I just read another terrific post written by Cynthia Bailey Rug on the topic of chaos.* Specifically, she states that those of us who grow up in chaotic environments, have a strong tendency to get into similar chaotic relationships as an adult. This is true, she says, until we have found a way to heal from our childhood wounds.
I believe it was Freud who first called this type of behavior “repetition compulsion.” His theory was that we gravitate toward unhealthy relationships that are similar to the unhealthy childhood home we grew up in, because we are unconsciously trying to resolve, or fix, whatever was broken in our childhood.
But I disagree with Freud. I believe the driving force behind this frustrating and self-defeating behavior is simply what Cynthia says in her post: as adults, we gravitate toward what we are accustomed to. When a relationship mirrors the way we grew up, it feels familiar. It feels like home. Even when home was a terrifying and dangerous place to be.
A study I read about that was done with rats appears to bear this theory out.** In this study, half of the rats were born and raised in the perfect rat environment. These rats had plenty of food, plenty of water, comfort, and safety. Whatever makes a rat healthy, happy and secure, these rats had it. But the comparison group of rats were raised in chaos, in an environment where there was never enough food, no safety, and no security. Whatever makes a rat miserable, short of outright killing them, that was what they got.
After the rats were grown, they were moved to an entirely different place. Here, they were given the choice of which environment they wanted to live in. In this new place, there was an easily accessible area that was, once again, rat perfect. There was also another area that mimicked the miserable, uncomfortable, and dangerous environment.
Being unrestricted and free to choose between the two, you would expect that all of the rats would run to rat paradise, wouldn’t you? Surely no rat in his (or her) right mind would voluntarily choose to live in rat hell!
But this is what happened, according to what I remember reading about the study: the rats that were raised in the perfect environment, chose to live in the new rat paradise. But the rats that grew up miserable and uncomfortable — always either too hot or too cold, starved, subjected to very bright lights and extremely loud noises — those rats chose to live in the new chaotic, miserable, dangerous environment. Even when rat paradise was right around the corner and easily accessible.
I believe this explains pretty much everything about my previous rat-like existence, lol. Until I finally got help for my PTSD, I went from one bad relationship with an unloving abusive narcissist, to another and another. Like my daughter told me when I was going through my last divorce in the year 2000: “Mom, I know there are always more fish in the sea. But you are fishing in a toxic pond!”
It hurt a little to hear that, but she was exactly right. Today I thank God that I am finally free of relationship toxicity, and have been for almost 15 years.
*This post was inspired by another great article by Cynthia Bailey Rug, titled “Comfort in Chaos”. Please check it out:
Thank you for stopping by. Happy Turkey Day tomorrow! Please say a little prayer for me if you will. I saw a surgeon yesterday and he told me that my suspicion was correct, I have skin cancer. My surgery is scheduled for December 6. I just got back from having a pre-op ecg and bloodwork done. This will be my fourth surgery under general anesthesia since May of last year. I told the surgeon that we have to stop meeting like this!
God bless. Here’s a big grandma ((HUG)) if you want one.
**Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I read about this fascinating rat study. I tried googling it, but haven’t had any luck so far. If anyone reading this knows what study I am talking about, please tell me in a comment! Otherwise, if or when I find some information on this study, I will come back here and post a link.