precious few sought me out in service, inquiring how I was doing and expressing concern and appreciation for the friendship. It is with this last group that I continue the friendships today, learning and challenging each other in the continual journey of healing. And as the proverbial door closes, a window opens and I have discovered a whole new set of friendships and relationships that are enriching and offer a further healing and lessons to be learned.

Inasmuch, there is deep wisdom in relationships and what attracts us to them, and them to us. They speak to us – drawing out what we have to learn from the other. When we recognize this then question becomes, are we prepared to accept the brutal truth of what the relationship tells us about ourselves?

2 thoughts on “Attraction: What our relationships tell us about ourselves

  1. Wonderful post, Rick! So insightful! This “repetition compulsion” dynamic–the unconscious drive to heal our past interpersonal wounds by in some way repeating the wounding in current relationships–underlies much suffering, not just in people who have experienced trauma from abuse in early childhood, but other kinds of emotional/psychological injury as well. However, while such behavior is misdirected, it still represents healthy striving, in that it is an effort to try to heal. Unfortunately, when the unconsciously hoped-for new ending to the past hurt–that is what I believe is sought–is not arrived at, the result tends to be additional wounding that only compounds the problem. Without insight, it is difficult to get unstuck and move toward change. And insight is hard-found until vital emotional processing occurs. As I think you would agree, none of this is easy. There are subtle dynamics at play in such interactions, and much to sort out within oneself. These dynamics are a major underlying force motivating both the primary characters in my novel-in-progress, The Flying Girl, and I will be writing about it more on my blog,, as time goes on. Again, I was just delighted to see this post from you. Such good stuff, and, once again, your thoughts were so authentically shared! Thank you, and stay in touch!

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