One of the waitresses at a locals’ restaurant in Arizona was talking to a group of people, saying something to the effect of, “If there’s someone out there within a 50 mile range who can break my heart, he’ll find me and make me miserable.” Her statement returned to my mind after I finished an oxygen-depleted-treadmill run at a local gym, when one of the Personal Trainers who I mentioned this to, became interested and asked ‘Why do women fall in love with men who treat them badly?’ He explained that when he was younger and a ‘bad boy’ that he had no trouble finding women who were wild for him. He’d date a few times until he sensed the woman was falling for him, then, he’d emotionally pull away and his calls and texts would slowly dwindle. Soon, he would stop asking her entirely which would result in her frantically calling 'him' for dates. Finally he’d tell her one thing and do another, and just be a “jerk” by his own accounts. He said the end result was always the same in that the woman’s desire to be with him increased the more he rejected her. Then he said, he would heighten the rejection by telling her he didn’t want a relationship. This seemed to make her want him more and she would confront his rejection with even more desire for attachment saying “But, I love you.” This was his final cue to exit, and he would quickly move on to the next woman, whomever she was, and if this new women fell for him, he would "dump” her, too. “What’s up with women who just want to be treated badly?” he asked.
Luckily, it takes very little motivation for me to launch into an explanation of the psychology of early childhood developmental. (And, no, his eyes did not glaze over. He was interested.). I had taught Infant Research and Childhood Development to Post Graduate candidates who were studying psychotherapy in NYC for over a decade.
Here’s what I told him: There are a few reasons why women want/put up with/feel addicted to ‘bad boys.’ All our adult behaviors have their origins in our earliest years. Early childhood, the years from 0 to 5, are some of the most developmentally intense times of life, both emotionally and physically. Our youngest years are exquisitely impressionistic because as children, we live in a very small, very self-focused world/environment that is made up of the home, and the people who take care of us, and our own emotional inner world of childhood desires and wishes.
Now here’s where it gets tricky: We’re each born with a particular temperament, meaning some of us are born with a pretty good sense of well-being, others are born more skittish or shy, and some of us are born more sensitive to emotions. Some children feel rejection at the slightest reason, for example the child may feel rejected when Mom and Dad go off to work, or when our brothers or sisters won’t play with us, and other similar examples. So, if we’re born sensitive and we feel rejected by everyday events, then, we’re more emotionally aware of ‘that’ particular feeling in ourselves. In a sense, we emotionally know or recognize the feeling of rejection.
So, what I’m saying is that the child’s way of being in the world becomes ‘set’ as behavioral patterns. When we develop our behavioral pattern, it’s like we’ve written out a script for our interactions with others. If the little girl felt rejected by her family, she has that ‘rejection script.’ Then, guess what! There’s a guy out there who reacted to his own childhood rejections by becoming rejecting as an adult (not a surprise since the boy child has a testosterone hormone that makes him more emotionally aggressive than the estrogen hormone that, in general, makes the woman more sensitive to her environment).
So there you’ve got it. There’s no big bang theory here, just different levels of childhood sensitivities that are then affected by different levels of behaviors within the child’s environments. You don’t need a big emotional trauma when you’re a child to create a sensitivity. All you need is a bunch of little normal everyday events that build up in the child and manifest in adulthood as an over-sensitivity; in this case, to feeling rejected.
“Ok,” says the Personal Trainer who was still listening to my story of why ‘bad boys’ often have an easy time attracting a woman, “How come these women don’t learn from their past experiences with these guys? How come they don’t stop wanting them?” So, I said, “Psychological research shows there are two major ways to change behaviors. One way to change behavior is through psychotherapy and the other way is through the experience of a trauma. I think the longer psychotherapy route is the better of the two choices and it doesn’t create the same havoc to the mind and body as a personal trauma.”
So, the other day, a new female patient was telling me she didn’t think her personal history, her childhood experiences of feeling rejected, had anything to do with her attraction to bad boys who rejected her.
Ok, I said to myself, “Then why in the world are you in my office telling me about a guy who just left you, for the third time now, and you’re here wondering how to get him back?” If people don't face their history, it'll just keep biting them in the back.