How to Break Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: October 2014


I rode the train home, softly crying into my hands, my only company a reoccurring thought: How could this have happened again? Spurned by someone I had feelings for, turned down for another, someone wanting to be "just friends"... this has been a pattern in my life since middle school. 

But why? Do I actively seek out those who will hurt me? To be clear, I use the words "hurt me" with an awareness that this is simply what we feel at the time of the event. No one is actually hurting me; we each have emotional wounds that we carry from this life and others. People's actions usually have nothing to do with you. Often, they are reacting to internal messages or to past events. As my friend says: "Nothing is personal." Interactions with those who re-open these wounds are simply methods of drawing our attention to where our wounds are located so we can actively repair them.


Self Portrait Collage: Stage 1
Xerox collage on paper
24" x 36" October 2014

Locating my wounds is easy. But until this dreadful night, I hadn't paid much attention to them. When I was about ten and my parents separated, I noticed that my dad was sad all the time. Being a loving and dutiful child, I did what I could to help my dad- I listened to his problems and helped out around the house. To my surprise, although I thought that I was getting closer to my dad and helping him work through his problems, he continued to engage with people who made him feel bad. Now I understand that this had absolutely nothing to do with me, but a child is less reasonable. I took it rather personally and began identifying with the other women in my life who felt the same. In my subconscious, becoming a woman equated being abandoned and betrayed by a man. But, you see, no one set out to hurt me and this had nothing to do with me!!!! People were just living their lives oblivious to each other. The feelings I felt had more to do with empathizing with the people I loved rather than actions directed at me. Who knows why I took things to heart, but I did, and it happened. Get over it, right? Fortunately and unfortunately, the mind is extremely powerful. This pattern of behavior imprinted itself in my subconscious and I have been repeating it ever since.

Self Portrait Collage: Stage 2
Collaged materials on paper: xerox copies, colored pencil, charcoal pencil
24" x 18" October 2014

And what is the pattern? Well, first I find a guy who is sort of sad. Or maybe he finds me. We find each other. Usually he's depressed from a recent breakup, or perhaps tortured by deeper issues and feels like something is "wrong" with him. Eager to help this sad man, I listen while he talks and talks and talks about his problems. I don't mind that he never asks about me because I'm all ears to HIS issues. I begin to fall in love with him. At some point he may begin to notice me and think to himself: "Hey, this girl really listens and understands me." He may even see a future with me. But ultimately he is too attached the mire of his own sadness to move forward with me. Usually, these men return to the exes that they swear they would never touch again or they simply leave me hanging, without even a note of goodbye. They would prefer the company of their own sadness, or someone who will keep them sad, over me. 


Self Portrait Collage: Stage 3
Collaged materials on paper: xerox copies, gouache, colored pencil, charcoal pencil
24" x 18" October 2014

Although this recent night was incredibly painful, I have realized over time that it was actually an incredible gift. Again, no one set out to hurt me. People just act, unconsciously most of the time, and it sets off reactions in others. The reaction it set off in me triggered the little girl who felt spurned when her father continued to engage in damaging relationships rather than healthy ones that would make everyone happy. But this was the painful initiation that my father was going through at the time. And now, I have mine. 

What to do now! The first step to breaking a pattern is recognizing it. Then, you identify the warning signs or red flags when they come up, because the universe will test you and test you until you damn well get the lesson. And did you get the lesson? We shall see. What I've learned is to identify why I am attracted to someone in the first place. Am I the little girl looking to help daddy again, or am I an adult woman looking to engage in an equal relationship? I'm tired of this old pattern of being a shoulder to lean on, only to be tossed aside when someone better comes along. I also want a voice in my relationships, to be appreciated for who I am, and not for what I can do for someone else. 

Self Portrait Collage: Stage 4
Collaged materials on paper: xerox copies, gouache, colored pencil, charcoal pencil
24" x 18" October 2014

The artwork here was inspired by that night. The self portraits are an ongoing series from a practice that a friend suggested to me. The drawings of the couple at the bar are from earlier that one night. At the time I was making these, I was feeling both angry and sad. It felt good to cut up paper and collage the broken bits back together. Each stage of the piece builds upon the next: I photocopied drawings, collaged them, and then photocopied the actual piece and collaged it back on top of itself. The piece gets denser and denser over time. My anger issues are thankfully getting better. Instead of lashing out, I am learning to channel this energy into my art, or into biking or gardening or whatever. I am less attached to these emotions than I was before, because I know that the anger I feel isn't my own; it belongs to the generations of women in my life who felt scorned by men. 

Beneath the anger and sadness, which dissipate as I write this essay, I am grateful for this person and all the other people who have been placed in my life to break me of this silly subconscious pattern. In the end, I can only blame myself for being too dense to get the message until now. I say this in jest because blaming and shaming doesn't help anyone. In writing these lines, I forgive myself, the eternal child, who just wanted to help. May she always be of service and find love that meets her equally. 

Taking Stock of the Emotions
Collaged materials on paper
26" x 26" October 2014

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