“You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person. That special person who is wrong for you in just the right way. The way that lets both your scars fall in love.” ~ Andrew Boyd
Billie, the first girl I ever had a crush on, unfortunately had Big Juice for my best friend, Aaron. Aaron, however, didn’t have anything other than sexual experimentation energy for Billie. Years later I ran into Billie in the town where we grew up while I was back home visiting. She was just emerging from a community mental health clinic. She immediately got busy looking in every direction but straight ahead where she would have to make eye contact with me.
“Billie?” I said. She feigned surprise. “What are you doing here?”
Turns out Billie was visiting her husband of several years in support of him doing a combined, court-mandated anger management / drug rehab program. Bruises on the sides of her neck and on her arms underscored the clear need.
Seeing her again briefly in that context, reminded me of what my attraction to her was – surprise, surprise – she reminded me a LOT of my mother. From the spousal abuse to the emotional resignation to the good heart – she could have been my mother one generation removed.
Fortunately, I didn’t remind Billie of either her emotionally absent mother or her incesting father. Consequently, her brain and body simply had little juice for me.
Childhood Yearning to Heal
In his recent book, Trauma and Memory, ethologist and clinical somatic psychologist Peter Levine points out that many of the early overwhelming and disorganizing experiences we have during childhood in the care of our parents get stored unconsciously as implicit memories. Implicit memory is made up of the emotions we feel and the body (procedural) memory that orchestrated how we responded to those early overwhelming experiences (recall that MIT neuroscientist Sebastian Seung identifies the fact that every neuron in our neural network eventually traces a route that terminates at a muscle!). Those early disorganizing experiences live in us like a chickenpox virus, waiting until conditions are perfect to blossom into the potential of full, healing flower. More often than not however, without knowledge, support and practice, little healing happens.
My Name is You
The general impulse for all living tissue is to heal, repair and integrate. The twin psycho-sensory processes of transference and projection, when viewed through this framework, would seem to be designed to draw us to “the right wrong people” in order to provide opportunities for such healing, repairing and integrating to take place. Unfortunately, without that frame and a healing orientation, what most of us too often end up with in our lives is … the wrong, wrong person.
The wrong, wrong person is who we end up with when we try to make a relationship work that just doesn’t have a balanced “chemistry” being contributed to the healing, alchemical cauldron that is a human committed relationship.
Wrong Is Right as Wrong Is Healing
Here’s a simple example of the wrong, wrong person. Daniel, a friend of mine served two tours of duty overseas in the Marines. Needless to say, he came back with his brain and body significantly different than when he first went. He had been exposed to much suffering, many deaths, severe injuries and many loud, sudden, deadly explosions.
When he came home to his wife, and they tried to resume their lives together as a civilian couple, it turned out to be a considerable challenge. The main issue was this: several times every week his wife would quietly sneak up on Daniel and yell, “Boo!” (It sounds cruel as I write this). Needless to say, it flooded Daniel’s brain with traumatic images, spiked his cortisol and adrenaline levels, and required him to do everything he could to simply not reactively respond by lashing out. Home had turned into an unsafe place to be. But explaining all this to his wife (and having a traumatologist explain it to her as well) had no effect on her behavior. She continued to uncontrollably trigger Daniel into a state of hyperarousal on a regular basis. Since she was apparently unable to control her own behavior in this scenario, Daniel saw no other alternative but divorce. His wife had morphed into the wrong, wrong person.
Romantic love has little to do with love at all. What it has most to do with is the potential each person holds for the others healing. The deeper, more extensive our wounding, the hotter the initial fires. The hotter the fires, the greater the potential healing. The unfortunate reality of love unrequited is that where healing potentials are concerned, one person may be the right, wrong person, the other simply the scar-crossed wrong, wrong person.
For a further take on buried memories and healing and the different ways they might operate in unrequited love, check out the most recent Enchanted Loom review of Peter Levine’s new book, Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past.