Why are we attracted to difficult, troubled people?

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It’s a feeling that many of us have throughout our lives. For some of us it is something that will never abandon us, our hallmark, the way our mind works. It is even a very specific phase of the way our love evolves: the people we like, those with whom we establish stable interpersonal relationships (sentimental or otherwise), are often people with certain unsolved problems. Troubled individuals. In some cases it happens to us for a long time, even for a lifetime. In other cases, we manage to get out of the spiral. Knowing the reasons, identifying the aspects of us that lead us to be this way and overcoming them.

Going beyond this condition is not strictly necessary. Having a complicated person with problems can be good for many of us: as long as his incompleteness, his limits don’t prevent us from feeling well with him / her, from receiving also what we need, it can work without problems. After all, nobody is perfect, not even us. But if this leads us to constantly bind ourselves to people with heavy mental or emotional weights, the real risk is that those people cannot give us what we ask for in a “normal” relationship. And then going beyond this attraction mechanism can be important.

There are several reasons why this happens. Let’s see them together.

Because we see our problems in our partner

We all have our limits and problems. Often unsolved, coming from childhood or adolescence, they are always there to remind us that we’ve not been able to go forward. If we happen to see the same kind of problems in another person, a simple psychological mechanism can be triggered: I can understand that person well. I went through that too and – although I couldn’t overcome it – I can certainly be of some help. And since helping another person is certainly easier than solving our own problems (at least at the beginning, when we are not too emotionally involved), we have the feeling that we are doing something useful, for the others and for us themselves. This makes us feel good, obviously, it makes us feel alive and at peace with the world.

Often, however, in these conditions we soon discover not only that we are not able to fully solve the other person’s problems, but even worse, we realize that having an equally problematic person next to us doesn’t help us to grow, to overcome our problems. Relationships like these can last for years, but then they usually end. And they also leave deep wounds.

Because the other person reopens our old wounds

It may seem pure masochism, but it is not totally illogical. There is a part of us, the most unconscious one, the childish and insecure part, which really feels alive only if it is involved in a relationship that presents our own wounds. And if the other person, voluntarily or not, reopens the wounds that have not completely healed on us, that part of us finds himself emotionally involved at the highest levels. Because it’s convinced that putting your finger in those wounds helps to overcome them. To understand how long we are able to survive, to check once again if we can close them definitively. Why not, to help us understand that those injuries are part of us and must be accepted.

Relationships like these may be necessary for our growth. They may also be the right ones to share an entire life with. The only risk is that, if one day we really managed to completely close that wound, we could discover that we changed so much that we no longer feel the need to be with that person. And we would find ourselves driven elsewhere, with all the bad feelings that this imply.

Because he/she needs you

Often such relationships are formed because you clearly see that the other person needs you. And this may be more than enough to bind us sentimentally. Not only because we are caretakers (this is a particular case that we will see later) but for reasons in some ways opposite: because we are insecure, because we don’t believe we deserve the love of the others and knowing that the other needs us before he even loves us makes us feel safer. It’s simply less likely that he/she’ll leave us. After all, we also need him/her, so everything can be an acceptable compromise.

Rarely relationships that start with these assumptions can turn into happy stories that last a lifetime. But going beyond this mechanism means first of all overcoming our insecurities, going beyond our problems and learning to accept yourself. Which is a slow and difficult process.

Because those problems seem familiar to us

Many of us have a problematic family history behind us, with imperfect parents who loved us but also made us suffer. Yet that is the first type of love we receive in life, the one we will always use as comparison. So it may be natural to look for it still in adult life, at least in similar forms. If we had problematic parents who loved us in their own way, with their problems and limitations, it could make us feel comfortable finding someone with similar problems. We even find it reassuring to suffer for reasons similar to those that made us suffer as children, because in some way we associate that type of suffering with the natural form of love, so it’s what makes us feel loved.

In small proportions, this type of “love problem” can work for a long time. And that kind of recurring suffering can become a necessary evil, a routine that somehow gives us security, makes us feel in the right place.

Because those people seem “more true” to us

Often the thing that scares us most is being deceived. Having a fake, hypocrite person next to you, who maybe wins us over with words but then he reveales him/herself as a different character. If that’s the case, the greatest value we attribute to a person is his sincerity, the absence of filters, his veracity. And what more sincere and truthful person than one who has his problems and is not ashamed to expose them explicitly?

This may be the reason why, according to certain recent studies, problematic people have more relationships statistically than problem-free ones. Somehow, those people manage to attract others more easily, a sign that problems are not a limit in love, and that being honest about them can even be an advantage.

Whether those relationships will work or not, obviously depends on the other side factors: sincerity is never enough to make a relationship work. If the problems don’t have serious effects on daily life, however, relationships can work adequately, even for a long time.

Because we are pure altruists

It is a particularly rare case, to tell the truth, and rarely applies to a sentimental relationship in which we invest our life. It happens when you are in the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: when all your needs are satisfied, when you feel you are happy from all points of view, you can find yourself wanting to donate part of what you are to someone else. Dedicating yourself to helping others can become your own need, because it gives your being a higher dimension. In that case, meeting a problematic person can trigger your instinct to give that person what they need, helping them in some way.

In these cases, a relationship of strong friendship or coaching is more likely to be established, but not a sentimental relationship: the people who reached the highest level of the Maslow pyramid did so because they already have a life partner next to them, a person that they are comfortable with and that gives them what they need.

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