If you find yourself:

  • Drawn to people who won’t commit to you
  • In relationships that feel like a roller coaster and you end up rejected
  • Repeatedly not developing feelings for people who treat you well

Chances are your relationship choices are coming from unresolved issues. Unresolved issues can cause you to become attracted to people who are not good matches for you and not attracted to people who could be. They can actually make it dangerous for you to trust your instincts. They make things that are bad for you feel right.

Freud’s repetition compulsion theory describes it best:

Even good parents make mistakes. There’s no such thing as the perfect parent. And children become affected by their parents’ mistakes. Only a child’s mind isn’t mature enough yet to see it’s their parents’ flaw. They perceive it as a flaw within themselves. It creates feelings of unworthiness and unwantedness that sticks with them into adulthood.

They develop a compulsion to prove their worthiness, or win the acceptance and love that eluded them before. They do this by unconsciously seeking people they can repeat this dynamic from their past with, only this time, they’re going to make sure they get it right!

So if you had a parent who somehow made you feel not enough, you may be attracted to people who make you feel not enough. The same for absent, neglectful, or critical parents – it’s only going to feel ‘right’ with someone else who that element is there with them too, because you’re wrapped up in proving your value and winning their love.

Sometimes it could be you trying to work out a dynamic between your parents. Perhaps you identify with one parent and so you are attracted to people like the other parent, subconsciously trying to get the response out of them you felt the parent who’s like you deserved.

But this is disastrous for creating a healthy relationship that can last. You wouldn’t accept such behaviors from a romantic partner. Someone who withholds something important from you should make you lose interest.

What would make you want to be with that person is how good it feels to be treated well by them. You would be assessing if the relationship meets your needs instead of getting lost in a preoccupation with convincing someone that they should want to be with you.

Repairing this issue is hard! The compulsive nature of this problem is so strong it feels like an addiction. People often have to keep getting it wrong and suffer the consequences before they get desperate enough to stop doing things their way and get help seeing things differently. You may need to enlist the help of someone who can see things more objectively and non-judgmentally, like a therapist, who can help you see it through healthier eyes.

Fixing this dynamic would require realizing you were always enough and loveable the way you are; your feelings of unworthiness are just a reflection of your parents’ mistake. You should process your feelings about that, mourn the loss of what could have been, express your anger at your parents (not necessarily to them), feel sad over what their mistake has cost you. But put it back where it rightfully belongs— on your parents’ shoulders, not your own.

Be careful though not to get lost in blame of your parents or in depression over your issues. God assigns us to the parents we need; there are even Jewish sources that say the soul chooses which parents it wants to be born to, in order to fulfill our purpose in life. Working on our flaws brings us closer to God and is the key to actualizing our greatest potential. Your parents are merely the vehicle for this divine purpose!

Healing requires a redefinition of what “love” feels like. Take a moment to reflect on how good it would feel to be with someone who chooses you, who sees what you are and not what you’re not. Someone you can enjoy being with because it’s not a struggle. Notice what it feels like in your body when you imagine that. Take it in. Give yourself permission to expect that. Challenge any voices inside that say you are not worthy.

Realize the choice you have now. You can keep replaying the familiar or you can choose specifically to experience something different. Instead of rationalizing away or looking past someone’s inadequate treatment, you can enjoy what it’s like to be with someone who has it in them to give you what you need.

Liz Wallenstein, LMHC, is a licensed therapist available online. This is from her YouTube series, “Solving Jewish Singleness: Real-Life Advice from the Therapist Who ‘Gets It!’” Learn more at LizWallensteinTherapy.com/singles-therapy