Imagine you are on a second or third date with a very handsome man. There is something that draws you into his face. His smile, his eyes, his generosity, his warmth. You find yourself lapping up everything he has to say. Then you come home and you talk to your friends about how it went. What did he say? You can tell them where he works, how old he is, what he looks like, even how many siblings he has. When it comes to answering questions about his previous relationship, what he wants for the future, any tensions he might have brought up with family or friends, or anything at all of substance that may have seemed to be a conversation that triggered you in some way – you draw a blank.
In my blog post How to Have a Healthy Relationship After a Narcissist, I brought up the term Romantic Delusion. This is what happens to us when we are in the early stages of a relationship with a person. Generally we are conflict avoidant or anxious so when we feel triggered by something, we dissociate. Often, we are afraid to assert ourselves at all, and don’t even tell this potential partner what our needs and wants are – in a relationship. We focus on them and our own self takes a seat in the realm of our unconscious.
We don’t even realize that we are triggered. Most people don’t realize they are dissociating either. I can watch a client talking to me from the couch and not even think they are dissociating because we are having a normal conversation. Dissociation becomes such a normal thing to people that they live their lives not knowing it is even there. I became aware of this in my own self, while reflecting on why a relationship did not go well. In the room, I began to notice a pattern of women answering my questions, about the guy/date, or relationship with answers that seemed vague. A comment might be “We talked about our future together…it seems like he is interested.” Or, a more common thing to hear is “I don’t remember,” or “I am not sure.” Dissociation blocks out comments we are uncomfortable with. It can also be that the person did not answer or stonewalled, though it seemed like they did.
Dissociation is that spaciness, auto-pilot, there but not there, state of mind that many people who have experienced trauma understand. We know what it is but don’t always realize when we are doing it.
When I was a child, I remember it very clearly because I would stare out the window at school and not hear a great deal of what the teacher was saying. Then I would be upset with myself because I suddenly did hear and didn’t have a clue what he/she was talking about. I couldn’t understand how to stop it, I didn’t realize what was going on, I just thought I was doing something wrong but didn’t know what.
I did very well at university but reading psychology books took a great toll on me. I’d read passages and not have a clue what I had just read. I’d have to go back and read it over and over again sometimes. Now, I have learned to highlight the passage that seems to strike me after reading it three times. I have a joke with myself “This must be important for me to remember.” It is a joke because I don’t always get it right away. Then I highlight it and think about what it is saying and realize the reason.
Often, since I deal with clients surviving trauma, they may come back at me in anger the next week. On a rare occasion they will drop out and not tell me why or they will accuse me of being a horrible therapist. This is what happens with trauma when we are strongly attached to anger. In fact, anger, is one of the most difficult symptoms of trauma to let go of. This strongly correlates to attracting the “wrong” person over and over again. If we are not healthy, how can we attract someone who is?
The romantic delusion that occurs from dissociation, is what I jokingly refer to in the title of this post. Cupid hits your dissociation with an arrow. The narcissism, the addiction, the mental illness, any other red flags, all go out the window. We are smitten and all of our common sense, our boundaries, our sense of self, becomes caught up in making this person right. Building excuses for them. Becoming a slave to their emotional manipulation. Taking care of them – financially, emotionally, sexually, doing whatever it takes to make sure THEY are protected. In the meantime, while our friends and family can see through this person, we can’t. We are talking them up to everyone. We are making them seem like they are a great person. This is the romantic delusion.
Unless my client is very clear that they are coming to see me for surviving a narcissist, they will often take a few sessions before they begin to turn that delusion into a reality. This is because they have built trust with me. They have begun to feel dishonest. Something has happened at home to piss them off – once again. Of course they don’t always spell it out so nicely, I offer comments to help them see the reality. “It sounds like he has some alcohol problems.” Or even firmer “He blacks out after drinking and doesn’t remember where he parked the car?” If I am dealing with a potential narcissistic partner, I will say “It sounds like he has narcissistic traits,” and then I will go back and identify the items they have just mention which typically correspond to the symptoms of a person with this disorder. I also make sure to be clear to ethically state that I can’t diagnose them because they are not in the room. I also caution them about bringing this comment up at home.
Romantic Delusion begins right away but we don’t accept this as we generally focus on their behaviors instead of our own (during or post relationship). Yes, the person treated us (or still is), badly or engaged in very bad behaviors but we must take responsibility too. We cannot enjoy a healthy relationship in the future, with anyone, unless we have worked on ourselves. As Dr. Wayne Dyer said “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” We change, we grow, we evolve, when we stand back and look at what WE were doing and the patterns that continue to emerge time after time.
How do we focus on our romantic delusion at the entry phase? While we are just getting to know someone. Get a dating coach – a therapist would work best, who can help you to stay grounded during that initial phase. Someone who can hold you accountable. Tell the therapist what you want and need from a relationship, what your boundaries are, and they can talk you through this initial phase. Their job will be to make sure you are getting YOUR questions answered. Their job will be to help you discern whether or not this person is right for you.
If you have had issues with meeting the wrong partner over and over again, or even once and you don’t want to go through this again, consider these things. Don’t get caught up in romantic delusion, find a healthy partner to share your life with!