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Matters of the Heart aren’t Rational

       When I was studying at a psychoanalytic institute many years ago I heard the saying “we all marry parts of our mother and father”. At the time being a single man I thought this idea was a bit extreme. Now after 30 years of treating couples and from my own personal experience I can say it is not so farfetched. Of course it stands to reason that we are attracted to what is familiar, particularly familiar behavior. People often wonder why they pick people to love who ultimately present them with the same conflictual issues they experienced in their families. It seems paradoxical but in fact it makes good sense. We return to the scene of the crime whenever we have not resolved old issues, whenever we don’t understand how our emotions regarding love developed.

   Babies learn to love their parents without knowing if they are beautiful, handsome, intelligent, rich or poor. It is not an intellectual exercise. The memories of these early experiences, when we are cognitively not able to discern what appropriate behavior is and what it is not, are recorded deep in our psyche without our awareness. We remember experiences based on feel far more than experiences based on fact.

                                             But Love Should Make Sense!

    Intelligent people often become disturbed because they falsely believe that because they are intellectually quite capable they should be able to pick the right love partner. Not so I am afraid. Bill Clinton by all accounts is quite intelligent, has a highly developed capacity for empathy, yet he had an affair with an intern in the white house. We all know quite capable people who seem to make ridiculous choices in love relationships. When we fall in love all reason goes out the window. Why? Because matters of the heart are not governed by reason. Until we understand the story we created in our minds about ourselves and love early in life we are governed by those initial experiences.

                                              Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     Let me give you an example. Recently I began working with a woman in her mid-thirties who was referred to me because her marriage was falling apart. She called shortly after her husband was arrested for a DUI, driving under the influence. She is an attractive, intelligent woman who one would think would have been able to choose a good life partner. Marie’s husband by all accounts is an active alcoholic. The irony that troubles her most is that when she met Paul she was determined to pick someone unlike her father. Her dad, who she loves dearly, is also an alcoholic. She has tried to rescue him throughout her life; he has never accepted treatment, refused to go to AA and to this day remains active and a constant worry for Marie. So why would she return to the scene of the crime if alcoholism caused her so much pain?

                                              Matters of the Heart Bring us Back in Time

   We return to our past behavioral patterns that were emotionally hard wired if we have never worked on understanding our story and resolved past conflicts. Today Marie realizes she denied the extent of Paul’s drinking because unconsciously she was returning to the past in an effort to emerge with a different result. She could never facilitate her father becoming sober but with her rescue mentality she felt, and I accent “felt”, she could finally be effective in saving a man in distress. She had always been the one trying to help her dad, and even today she is the only one of three sisters who remains in contact with her dad.

                                      Everyone has a Unique Love Story

   Marie’s story is fairly straightforward and not complicated to understand. However many of us have more complicated stories that result in confusion in terms of who we choose to love. Make sure you spend time getting to know yourself in relationships with others before you make love choices that could bring you back in time in an unfortunate way. It’s complicated for sure but when you’re in empathic relationships with rational others, when your able to give and receive feedback openly we are all in a position to learn a great deal about the story we carry forward to new people.

        If you are interested in learning more about this subject please read chapter 7 in The Curse of the Capable, Learning to Read Between the Lines-Intimacy.

                                                Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Change Your Negative Life Story

I try to teach my clients and those close to me that negativity is a learned perspective. When we are growing up we are all exposed to views of the world that are not objective or reasonable. Anthony, one of my group clients grew up with parents from two different countries who met in Europe during the last world war. Even though they have been living in the United States for over 50 years they still consider themselves to be suffering from prejudice from American neighbors and former co­­‑workers. Anthony grew up hearing Americans are greedy, selfish and biased against all foreigners. His parent’s pessimism pervaded much of their thinking and he was often told to shy away from anything unfamiliar. Basically their view of life was to take no chances and never stray from family as “outsiders” could not be trusted. He realized as time went on that his parents assertions were mainly based on their own insecurities and unwillingness to trust.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Despite knowing this reality as an adult he has remained an untrusting person, very afraid to take chances and afraid that he will be ridiculed if he reveals his true nature to anyone. His first wife eventually left him as she could no longer tolerate his unhealthy attachment to his parents and his un-willingness to make friends and socialize.

      Anthony, interestingly, is a member of one of my group sessions where 4 of the 10 members were born in other countries and all immigrated to the states in the last several years. Anthony was initially surprised that these individuals did not experience the bias he expected. In fact three of them were recruited by American companies, helped to find housing and were graciously received by their colleagues. They had difficulty of course, adjusting to a new culture but none spoke of the bias that Anthony had been taught to experience. It wasn’t just the fact that members from other lands had a different experience that eventually made the difference in his world view.

        What changed his pessimism into a reality based view of life?                                                     First and most importantly he developed trust in myself and group members. As he said “I can see and really feel how you all care about each other, at first I thought you were all playing a role but over time I realized you were complete strangers at one time, from all over the world and now you have come to truly like and respect each other, you’re like a family of friends”.

        Eventually, based on this established trust, Anthony was able to systematically examine his views of life and their accuracy. He essentially was able to obtain a consensus view based on objective feedback rather than the hard wiring he adopted from his family. This is the critical juncture for change. We can only change our old story by having the courage to take in objective feedback in the present. I have seen this process result in profound changes in many lives. It is not simple or easy, it requires the courage to change based on your faith in the well meaning of others trying to help you move forward in life while leaving the biases of the past behind. Anthony and many others who are truth seekers, what I call “spiritual learners” arrive at a place of comfort within and with others that is truly life saving. One of my previous blogs describes the “spiritual learner” concept and chapter 16 in “The Curse of the Capable-With an Open Heart and Open Mind-The Spiritual Learner” is a more complete reference for you as well.