When we have a relationship, our sense of survival and self-concept becomes wrapped up in that relationship. Humans are a relationally dependent species. When we are born, our survival completely depends on other people. And even as we grow and become more autonomous and better at meeting our needs, and even with the developments of our modern society, the reality is that we are still dependent on one another. We need each other and we cannot thrive without each other. Because of all of this, we become ‘attached’ to other people. And our attachment system is completely linked to our survival system. On top of this, we use relationships to estimate our own self-esteem and self-worth. This is why when someone cheats on us, and we make it mean that there is something sub-par about us as compared with whoever they cheated on us with, we feel like crap about ourselves. The ego is our sense of separate self. It is the ego that is concerned with survival and self-concept. And so, the reality is that at the current time, your ego is totally wrapped up in your relationships. This is actually natural.
There is a downside to this though. The downside is that anytime a problem arises in a relationship, that problem is usually experienced as a threat to our ego. Most of all, a threat to our sense of survival and a threat to our self-concept. When a problem occurs in a relationship, it is actually a big opportunity for the ego to evolve and to become a conscious ego. It is also a big opportunity for growth in awareness and getting closer to what you really want and even for developing a much stronger and more feel-good relationship with that person or with someone else. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t feel like this though. It doesn’t feel like this for practically anyone. If we saw this opportunity, we would respond to problems in our relationships in a welcoming way. We would look directly at them. We would take charge of them. We would put energy and focus into working through them with the other person. But this rather ideal way of dealing with relationship problems is just not the way that most people deal with relationship problems.
So many people encounter relationship problems and feel like because those problems pose such a threat (a threat to things like their survival and needs and self-concept etc), they can’t face them, take charge of them and work through them. Instead, they find a way to deny, displace, disown, project, deflect, suppress and avoid them. And today, I’m going to tell you about just one of the most common strategies that people use to do this… They find a bad guy.
To illustrate this strategy, I’m going to give you an example. Ye-Jun is in a romantic relationship with Brad. Ye-Jun moved from another country to be in that relationship and as such, had to marry Brad in order to be able to stay with him instead of to have a long-distance relationship. But this means that she didn’t have a very accurate idea about his life. Now that they are married, Ye-Jun is in hell because she and Brad are not compatible in many ways. For example, he has a job where he is on-call all the time. And his best friend is his ex-girlfriend. Brad loves this and Ye-Jun hates this. She always feels second to his career and second to his ex-girlfriend. If Ye-Jun had known much of what she knows now about Brad, she would never have decided to be in a relationship with him in the first place. But she feels like it’s too late now. She is attached to Brad. She uprooted her entire life and can’t face the shame of having to face that she made such a huge mistake. She can’t face the self-esteem crushing idea that she might need to swallow that Brad won’t choose her and the life she wants to have with him over his career and other relationships. So, instead of facing the problem, she decides to hold onto the fantasy of what she wants their life to be like. And she decides to hold onto the idea that the way she wants their life to look is the way it should look. So, instead of looking at the problems in their relationship, she decides that Brad’s ex-girlfriend is their problem. She spends hours trying to convince Brad that his ex-girlfriend is narcissistic and is using him and is hurting her. And eventually, she threatens that if he doesn’t distance himself from that relationship, she will leave him and go back to her own country. This triggers Brad and causes him to feel the threat of the loss of the relationship and therefore the threat of his loss of self-esteem and the threat to his survival. He also does not want to face the actual problem in their relationship, which is their incompatibilities.
Brad begins to notice that when he stops defending his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and aligns with the idea that his ex-girlfriend is in fact the problem, suddenly he feels closer to Ye-Jun. Suddenly, the pressure of the separation and division between them isn’t there. And they are instead aligned against a common external enemy. In this way, Brad’s ex-girlfriend becomes the scapegoat for the two of them. Brad and Ye-Jun both become obsessed with the “problem” of Brad’s ex-girlfriend. She is the main focus of their lives. They start to create frequent conflicts with her. Ironically though, they don’t make any move to remove Brad’s ex-girlfriend from their lives. The reason for this is because both Ye-Jun and Brad need Brad’s ex-girlfriend to be ever present in order to serve as a thing to deflect their relationship problems onto. They are now finding their closeness through their triangulation against her. To understand more about these dynamics, you would benefit by watching two of my videos. The first titled: How to Stop Being a Scapegoat and Stop Being Scapegoated. The second titled: Are You Being Triangulated (A Common Manipulation Technique in Relationships).
