Repeating the Pattern of Dysfunctional Relationships
How We Repeat the Pattern of Dysfunctional Relationships In Adulthood by Dr. Melanie Salmon
Our childhood experiences can have a significant impact on our future adult relationships, they often repeat trigger a pattern of dysfunctional relationships in adulthood.
So much of our life is determined by the experiences we had as a child, especially when we were very young, under the age of seven. If our childhood was a traumatic one – neglectful or damaging in some way – subconsciously we will carry that into
One way we notice our past impacting our present is in the relationships we seek and the patterns of behaviour we repeat.
Early dysfunctional relationships
The very first relationship we have is with our primary caregiver – it’s usually mum, but it might be dad, a sibling, a grandparent, or a nanny – and this will ‘set the template’ for all our future relationships.
If we were unable to bond with our primary caregiver, if the relationship was full of criticism and it was emotionally, mentally, or physically destructive in some way, then we are very likely to have absorbed that behaviour – that ‘template’ – and will find ourselves repeating it in our adult relationships over and over again in almost the same way.
This is why you may find that you have very similar relationships that end in similar ways. You repeat the same mistakes yet discover you cannot do anything consciously to break the pattern.
So, what is a ‘healthy relationship’ and what behaviours are not so healthy? Let’s look at boundaries in adult relationships, three common types on the spectrum.
When we speak of boundaries, the best way to understand them is by visualising the boundary surrounding a property, the fence for example. The barrier between the property and the outside world. We will use this as a metaphor for our own boundary,
our energetic boundary: what sort of quality does your fence have?
Keeping our metaphor in mind, we will now look at the first common type of relationship boundary: ‘underbounded’.
If we have an underbounded fence, if we don’t have a good healthy boundary keeping the outside world out, then we are inclined to feel smothered in our relationship. Our partner will come far too quickly, far too much, into our space, thereby taking us over. We are likely to feel overwhelmed.
Underbounded boundaries will generally stem from a childhood where the primary caregiver was very fearful. For example, every time you left their sight, they would call you back and try to hold on to you. This type of early relationship creates an underbounded future for the child. A child from this start in life will be anxious and clingy, and when it is time to separate, e.g. time to attend school, there will be many problems separating from mum.
Next, we have ‘overbounded’. In simple terms, overbounded is the opposite of underbounded, meaning we were not able to get what we needed from our primary caregiver as a child. In essence, this is an absence of the primary bonding experience: skin-to-skin, eye-to-eye contact, giving an emotional closeness crucial for normal development as a baby.
This occurs in any condition creating mum to be shut off: postnatal depression, her own trauma, alcoholism, etc. The consequence is that ’we’ the child felt neglected emotionally. In this scenario, we (the child and then the adult) will build an impenetrable wall, rather than a fence, around ourselves in defense. A brick wall 20 feet high that prevents anyone else from coming in and hurting us again. All of this is an unconscious process which we are not aware of until we have difficulty
connecting as adults.
The pattern of dysfunctional relationships
As you will no doubt see, underbounded and overbounded are the two ends of the
spectrum: you may let everybody in, or you may let nobody in. Neither is conducive
to a healthy relationship, and both can be traced back to the relationship we had with
our initial caregiver.
Although the above is a simplified explanation – we have not covered everything in between – it serves to illustrate the impact our early relationships can have on our adult behaviour.
Finally, we have a relationship with healthy boundaries. Neither underbounded nor overbounded, in this relationship we have clearly defined boundaries. We are very clear what our fence looks like, and we choose who we let in; we have the ability to refuse entry to anyone else.
Those who go into a relationship with healthy boundaries will have a very different experience to those who enter one based on childhood traumatic experiences.
Breaking the pattern
So, what can be done? While we might like to, there’s little we can consciously do to break these patterns of behaviour: the relationships we seek and the boundaries we have.
We are a product of our past. Every experience we have ever had, good or bad, is imprinted within us, crystallising as the core beliefs, or ‘truths’ we hold about who we are and how the world works. This is our conditioning, and it is ‘stored’ in our subconscious mind.
Everything that has happened to you right up to this very moment has moulded you into the person you are. In this way, our past directly influences the way we see, feel and act today. The way you behave in your relationships. What you choose to do –or not do.
Changing The Trauma Stories
And so, the only way to change these sorts of trauma stories is by working with the subconscious mind, as explained by pioneering epigeneticist Dr Bruce Lipton who ‘found that our DNA and genes are not the ones controlling our bodies, but that our DNA is controlled from signals that come from outside the cell, and these are signals that come from the energetic messages from our thoughts, both positive and negative.’
As trauma gets hardwired into the brain, it does not go away unless you have a technique that can access the subconscious mind and work specifically and carefully- and delicately – with the issues, like my own work QEC. That can then allow for full healing.
Changing Our Limiting Beliefs
By changing our long-held limiting beliefs and releasing ourselves from traumas of the past, we can alter our behaviour and adjust our boundaries, fundamentally changing the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Most commonly used for working with trauma, depression, grief and loss, stress, health, and relationships, you can learn more about the QEC method here.