Bye, bye bad boy

Sassy received a request to write about the age-old question of why some women choose the bad boy. I have three hypotheses as to why the bad boys "win" over those good guys who finish last. Ok? Let's talk!

It's a defense mechanism.

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological phenomena put in place to protect our well-being from threats to our state-of-being. For example, when someone simply cannot deal with a recent breakup, they might exhibit the defense mechanism called denial (or refusing to accept reality) by unconsciously pretending that the relationship did not end. In the case of liking the bad boy, a defense mechanism called acting out may be the culprit (especially in the case of teenage girls or women still trapped in psychological adolescent conflict). Acting out is a defense mechanism in which extreme behavior is performed in order to express thoughts or feelings otherwise thought to be discarded. For example, a child may act out using a temper tantrum in order to communicate to parents that he or she is angry.  In the case of choosing the bad boy, a teenager may choose this boy to send a message to her parents, family, community, or society. What she really wants to express might be something like this, "You cannot control me and I will do what I want, when I want, and with whom I want." But instead of expressing this directly, she may choose to date a boy with a bad reputation. Now don't forget that even though I say "teen," this hypothesis can be relevant to women who are still immersed in their adolescent wounds.

Choosing the bad boy is choosing your first love: a parent/caregiver.

Our parents were our first loves and when we love, a certain part of our neurological system responds with pleasure. So, in adulthood, when we meet people who have similar characteristics to our parents, our pleasure centers fire, making us – yes you guessed it – attracted to people who remind us of our parents! Dr. Harville Hendrix, explains that we have a tendency to choose partners who have the same negative characteristics as our parents in an attempt to heal old wounds. So, choosing the bad boy are ya'? Maybe this bad boy, in all of his emotional unavailability and unreliability... is just what you need to heal the wounds inflicted by your primary caregivers. 

Low self-worth

Having an extreme critical assessment of yourself can definitely lead to the choosing of someone who does not treat you well. If you cannot respect yourself, your lover will not be able to do so either. It's only in, believing in your own worth that you can receive love and respect from other people.  Think about it for a sec. If you don't have respect for your time, you might do way too much overtime. If you don't have respect for the way you look, you might tolerate insults. If you have no respect for your efforts, you might endlessly accept unreasonable expectations from your boss and other people in your life. The idea is simple. If you are truly lacking respect for yourself, it will manifest in a variety of ways in your life. In your romantic life, you just might choose someone who does not treat you well because of your unfortunate high tolerance of mistreatment, disrespect, and incivility. …and a bad boy just might fit the bill.

If this blog entry resonated with you, please choose the theory that best applies and bring the idea to your next therapy session. Time to break those unhealthy patterns in love!  

Hendrix, H. (2007).  Getting the love you want: A guide for couples. New York: St Martin's Press.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.

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