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Int J Group Psychother. 2013 Jul;63(3):346-65. doi: 10.1521/ijgp.2013.63.3.346.

The compulsion to repeat relationships with abusive partners and how group therapy can help.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine.


The mystery of why some people are compelled to repeatedly engage in relationships with people who are cruel to them is frequently pondered in literature and psychology. The present paper posits that the etiology of this pathological relationship pattern derives from a parental relationship that was both highly exciting and highly frustrating. Spontaneous recapitulations of the passionate masochistic relationship in the therapy group allow the patient, the therapist and the group to appreciate the exact nature of the "bad" partner's appeal for the patient and its link to parental antecedents. In addition, the author suggests, group therapy can provide attachment experiences that are stimulating and rewarding enough to override the patient's attraction to the toxic partner(s) and build an enhanced capacity for intimacy. The cases of two patients are presented who spent three and a half years in the same long term psychodynamic group, and who, through the processes described above, successfully resolved their masochistic relationship patterns.

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