This article was published in dr. rosiello’s sedona times psychology column in 2009.
One of the waitresses at Keiser’s Restaurant, a locals’ restaurant in Sedona, was talking to a group of people, saying something to the effect of, “If there’s someone out there within a 50-mile range who can break my heart, he’ll find me and make me miserable.”
Her statement returned to my mind after I finished an oxygen-depleted-treadmill run at one of the gyms in a Sedona gym, when one of the Personal Trainers asked if I would write an article on why women fall in love with men who treat them badly. He explained that when he was younger and a ‘bad boy’ that he had no trouble finding women who were wild for him. He’d date a few times until he sensed the woman was falling for him, then, he’d emotionally pull away and stop calling or call her erratically. Soon, he would stop asking her out entirely which would result in her calling him for dates, and finally he’d tell her one thing and do another, and just be a “jerk” by his own accounts. He said the end result was always the same in that the woman’s desire to be with him increased the more he rejected her, then he would heighten the rejection and tell her he didn’t want a relationship, and she would confront his rejection with even more desire for attachment saying “But, I love you.” He would then move on to the next woman who he knew he would also “dump.” “What’s up with women who just want to be treated badly?” he asked.
Luckily, it takes little for me to launch into an explanation of the psychology of early childhood developmental (and, no, his eyes did not glaze over; he was interested). I had taught Infant Research and Childhood Development to Post-Graduate candidates who were studying psychotherapy in NYC for over a decade.
Here’s what I told him: There are a few reasons why women want/put up with/feel addicted to ‘bad boys.’ All our adult behaviors have their origins in our earliest years. Early childhood, the years from 0 to 5, are some of the most developmentally intense times of life, both emotionally and physically. Our youngest years are exquisitely impressionistic because as children, we live in a very small, very self-focused world/environment that is made up of the home, and the people who take care of us, and our own emotional inner world of childhood desires and wishes.
Now here’s where it gets tricky: We’re each born with a particular temperament, meaning some of us are born with a pretty good sense of well-being, others are born more skittish or shy, and some of us are born more sensitive to emotions. Some children feel rejection at the slightest reason, for example the child may feel rejected when Mom and Dad go off to work, or when our brothers or sisters won’t play with us, and other similar examples. So, if we’re born sensitive and we feel rejected by everyday events, then, we’re more emotionally aware of ‘that’ particular feeling in ourselves. In a sense, we emotionally know or recognize the feeling of rejection.
So, what I’m saying is that the child’s way of being in the world becomes ‘set’ as behavioral patterns. When we develop our behavioral pattern, it’s like we’ve written out a script for our interactions with others. If the little girl felt rejected by her family, she has that ‘rejection script.’ Then, guess what! There’s a guy out there who reacted to his own childhood rejections by becoming rejecting as an adult (not a surprise since the boy child has a testosterone hormone that makes him more emotionally aggressive than the estrogen hormone that, in general, makes the woman more sensitive to her environment).
So there you’ve got it. There’s no big bang theory here, just different levels of childhood sensitivities that are then affected by different levels of behaviors within the child’s environments. You don’t need a big emotional trauma when you’re a child to create a sensitivity, all you need is a bunch of little normal everyday events that build up in the child and then predispose them to sensitivities, like rejections, as adults.
“Okay,” says the Personal Trainer at the Sedona Gym, who had been listening to my story of how ‘bad boys’ attract women (or better put, ‘how come so many smart women often wonder why in the world they’re attracted to bad boys?’), "Is there any way to change this?” he asked.
“Psychological research shows there are two major ways to change behaviors,” I answered. “One way to is through psychotherapy and the other way is through the experience of a trauma. I think the longer psychotherapy route is the better of the two choices and it doesn’t create the same havoc as personal trauma.” Whether we like it or not, early childhood experiences stay with us and affect our behaviors into our adulthood and sometimes it takes the effort of revisiting them in therapy to fix them.
The trainer, now in his forties, agreed with me. He told me that a few years ago he had gone through his own personal and painful trauma, which changed his behavior.