There is an undeniable appeal to doing something that you know is bad for you. Whether it’s staying up to binge-watch the show you love-to-hate, or taking significant advantage of a $3 bar rail, the benefits always seem to outweigh the cons when indulging in one’s vices. For a lot of people, myself included, this behaviour isn’t just limited to the realms of junk food and sleeping in. Instead, this attraction to “bad” things can spread into all areas of our life, including our relationships. I’m sure we can all name one instance in which we’ve stayed in a relationship long past its point of serving us well. This doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. In fact, it can be completely platonic. Regardless of relationship status, many of us continue in connections that do little more than make us feel terrible. These experiences are common, and the damage caused by these experiences can be incredibly hard to heal. But, for many of us, these toxic connections are not isolated incidents. Many people find themselves in a constant pattern of forming relationships with people who do more harm than good. This brings up an uncomfortable but necessary question: why do we keep choosing people that are bad for us?

There is not one straight answer to this query, but, rest assured that your decision to stay in that terrible situationship is not purely the result of bad decision-making. Who we are attracted to and who we attract have a lot to do with our first experiences with socialization during childhood. Our understanding of concepts like security and comfort in these formative years shapes the ways that we interact in relationships or, our attachment styles. The way that our various needs are met or fail to be met during our childhood often influences how we respond to the affection of others. For example, someone with an anxious attachment style might find it difficult to feel secure in relationships, while someone with an avoidant attachment style might be resistant to intimate connections. In general, when we are secure in our relationships and do not fear the other being distrustful, we tend to attract partners and be attracted to individuals that are secure and trustworthy. In the same way, our own personal anxieties, insecurities, and deep-rooted fears manifest themselves in the people that we choose to let into our lives. These connections can be exciting, unpredictable, and passionate, but they can also be draining, stressful, and possibly just a matter of incompatibility. 

Still, it’s difficult to understand exactly why choosing bad people should be a cause for concern. A lot of people assume that horrible relationship experiences are necessary evils on the path to finding the “one”. Well, this sentiment is true in some cases. Relationships gone sour can often be valuable markers of what we can and cannot accept in future partnerships. But, generalizations like this fail to recognize the damage caused by severely harmful relationships and the growth necessary to break from this pattern. Of course, you could just let this pattern of bad people run its course. But, these relationships, especially toxic ones, can have lasting negative effects on our wellness. When we let bad people into our lives, we often give them the power to dictate how we feel about ourselves. Bad relationships aren’t merely relationships, but they seep into our lives as bad thoughts, bad conversations, and emotionally harmful periods of time. While you may think you are just “getting it out of your system” by pursuing these risky interests, you may also be pushing yourself deeper into this pattern of choosing people that are bad for you. 

I’m sure this isn’t the revelation you wanted to hear. Learning that all of your bad relationships have a lot to do with you and your shortcomings is not the most flattering news. But, I promise, that isn’t the entire truth. There are two things that must be clarified before we can even talk about leaving bad relationships behind. First, sometimes people are just shitty, and it isn’t anyone’s fault that they were brought into your life. Second, it is essential to understand that when we let bad people into our life, it is rarely consciously. 

Even when we let bad people into our lives while knowing that they may cause us harm, it is always under the assumption that one day they will stop being bad. We are never actually choosing the bad person. We are choosing the person that we believe they can become if they let us fix them. This blind optimism may seem foolish to some, but it’s just a side effect of being human. Of course, it would be wonderful for all of us to shut out bad people from our lives. But that simply isn’t realistic. We can think critically about our actions and ask others for advice, but it is almost impossible to completely understand and intervene in our emotional decision-making. That being said, there are some steps one can take to start the process of breaking from the cycle of bad. The most valuable piece of advice is: be kind to yourself. As mentioned earlier, a lot of these bad relationships stem from our subconscious belief that we do not deserve good things. The only way to move forward is to stomp down those thoughts and instead be compassionate with yourself. Obviously, this means affirming yourself, but it also means standing up for yourself and not accepting less than you deserve. Bad people will undoubtedly find their way into our lives, but if we work to heal our negative self-perceptions and past ills, they don’t have to stay there.

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