Issue 13 November 2004

1. From Default to Choice

A Re-programming of Your Relationship “Software”


Part III Negative Bonding Patterns
Sidra L. Stone, Ph.D.

Everyone knows about “negative bonding patterns”. You may not know what they’re called, but you know what they feel like. They feel absolutely dreadful! It’s the way that you feel when things are just not working in a relationship. But, before we talk more about this, let’s take a moment to review what we said previously about the “bonding patterns” which we see as the “default setting” for relationship:

“When just a few selves take over and control the relationship – as they do for everyone – you have little choice in the way you relate and you behave automatically. We think of this as the “default setting” in relationship.

This default position in relationship is one that is programmed into us at birth. We call this template a “bonding pattern”. It is the normal and natural way that the baby relates to its mother and the mother relates to the baby; it’s the way in which we give and receive nurturance

But when we are no longer infants, this default position for relationship remains and is no longer so useful. If you look carefully, you find that much of the time you are relating to others in the same parent/child fashion. The mother or father in you relates to the child self in another and, conversely, the child self in you relates to the mother or father in the other. This is still natural and normal – but it is no longer rewarding.”

The Negative Bonding Pattern

Now back to the negative bonding pattern. In contrast to the positive bonding pattern, you are caught in an uncomfortable child/parent set of interactions. The selves involved in the negative bonding pattern are usually angry, rejecting, judgmental, or withdrawn parental selves and hurt, stubborn, fearful, or abandoned child selves.

There’s nothing subtle about these – they just feel bad. In fact, it is when you are in one of these negative bonding patterns that you might well feel that relationships are just not worth the trouble. It is in these negative bonding patterns that you find yourself thinking things like: “I knew it! All men (or women) are like that!” or “I’m just no good at relationship.” or “Relationships are impossible – I give up!”

You may feel misunderstood, taken-advantage-of, desperate, lonely, and powerless, or you may feel righteously judgmental and angry with your partner. Either way, the relationship feels bad – very, very bad. You are trapped in an impossible situation; trying to make things work with someone who doesn’t hear you, misunderstands you, responds in all the wrong ways, hurts you, and – unfortunately – seems to have all the power in the relationship. And most surprising of all, your partner usually feels the same way about you. The harder you try to fix it, the worse things get – because it is the selves that are stuck in the bonding pattern that are trying to get you out of it and they are part of the problem.

But worst of all, this negative bonding pattern very often follows a positive bonding pattern. You have gone from the trust, comfort, and apparent safety of the positive bonding pattern to this – and you feel deeply betrayed.

The Gift of the Negative Bonding Pattern

Believe it or not, there is truly a gift in all of this! The negative bonding pattern is a great teacher. There are three big lessons to learn from it:

       1. Where am I not taking care of myself?

You learn to care for yourself.

This covers your entire life – everywhere you have overlooked your own vulnerability, feelings, and needs. You may need to set a schedule and balance your checkbook, to take time to do things that give you real pleasure, to set boundaries, to react to others, to ask for (and be able to receive) what you need, to take better care of your own physical needs, to develop a spiritual life, etc., etc.

       2. What selves have I disowned that I need to claim in order to be more complete?

You reclaim the selves you’ve lost over a lifetime.

Everyone has lost something – the selves that think, that are self-nurturing, that play, that feel, that have power, that have creativity, that are sexual, that are spiritual, that can be perfect, that can be imperfect – and on and on. The selves you judge (or overvalue) in others are those you need to reclaim.

       3. What happens to me – who do I become when my life and my relationships stop working smoothly?

You learn to “reprogram your relationship software.”

Until you begin to change your automatic patterns of relationship, your default self takes over when you are not taking care of yourself properly (see step 1). It takes care of matters for you – and not very well, we might add. The negative bonding pattern wakes you up – it gives you the opportunity to learn about this self and reprogram your way of dealing with life.

What Can You Learn From a Negative Bonding Pattern?

The self you judge in the other person – the one you like least – is the one that has something important to teach you. It is your “disowned” self. It is a part of you that was lost when you developed your “primary” self – who you are in the world. If you use this as a chance to reclaim that self – not to become it – you have just added a new, useful, and exciting dimension to your personality!

How this works: For instance, your primary self is a Perfectionist or a High Achiever. Your partner never seems to do things perfectly but is quite content with a performance that seems good enough to satisfy others even if it doesn’t satisfy you. Granted, it’s great to do things really well, to be impeccable and to enjoy the sense of superiority that this brings, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a bit of choice about this? To be able to set priorities and decide that some things need to be done perfectly, but others can be just “good enough”?

That’s where your partner’s more relaxed self comes in. If you could just take a bit of this into yourself (think of a drop of the essence of it) – you don’t have to become a total slob – you could have some choice. You wouldn’t always have to be tops in the class and life would be a good deal easier.

How Can You Disengage from a Negative Bonding Pattern

and “Reprogram Your Computer”?

       1. Stop trying to fix the situation or the other person.

Know you are in a bonding patter and use the bonding pattern as a learning situation. Look at the pattern rather than at the other person. See how the “dance of the selves” is operating.

      2. Figure out where you have not been caring for yourself adequately – and take care of yourself.

Negative bonding patterns occur when you’re not taking care of your “inner child”. This may be as simple as eating a meal, phoning a good friend who makes you feel better, getting some sleep, finishing a task that has been waiting to be finished (or conversely – stopping your work and doing something that’s fun).

       3. Learn to set boundaries. Think carefully – just as you look both ways before you cross the street, look at both sides – before you say either yes or no to someone else.

       4. Learn to react to your partner. It is important to know how to talk with the other person – not at him or her.

       5. If you want real intimacy, keep connected to your partner. Learn when you’re connected with one another and when you’re not. This is something we deal with in detail on the videos and our CDs. It helps to see – or hear – this as well as to read about it.

We believe that all relationships, (not just romantic ones) – and the challenges they present – are the most exciting roads to self-knowledge, personal growth, and real empowerment. For learning more about these bonding patterns in relationships, and how to deal with them and for help in analyzing your own, watch the Voice Dialogue Video/Audio Series, now on DVD and CD