Many moons ago, as a student, I very much enjoyed the study of Chemistry. There’s something fascinating about the way different chemicals have different properties, making each one utterly unique. It’s even more fascinating to find out just what happens when various chemicals are introduced to one another. When the different properties get together, just about anything can happen!
No careful scientist will pour a chemical into a half-filled beaker before checking to make sure that the contents of that beaker will not react badly to the newcomer. Stories about laboratory explosions are so commonplace as to be almost taken for granted. When introducing Chemical A to Chemical B, we want the resulting relationship to be a smooth and harmonious one. The goal is to avoid blowing anything up.
This is true about matter in the physical world. Knowing that the physical is just a reflection of the metaphysical world, let’s see how some typical chemical reactions in nature can be translated into our own, very human, relationships.
Your emotional makeup is partly inborn, and partly the result of the things you’ve experienced in life. In other words: part nature and part nurture. Either or both of those factors turns us into a “beaker” filled with a very specific “chemical makeup.” All of which is fine as long as you’re living on a desert island all by yourself. Since most of us don’t have that luxury, we must contend with the emotional reactions which take place when we meet new people or have prolonged exposure to those we already know.
Like their laboratory counterparts, the reactions can run the gamut from neutral, to pleasant, to downright thrilling. It can also range from neutral, to grating to… explosive. It all depends on what happens when the “chemical makeup” that is you collides with the one that is me. And when I say “chemical,” I mean, of course, emotional. We’re talking personalities.
We’ve all met people in our lives who’ve turned into instant friends. Something about them drew us, interested us, made us want more. On some subliminal level, we recognized something in them that resonated with something in us.
Alas, the converse is also true. Have you ever had a first-time interaction with someone and come away feeling flustered, furious or just plain queasy? Something in them reacts badly with something in you, setting off alarm bells. If you never see that person again, it won’t be too soon for you.
But sometimes those warning bells are muffled or even silent. That happens when something unhealthy in one person calls out to something unhealthy in the other. Here’s an example.
Miss A is being raised in a home that is cold, abusive, or generally non-nurturing. In such a home, feeling unloved, she develops a theory that she is either underserving of being loved, or incapable of inspiring it in others. With such a theory as her lodestone, is it any wonder that, as an adult, she will be drawn to marry the kind of man who is cold, or abusive, or generally non-nurturing? Someone who, however economically or socially stable, is either incapable of or unwilling to extend himself to truly see and care for anyone outside himself.
Subconsciously, Miss A is looking for someone like dear old dad. While she would never purposefully seek to reproduce the house of horrors that was her childhood home… somehow, below the level of consciousness, that’s exactly what she’s doing.
This is less a decision than a toxic chemical reaction. Just as introducing Chemical A to Chemical B can produce fireworks, bringing two emotionally unhealthy people together can be a recipe for catastrophe. A poisonous interaction.
Rusty, Combustible, or Thriving?
When seeking a partner in life, two kinds of attraction play a role: the physical, and the emotional. The second kind is trickier because it is based on our past history and, even more, on the way we interpret that history inside our minds. The source of our feelings lies deep beneath the surface, like icebergs. And, like icebergs, they can lie dormant for a long time before suddenly becoming a factor. And wreaking havoc.
Just as the physical world is subject to gradual chemical changes, so are relationships. Metal can oxidize and become rusty; so can friendships. Two materials joined together can combust and go up in flames, just like some marriages. And, like plants undergoing photosynthesis, the best relationships draw sustenance from the light and are always growing.
There are gradual changes in life, and there are sudden ones. In chemistry, a reagent is something that’s used to trigger a chemical reaction. To translate into human terms, let’s say a couple lives together in relative peace for a period of time, even a long period of time. While theirs may not be the richest of relationships, at least it feels harmless. Innocuous. And then something comes along to trigger a negative reaction. It could be a new baby, sudden financial insecurity, conflict with a member of the extended family, or just about anything that brings up long-buried memories and their attendant emotions.
The problem with buried memories is that, while they may be interred six feet under, their effects rarely stay buried. When the triggering event leaps into play, all the sad, mad and bad feelings you thought you’d put behind you can rear their ugly heads. You may feel angry, depressed, or hopeless. You may feel like an imposter, a failure, or both. These negative feelings were there all along, subterranean termites undermining the walls of your emotional health. Now they set about undermining the emotional health of your relationship as well.
All of this may sound terribly fatalistic. Believe me, it’s not. That’s not to say that an unhealthy personality or relationship is susceptible to an overnight fix. It isn’t. But it can be fixed. And the way to do that is by changing the nature of the “chemicals” in your particular beaker. We do that by investigating, understanding, and ultimately repairing.
Either on your own or, preferably, with the help of someone who’s done this kind of thing before, you take a journey along the byways of your psyche, digging up those toxic memories and restructuring the way you’ve been looking at yourself and world because of them. You can choose to bypass the trip down memory lane and jump straight to the restructuring, though I believe the first step is a valuable one. Children often jump to conclusions that are not only erroneous, but extremely damaging to their self-image. Just because your parents/siblings/classmates treated you a certain way does not automatically mean that you deserved to be treated that way… or that you are doomed to be treated that way forever.
If all the world’s a lab and each of us is a beaker filled with a unique set of chemical compounds, then the relationships that arise from our merging with other “beakers” will fall either into the neutral-to-pleasurable category or, sadly, in the neutral-to-horrific one. If we’re healthy enough to want the former, then we must actively attack the unhealth that’s holding us back.
It’s all about changing the chemical (read: emotional) makeup inside us. We do that by reinterpreting the way we view the world and revising the messages that we’ve been telling ourselves. Messages based on our past experiences. Messages that can serve as a formula for suffering, self-hate, and general mayhem.
We need to revise the formula, so that we’ll be able to recognize a toxic set of chemicals (read: personality) when we meet it… and have enough of a healthy instinct for self-preservation to run headlong in the opposite direction.