How to Break Painful Relationship Patterns


“Until you heal your past, your life patterns and relationships will continue to be the same; it’s just the faces that change.” ~Unknown

First of all: honey, you are not broken. We are all works in process. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. We all end up in a loop here and there. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t healed pain from the past. And sometimes it’s because we’ve healed our pain but still hold on to past habits. When we do this, past habits will promote the replaying of past events and, therefore, the pain will return.

This happens at a psychological and practical level. The type of beliefs we have about reality will shape the way we perceive it, react to it, and interpret it. This is a neurological reality that has been proven scientifically: the brain creates concepts and finds ways to validate them.

This is the way prejudice is built, but is also the way you expect sweetness and tartness out of an apple.

The moment you read the word “apple,” you already started generating the necessary enzymes to digest one and enjoy its flavor. You already started reacting to something that isn’t even here, based on the concepts (beliefs) the brain (mind) has constructed on it according to previous experiences.

This is one of the many ways science has validated that “life is an illusion.” This is great news. It means we can choose, in a way, what kind of illusion to believe in and, consequently, co-create in our lives.

Past experiences—especially our childhood experiences—inevitably shape this concept-system in the brain. They create what we refer to as a value system in the mind. These, in turn, determine our thinking habits. The thinking habits will define how we speak and act.

In other words, the way we perceive apples will determine how we react to them or even the idea of them.

If you believe that you should expect sweetness out of apples, you will seek apples that provide sweetness, and you will react by preparing to enjoy the sweetness, which will allow you to do so at a higher level than if your body didn’t salivate and prep your taste buds for it. By expecting sweetness, you get to experience it with heightened senses when you get it.

This idea also applies to unpleasant concepts. This is also a neurological reality and was designed as a survival mechanism.

Go get your ears pierced and you will see what I mean. When you get ears pierced the first one is barely perceivable. However, the next one hurts quite a bit. Why? Because the brain was expecting pain; therefore, it reacted to the second experience with a concept of pain.

You think, “This will hurt,” and, therefore, you experience more pain. The tool is still the same. The pressure did not change. Reality is the same as with the first one; however, your brain constructs a concept of pain, so that’s what you get.

Your earlobes will heal within six weeks. But when you expect unpleasantness out of other life experiences, that’s what you will repeatedly get. In order to produce change, we must let go of a value system that constructs realities of pain and difficulty. This truth is evident in relationship dynamics as well.

The Loop: What We Think About Relationships Defines How We Experience Them

I want to make a disclosure about what you are about to read: taking responsibility for your thinking habits and how those affect what you expect from relationships does not mean that anything is your “fault.” It also should not be used to justify abuse.

Abuse is not justifiable. However, as a survivor of abuse, I can say from experience that it’s actually empowering to realize how much is in my power. I can change how I think, how I talk, how I perceive situations, and how I react to them. I can co-create my relationships.

I happened to grow up in a culture of fear. I grew up thinking work had to be hard, people had to be in a bad mood when they got home, marriages are meant to be hard, and you should not expect the best, ever; you needed to expect the worst.

I was married for almost eight years and got divorced a year ago. Since then, I’ve found myself making similar mistakes in the way I seek partners, and all of my relationships have ended up leaving me drained and resentful. But why? I was doing what I thought was supposed to be done: I was being of service in a relationship where one person needed to be saved and I could be their savior.

There are so many memes out there with the phrase “You saved me” phrase on them. It’s supposed to be romantic! Well, that did not go so well for me. It bred unhealthy and unbalanced relationships, and an environment of codependence that led to pain for both people.

So I went on a quest for my own healing and discovered why I was constantly trying to save the people I date (more on this later). Finally, I was ready to get out there again. But this time, there was no saving involved. Because I was ready for a healthy relationship. I was at peace.

I went on a first date with a wonderful man I’d met on a dating app. Before leaving, I called a friend to share how excited I was. She suggested that I calm down, keep “low expectations,” and keep my guard up. I decided not to follow that advice. It comes from a place of good intentions, but it’s really a chain of fear.

