By Sandra L. Brown, MA
So many people confuse the feeling of attraction with the emotion of love. For some who are in chronically dangerous and pathological relationships, it’s obvious they have these two elements mixed up. Understandably, not being able to untangle these can keep people on the same path of unsafe relationship selection because they keep choosing the same way and getting the same people!
Attraction is not only unconscious but also largely physical. There is actually something called “erotic imprint” which is the unconscious part that guides our attraction (I talk about this in How to Spot a Dangerous Man.) Our erotic imprint is literally “imprinted” in our psyches when we are young—at the age when we begin to notice and be attracted to the opposite sex. As I mentioned, this is largely an unconscious drive. For instance, I like stocky, dark-haired men. Whenever I see that type of image, I immediately find that man “attractive.” I can vary slightly on my attraction but I’m not going to find Brad Pitt attractive. I might forego the full “stocky” appearance, but I’m not going to let go of some of the other traits that make men appealing to me. We like what we like. For instance, I am attracted to Johnny Depp and George Clooney. I don’t like any of the blondes or overly tall and lanky body types.
If you think back to what your “attraction basis” is, you may find some patterns there as well. Attraction, however, can also be behavioral or based on emotional characteristics. For instance, some women are attracted to guys with a great sense of humor. The attraction is based on that particular characteristic. Other women may be attracted to athletic guys, not because of what physical exercise does to their bodies, but because of the behavioral qualities of athletes.
Attraction can be subtle—like the unconscious erotic imprinting that makes us select men based on physical attributes—or attraction may lead us to choose relationships based on behaviors or emotional characteristics like displays of empathy, helpfulness, or friendliness. (I have discussed your own high traits of empathy, helpfulness, and friendliness in Women Who Love Psychopaths.)
Although these traits might guide our relationship selection, this is not the foundation of love. It’s the foundation of selection. Often, our relationship selection comes more from attraction than it does anything else. So knowing who and what types you are attracted to will help you understand your patterns of selection. Some people choose characteristics—helpfulness, humor, gentleness, or another quality that they seem to be drawn to. Other people are more physical in their attraction and find the physicality of someone either a “go” or a “no.” Maybe you like blondes or blue eyes. This may also drive your pattern of selection.
Also, in the area of attraction—sometimes it’s “traumatic attraction” that seems to drive our patterns of selection. Those who have been abused, especially as children, can have unusual and destructive patterns of selection.
This Valentine’s Day, be very clear about love and attraction. This is a time when you might be likely to want to reconnect with him. Let me remind you, NOTHING has changed. His pathology is still the same. On February 15th you could hate yourself for reconnecting with him for one weak moment on February 14th, a day in which the world is focused on love, but he is focused on manipulation, control, or anything OTHER than love. If you open that door, you will have weeks or months of trying to get him out and disconnect again.
Instead, plan ahead for your potential relapse by setting up an accountability partner AND something to do! Go to a movie with a friend, go out to dinner—do SOMETHING that takes responsibility and action for your own loneliness at this time of year. Whatever you do, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and contact him. One day on the calendar about love is just an ILLUSION!
(**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.)