If you’ve ever noticed your significant other doing something that reminds you of Mom or Dad, the phenomenon is more common than you think. A 2019 study by dating site eHarmony revealed that 64 percent of men go for women with the same personality traits as their mothers and research shows that women prefer male faces that resemble their fathers. As eerie as this sounds, why do so many of us end up choosing partners like our parents?
In the 1960’s, Hoffman Process founder Bob Hoffmann developed the theory of the Negative Love Syndrome, in which we unconsciously adopt the negative behaviors, moods, attitudes, and admonitions of our parents to secure their love. This also includes the subsequent rebellion against those negative traits throughout our adult lives. Part of this adoption involves choosing partners or spouses who remind us of Mom or Dad as yet another attempt to recapture their love. We don’t just project our parents onto our lovers, either. We may also project them onto our colleagues, friends, and superiors through transference.
Sometimes we even provoke our spouses to act out in a way that reminds us of our parents, trying to bring Mom or Dad into our relationships. This may be because we feel a sense of “unrequited love” with Mom or Dad still and now we’re trying to resolve that pain with our current partner in an attempt to finally be loved. Or, if our parents were frightening, we might just as easily seek out partners who have entirely different traits than our parents to finally feel safe.
If any of this sounds familiar, there are ways to stop projecting and break free from unconscious patterns. Try the following:
1. Learn to Self-Soothe
When we are children, we depend on our parents to soothe us. As adults, we may end up expecting the same from our partners. But we don’t need to if we can learn to self-soothe. Taking a time-out for yourself is an important way to self-soothe, whether you choose to sit and meditate, go for a walk, or simply rest. Notice how your body feels when you feel tense, lonely, or angry. Do you hunch your shoulders? Tighten your jaw? Take shallow breaths? Paying attention to your body’s way of holding stress is a powerful way to begin letting go.
2. Own Our Reactions
One of the core teachings of the Hoffman Process is that while other people may trigger us, our reactions are 100% our responsibility to deal with. Once you have taken responsibility for your own emotions, you can see that your partner is not at fault for how you feel. This releases them of blame, but it also releases you from re-enacting the same dynamics you had with Mom or Dad.
3. Name Emotions
When you have committed to taking responsibility for your emotional reactions, it’s time to disempower them. One way of doing this is to name your emotions: ‘I feel lonely,’ or ‘I feel angry.’ Separating the ‘I’ from the painful emotion creates distance and empowers you to realise that you are not identified with your emotions; you are simply feeling them. This also reminds you that your emotions are fleeting. Pain is not permanent.
4. Express Gratitude
A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship. After all, there is much to be grateful for. Part of this work is distinguishing reality from fantasy. Your partner is not your parent, no matter how similar they may seem at times. This relationship is a fresh start if you choose to perceive it this way. When you notice your partner acting like Mom or Dad, instead of slinking away in shame, see the familiarity as an opportunity. What are you trying to resolve?
During the Hoffman Process, participants have a chance to identify the patterns that are no longer working for them and trace them back to their parents or caregivers. Once you realise how you may be projecting your parents onto others through these negative patterns, you learn that each of us has a choice to take a different path. By peeling away the layers of negative feedback and unconscious knee-jerk reactions to others, you can finally live in the present. Realising that you have chosen a partner due to your family of origin conditioning is not the issue. The issue is, whether you can love them for who they are and whether you can also love yourself in this relationship with them.
This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram