Did you know that when a baby bird hatches from the egg, it will imprint on the first moving thing it sees? Imprinting is a powerful psychological process that causes young animals to form strong, irreversible bonds to other beings.
In an ideal situation for the baby bird, the first moving thing it will see will be its mother. This means that the newborn has a greater chance of surviving since the mother is also genetically disposed to care for her baby. The baby, having imprinted on its mother, will follow her dutifully around throughout its infancy. This is why, for example, you often see a mother duck trotting along with an adorable trail of ducklings in her wake.
However, in a less favorable situation, for example, if the mother has abandoned her nest, the baby bird may lay its eyes on a human or even an inanimate object, such as a car or a piece of machinery. This outcome has more disastrous consequences.
This shows us that the baby bird is capable of forming a profound attachment to something that is categorically not predisposed to give it the proper care and attention it needs to survive and flourish. Despite the indifference or even cruelty of the thing it has imprinted upon, the baby bird will nonetheless dutifully stay by its side.
Falling for the wrong person
It may not surprise you that baby humans go through a similar process. We don’t go as far as to imprint, but we do form powerful attachment bonds to the people who surrounded us in our early years. Like the baby birds, the best circumstances here are when we are raised by stable, loving people. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all young children and sadly some of us become attached to people who treat us with neglect or even malice.
Although we don’t imprint on these negative figures, we do consequently model our perception of love based on the version of it we received from them (which, often is not love at all – or is rather unrequited love). As a result, we will subconsciously go through our lives with a deeply ingrained belief that the kind of life we expect and deserve to receive is similar to that which we learned at an early age.
Like baby birds, we may spend large portions of our lives trailing after people who consistently brush us off, undervalue us and disrespect us. We love these people, despite not receiving any of the devotion we show to them. We fall in love with individuals who have no predisposition to show us the care and attention we require to flourish.
Recognize the patterns
Luckily, although we coincide with this one rather significant point, humans and baby birds are, largely, very different beings. Most importantly, humans, unlike animals, are in possession of the ability to self-reflect. This is what can allow us to break the pattern of falling for the wrong person.
Although baby birds are destined to follow behind the object upon which they imprint, human beings have the chance to take a step back, reflect, and change. So if you have a tendency to fall in love with people who are not good for you, read on to find out how to break the chain.
The first, very important step, is to recognize that this chain of behavior does not define nor control you. No matter how it may feel, you are free.
Reflect and change
Next, and perhaps the most difficult, is to engage in self-reflection. Think about your past relationships and the type of people you have fallen for. Look for patterns of behavior, both from you and from them. Think about the dynamic of the relationship, did you feel valued, safe, and respected? If not, what about the person who made you stick around even in the absence of these feelings?
The purpose of this activity is to understand what it means to you to love and be loved. More often than not, our perception of these concepts was learned at a young age from the people who surrounded us. It might be a good idea to identify if the behavior you are exhibiting in your adult relationships has some roots in the attachment bonds you formed early in life.
Perhaps you have a tendency to choose partners who are emotionally distant; a pattern that could be provoked by a mother who rarely expressed her feelings. Or maybe your relationships have been defined by an imbalance of caring if at an early age you were required to take on a supportive role for someone who depended on you a little too much. This process can be long and sometimes difficult, yet knowledge is power, and the more we know ourselves, the more likely it is for us to live a happier life.
By engaging in this period of reflection, one thing will become very clear. That is, that just as this behavior was learned, so it can be unlearned. So, too, can we learn a new behavior, new ways to love and be loved which nurture us and allow us to thrive.
You are not a baby bird, destined to follow around a tractor or an unsuspecting dog! You are a human and you are not predisposed to fall in love with the wrong person. You have the ability to reflect on, learn about, and adapt your behavior in order to be able to form meaningful relationships with people who encourage you to be strong, happy, and free.