Why women end up in pathological love relationships is a widely debated topic. After more than 25 years in the field, my view is that the reasons are often a mixture of several issues. We find most of the simplistic ideas about ‘why’ are not based on the dynamics of the women’s lives or relationships.
This is a complex issue and we have been looking at various reasons why. Any one explanation is probably not the total explanation. I think for many women, their patterns of selection have to do with a number of complex interweavings, not to mention, the ‘mask’ of pathology itself and how it hides, lures, and cons.
We have looked at the possible influence of pathological parenting. This may not apply to all who have ended up in pathological love relationships, but for those who have had pathological parents, this, too, may have been a factor. Just like in the 12 Steps, “take what works, and leave the rest.” If this is not applicable to your past, it’s probably not applicable to your pathological relationships. For those to whom it is applicable, here is another consideration.
Sometimes our dangerous male choices, bad boy selections, and addictive relationships are really just manifestations of the parenting we endured when young. If we were unfortunate enough to live in homes in which one or both of our parents were abusive, addicted, or pathological, our choices could be reflecting what did or did not happen in our own emotional development because of our pathological parenting. Pathological parenting, often referred to as self-absorbed parenting, can have significant and deep-seated effects on children, and these effects often persist into adulthood.
Sometimes our choosing of dangerous men comes from replicating our own childhoods. Some women pick men that subconsciously ‘feel’ like those early childhood dynamics. This is not a conscious decision, but is driven by primitive and familial feelings and unmet needs. The dynamic is further re-enacted by women being victimized again in similar ways as they were in the home where a parent was abusive or pathological. Pathological parenting involves:
- Being unresponsive to others’ needs
- Being self-absorbed, self-focused, and self-referencing
- Being indifferent about other people
- Being grandiose and arrogant
- Lacking empathy for others
- Lacking a core self (they are as deep as Formica)
- Having shallow and quickly fleeting emotions
- Wanting constant admiration and attention
- Feeling special and unique
- Not relating well to others
This results in pathological parents typically displaying the following kinds of parenting types and behaviors:
- Blaming the child
- Criticizing the child
- Demeaning, devaluing, and demoralizing the child
Since the child has only known this kind of parenting, it is often difficult for the child to know there is something wrong with their parents. The child grows into adulthood still not knowing their parent is pathological. The result is the child/adult now has learned how to ‘normalize’ abnormal behavior because healthy behavior was never modeled.
Typical of abusive and pathological parents is when the parents make the child ‘take care of them emotionally’. This is often referred to as ‘emotional incest’ or ‘parent-ifying the child’. In a healthy home, the parent emotionally meets the needs of a child and supports the child through the developmental process of becoming a separate individual and teen and ‘individuating’ or ‘separating enough to be your own self’. In addictive, abusive, and pathological families, children are not supported through these developmental periods. Instead, the parent expects the child to meet THEIR needs.
Were you a parent-ified child?
- Were you made to feel responsible for your parent’s feelings, well-being and/or general welfare?
- Did your parent(s) seem to be indifferent or ignore your feelings much of the time?
- Were you frequently blamed, criticized, devalued or demeaned?
- When your parent(s) was/were upset or displeased, were you the target of his/her/their negative feelings?
- Did you feel that you were constantly trying to please your parent(s) only to fall short?
Do you ever remember hearing your parent(s) say:
- Don’t you want me to feel good?
- You make me feel like a failure when you (do) ________.
- You ought to care about me.
- I feel like a good parent when someone praises you.
- If you cared about me, you would do what I want you to do.
Children who were parent-ified or were victims of emotional incest or were raised by abusive/ addictive/pathological parents often have one of two reactions to their parenting. One is compliance, the other is rebellion.
Do you have any of the following symptoms of compliance?
- Spend a great deal of time taking care of others.
- Are constantly alert about acting in a way to please others or are very conforming.
- Feel responsible for the feelings, needs, and welfare of others.
- Tend to be self-deprecating.
- Rush to maintain harmony and to soothe the feelings of others.
- Don’t get your needs met.
With rebellion, the adult child is often defiant, withdrawn and insensitive to the needs of others. They build a wall around themselves to avoid being manipulated by others. They avoid responsibility resembling the kind of responsibility they had as children.
Adult children of abusive/addictive/pathological parents normally have lives where:
- They are dissatisfied with themselves and the course of their lives.
- They are trying to be in emotional sync with others but find they are not successful at it.
- They are constantly looking a their own flaws, incompetence, and other faults they perceive in themselves.
- They do not have meaningful relationships in their lives.
- They do not allow people to become emotionally close to them—they keep people at arm’s length.
- They feel like they lack meaning and purpose in their lives.
- They have continuing relationship problems with family, friends, and co-workers.
- They feel isolated and disconnected from others.
- They are often overwhelmed by others’ expectations of them.
People who were raised in these types of families often go on to develop relationships with people who resemble the dynamics with which they grew up. Unconsciously, women often pick men who demonstrate, on some level, the kinds of behaviors their abusive parent did.
Women who do not recognize that they have grown up to ‘normalize abnormal behavior’ perpetuate the pattern of choosing dangerous and pathological men over and over again. They are stuck in a terrible cycle of self-sabotage. (Read more about this in How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved or Women Who Love Psychopaths.)
(Thanks to the article, “Parental Destructive Narcissism,” by Nina W. Brown, for information on pathological parenting.)
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information).