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“There were red flags waving all over the place and for some reason, I thought it was a parade.”
— Statement by a Person Recovering from a Defective Picker

As discussed in last week’s post, many people dealing with sex and relationship issues feel that one of their primary problems is that they seem to have a defective picker. They just seem to constantly pair up with the absolute wrong person. And they have absolutely no idea how to break free from this cycle.

Most of the time, these individuals are in some way mirroring what they learned about bonding and attachment in childhood. Generally, their caregivers were not consistently there for them in healthy ways, so they did not learn to trust in ways that allow them to fully connect, or they did not learn how to implement and maintain healthy boundaries in their romantic relationships. Either way, these otherwise successful people find themselves stuck in a cycle of unhappy, maybe even abusive relationships.

The most common dysfunctional relationship patterns were discussed in last week’s post. Whichever pattern a person is stuck in, the process of healing and engaging in healthier and more rewarding forms of intimacy is the same.

There are three steps to this process:

  1. They need to figure out what they can and cannot accept from others with whom they’re in a relationship. Based on that, they can identify the red flags they should look for before they start dating someone. If they have a pattern of dating alcoholics, they should be wary of anyone who wants to have their first date in a bar or drinks a martini before dinner and most of a bottle of wine with it. No matter how charming that person seems, a boozy first date fits into the pattern of unhealthy choices.
  2. They should identify character traits that are appealing in another person. These traits might include: employed; not self-centered; has common interests; punctual; etc. Being able to identify positive as well as negative traits in a potential partner leads to better decision-making.
  3. Once they have a better idea of what they are and aren’t looking for in a relationship, this information should be shared with supportive friends, counselors, and family members – a “posse” that will hold them accountable for their dating decisions, pointing out things like, “Sure, he’s handsome and funny, but he’s unemployed and lives with his parents. Do you really need another guy who’s going to use you and take advantage of you?”

Before closing, we want to make it clear that some individuals who struggle with intimacy were very deeply traumatized in childhood, and these men and women often need various forms of healing therapy before they can feel safe in an intimate relationship. In such cases, the three-step process described above may need to be put on hold while the person develops ego-strength, reduces shame, and develops a better understanding of how to recognize, form, and maintain healthy relationships. In time, however, even the most deeply traumatized individuals can overcome a defective picker, learning how to find and feel secure in healthy and rewarding relationships.

For more information on healthy dating and finding the right partner, check out this Psychology Today article by Dr. Robert Weiss.