INTRODUCTION TO ROSS ROSENBERG’S THE “HUMAN MAGNET SYNDROME” (HMS)
One would think that after the sweat and toil of writing my first book, the second one would flow freely and easily. After all, I have been ruminating about it since 1988 – the beginning of my psychotherapy career. Actually, to be completely honest, I began thinking about it in 1978, when at age 17, I began to piece together my curious habit of self-destruction.
As early as I can remember, I needed to know how and why the world around me works. Like a compulsion, I have never been able to let go of a moment’s curiosity without first learning more about it. This “information addiction” is interwoven into the very fabric of my being. I am similarly compelled to know how and why I have become me – the good, bad and ugly. A psychology education, therapy, a continuous study of psychology, and more therapy have gone a long way towards satisfying this need. I am indebted to my “learning compulsion” as it has helped me detach from my predilection for dysfunctional relationships while setting the stage for healthier and more loving relationships – especially with myself.
My need to seek answers from the world around me prompted me to write “The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us” (HMS). The book reveals why codependents and narcissists repeatedly come together in lasting but dysfunctional relationships. The book dissects and attempts to answer this codependent/narcissist relationship dilemma. Or, in the words of my father, it explains why so many who pursue soulmates end up with “cellmates.”
In almost every one of my over 60 Human Magnet Syndrome seminars, one or more participants would ask a form of this question, “…this is great, but how do I change the outcome?” Instead of being drawn away from the seminar’s focus, I would typically respond with “In order to solve the Human Magnet Syndrome, it is absolutely necessary to first know what it is, its origins and what perpetuates it. Neither a person’s intelligence, education, degrees, certifications or self-proclamations of expertise brings them closer to solving a ubiquitous psychological problem without first understanding it.”
This answer was never satisfying enough, as it was invariably followed up with an inquiry about a companion instructional training and book. Well, I can finally say that now is that time! My beloved “why” book now has a “how to” sibling. I am proud to introduce “The Codependency Cure: Reversing the Human Magnet Syndrome.” It is specifically written to guide readers toward the resolution of their own personal craziness: their repetitive merry-go-round experiences with harmful narcissists.
Since “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” this book will help the reader resolve their own codependency insanity. It will do so by explaining how to heal those deeply embedded and unconscious emotional wounds that keep many tied to harmful narcissistic loved ones. It will also bring the reader closer to your long dreamed about soulmates and further away from all the looming cellmates.
GROUND ZERO FOR “THE CODEPENDENCY CURE”
After graduate school at Boston University 28 years ago, I moved to Boone, Iowa, to work in a small community counseling center. Central Iowa and its non-stop landscape of corn and soybeans, with the intermittent smattering of pig farms, wasn’t my number one choice for my first post-graduate job, but a first job often takes you to where a job offer exists. I would serve a hardworking blue collar and moderately rural community of about 15,000 people. As the only counseling center in town, I was required to do a little bit of everything. Like most graduate school students who eventually become psychotherapists, I experienced a “baptism by fire.” It would be an understatement to say that there was a sharp and swift learning curve!
With about 18 months under my belt, I was assigned a client by the name of Becky. She was a 45-year old woman with two children who was married to a physically and verbally abusive narcissist and alcoholic. Unbeknownst to me, she was going to introduce me to codependency and its connection to unresolved repressed trauma. Yes, my very first codependent client!
Becky and I would ultimately join forces to take up arms against those real and imagined combatants who compelled her to remain with abusive narcissists, especially her husband. We would learn together that she really wasn’t imprisoned by her husband, but more by the unconscious part of herself that was frozen at the time of her childhood trauma. Through her diligence and courage, she would face her inner demons – her unresolved trauma – and free herself from the life-long harm it caused her.
During our work together, Becky demonstrated great strength and courage as the work was very difficult and, at times, fraught with danger. She would eventually vanquish the enemy part of herself that kept her connected to her narcissistic captors. Ultimately, she would usher in a new era of her life in which her childhood trauma would be resolved (healed) and her compulsion to remain with abusive men would cease. More than that, she would learn about the necessity for self-love and practice it regularly. Before I proceed with the rest of the story, let me first digress back for a moment to Boston, Massachusetts.
In the 1980’s, Boston was a hotbed of psychoanalytical and psychodynamic thought. It was also the time that Family System Theory was all the rage in counseling/psychology graduate programs throughout the country.
Most of my BU professors were heavily influenced by the psychoanalytic and psychodynamic works of Freud, Erikson, Jung, Adler and others, who all espoused that most psychological problems could be traced back to a person’s early childhood relationship with their parents. This long-term treatment proposition involves a circuitous path in and out of a client’s conscious and unconscious mind. According to these theories, the resolution of the problems or issues for which psychotherapy is often sought requires a deep probing into the client’s conscious and unconscious memories of their childhood experience with their parents.
BU’s Family Systems course had a profound impact on my understanding of individual and relational psychopathology (issues and problems). It would teach me that family relationships, nuclear and extended, create and perpetuate positive or negative mental health, or somewhere in between.
According to Family Systems Theory, when implicitly or explicitly adopted rules are changed, forgotten or challenged, relationship systems experience instability and acute discomfort. Because instability is uncomfortable and, therefore, undesirable, the renegade member of the relationship system has to either return to their dysfunctional role – acquiesce to the system’s rules and expectations – or push the system to adapt to their changes. This process either promotes greater relational health or causes a deterioration of the relationship. Creating new and healthier rules – a new equilibrium – is a difficult proposition, as it is always much more difficult to change than to maintain the status quo.
