You meet someone at a party and it’s instant attraction. You like the same things, you laugh at the same jokes, you share the same hopes and aspirations. Something about them makes you feel as if you have known each other a lifetime. Look at them again – is there something familiar about him? Ten to one, there will be huge similarities with every person with whom you have ever fallen in love. If so, you’re caught in the attraction trap.
According to scientists, there is simply no such thing as random love: we have little conscious choice about the partners we pick. And while that can often end in wedding bells and happily ever after, sadly it’s not always the case. “I grew up in a family which was hyper-critical. I couldn’t do anything right,” says Janet Williams, a 35-year old technical writer, “and however hard I try to avoid them, I always seem to pick men who are just like my family – always running me down, always picking up my faults. It has undermined my confidence so much over the years I am beginning to feel totally worthless.”
But how does the attraction trap work? From early childhood we gather information about the world and the people around us, slowly developing a “map” of everything we find both nice and nasty. Sexologist John Money of Johns Hopkins University coined the phrase “love map” to describe the process. He says that, as we reach adolescence, these love maps begin to solidify, finally becoming “quite specific as to details of the physiognomy, build, race and skin colour of the ideal lover, not to mention temperament, manner and so on.”
Ever wondered why you always seem to fall for the same kind of people? Blame your parents. And your brothers and sisters. And all the uncles and aunts, next door neighbours and friends who made up your childhood world. John Money reckons age five to eight is the crucial period for us to make decisions about our world. Is the household as calm as a church or does the family regard arguments as the norm? What does your father smell of; how does your mother talk; what kind of hair does your brother have? “The unappetising whiff of pipe tobacco combined with the scent of a thick Arran sweater is enough to make my knees go weak,” confesses Juliet, a 29 year old recruitment consultant. Why? “Because that’s how my father smelt.”
“These love maps vary from one individual to the next,” says anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love (Simon & Schuster), “Some people get turned on by a business suit or a doctor’s uniform, by big breasts, small feet, or a vivacious laugh. Her voice, the ways he smiles, her connections, his patience, her spontaneity, his sense of humour, her interests, his aspirations, her coordination, his charisma – myriad obvious as well as tiny, subliminal elements work together to make one person more attractive than the next.”
Unfortunately we don’t home in on just the positive traits. If we suffered pain and hurt in our childhood and adolescence, that sadly becomes part of the attraction trap and is the reason why so many relationships end in tears. Psychotherapist Dr Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find (Pocket Books) explains: “We fall madly in love with someone who has both the positive and negative traits of our imperfect parents,” he says, “Like heat-seeking missiles, we will almost certainly find partners who treat us, in critical ways, much as our caretakers did, and we will use the same childish ploys to deal with them – and end up just as frustrated.” Even tiny criticisms or imagined hurts can lodge in the childish mind and return to haunt our adult relationships. If you were repeatedly told off for not doing well at school you might form the thought “I can’t do anything right” and will overreact if your partner criticises any of your adult behaviour. However you will also find yourself following your parents’ example and, if your partner makes a mess or performs less well than you expect you will tend to criticise in the way your parents criticised you.
Hendrix argues that we tend to be attracted to partners who have been hurt in the same way or at the same stage of development as ourselves. Generally partners will mirror their parents’ behaviour back at each other. Whether it involves calculated abuse or simple misunderstanding, almost everyone carries with them a hidden agenda from childhood, some form of unfinished business. So, he claims, we go around subconsciously searching for the one partner who will help us to sort out our dirty washing and hang it on the line. Psychotherapist Adrian Sarris agrees: “Even though your conscious mind may try to choose differently, the relationship you form with your lover will create the same circumstances you had as a child, except that now you’re an adult,” she warns. “You shake your head, wondering, “Why do I keep attracting these same people? What is wrong with me?”
