Woe Is Me! “I Pick Boyfriends With My Father’s Toxic Traits. How Do I Break This Cycle?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I have never shared a healthy and understanding relationship with my father. However, I picked up on men’s unhealthy traits as a result of observing him and his toxic masculinity. My subconscious mind is so attached to these “toxic guy” ideals that even without wanting to, I fall for them. I met this guy through a friend of mine who seemed decent and understanding. I was not ready for a serious relationship, so we agreed on a casual one, and I had the best time of my life. Yet, my past trauma made me flee from the situation, and he moved on. We met again after two years, and I realized that his nice behavior doesn’t mean he’s not holding problematic opinions. In him, I saw my father again. My perception of men has been damaged. How do I deal with this?”
— Stuck in a loop
DR: Well, at least, you’ve recognized the problem — congratulations on that! The second step is to work on breaking out of this pattern. I would strongly recommend that you seek the guidance of a skilled therapist for this part of your journey. However, finding a good therapist takes work, too. So, while you’re at it, I’d suggest you get started on some groundwork to help you break the cycle of dating people who remind you of your father. You could begin by making a list of the toxic traits common between your father and people you’ve dated, in the past; treat this list as a series of red flags you must look out for in future partners. This will, hopefully, prevent you from dating another one of the many toxic men you cross paths with. Simultaneously, you could also prepare a list of qualities you’d value in a partner. Remember, though, that no one’s going to be perfect, and statistically, I think it’s likely that even a partner you’re in a healthy relationship with may share a couple of negative traits you associate with your father — what you must ensure, though, is that they’re amenable to working on those, and add value to your life in more ways than one.
Further, I would also recommend that you introspect to understand whether you’re attracted to men bearing your father’s toxic traits simply because it’s familiar, and by extension, comfortable. Or, whether some toxic traits within you (we all have these — as long as you’re cognizant of them and are constantly trying to overcome these parts of you, all’s well) are driving your attraction towards toxic men.
Basically, I think there’s a lot you have to work on, which is why I’m going to reiterate the need for a therapist. But, hey, I’m sure you’re not the only one stuck with this problem — maybe, you can look online for people struggling with the same problems you are, and find support, compassion, and empathy there. Soon enough, with steady effort, I think you’ll be able to break free!
AS: I think the fact that you’re recognizing this pattern is a good start. In situations like this, one has to be patient with themselves, and also constantly, actively, break patterns and cycles whenever they notice them occurring. In the beginning, obviously, it will be quite difficult, but as time progresses, you will start noticing improvements. We cannot choose who we fall for, but we can decide who we decide to not pursue actively. And that way, hopefully, you will eventually be able to restrict this pattern.
RR: Unresolved issues have a tendency to repeat themselves until resolved. The filter of your father can be dealt with via therapy and, hopefully, open communication with the man himself. If neither of these is viable, I’d say start with building healthy friendships with genuinely nice guys (they exist!) that are platonic. You might find it easier to have a conversation on their toxic traits, because we all have them, and slowly you can separate “all men” from your father.
AS: Ending this recurring cycle might require some amount of professional help. But recognizing how your relationship with your father is reinforcing these patterns is a great first step. I think it also becomes important to acknowledge that the “perfect” individual we might be searching for doesn’t really exist — we’re all flawed, in some way or the other. This, of course, doesn’t mean you should tolerate emotional abuse from a toxic partner. But it might be worthwhile to probe these patterns a bit deeper, to understand how your past experiences may be shaping your approach to relationships — casual or otherwise. A substantial part of this may involve working on the issues between you and your father. Here, a therapist will be able to guide you better.