Friday, August 29, 2014

The Attraction Spectrum

I found this amazing article in psychology today that makes me feel more normal, for sure!  I’ve never seen it spelled out that we go for people who remind us of our wounds and that’s why we are always nervous and anxious around them. The first story immediately hooked me - hopefully you will enjoy too!

Every time we enter a room of people, we make choices based upon our attractions: Whom do we notice? Whom do we pass over? Deb, a young stockbroker from Chicago, once told me, “You know, it’s almost magical. I can go to a party, and there’s always one person I’m most attracted to. If I date him, within a few weeks or a few months I discover he has the same emotional qualities as my previous partner. But when I first saw him from across the room, I had no idea at all that this would be true!”
Our attractions are forged in the deep space of our being, born of countless, often unknowable forces. When we encounter someone for the first time, our psyche and our heart begin an astonishingly complex scan, picking up obvious cues like physique and facial structure, but also noting myriad subtle cues such as body language, facial expression, the contour of the lips, the nuance of the voice, and the muscles around the eyes. We instantly process all this information without even knowing it. All we feel is desire or the lack of it. Scientists tell us that a silkworm can smell one other silkworm moth of the opposite sex from six and a half miles away. While our mating instinct may not be as developed as this species of moth, nature has bestowed an exquisite sensitivity upon our romantic radar, programmed to find just the right person to trigger whatever emotional circuitry we need to work through.

All of us are attracted to a certain type that stops us dead in our tracks: a physical type, an emotional type, and a personality type. Let’s say that there is a spectrum of attraction, from one to ten, and the people at the low end of the spectrum (like numbers one and two) aren’t physically or romantically attractive to us at all. But those on the “ten” end of the spectrum are icons: they’re compellingly attractive, they make us weak in the knees, and they trigger both our insecurities and our longing. Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy, illuminates this phenomenon in a way which sheds light on our entire intimacy journey. He teaches that these people are so attractive to us in part because they embody not only the best, but also the the worst emotional characteristics of our parents!

Even though we may be adults, all of us have unresolved childhood hurts due to betrayal, anger, manipulation or abuse. Unconsciously, we seek healing through our partner. And we try to achieve this healing by bonding with someone who we sense might hurt us in similar ways to how we were hurt as children, in the hope that we can convince him or her to finally love and accept us.

Our conscious self is drawn to the positive qualities we yearn for, but our unconscious draws us to the qualities which remind us of how we were wounded the most.

This explains part of why we get so awkward and insecure around people we’re intensely attracted to.
It also explains why our greatest heartbreaks often occur with these most intense, fiery attractions. Some of us react to these past heartbreaks by only dating those on the low end of the spectrum. We are frightened of the intensity and the risk of painful loss when we deal with people on the high end of the attraction scale. We often feel safest with people who don’t do much for us on a physical or romantic level because it just feels more comfortable that way. But the downside is usually boredom, frustration and lack of passion.

Many others only date people on the high end of the spectrum, just going for the iconic types, because they believe that that’s where real love and passion lie. With someone who is a “high number” on your attraction spectrum, you can tell that you’re attracted in a fraction of a second. While this can be achingly exciting, it’s rarely comfortable or secure.

In my experience, people who only date in the high number section of the spectrum are much more likely to remain single.

By contrast, attraction to people who are more in the middle of the spectrum is rarely immediate. With our mid-range attractions, it usually takes more time to really get a sense of how interested we really are.
People who are willing to date in the mid-range are more likely to find real and lasting love. It’s not a matter of selling out, because immediate attraction isn’t the best forecaster of future passion. Intense attractions blind us to the actual quality of our interaction with others, and to the actual characters of the people we date. Attractions can grow.

Many of us have had the experience of becoming more attracted to someone as we got to know him or her better.

So, what do we do when we meet someone who inspires us, and we feel some spark of attraction, but not enough to fall in love?

Sexual attraction is much more mutable than we’ve been taught. We all have types that turn us on immediately and intensely. But as I said, attractions can grow. It's doubtful that you’ll become attracted to someone who isn’t physically appealing to you. But if someone holds a spark of attraction for you, and has other qualities you love, your attraction can blossom. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, don’t make a snap decision based upon whether you’re instantly attracted on a physical level. If you’re not sure, just keep dating. In time, something lovely may happen: He or she may actually become more beautiful to you. And if not, you’ll know that it’s time to stop dating them.

If you’ve ever seen artists working on a portrait, you will notice that they often squint. Squinting helps them focus on the essence of their subject without getting distracted by its harsh outlines. We need to do the same in our dating life. It’s so easy to get lost in the hard assessment of people’s imperfections, but it serves us better to simply sense their spirit. That is what makes attractions grow.

As we start to care more deeply about someone, invisible tendrils begin to grow in our thinking, in our sexual imaginings and longings, in our growing sense of dependence on that person. Our psyche, our sexuality, and our hearts begin to create attachment to that person, to make him or her our own.
When we build muscle through exercise, our body creates new capillaries to feed that muscle. When we create new love, something similar happens. New neural pathways, emotional pathways, new rituals, sense memories and needs get created. An entire web of new connections is created, as our hearts allow this once-stranger to become our loved one. We become specialized in them in so many ways. That’s why breakups can hurt with real physical pain; these lovingly-built tendrils are being ripped out, and that experience is anguish.

In many attractions of inspiration, it can take time for our attraction to build. In such cases, it can be difficult to stay; to resist fleeing in search of something more clear-cut. As a result, many potentially wonderful relationships get cut off before ever being given a chance. The truth is that we can deepen our healthy attractions, and we can intensify the passion in those attractions.

The more we focus on the things that trigger our desire, the more our passion can build.

If there’s a spark of attraction to someone special, and if you want to make that attraction grow, start by giving yourself space. No matter how wonderful the person, you’re not obligated to be more attracted to him or her than you are! Forcing your feelings will only block the natural flow of attraction. Instead, allow yourself to reflect on what attracts you to them; what turns you on and what you appreciate.

There is more to the article that is about physical attraction that I didn’t include - click here to read the full article.

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