Center for Shared Insight, PC

Attracted to the Familiar: How to Override The Automatic Mind

April 5, 2022
Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

In almost all parts of life, our brains are programmed to be unconsciously drawn to what is most familiar. Sometimes this can be a positive thing and create productive patterns in your life, such as in cases where you are drawn consistently to nurturing friends or to jobs with companies that have great corporate cultures. Other times, this can be detrimental. For instance, if you grew up in an abusive home or were in a pattern of unsatisfactory relationships, you will likely continue to unconsciously choose them. In these more negative examples, it is important to understand how you can override this tendency to continue to be attracted to the same. 

In this post, we’ll share some insights about overcoming detrimental patterns based on the work we do as therapists at Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado.

Why are you attracted to what is familiar?

When you first read about the tendency to be attracted to the familiar, it likely seemed counterintuitive. You might think that after being in difficult relationships over and over, you would learn and choose differently. While that is the goal, being attracted to the familiar is a programmed response that is more primal in nature. First, your mind is conditioned to look for patterns it knows in order to reduce the load and stress on the brain at a biochemical and neurobiological level. In order to survive historically, humans looked for predictability, consistency, and safety, but today, sometimes you end up with a kind of consistency you don’t want. 

Similarly, people are attracted to others who validate their beliefs and attitudes, and who agree with their logic and thought processes. It takes less energy to be around people who agree with you and who are predictable. To that end, sometimes you may even recreate what is familiar to make this a reality come true by causing drama or heartache in a perfectly peaceful situation. This can be especially true when it comes to chronic relationship issues. 

Another reason people are attracted to the familiar relates to humans being drawn to master what they have not previously mastered, which is called repetition compulsion in psychology. In life, it may look like being drawn to relationship patterns that are similar to those you had with one or both parents in order to change or overcome the pattern or behaviors. For example, if you had a parent who was withdrawn and a workaholic, but was very fun when they were around, you might be attracted to a partner who is similar - but instead is a functional alcoholic who is outgoing and charismatic - in an effort to see if they could be more engaged and present, perhaps if you do, say or become the perfect partner for them. Until you become aware that you are trying to master this with partners who will never change, most people are destined to repeat it over and over.

Whatever the origin, we find that everyone can relate to the feeling of putting an old comfortable sweatshirt. You feel that cozy, relaxed feeling, despite the clothing being tattered and worn out. You are attracted to what is familiar on some level - what is predictable and comfortable just feels good.

Overcoming this tendency

Simply building awareness and mindfulness around these patterns by reflection, writing, asking others for feedback, and working with a therapist can be powerful first steps in the process of change. You can likely understand why you might be attracted to the same person or situation with the help of a third party who can be more subjective, like a therapist. Related dispositions, like your attachment style and how your past is influencing your current tendencies are also important to unpack with the help of a professional.

Overcoming your tendency to choose the familiar is also tied to better identifying and understanding your core beliefs and values, and standing firm in those. When you align your decisions about relationships around these core values, the result is often healthy boundaries and more satisfying partnerships. Tapping into your intuition and inner knowing is another effective way to override patterns. Lastly, get outside your comfort zone by dating outside the box, dating a new “type”, and getting creative with dates and help rewire your brain with new experiences and patterns that might be healthier for you long-term. If nothing else, you’ll learn something new about yourself that will help you get closer to the reality you desire.

At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we often help clients define and understand the “why” of their patterns. We draw upon the experiences of so many people in the same position in life and can help you overcome chronic tendencies that no longer serve you. Contact us for a free consultation to share your story and learn more about our services.

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