Browsing the archives for the attraction tag.
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How Can Bad Relationships Feel So Right?

The human mind

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on schema therapy and mental schemas, a subject I’ve written about here a number of times: see links on my Mental Schemas and Schema Therapy page. One of the most intriguing insights that’s come up in that reading is “schema chemistry.” What’s schema chemistry? The short version is this: sometimes the people we are most strongly attracted to are the ones who are the most likely to make us crazy.

I don’t want to overstate this: I don’t imagine for a minute that all love, romance, chemistry, and attraction are based on people fitting their mental baggage together–but it’s pretty fascinating that some of it seems to be, for some people.

The apparent reason schema chemistry happens is that the kinds of troubles we’re used to are comfortable and normal-feeling to us, so a person who causes the same problems we’re used to will feel more familiar and closer. If Mary grew up in a house where her parents always left her alone, she might very well feel more “at home”–not happier, but in more familiar and “right-feeling” territory–if she dates someone who always leaves her home alone, too. If Jack’s mom was always telling him he was a hopeless screw-up, he might have more respect for and feel more familiar with a girlfriend who always tells him the same thing.

According to some accounts in Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide by Drs. Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko, it appears this isn’t always a mild effect, either: sometimes it really makes the sparks fly.

As you might expect, this can be bad news. Two people might fall madly in love, have a breathtaking romance, and then settle down into a pattern of gradually making each other miserable. Apart from breaking up, the best hope for a couple like this is often to get couples therapy–I’d be inclined to suggest couples schema therapy specifically–and to learn there not only how to handle their own emotional baggage better, but also how not to push the other person’s destructive buttons.

Here are a few more examples of schema chemistry:

  • A person who feels defective (the Defectiveness schema) gets together with a person who feels like people should be punished for even small mistakes (the Punitiveness schema)
  • A person with a sense of being better and more deserving than other people (the Entitlement schema) gets involved with someone who is constantly taking care of other people at the expense of their own needs (the Self-Sacrifice schema)
  • Someone who grew up feeling lonely and neglected in a house where there was very little nurturing or expression of love (the Emotional Deprivation schema) dates someone to whom expressing emotions seems unnecessary and disturbing (the Emotional Inhibition schema).

There are any number of combinations, given that there are 18 different schemas and a variety of ways to express each one. Fortunately, there are many other factors to bringing two people together than schema chemistry. Here’s hoping it’s not at work in your relationship! If it is, just becoming aware of how the two schemas interact may start to help. I’m working on a short, informal book on mental schemas that I hope will make it easier for people to gain insights on their own and others’ schemas; it should be out in November or December. For information on that, stay tuned.

Photo by jb_brooke

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Tools for Immediate Motivation: Attraction and Distraction

Strategies and goals

As complex as our minds become as we grow older and learn more, one thing that doesn’t change from when we were young is that we’re easily attracted to anything appealing–a favorite face, a favorite food, something that glimmers. It’s easy to shift our thoughts onto the track of something we enjoy, which is useful, because sometimes it helps to choose how to direct our attention.

Attraction can help draw us into activities that we want to see ourselves doing but don’t yet have much enthusiasm for, and all it requires is that we find something that at least for a few minutes will be enjoyable or interesting. For instance, if I have a stack of papers I need to go through and file, I can begin to visualize what my desk will look like without that stack of paper, or focus on the fact that I can relax and not have to do much thinking while I do the task, or think about putting on some music I really like to listen to while I file. Anything a little bit appealing will help me shift from steering clear of the task to being drawn to the task, and a nudge at the beginning is often all we need.

If I’m trying to steer clear of a behavior–for instance, if I have a habit of buying too many DVDs and walk past a display of ones on sale while out shopping for shirts–then one good strategy is to find something else that appeals to me and focus on that. For instance, I could think about the fresh strawberries I have at home that I’m going to have as a snack when I get there, or about what kind of shirts I’m hoping to find. If I successfully get myself to focus on the other thing, then the immediate temptation in front of me fades. Ideally, I can then physically move away from it, keeping my attention on my distraction instead.

Whether attracting or distracting, the basic principle here is of thinking more about the things we do want to do and less about the things we don’t. The more we think about something, the more easily–sometimes even automatically–we start doing that that thing.

Which means that sometimes self-motivation can be as simple as “Ooh, look: shiny!”

Photo by RunnerJenny

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