What is a "Negative bonding pattern"?

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.

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 The selves involved in the negative bonding pattern are usually angry, rejecting, judgmental, or withdrawn parental selves and hurt, stubborn, fearful, or abandoned child selves.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. Or you may feel both ways simultaneously. No matter, the relationship just feels bad - very, very bad. You are trapped in an impossible situation; trying to make things work with someone who doesn’t hear you, who misunderstands you, who responds in all the wrong ways, who 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. It's as though you were sitting in a nice warm bath and someone came in and threw ice water all over you.

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 selfnurturing, 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.

To learn more about bonding patterns - both positive and negative - and how to deal with them, we suggest the following:

We invite you to print out and read the article Making Relationships Work for You on this website. For more information, see our books, Partnering and Embracing Each Other.

An Introduction to Voice Dialogue, Relationship, and the Psychology of Selves gives an in-depth, complete, and clear introduction to the bonding patterns in a set of 2 CDs and Partnering: The Art Of Conscious Relationship is a set of 10 CDs recorded live that gives our most recent presentation on this topic. For therapists, we strongly suggest The Psychology of the Transference.



Aside from the relevant links on this page, refer to individual CDs on specific selves (particularly The Inner Critic, The Child Within, The Psychological Knower, The Pleaser, The Voice of Responsibility, and The Rational Mind)


psychology of the selves

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