Trouble chases sinners, while blessings reward the righteous.
—Proverbs 13:21 NLT
“I don’t understand it. I can be in a coliseum of fifty thousand people, and I am going to somehow fall in love with the only alcoholic in the crowd. It is uncanny. I just draw them in like moths to a light.”
“If there is a control freak in the entire state, I will find him and think I can’t live without him.”
“I keep going to work for jerks. It seems that if I get offered a job by a jerk, I automatically think it is the best company in the world . . . until I have been there for six months.”
“I keep finding losers. What is it about me that attracts these guys?”
“Why do all of the women I am attracted to turn out to be so needy?”
“I keep finding myself in the same relationship over and over; the only thing that changes is the names.”
You know what I love about these statements? Whenever I hear them, whether it is about dating, friendship, business, or choosing a community, I know the people who make them are on the road to finding better relationships. Why? Because they are finally noticing that the people they are finding are not the problem after all. Instead, they are seeing that they are the problem, or at least a big part of it: They are realizing that the real problem is that their own “people picker” is broken.
They keep choosing the ones who are either going to hurt them or let them down or not be good for them in some way. And they are beginning to realize that it is no accident that these people show up in their lives: they themselves have something to do with finding—and attracting—them. When I hear that insight, I know it’s only a matter of time until the pattern ends. Once they notice it, they can get to the reasons for it and change them. And you can too.
Like Attracts Like
But it is so, so hard to get people to realize that they have a part in attracting these people into their lives, and for being attracted to them too. They often do not see that what is so attractive to them about the person in the beginning has something to do with their own dysfunction and that they deny obvious warning signs. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “I saw little signs that, looking back, I ignored. I guess I just wanted it to be right so much that I ignored some things that really were red flags.” They did not listen to “that little voice inside.”
There is a law of attraction in this area of life for sure. Dysfunctional people attract dysfunctional people, and healthy people attract healthy people. It’s uncanny how consistent it is. There is just no such thing, for example, as someone who is in a long-term relationship with an addict who is not in some way codependent. Those two are always able to find each other. The question is, why?
The Secret would say that it is the law of attraction working in the sphere of energy. The energies of each person literally draw them to each other. I have no scientific way of knowing whether or not that is true. But we certainly see the reality of the attraction itself. I do believe that we have energy fields that are part of our character, and there probably is something to that. For example, you can just feel it when someone is full of love and also when someone has a “dark” energy to them as well. Some people can just walk into a room and either light it up or turn out the lights. You can feel the whole mood change. Maybe someday there will be a meter to measure people’s energy or light and dark levels.
But I can explain it in more natural ways than energy alone. There are character dynamics that explain attraction and how we are drawn to certain kinds of people and not to others. Let’s take codependents, for example. It is part of their makeup to need someone to fix, to repair, to make better. They are rescuers. Now think about this. What do rescuers need?
Exactly. A person to rescue. And what kind of people needs rescuing? Responsible people? No. Responsible people take care of themselves. The kind who need rescuing are those who are not taking responsibility and ownership of their own lives and are a mess. So codependent people will always have irresponsible people or addicts in their lives until they realize that their codependency is what makes those relationships exist and necessitates their having problem people in their lives.
Likewise, on the other side of the equation, if people are not taking responsibility for themselves, what kind of people do they need? Rescuers. Someone to take care of them. Voilà! There’s your match. They find each other. In some sort of unconscious way, they have the ability to sense each other, and the match is made, even across a crowded room. They hear fireworks when they meet. They just like each other. It feels right or familiar. They have no idea what is driving that attraction, but they just know that it feels good in the beginning. It’s after the dynamics begin to kick in that it all unfolds.
Let’s take another example. If someone is really controlling and does not respect another person’s boundaries, what kind of person is he or she going to be looking for? What kind of person “fits” with a controller? Answer: Someone who will allow that behavior. It’s a perfect match. It all feels so natural. So they are drawn to each other like magnets:
- the selfish one and the selfless one
- the perfectionist and the guilty people-pleaser
- the detached one and the one who is afraid of real intimacy
- the emotionally unavailable person and the one who has
been abandoned all her life
- the one with the negative self-image and the critical one
- the self-centered one and the giver
- the narcissistic one and the flatterer
- the overly “good girl” and the “bad boy”
I heard someone say once that you are attracted to people at your same level of sickness or health. That is definitely not true. I have seen pretty healthy people with a few issues pair up with really sick—and even evil—people. They were not “equally” messed up. But here is what was true: their issues were compatible in a sick sort of way. An abuser is often sicker than the passive person he abuses. You can see how their dynamics fit well together, nevertheless. They may not be equal, but they are compatible. It works, if you will.
It’s about You
So here is the way to unlock this secret: take responsibility for the fact that if you are drawn to dysfunctional people in friendship, romance, business, or spiritual community . . . there is a reason.
It is about you, not them. Find out why you are attracted to them. Here is an example: I have a friend who is single and for a couple of years has been griping to me about the guys she dates. She whines and complains about how noncommittal they are and how they don’t follow through or take initiative in the relationship. She always feels they don’t plan or do normal responsible things required in a relationship. Finally, I was tired of the same story and her saying, “What is it with guys nowadays? There are no good ones.” So I told her what I thought.
“I think that you are getting what you are attracted to, which is little boys,” I said.
“What are you talking about?” she said.
“Just that. I think that all these guys are little boys. Everyone of them is in his late twenties or early thirties and somehow still tied in to ‘Daddy.’ One of them worked for his dad, not able to make it on his own. Another lived at home with his father. Another worked in the same company as his father, where his father got him the job; and another one had financial ties. All of them, still not on their own, and they dated like it. They just wanted someone else to please them and didn’t want to do anything that smacked of an adult relationship.”
I explained this over and over, but she would not agree. To her, it was all about there being no good ones “out there.” Then it happened.
“Oh my,” she said. “I had a moment of enlightenment.”
“What happened? One of your little boys get a job?” I asked.
“No. I had a date with what I think you would call a ‘man.’ He is a portfolio manager, put himself through law school, and takes lots of classes on leadership, personal growth, and all that stuff. It was so different,” she said.
“That’s awesome,” I said. “So, what happened?”
“I was sitting there listening to him at dinner and just finding out about his life when I found myself wanting to leave and end the date. So I tuned in to what was going on with me and realized . . . I felt about one inch tall around him. Being around a real adult, I realized, threatened me. I need to be in control, and with this guy, I felt really out of control—even though he was exactly the kind of guy I have been griping that the others were not! I am totally afraid of what I say I want. I can see what you are talking about. I choose little boys so I won’t be threatened,” she said, amazed and convicted. Caught.
At last I felt hope for her.
Play Your Own Game
I once told a woman who asked, “How do you deal with critical people?” to just be honest with them. “If you will, you will never hear from them again.” The tip is this: stop playing their game. Stop playing the game that works with their dysfunction, and you will stop attracting them. And the people who are already playing the “unhealthy” game with you will get the picture and begin to play your game—the healthy one. Honesty, responsibility, love, faithfulness, commitment. Let that be your game, and the only kind of people who will come knocking will be people of like character. The others want no part of it.
From The Secret Things of God by Dr. Henry Cloud. © 2007. Reprinted by permission of Howard Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Dr. Henry Cloud brings his insights as both a psychologist and a student of spiritual life to explore the eternal principles in the universe that govern our goals, desires, relationships and lives. He has written or cowritten more than twenty books, including the million-seller Boundaries and his most recent book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. His books have sold over four million copies.