18 Nov Our unconscious sabotages our relationships: How to stop it
How our subconscious ruins our love life.
In my work as a marriage and family therapist, I’m constantly amazed at the incredible force with which our unconscious mind rules our lives. This is particularly true in the realm of our romantic relationships where our ability to tolerate vulnerability is put to the test.
Looking at the influence of our subconscious (or in psychodynamic speak- our unconscious) minds on our lives is not new. Ancient traditions developed mindfulness practices like meditation and shamanic rituals to pull from the depths of our unconsciousness to learn, grow and alter destructive behaviors. Dr. Sigmund Freud, a medical doctor by education and training, took these ancient traditions and moved them into the realm of science by developing the field of psychoanalysis, a science that looks at the impact our unconscious thoughts have on our conscious lives. Today, we have moved further into the scientific study of the unconscious through technology that allows us to map our central nervous system and see how our unconscious mind is embodied in our physical body.
One of the major discoveries of this science is that our past profoundly influences our present. As unromantic as it may be, the truth is that we bring generations of our family of origin into our contemporary romantic lives. We also bring into them traumatic events that have caused our central nervous systems to react against any perceived threat that would cause us emotional pain.
And this is why even though we desperately want an intimate relationship on the conscious level we unconsciously sabotage them from moving forward. Our hearts cry out for connection but the past, encoded in our central nervous systems, have learned these connections are unsafe. To defend ourselves from this perceived danger we act out in all sorts of impulsive and compulsive ways to destroy that which we crave.
The most typical way of destroying intimate connections is to act out in ways that test our partners safety. We put up road block after road block to see and feel how committed they are to us and if they are mature enough and responsible enough to hold the tenderness of our psyche. Being hurt in the past, our unconscious mind, now encoded in our central nervous system, has no intention of being hurt again.
The solution to this dilemma is to practice being vulnerable and intimate in safe, contained and secure relationships. This is why psychotherapy is so effective in treating relationship disorders. The the therapeutic relationship provides a secure frame to test and discard negative feelings and reactions while internalizing a healthy relational construct. Just as our central nervous system got wired to avoid intimate relationships, it can be rewired to connect in them. The key is to move slowly and judiciously in and through the process knowing that neurosis arose in relationship and it can be healed in them as well.