The past impacts our present every day, whether it’s in how we approach certain situations, or how we emotionally react to what people say.
In romantic relationships, people can sometimes repeat behaviours to make up for the falls of their previous ones. In psychology this is called repetition compulsion, and it essentially means you’re trying to fix the past by pursuing similar situations or people who once hurt you.
There are several signs that you haven’t let go of the past, and these can manifest in how you behave with your current partner. Often, these patterns can start incredibly early with the relationships you had with your parents growing up.
“Our childhood experiences with our parents and our teachers and our friends really do have a pretty big impact on how we operate both personally and professionally in early adulthood,” Jennifer B. Rhodes, a psychologist, dating coach, and founder of Rapport Relationships, told Business Insider.
“There’s a pretty big population of people who enter early adulthood who have insecurity around creating and managing relationships. So I think what happens is when you’re not fully aware of the patterns you experienced at a younger age, you actually reenact those as an adult — and sometimes it doesn’t look pretty in your personal or your professional life.”
We spoke to several relationship experts to find out how to tell if you’re still hanging on to your past, and how this affects your current relationship.
Here are the 11 signs they came up with:
1. You always attract the same type of people.
According to Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” if one of your parents was a narcissist, or an alcoholic, you may find you keep being attracted to these types of people until you can work through what hurt you in that initial relationship and begin to heal.
“Empaths do this a lot, because they’re such fixers and they want to get in there and heal things,” she told Business Insider. “And they think if they fix the person, somehow that’s going to heal their original relationship. But it never works.
“So it’s important that people are aware, if they’ve had alcoholic parents and they keep attracting alcoholic boyfriends, that there may be a connection there, and that it’s important to look into whatever wounds you had growing up with an alcoholic parent so you don’t keep creating that in your life.”
2. You have ‘tainted joys.’
Perpetua Neo, a doctor of psychology and founder of Detox Your Heart, told Business Insider a bad relationship can give you “tainted pleasures.” These are things or experiences that were once important to you, or that you used to enjoy, but because they are connected to your previous partner you can’t stand them anymore.
“Or you feel guilty for enjoying it, or revisiting the same thing re-traumatises you,” she said. “Re-trauma can be something normal, but having it persist for a long time is not normal. There’s a big distinction. There’s always this period of healing where you get this dip and after that you get a rise. But if you feel like you’re always going to be in this dip forever, then that’s not healthy.”
Tainted pleasures can be something as simple as a musician or a place. It could even be an item of clothing.
“I can’t wear this dress, not because he bought it for me, but because he said something nice about it or I wore it to something,” Neo said. “So sometimes there’s this guilt that you’re betraying your ex-partner, and sometimes you just feel like it’s been tainted.”
3. You have hangups around physical intimacy.
Sometimes the signs might not be apparent until you’re in the bedroom. Neo said people can have sexual hangups around their previous relationships for various reasons.
“For instance, when people feel they cannot be sexually intimate because of their ex-partner,” she said. “We’re not just talking about general sex, but also certain positions, or certain ways in which a person touches them, or how they see themselves sensually… Really importantly, a big sign is if you say to yourself ‘I’m not going to think about it.’ But if it still owns you emotionally, in the middle of the night, or if you’re triggered or stressed, then it still affects you.”
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