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Why We Get Caught In Unfulfilling Relationships

We expect to feel free to be ourselves in intimate relationships and close friendships. In these relationships we want to get a sense that we’re understood without effort, that there’s a caring person who takes interest in us, and that we’re able to tell them without hesitation or apology how we feel and what we dream of. Unlike with family, we can choose the people we get into an intimate relationship or friendship. So why do we get caught in unfulfilling relationships?

If you’re doing the best you can and still can’t get the level of satisfaction you need from your relationships the answer to the question why you get caught in unfulfilling relationships is probably hidden in healing the mother wound.

unfulfilling relationships and healing the mother wound

Before I get into this, if this theme speaks to you, I want you to know that I'm offering a Hakomi inspired workshop In CARING2GETHER centre in Biel,

Saturday February 3rd, 10:00-13:00.


Intimate relationships and close friendships are vital for our well-being. It is by now probably a well known fact that without love we cannot survive in life and that people with satisfying relationships are more resilient and have more hope and resources to deal with their daily life challenges.

When so much of our happiness comes from fulfilling relationships and when we have the capacity, unlike with our family, to chose who we get into a relationship with, why is it that we get caught in unfulfilling relationships?

In many ways, our relationships are a replica of the first relationship we had in life, and for most people that means with their mother.

In the eyes of a baby the relationship with a mother is the whole world. If we are listened to in this relationship then the world is understood as a good place where relationships are safe. If we’re repeatedly misunderstood, ignored or denied then the world is seen as a frustrating, even a dangerous place, where relationships are not safe.

As we grow older and begin to differentiate between ourselves and our mother, the relationship we had with our mother remains as a blueprint for how relationships work, which we then bring to any connection we form in life.

Now, you might already know that. You might even know a lot of facts about the relationship with your mother and where it failed you, and still don’t understand why you get caught in unfulfilling relationships.

Why do we repeat the same relationships patterns when we have so much knowledge about what went wrong in our childhood?

unfulfilling relationships women friendship

The only factor to determine unfulfilling relationships 

The blueprint we have from early childhood doesn’t correspond to mental understanding. No matter how profound and revelatory certain learnings you’ve had about the relationship with your mother are, this relationship-blueprint is an instinctual rather than a logical map to guide you through the infinite scenarios of a relationship.

The sole question that guides this early childhood relationship-blueprint is:

‘Do I feel safe?’

As adults we often think we have adult relationships so we know how to feel safe but we’re oblivious to the inner child that actually monitors that relationship-blueprint and decides how we’ll behave in each relationship, the level of expectations we’ll bring to a relationship, the role we’ll take in each relationship and what role we’ll take in that relationship in order to feel safe.

Feeling safe in a relationship is the number one factor, in fact the only factor that leads to having fulfilling or unfulfilling relationships.

Common inner child defence strategies leading to unfulfilled relationships

Our sense of safety in current relationships draws on early impressions of our relationship with our mother. This also means that unless we explore the manner in which this relationship defined our a sense of safety we will continue to use the same strategies we developed in early childhood in order to feel safe.

Understanding the facts about the unfulfilling relationship we had with our mother is not enough. We need to identify the common strategies our inner child uses as defences against possible hurt. These strategies are what allowed us to feel emotionally and psychologically safe as children and we can’t change them simply by means of a logical process.

Learning how to feel safe in relationships is vital to having fulfilling relationships, otherwise we will just keep repeating the inner child’s strategies for achieving emotional safety.

3 Common defence strategies our inner child utilises

1. Understanding instead of feeling

Relying heavily on our thinking process and mental understanding is a way of avoiding the pain of feelings. In this defence mechanism we tend to minimise or even dismiss our emotional wounds by giving more weight to understanding the reasons for which the other person hurts.

You can absolutely have an understanding, for example, of how your mother failed to provide for your needs because of childhood or other traumas. You can embrace an understanding of the spiritual perspective that explains why you’re in a relationship with a particular person. Understanding though is not the same as compassion.

I call this a crippling understanding. As a child, you learned to understand your mother’s relationship to you as a way of creating emotional safety in an unfulfilling relationship. As an adult you might have an over-developed sense of understanding the other that comes at the expense of understanding the importance and validity of your own needs in a relationship.

When you process emotionally this inner child’s strategy you learn how to be more inclusive of your own needs as well as those of the other and in that way you reach satisfaction in a relationship.

unfulfilling relationships inner child

2. Avoiding rejection

We’ll do a lot in order to avoid the shame, humiliation or confusion that comes with the rejection of our personality or our emotional, physical and psychological needs. 

Rejection feels unsafe. It’s the threat of losing a belonging.

That are many ways in which we can try to avoid a rejection such as pleasing the other and making sure they’re never unsatisfied with us; hiding our wishes or parts of ourselves so they’re not denied attention or appreciation; minimising the importance of our needs by considering them as too much to ask for or not important enough.

Rejection is part of life. Women who’ve repeatedly experienced rejection in childhood will go through the process of asserting their presence while feeling safe to do so. Then the strategy is not useful anymore and other ways of managing a relationship come into play. 

3. Over-independent 

The mother wound stipulates the necessity of becoming a strong, independent woman. It leads to a false sense of safety where you basically don’t need much or perhaps anything from the other.

Many women who’ve had a difficult time with their mother end up being quite strong women. They know how to take care of their needs, their capacity to identify what others need or what would create harmony in relationship is highly developed.

The price we pay for being that kind of strong results in feeling unsafe to be vulnerable, to need or ask for help, to relax and let go. It’s where many women yearn to have a partner or a friend they can lean on in times of need but find themselves caught in unfulfilling relationships.

When we learn to make space for all of ourselves—our strengths as well as our vulnerabilities—we can have fulfilling relationships.

Healing the mother wound and emotional safety

The mother wound occurs when the emotional safety with our mother is compromised. In this setting it’s very hard to cultivate a foundation for fulfilling relationships.

Healing the mother wound involves the discovery of the ways we repeat unconsciously patterns of being or behaviours that lead to a dynamic similar to the one we had with our mother.

Feeling emotionally safe can be cultivated at any age. Whether you’re twenty or eighty, it’s possible in the right therapeutic setting to create the needed experience where we uncover what it is in our relationship-blueprint that prevents us from feeling safe and how we can shift that now.

The process of feeling safe in a relationship with a trusted, skilled witness such as a therapist, a coach a healer, releases tension that’s stored in your body, in a visceral, emotional way.

The release of this tension opens you up to new possibilities of interaction with others leading to either choosing the people who will be able to provide fulfilling relationships or cultivating existing relationships to feel satisfying.

Exploring the mother wound in non-verbal ways provides us with a new persepctive on why we get caught in unfulfilling relationships. The mother wound holds the blueprint of the inner child strategies we unconsciously employ in order to avoid possible hurt in the form of rejection and loss of belonging. In the process of healing the mother wound we also relearn emotional safety and can change the relationship blueprint to find or cultivate fulfilling relationships.

In the workshop FEELING SEEN IN RELATIONSHIPS I'll offer -based practices for you to discover how unconscious mother wound habits prevent you from having the fulfilling relationships you for, be it with intimate partners, friends or colleagues. Click the button below to learn more about the workshop and register.

unfulfilling relationships mother daughter bond


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