Brad and Ye-Jun need Brad’s ex-girlfriend in order to make their relationship work. They need her to be their bad guy in order to make their relationship work. After all, if they stopped making Brad’s ex-girlfriend the problem, or if his ex-girlfriend suddenly moved to another country or died today, they would have two choices: 1. Face the reality that they are not compatible and want different things and have a lot of self-healing to do and might need to get a divorce. Or 2. Replace the ‘problem’ of Brad’s ex-girlfriend with another problem that enables them to continue this avoidance strategy.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that this relationship doesn’t actually work. Nothing about it works. And Brad’s ex-girlfriend being the false problem isn’t actually making their relationship work. But Brad’s ex-girlfriend being the false problem enables Ye-Jun and Brad to avoid the pain and terror of the reality that their relationship is not a compatible one. As well as to avoid facing and healing their own self concept insecurities. As well as to feel close by virtue of having a common enemy and an external problem. It is enabling them to continue to stay in a relationship.
An interesting thing to know is that in this scenario, both Ye-Jun and Brad got on board with the idea of having a common problem and enemy. But when this pattern plays out, it isn’t necessary for both people to agree on the bad guy or problem. Even if Brad had not aligned with Ye-Jun's strategy, Ye-Jun could have still decided unilaterally that Brad’s ex-girlfriend was the problem. And by doing so, could have still avoided facing the reality that the actual problem is that Brad himself is not compatible to her and will not prioritize her in the way that she wants to be prioritized. And most of all, by unilaterally making Brad’s ex-girlfriend the problem, she could have still avoided looking at her own deep, shameful truths. Truths like the fact that Ye-Jun feels bad about herself and is highly competitive with anything that takes focus away from her. Truths like she needs to be the number one priority in a relationship and thus loves to find a man with several other priorities so she can put him in a lose-lose situation between her and something else he deeply loves; in order to test her value and worth by forcing him to choose between her and that other thing.
So many people need to find a bad guy in order to make a relationship that doesn’t work, feel like it does work. So many people need to fixate on a problem that isn’t the real problem to avoid the real problem, which is much more threatening to them. So many people need to make someone else the problem so as to not face the fact that they, themselves are the problem. So many people grew up in families where they were made into the family problem because their parents needed to turn them into that in order to make their own crappy marriage seem to work.
When you are becoming aware of this dynamic, it is important to know that you could make anything the bad guy and achieve the same desired outcome. You could make the bad guy a situation, a job, a thing, a place, a person, an animal… anything. The common factor is that whatever you have put into the role of the bad guy, is a deflection. It is an avoidance strategy. To understand even more about this, watch my video titled: Deflection (The Coping Mechanism from Hell).
Because this strategy comes with so many personal payoffs and allows a person to avoid so many painful things, the likelihood that someone will watch this video and see themselves in this pattern clearly enough to admit it to themselves and others; and to stop this pattern and face what they are trying to avoid, is very, very small. After all, to see that you are making someone the fake problem and the false bad guy in order to avoid a real problem in your relationship not only forces you to perceive a very real threat to your relationship, but also to feel like the real bad guy. And as we all know; self-concept is the enemy of awareness. To understand this in depth, watch my video titled: Self Concept, The Enemy of Awakening.
If you feel like a situation, a job, a thing, a place, a person, an animal or anything else is the problem in your relationship, it may serve you to ask yourself the following questions:
- What would be so bad about admitting that the relationship itself has a problem or that there are incompatibilities between you or even that the relationship does not work the way it is? Using our previous example, Ye-Jun and Brad both feel that admitting to this would mean that they would have to admit that their needs won’t get met in the relationship, and so they will never get what they want from each other. This means that they are back to square one in terms of their needs and back to square one in terms of needing to find a compatible partner; which they both believe doesn’t exist. As well as the shame of getting a divorce and how that looks to their family and to society; especially because Ye-Jun is a psychologist.
