Hara-kiri or high on life? Why we sabotage our relationships

Feb 26, 2013, 12:01 IST | Anjana Vaswani

Oscar Pistorius did it, and it ended, tragically. Tiger Woods and ex-US president Bill Clinton weren't spared too. While the world awaits the truth in the Pistorius case, these events have, once again, highlighted that being popular heightens a propensity to self-sabotage. However, even those who aren't blinded by the limelight often crash smooth-sailing relationships on the lethal rocks of their past. What drives people to dispel happiness? We analyse the reasons behind this

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. But actor Ranbir Kapoor hasn’t forgotten a thing. “My parents had a troubled marriage for long, and I was caught in the middle because I was there,” the actor who has been labelled as the industry’s playboy and linked to quite a few of his leading ladies, admitted in an interview. “..let’s say, I didn’t grow up with rose-tinted illusions about love. I learned the hard way how complicated a relationship between a man and woman could be.”

My eyes on you? This picture, taken on November 4, 2012 during the Feather Awards held at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, shows South Africa’s Olympic sprint star Oscar Pistorius and his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pics/AFP/Getty Images

Past tense?
Yet, preserving the past may not be enough to salvage the future of his relationships, going by the theories of Peter Michaelson, Michigan-based psychotherapist and author of 2011 publication, Why We Suffer, who lends 20th century American psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler’s views on innate psychic masochism a 21st century context. Michaelson whose curiosity about the human tendency to self-sabotage was rooted in a quest for answers, “to my chronic dissatisfaction and career dead-ends,” theorises, “Unwittingly, we recreate familiar, painful feelings through events and situations of our everyday life...While consciously, we dislike our suffering, unconsciously, we can be determined to experience unresolved negative emotions that cause suffering.”

Dr yusuf Matcheswalla

Weigh this in light of the recent Oscar Pistorius case, and it’s enough to make your hair stand. Now charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius’ legs were amputated before he was a year old, his parents were divorced by the time he turned six, and eight years later, at 15, Pistorius had to deal with the loss of his mother. The Paralympian has an enduring relation with tragedy. Was it premeditated manslaughter, a case of mistaken identity or an unconscious need to relive pain that made him pull the trigger on the Law graduate and cover girl with, reportedly, a heart of gold? Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla, Chairman, Forensic Psychiatry section of the Indian Psychiatric Society believes that, left unresolved, unconscious conflicts could spell doom for your future. Allowing for exceptions to analytical theories however, Matcheswalla is confident therapy can heal old wounds.

Make me miserable
“Men who cheat or flit from one relationship to another may have either seen that kind of behaviour around them while growing up, or the tendency could be rooted in a flawed mother-child relationship,” Matcheswalla explains this saying, “In the preliminary stages of a boy’s life, the mother’s nurturing is crucial. The father’s role gains importance in subsequent years until adolescence at which stage the outside world becomes a powerful influence.” Matcheswalla adds, “Defects in those initial years and negative relations with his mother may translate later into a man’s inability to bond with women. If a boy was abused by a woman, the man he grows up to be, may in turn, abuse women.”

Rebel against restrictions
Sociologist, Piyul Mukherjee, who co-founded Quipper Research, a unique venture in which an all-woman team conducts qualitative market research, offers an alternative view. Removing gender from the equation at the very outset, Mukherjee postulates, “Society lays down how one should or shouldn’t behave, and while some people embrace these shackles, others rebel.” Pointing out that life in the limelight, under the constant glare of public scrutiny can exacerbate as a “reaction to society’s restrictive hegemony,” Mukherjee wonders, “Consider society’s tendency to place marriage on a pedestal and ask yourself — Is the climbing divorce rate entirely disconnected from this?”

The thrill of free fall
Careful to point out that there can be no universal yardstick to measure one’s relationship IQ as a lot depends on the nurturing of parents, teachers and also on one’s interaction with members of the opposite sex, Mukherjee points out, “Successful people may often boast of behaviour that’s not typically acceptable. You’ll hear them laughing about the time they got drunk, or did something risky for instance. The thrill is to get caught, and it delivers a rush that comes from bungee jumping.” Mukherjee connects this need to push the envelope with local schooling system too, as she says, “Our system is geared to create tomorrow’s glorified clerks — people who will never disagree with management or government. Since we have a natural need to rebel, what we are creating are human pressure cookers. When they blow, the consequence is chaos.”

When rage turns violent
Considering the cause of domestic violence in the Indian context, Napean Sea Road-based counsellor Rina Johri says, “Some men grow up believing that they have a right to behave in whatever way they choose at home. They feel a real man should be tough, powerful and the head of the household. He should make all the decisions. When such beliefs are contradicted or challenged, these men may resort to abuse and violence in their quest to re-establish the brand of order they’re familiar with.”

See yourself here?
Cautioning people about this inner saboteur, Michaelson writes, “We must understand the bittersweet appeal of negative emotions. Fooling ourselves comes naturally. For instance, we convince ourselves that others are to blame for our unhappiness. Sometimes, instead of blaming others for our problems, we blame conditions or circumstances in life. At times, we blame ourselves for our unhappiness-but for the wrong reason. Someone might say, “The problem is “I’m too lazy,” or, “I’m just an angry person — that’s the problem!” However, these are just the surface symptoms of deeper issues. Your inner choice to suffer like this is caused by an emotional attachment to rejection, criticism and disappointment.” You need to recognise the problem before you find a cure, and, in his book, Freedom From Self-Sabotage, Michaelson therefore penetrates into defences. He summariese this, “This mysterious configuration hides inside us and toils against our best interests. If we don’t succeed in identifying and owning this sinister part, we can never be free.” 

When men go astray...
Weeks ago, just as there was talk of American singer
Justin Bieber renewing his on-again-off-again relationship, again, with actor Selena Gomez, He blew any chance of making up when rumours surfaced about his fling with singer Rihanna. Gomez ended things in December last year when reports emerged about Bieber getting stoned and romancing a girl named Mimi Jenson.

After putting up with his philandering for years, reports that surfaced in January this year indicate that Hilary Rodham Clinton plans to divorce husband Bill Clinton. “She’s put up with a lot from Bill over the years, and while they have always worked out their problems, and she’s always stood ‘by her man’, she realises she wants to find a man who really will be devoted to her in her senior years,” a source close to Hillary’s lawyers told reporters. About time you might think when you consider that despite an open-heart surgery and his wife’s consistent support, Clinton, according to reports, continues to have multiple affairs.

Though serial cheater and golf-pro Tiger Woods has been dating Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn — the couple even holidayed in Antigua and Salzburg in the last few months — stories have now emerged about Woods asking his ex-wife Elin Nordegren to remarry him. Is he remorseful and repentant, or is his attraction to Nordegren now related to her filling the Louboutins of the other woman? Time will tell. Smart enough to have her own doubts about whether it’ll work this time around though, Nordegren who already got $110 million in her divorce settlement, has now ostensibly demanded a
$350 million prenuptial agreement. 

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