On a vibrational level, to act that way would not allow me to attract my highest good. On a practical level, it would set me up to not look for the best in this person, which would produce a reality where I would be unable to see it even if it hit me in the face.

I went in there with the same attitude I approach everything currently: at peace. No negative or positive expectations. Just being in the present moment.

I ended up having the best date of my entire life and building a deep connection with my now-partner.

We cheat ourselves out of wonder if we tiptoe around in life afraid to get hurt. We must be strong and self-confident to allow ourselves to expect goodness. I did not get here right away. It does take practice to make progress. But it really doesn’t have to be considered an “impossible” in our brains.

How to Hijack Your Way Out of the Loop and Start Flowing Upward!

These are some of the things that helped me heal and rewire my brain before I finally downloaded the dating app, posted a cute picture of myself, and hoped only for the best.

1. Observe your thoughts. What are they based on? Which beliefs no longer serve you?

A tool that helped me greatly in this step was John Bradshaw’s book Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, which includes exercises to heal past experiences. This releases the brain to freely create new constructs and prevents us from staying on a loop.

I was having trouble as an adult voicing my needs. I would be terrified and would be physically unable to communicate what I needed.

During my work with myself I discovered that when I was four years old, I was so terrified of being physically and emotionally abused by my caregivers that when I was hungry, I would not dare voice that need. I have memories of hiding in a cabinet eating raw rice from a bag in order to feed myself without being a “bad girl” and bothering my caregivers.

I recognized then that this was why I fell into a pattern of focusing on my partners’ needs and trying to save them: I was expecting that it would be painful if I voiced what I needed.

So, I recognized the source of the problem, now what?

2. Release the vibrational memory of emotional baggage.

Once you recognize the roots it will be time to release their emotional baggage. That way you won’t be triggered by old stuff in your new relationship. In other words, you won’t fall into the same old patterns because you’re driven by emotions from the past.

There are many ways to release emotional baggage, including meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping, Mental Emotional Release (MER) therapy, and journaling. Explore, experiment, and find what works for you.

I went to an Emotional Release Body Balance therapy specialist. It’s the best investment I’d ever made in my life.

I also engaged in regular cleansing rituals with sage at home.

Finally, I used release affirmations and prayers daily. One that especially worked for me was a Unity prayer that states: “I release from me all energies that are contrary to what I am creating for myself. I cut them off and release them to the Universe to transform into beneficial forms of energy. I now fill myself with love, peace, and perfect health.”

Okay, I am no longer controlled by emotions from my painful past, what’s next?

3. Learn new skills.

This is the ongoing step. It requires our willingness to learn new skills. New thoughts. New ways of communicating, new brain constructs about relationships, and new ways of having faith in ourselves and others. In my case, this meant learn to voice my needs instead of stifling myself in fear.

To accomplish this, I attended virtual classes. I enrolled in a communication workshop and practiced those skills. It was just like learning how to read: practice, review, assess, practice again. You will need support here. Someone to practice with. I do so with my best friend. We exchange notes and debrief with one another.

The skills you need to learn will depend on what you ascertained about your beliefs and expectations and what pattern you fell into as a result of them. It doesn’t matter if you attend classes, read books, practice with friends, or join a support group. What matters is that you do something to learn and strengthen the skills that will help you break your pattern.

But… why?!

Now, why go through all this? Baby, ‘cause you are worth it! Plus, there is no magical soul mate in the Universe who will heal your low self-worth concepts and create positive expectations of healthy relationships in your brain.

You either do the work you need to complete on yourself before you get out there, or you will be stuck in an ongoing loop of pain, with a list of exes that turn out the be the same dog with a different collar, calling them “toxic” instead of owning your own need for growth.

I’m rooting for you. I bless your journey. The best is already within you. What you want in a partner is out there looking for you as well. May you find each other at the right time and may you have the skills to enjoy your union. Ashe!*

*Ashe is a West African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change.

About Oñi Adda Reyes

Oñi Adda is a teacher of children with special needs, a mother to a five-year-old walking piece of sunshine on Earth, and a legendary bathtub singer. She believes our journey on the material plane has one purpose: to grow. That growth leads to light and that light leads to unity in our communities. You can join her parenting facebook group here.

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