I think to one degree or another, if we are not currently in one, we have all been in a relationship that is dysfunctional or abusive. So here, I am going to give my current understanding, based on my experiences and observations, of why I think they exist and what is going on at a deeper level.
The typical perspective is that there is a victim and a perpetrator. With the perpetrator being at fault and the victim being completely innocent. Now, on the surface level, we can all see that this is the case and that action needs to be taken accordingly.
However, the question I ask is – does this perspective empower us or does it make us feel completely powerless? Constantly living in the fear that a perpetrator will come into our life and make it a misery. I also ask; how is it that a perpetrator has more power than a victim? Do we automatically gain more power over others and in the world by becoming a perpetrator?
From my experience, I believe this is a two way occurrence and that it is symbiotic. I don’t believe though, that we consciously attract these kinds of relationships into our life. This all happens through what is going on unconsciously for us. What resides in our unconscious is everything we have repressed about ourselves, which it is too painful for us to currently look at. This whole process of repression happens throughout our life and as time goes by we can quiet easily forget about everything that’s stored there.
When it comes down to the quality of our relationships, our perception of ourselves is monumental. I believe this self image is initially built on how our parents or caregivers treated us, which of course comes from how they treated and saw themselves. So in many ways, it could be said that we can end up with the same level of self worth as they had.
After everything that has happened to us in our childhood, the last thing we want to do is dig up the past and relive what happened to us, especially if it was traumatic. We quite naturally want to move on and do our best to forget such moments. And this is where our problems start to arise. Although we want to move on from the past and embrace the future or more importantly the present moment, out life will always be a reflection of our past, unless we have released our past pain.
This is why life can seem like the same every day, as although we have pushed down our past, so our awareness of it is just about gone; it is still there, until we take the time to release it. It might seem to us that it’s in the past and doesn’t matter anymore, however nothing is ever removed by repression. With the more we repress something, the stronger it actually becomes in our life.
The way I look at it is, if we are having problems in our relationships, we have to ask ourselves, does this remind me of how I was treated as a child or is this just a recycling of my past. What is it that I’m holding onto, that no longer serves me?
Seeing that the patterns in our life mirror the patterns in our childhood, is not only difficult due to repression, it is also difficult as projection is involved. The ego mind uses this defence mechanism as a way to handle the input that it is receiving and to protect itself.
So what happens is, all of the parts of ourselves that cause us pain and we have repressed, start to show up in other people. Our own ego can then avoid taking responsibility, as it is other people who embody these aspects and not itself. It will use any defence mechanism necessary to fool us into believing that what is showing up has nothing to do with us. When ultimately what is showing up is just a reflection of what we need to acknowledge about ourselves and let go.
So, I would say the usual process goes like this, all the parts of ourselves that we haven’t realised, are embodied by the person that we are attracted to and this takes a while before it settles down. Once it begins to settle we start to notice in the other person all the parts of ourselves that we have repressed. My belief is that relationships are there for our healing and growth, so although they have the potential to bring us great joy, they also have the potential to bring up parts of our history than can cause us great pain.
However, it is clear that our unconscious mind has to have some way of motivating us, as if we were aware of the negative points straight away we would never get into a relationship to start with. So this way the mind gives us the opportunity to grow.
The more that we have the ability to observe out own mind, the more we will be able to see the patterns in our life, to understand that we are not our mind and neither are we are past. However, the reason the past keeps showing up is through our identification to it, and the act of repression is a form of identification with our past. As we let go off the past or our perceptions of it, our relationships will begin to change and relationships that honour who we truly are will start to appear.
So coming back to why we stay in dysfunctional relationships. I believe that although consciously we know we have to leave or to end the relationship, to our own ego there is a sense of safety about it all. If we were treated like this during our younger years then why would anyone else treat us differently? We can feel as though this is all we deserve and are worthy of.
We have all had people tell us we deserve better and that we shouldn’t put up with certain things. However, in order for our life to change we have to realise this ourselves. And although the people around us are trying to help us, they can very often assist us in forming an identity as a victim. I believe we all deserve great relationships, and yet in order to achieve this we have to look at what we are identifying with. If something is showing up in our life, it is clear that at some level we have to let go of something that is sabotaging us. I don’t think there is a place for blame, if we truly want to grow and be responsible. Identifying with our mind and therefore becoming a victim will just keep us stuck and lead to us feeling hopeless.
This is why I believe it is important to have people around us, who will support our true nature and not just validate our struggles and our story. If we want to embrace our true self, we have to make room for it, and if we are holding onto the past there is no place for it to exist.
As we begin to let go of our past and live from the present moment, which is our place of power and who we really are, we will be examples to the people around us and the world. We will be inspirations of how relationship’s can be and how boundaries and not walls can be implemented.
Most importantly we won’t feel as though we have to compromise who we are and that we will be able to speak our truth. Without feeling as though we will be rejected for saying what we want to say. We will be able to honour ourselves, as we will have the self worth to do this, and as a result of this we will be able to honour other people’s truth.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.