Does it seem like you’re in a cycle of rejection—like every relationship ends in being dumped? The cycle of rejection is ugly, painful and humbling. It decimates you self-esteem, and gives you ample opportunity to say to anyone who will listen, “See, I told you so: I am damaged goods, an unlovable loser.”
How did this low opinion of yourself evolve? Almost certainly emotionally damaging relationships and experiences in your past have contributed to this painful, frustrating pattern you are in now. With this relentlessly unforgiving negative self-view you've acquired through time, you may be left with such intense longing to feel fulfilled in a relationship, to right all the wrongs of your past. Yet at the same time you are pulled toward relationships that feel unfulfilling. The dissatisfaction created by your past patterns is painfully familiar and therefore, way too easy to repeat.
Those of us who feel a strong sense of self-worth may leave a relationship when we recognize it isn't meeting our needs. However, those of us who experience an embattled sense of self-worth may stay in an unhappy relationship just to avoid the possibility of being rejected by a current partner, or a future partner, because the fear of rejection can trump what is actually best for you when you feel that badly about yourself.
Of course, this experience is intensely unfulfilling. And, while you’re longing for more, but unable to leave the relationship, the relationship may leave you.
So here’s the real question: are you legitimately wanting more from relationships that you hoped had a chance at the outset, or are you consistently choosing bad relationships so that you can perpetuate that familiar experience of longing for more, but feeling your needs remain unmet?
I’m not saying this scenario is a conscious one—it’s not as if you consciously decide to date people who can’t reciprocate your feelings so that you can keep longing for more from them. But, the negative patterns and expectations created by your earlier experiences leave you feeling undeserving of—or maybe even incapable of a mutual, reciprocal relationship. So you keep gravitating toward relationships that compel you to crave more.
Unfortunately this painful pattern invites the fantasy that someday someone will save you, which in turn will repair all the wrongs of your past. But in real life, that doesn’t happen. In real life, we have to work on repairing ourselves.
Without self-understanding and acknowledgement that your history contributes to your cycle of rejection, it can seem like you’re just unable to hold a partner—you fall back into a relationship until eventually the cycle repeats and your partner leaves again. And, of course, this experience reinforces the deeply held belief that you’re unlovable, which keeps you trapped in this cycle.
It’s time to look at your own role in this process—not from the perspective of self-judgment but instead to offer the opportunity for growth. After all, knowledge is power and self-knowledge is the ultimate power.
Understanding that you’re saddling every new partner with the responsibility to fill voids he or she didn’t create is a good first step. The only person who can work on filling your void of intense unmeetable needs is you. Inadvertently assigning this responsibility to a partner, consciously or not is alienating, unrealistic and inevitably ends in disappointment.
You didn’t necessarily have control over the experiences that created this cycle of rejection. If you were victimized, it is understandable that you gravitate toward relationships that not only perpetuate your longing to be saved, but since you can't be "saved" you are left feeling alone dissatisfied and craving more. Initially, your longings were self-preserving—you weren’t treated fairly and so you used your fantasies to save you, like you did as a child when you felt overwhelmed or traumatized. However, now, as an adult, those needs can reach a point at which they become utterly insatiable. In real life, no one can meet those deeply embedded, but “old” needs. It’s a hard pattern to break, but not impossible.
Work on understanding that you may be drawn to the familiarity of a relationship that feels unrewarding, unfulfilling for you and that perpetuates old feelings of being left unfulfilled, neglected, even traumatized. Understand that as a child you longed to be saved from your pain. We carry old feelings around with us until we are better able to understand them in context. Though the patterns of your past are powerful and familiar territory, you are not that traumatized child anymore, because now you have more control over outcomes. You have a maturity and wisdom that you didn’t have before, whether you realize it or not, in part because of the experiences you have now had both inside and outside relationships. It's a function of experience, age and maturity. Take one step at a time to build trust in yourself, because only you can “save” you. Do it by working to understand, feel compassion for, and respect where you are now. Then you can work toward finding a more rewarding and reciprocal balance with a partner.