Returning back to Becky, my first codependency client in Boone, Iowa: although the term “codependency” was not addressed in graduate school, I quickly devoured books and sought out professional trainings on the subject. Books such as Melody Beattie’s “Codependent No More” (1986), John and Linda Friel’s “Adult Children Secrets of Dysfunctional Families” (1990), and Terry Kellogg’s “Broken Toys Broken Dreams: Understanding and Healing Codependency” (1990) fed my burgeoning interest on the subject. These brilliant writers and treatment specialists inspired and guided me toward a better understanding of Becky’s peculiar personal and relational struggles. Notwithstanding, I still had no explanation for the forces that compelled her to remain married to her abusive and narcissistic husband.
Thanks to my Family Systems background, I felt prepared to help Becky understand how both her nuclear and extended families kept her mired in a powerless victim role. My understanding of psychodynamic theory helped me to comprehend how and why her inability to leave her abusive husband was intricately connected to her unresolved childhood trauma associated with her abusive and narcissistic father and codependent mother.
After six months of therapy, Becky was no closer to having insight into her codependent compulsion to remain with her husband. The bubble of optimism that had motivated me up to that point seemed like it was going to pop at any moment. Determined not to give up, I shifted my therapeutic strategy. I began engaging her in discussions about her childhood abuse about which she had, up until that time, only shared vague and non-emotional details. Although difficult for her, she courageously shared several vivid accounts of her horrifically abusive and neglectful childhood.
Such recollections were rife with disturbing accounts of abuse, neglect and deprivation – all at the hands of her parents. It will suffice to say that she lived in constant fear of her father’s unpredictable abuse, while feeling unprotected and abandoned by her mother. Becky protected herself in the only way she could, which was to mold herself into what her father most wanted: “daddy’s good and compliant little girl.” This required her to detach from and deeply submerge her childhood desires and dreams for being unconditionally cared for and loved. She learned that, as long as she maintained her role as daddy’s trophy child, she would experience some semblance of safety.
On Becky’s 18th birthday, she hurriedly married her boyfriend, the young man who would eventually replicate the abuse of her father.
I found it peculiar that, while sharing memories of her tragic childhood, which was brimming with horrid details of verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, she maintained a stoic and detached appearance. As she would recount these incidents, she seemed to automatically sanitize them of any emotional content. Even with prodding, she would only describe the “photograph” version of the events, not the full “motion picture.” Little did I know that her affective experience of the abuse and neglect was buried deep by the forces of repression – beneath the concrete defensive walls of her mind.
My gentle but persistent prodding for emotions, which I refer to as affective memories, would eventually pay off. At about the nine-month mark in our therapy, I asked her to imagine how the little eight-year old girl she used to be felt during the abuse. Her eyes suddenly turned red and welled up with tears, she began to tremble and her face turned white. In the flash of a moment, she transformed into a frightened little girl. Her voice, her facial expression and posture exposed the eight-year old abused child that had been neatly compartmentalized and forgotten for over 37 years! I was sitting face to face with “little Becky,” the physical embodiment of her long-repressed trauma memories.
Little Becky’s emotions erupted with an intensity that I had never before experienced. The torrent of tears, hyper-ventilating and body spasms seemed to escape with the velocity of an over-inflated tire that has been expectantly punctured by an icepick. I intuitively knew the importance of keeping her safe while gently probing the painful memories that she was exposing to the light of day. With an understanding of psychodynamic theory, I knew I was facilitating the release of repressed memories that had been deeply embedded, and forgotten, in her unconscious.
For the next three months, the adult Becky and I would periodically return back to Little Becky’s emotively honest but raw world, sifting through both happy and distressing emotional experiences. Together, we would release the claw-like grasp her unconscious mind had on her personal and relational health. Over time, Becky understood the harmful nature of her codependency, her dysfunctional urges to remain with her husband, her fear of being alone and, most importantly, the lack of love and compassion that she had for herself. As a result of our work together, Becky would resolve the trauma that compelled her to remain powerless in codependent relationships.
After year-and-a-half of our therapy, Becky had divorced her husband and relinquished most of her selfish and/or narcissistic friends and family relationships. Like a flower finally given sufficient water and sunlight, she bloomed into a vibrant, strong and loving woman who could and would protect herself from exploitative narcissistic people. Moreover, her new and improved “human magnetism” landed her in the arms of a mutually and reciprocally loving man. With ease, she began to develop new friendships while enhancing existing relationships with family and friends. Building a foundation of self-love released her from her life-long indentured servitude to narcissistic masters.
All in all, my work with Becky set the stage for all of my future work with codependents and trauma survivors. I didn’t know it then, but my experiences with her would eventually compel me to create hypotheses and theories that would culminate in my cherished Human Magnet Syndrome work. I can never thank Becky enough for her impact on my life. Her courageous battle upward from the emotional abyss inspired me to write this book. Moreover, it helped me understand the far-reaching and ever-present truth about codependency recovery: self-love is the antidote to codependency.
Now, let me tell you why and how someone can heal trauma and “cure” codependency. Now let me show you how a person devoid of self-esteem, feelings of personal efficacy and debilitating shame can learn to love themselves and break free from their “cellmates.” I hope you enjoy my book.
 Name changed to protect her identity.