Our relationship with our parents, particularly the opposite sex parent, significantly influences how we choose our companions. It’s commonly said that women marry their fathers and men marry their mothers. There is a lot of truth to this.
These childhood relationships also have a powerful effect on how you choose your friends and how you respond to colleagues.
Suppose you have a bad relationship with your parent. This can be a parent who was physically there, but emotionally unavailable, or one who constantly criticized you. You may say to yourself that you don’t want to be with someone who treats you the same way. So you set out to find the opposite person.
Those are your conscious intentions. However, at an unconscious level you are drawn to others with the very characteristics you are trying to avoid.
Why would this be? Why would you purposely choose to be with someone whose behavior you loathe?
First of all it’s not purposeful; it’s beyond your level of awareness. Sometimes we can repeat relationship dynamics, particularly ones that were injurious, as an attempt to now conquer and overcome the injury as an adult.
For example, if you had a controlling, critical mother, you may be drawn to other women who are very opinionated. You find her opinions offensive at times, but you stay in the relationship and wonder why you always end up with “mean” people in your life.
In this case, although you find your friend’s criticism annoying, it’s familiar to you. That’s why you are drawn to her. In general, someone who grew up with a lot of affirmation and praise would be repelled by this person because it’s so different from what she’s used to.
You have a much higher tolerance for criticism and that is why you are able to continue in a relationship with this person. Of course there are other variables to contribute to this picture. But one reason people may continue in such a relationship is the unconscious motivation to conquer the hurt.
In this case, as a child you could not talk back to your mother without consequences. But now that you are an adult, you can fight back. So your relationship can be a “workspace” of sorts to work through your deeper issues of dealing with criticism.
This may not be an exact formulation of your situation. But it is something to think about if you are unhappy with some of your relationships and you notice that you keep attracting the same kinds of people in your life. Is their objectionable behavior familiar to you? Once you recognize the familiar dynamic, you can change the kind of people you allow into your life. You can also let go of trying to conquer the past in your present relationships.