- Imagine that the specific problem does not exist and the situation, job, thing, place, person, or animal you’re having the issue with is exactly how you want it to be. Would the problem in your relationship be gone? Or would it manifest somewhere else? And what does that tell you that the real issue is? Using our previous example, if Brad imagines that Ye-Jun and his ex-girlfriend get along perfectly and are best friends, is everything between him and Ye-Jun fine? Or are they now fighting about yet another relationship in his life that Ye-Jun thinks is a threat? Or are they now fighting about him wanting Ye-Jun to be more independent and Ye-Jun wanting him to quit his job to find a job with reliable hours, where he isn’t on call? That tells both Ye-Jun and Brad that the real problem in the relationship is that they have drastically different desires for their lives in general as well as for how they want their partnership to look like.
- What truth about yourself or about the other person that you are in a relationship with, are you not willing to see and accept? How are you making the problem about a situation or thing or place or other person, rather than to make it about a specific painful or scary truth about yourself or about the other person that you are in the relationship with? Using our previous example, Ye-Jun is refusing to accept that Brad does not want to prioritize her and is instead telling herself that he will prioritize her as long as the ex-girlfriend is not in the picture. Brad is refusing to accept that Ye-Jun does not want him to have anything in his life that conflicts with her needs. And is instead telling himself that if he can get his ex-girlfriend to change her personality and be more accommodative of Ye-Jun's needs, even when Ye-Jun’s needs conflict with her own needs, that Ye-Jun will finally be fine to share him with his ex-girlfriend.
- If you 100% knew that the external problem in the relationship is solely a manifestation of an internal problem within the relationship, what would that internal problem be? Another way of looking at this is: If God/ The Universe came down to you today in a physical form and told you that what you think the external problem in the relationship is, is not actually the problem. The problem is inside you and inside the other person you are in a relationship with. And therefore, it is a problem between and internal to the two of you, what would the actual problem be? Using our previous example, the external issue with Brad’s ex-girlfriend and his job is just an external manifestation of the issue of insecurity relative to importance and prioritization that exists in the relationship. And also, the incompatible desires that both Brad and Ye-Jun have relative to the kind of life and relationship they both want.
- What would happen if that one problem in your relationship, or even if all external problems in your relationship, were gone?
If your answer to that last question is, ‘everything would be fine’, then you fell into a trick question. If your answer is, ‘everything would be fine’, you are in denial about relationships in general. You are in denial about the relationship you are in. You are especially in denial about the actual problem in the relationship you are in. It is at this point that I’m going to hit you with a truth that is hard to swallow, but necessary to swallow if you want good relationships. Every external problem which is happening to a relationship is a reflection or indication of a problem within the relationship. Using our example, Ye-Jun and Brad may perceive that Brad’s ex-girlfriend is posing a threat to the relationship. They perceive that this threat is happening to their relationship and is making their relationship less secure. But it is simply a reflection of the problem within the relationship. Specifically the problem that Brad and Ye-Jun have a different idea of what kind of relationship they want to have with one another. As well as the insecurities that Ye-Jun has relative to her importance in Brad’s life. As well as the reality that Brad does not want to prioritize Ye-Jun.
So that you can understand this better, I will give you another example. A woman may be in a relationship with a man in the army. When he gets sent off on assignment over and over, she may decide that she hates the army. In order to avoid looking at the internal issues in the relationship, she decides that what is happening to her and to her relationship is the army. But actually, her husband continuing to be sent off on assignment for months at a time is just an external manifestation of the incompatibilities within their relationship. Specifically, between the kind of life they want for themselves. She wants a man who is there with her and with their kids every day. She wants predictability and reliability and presence. But regardless of what her husband says to her, he doesn’t want that dullness of the normal day to day life. He loves the excitement of the unpredictability. He loves being off on meaningful adventures and knowing that he has a woman back home who he can come home to, who is taking care of his kids and the household.
What are the real issues that are internal to you, internal to the other person and internal to the relationship between you both, which are manifesting as this external problem? If a person needs a bad guy to make their relationship work, their relationship doesn’t actually work. If you need a scapegoat to feel good about yourself, you don’t actually feel good about yourself. And all you are doing is avoiding reality and avoiding the real problem, which not only hurts you and everyone around you, it also leaves the actual problem absolutely unresolved for days and weeks and months and years and potentially forever. Which means that in order to avoid some kind of short-term intense pain and conflict that you feel you can’t face, you are settling for chronic underlying pain and conflict that you feel like you can handle. You are taking the slow acting poison and failing to see what the long-term consequences of that will be.