Relationships can be difficult for HSPs because our sensitive natures tend to attract people who need help, like a lighthouse offering shelter in a storm. Others often find our strong sense of empathy, compassion, and gentleness irresistible.
But have you ever wondered why we are attracted to them? What is it about troubled souls that we find so alluring and why do we stay with them?
The answer is usually one or all of three possible reasons.
1. They remind you of someone from your past.
While none of us would consciously choose someone we thought was unkind or abusive, we can become attracted to negative people because they remind us of someone from our past. This is usually a subconscious choice.
If your father was a bully, you will tend to be attracted to men who are bullies. If your mother was bossy, you will be attracted to bossy women. We don’t want to be with this kind of person, but everyone is attracted to what is familiar.
Once we realise we are involved with someone who makes us feel just as bad as our parent did, however, we feel angry and resentful and try to get our partner to change and love us the way we always wanted to be loved. It becomes painful being with this person because you are constantly reminded of the pain you suffered in the past while your efforts to get your needs for love and respect met are continually thwarted.
This process can keep us entangled and struggling for years. The key to avoiding this is to become aware of the kind of person you tend to be attracted to based on your own past and to recognise that you cannot change that person. People can only change themselves and only if they want to. And if you don’t want a relationship that is similar to a painful relationship from your past, you need to ensure that your current relationship is about mutual love and respect, not struggle. If it isn’t and your partner doesn’t want to change, it may be time to move on.
2. You’re a rescuer.
You may not be aware of it, but some of us are attracted to those who need help because it feels good to help them. Most of the time, we’re not even aware of this motivation ourselves. And while it appears to be based on a desire to help others, the underlying reason for wanting to rescue someone is so that they will need us. A rescuer needs to be needed because deep down they believe that is the only way they will be worthy and lovable.
It also allows the rescuer to feel good about themselves because they feel more capable than the person they are rescuing. You believe they are weak and you are strong. But in reality, this dynamic only serves to keep you tied to people who demand your service to them while they give little or nothing to you in return. Over time, your self-esteem weakens because you are not getting your needs for love and support met while your partner’s needs become the focus of the relationship. If you think you may be a rescuer, you need to recognise that your needs are important too and that you should be and will be loved you for who you are, not for what you do for others.
3. You’re too focused on the goal instead of the person.
Once we become emotionally involved in a relationship, it becomes very easy to focus on that person and their needs and very difficult to leave. This is especially true for highly sensitive people because our innate compassion and caring natures compel us to help and because we can often feel what others are feeling. When we sense that someone else is hurting or suffering in some way, we want to help. But although it is kind and feels good to help someone, we can easily become absorbed and help too much.
The focus of our lives becomes the personal growth of the other person and as this process goes on, we keep giving while feeling increasingly resentful about it. Subconsciously, one part of us wants our partner to continue to be troubled so that they will need us, while another part of us is waiting and hoping that they will finally heal so that we will get the love we’ve always wanted. And so we keep helping and supporting them in the hope that one day we will live happily ever after.
We become so focused on the goal of future happiness that we cannot see the painful reality of the moment. People need to learn to help themselves. Compassion and care are admirable, but they should be used towards ourselves as well as others. If your goal is to live happily with a loving partner, you need to focus on the moment, on what’s happening today, on what kind of person you’re with now in order for that goal to be realised. If the person you’re with now is not kind, loving, supportive and reliable, they probably won’t be in the future. And the future is created by what you do now.
Many people are drawn to HSPs in the same way that a sinking ship steers its way toward a lighthouse. But it’s important to remember that we can have compassion and sympathy for others without sacrificing ourselves. A sinking ship will not save you and it will not carry you to where you want to go. Just because someone needs help doesn’t mean that you have to rescue them. It’s not your job. Your job is to look after yourself.
Others may see you as a lighthouse, shining your light on them, so that they may be rescued and healed and bask in the warmth of your attention. But you can shed a little light on yourself and give your needs as much focus and warmth and compassion as anyone else’s. You deserve to get what you need now, not sometime in the future. And the more you expect to get what you need, including love, tenderness, sympathy, respect and caring, the more likely you are to find it.