However, both psychotherapists insist that we do not have to stay stuck in the attraction trap. Hendrix claims it offers, not a path to misery and divorce but a unique opportunity for growth, a chance to look at early childhood issues and heal our early woundings. Sarris agrees that by understanding our patterns and starting to make conscious, rather than unconscious, decisions about people, we can free ourselves from the trap and choose healthy, happy relationships. She also takes a slightly more esoteric line, suggesting in her book, Healing Your Past (Llewellyn Publications), that you can reprogramme your attraction “template” using a simple yet powerful visualisation technique. Change your internal wiring and you can escape the attraction trap.
FINDING YOUR LOVE MAP
Harville Hendrix recommends the following exercise to track down your pre-conditioned lover.
* Divide a piece of paper into columns and put the name of each of your ex-partners at the top.
* Think back to each person: How did you meet? How did he look? What did you say to each other? How did you spend your early time together? What was it like the first time you made love?
* Then think about the first time you noticed something was wrong. Can you identify the problem? How did the relationship end?
* Now list under each person all their traits – both positive and negative.
* On the left hand side of the column rank all the positive traits in order, giving the most positive 1 and so on. On the right hand side do the same for the negative traits, giving the most negative 1.
* Put a circle round the positive traits that are common to all or most partners. Underline the negative traits they have in common.
* On a new sheet of paper draw a circle and divide it in half horizontally. On the top half write in all the positive traits that you ranked 1 or 2. Draw a circle round any you circled as common to most partners.
* On the bottom half enter the negative traits ranked 1 and 2 and underline those in common.
* This will give you an idea of the kind of person to whom you are unconsciously drawn.
REWIRING YOUR ATTRACTION TEMPLATE
This is a visualisation technique recommended by Adrian Sachs for starting to shift your love map. If you find it hard to visualise, you may need to repeat it several times to gain the best results. You may find it easier to record these instructions, with plenty of gaps for you to visualise in.
1. Sit down in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You may wish to put on some quiet meditation music. Close your eyes and breathe deeply but comfortably. Ask your Higher Self for guidance.
2. You are going to visit the base chakra of the body which is situated at the base of your spine, around the tailbone. Imagine yourself going inside your body, into your head. From here there is an escalator descending down through the body. Get on it and let it carry you down to the tailbone.
3. Step off the escalator and look around. You are not in your physical body but your emotional body so everything you see will be symbolic. What can you see around you? Maybe you hear something or sense something? Ask your Higher Self to show you the Attraction Template that forces you always to choose the same partners.
4. Look at the template and see it in all its detail. What is there that is holding you back? Do you recognise where it came from?
5. Reach out and unplug any cords attached to that template. If you do not see any, imagine yourself unplugging them anyway. Say to yourself, “I am pulling all the cords out of the template and sending them back to whomever they belong (parents, lovers, friends)..” You can imagine them zipping away like a vacuum’s retractable cord.
6. Now imagine you have a magic wand which brings things into the present time. Tap the template with your wand and see what happens to it. You might notice an instant change, either in the image or in your tailbone itself. Now pry your Attraction Template off the wall.
7. Drop the template into a convenient vat of golden liquid to soak. If there are any other pieces of hardware that kept your template bolted to the wall, remove them as well and throw them into the vat. If you still can’t remove your template, pour gold liquid over it – it will then come off easily.
8. This template is linked to your brain by a large cable. You may see it or simply sense it. Now imagine a gold ball of light coming in through the top of your head to fill your brain. Let the light flow down the cable to your tailbone chakra. As the light covers the cable it dissolves all the old programming attached to it.
9. Detach the cable from your brain and your tailbone chakra and throw it into the gold vat for recycling.
10. Now take your template out of the vat. What does it look like? If it is looking rather worn, cracked, torn, broken or thin, put it back and ask for it to be recycled.
11. Now ask your Higher Self to create a new template that reflects the new You. Make sure it has more holes (options) than your old one.
12. Now bring the template out of the vat and hang it on the wall with new clean flexible attachments. Ask your Higher Self to run a new golden cord from your brain down to the template. It still needs to be attached, but not in the old constrictive way.
13. Ask for the tailbone chakra, the cord and your brain to be flooded with love and healing. When you feel finished, gently open your eyes.