We are attracted to people for many different reasons, some of them conscious, some unconscious.
Some of the conscious reasons have to do with how the person looks, how they act, the sound of their voice, the sensation of their touch, and other sensory cues. These are things we can identify and recognize; they are obvious and self-evident.
Yet lying below the surface of our conscious awareness are subtle, less apparent factors that contribute to the degree of attractiveness we find in others.
These factors relate to unspoken, even unknown wishes and desires for what we might be able to experience with this person. They involve the agenda of the heart and they often are very distinct from the desires of the mind. Such an agenda can include the hopes of fulfillment, the healing of buried wounds, or a realization of our deepest life potential.
There are also other factors that make a person attractive to us, which have to do with what we sense we can experience with them, and how to think they can enhance the quality of our life. We may feel that they have the capacity to bring more healing, passion, peace, exuberance, ease, fulfillment, or joy into our life.
The vast majority of us come into adulthood with some degree of unhealed childhood wounds, damage to our sense of self, and diminished self-esteem, self-worth, and self-trust. Consequently, we don’t experience ourselves as being complete, or sufficient.
Often, what makes certain people particularly attractive to us is that when we are really with them we experience ourselves as being more whole. In the process of being in the relationship, we may come to identify the places in ourselves where we feel fragmented and begin to heal those places that are in need of our attention. The healing process involves a willingness on our part to bring an accepting, loving awareness to places in ourselves that are in need of care and compassion and to be open to accepting the same from others. When the level of trust in our relationship has sufficiently deepened, past-unacknowledged wounds will naturally arise into awareness. In the presence of a trusted partner, that which has previously been unbearable can be borne. What had been repressed and denied can be exposed to the light of conscious awareness. It is this exposure and the compassion and acceptance of a loving presence that can transform pain into love.
There is a wide range of experiences that can wound our sense of self.
Living in a family where all the interactions are superficial and shallow can cause a wound that may limit the capacity for meaningful connections with others. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, rejection, extreme punishment, humiliation, ridicule, and abandonment can also be the source of unhealed wounds. Growing up inevitably entails the process of going through ordeals, struggles, challenges, and difficulties. Some circumstances are extreme in regard to the degree of violence, suffering, and terror such as those that occur in times of war, or when caregivers are severely mentally disabled.
When there is a failure to provide supportive, loving attention during a time of trauma, pain becomes internalized as an ongoing unhealed wound. The repair of these inner wounds can only come about through loving attention and unconditional acceptance from another.
The process, however, also reactivates the pain of abuse, neglect, or unfulfilled needs from the past that continue to go unmet in the present. Consequently, there needs to be a willingness to reawaken the pain of the original experiences, which may have been buried in an effort to forget them. But until the pain is re-exposed to the light of compassion, healing cannot occur.
Many people have experienced an extreme degree of trauma and emotional injury in their early lives. In some cases, they felt that they didn’t belong or didn’t want to belong to their original family. In their inability to either change or successfully adapt to their situation, they rejected their world in an effort to create a more tolerable reality. Such a survival strategy requires courage and resourcefulness since it involves a willingness to risk ties with others that have been based upon unhealthy family values. A strong, compassionate, and loving relationship can provide the support necessary to break old dysfunctional family patterns and promote the healing process. Ironically, it is those who have qualities or tendencies most like the caregivers with whom we experienced the greatest degree of difficulty that we find most attractive. This isn’t because we are gluttons for punishment, but rather because they are the ones with whom we can most effectively access our past experiences and feelings that require our attention.