Do you struggle with trust  or commitment?

  • “I can’t seem to commit in relationships.”
  • “I choose people who don’t commit.”
  • “I start out fine, but something happens and I opt out.”
  • “I find someone I’m interested in and poof they’re gone.”

Sound familiar? The concept of repetition compulsion comes from psychoanalytic theory. It means repeating patterns in relationships that are similar to unconscious aspects of a childhood relationship or experience. But one would ask, why do that?

I frequently hear adult children of narcissistic parents make this statement, “ If my own mother or father can’t love me, who can?”  In attempting to master the trauma of feeling unloved in childhood, many unconsciously draw in partners who have commitment or trust issues and then earnestly set out to make this person love them. If the partner has the same issues, the path is rough. Unfortunately, until we really work recovery, we are attracted to the familiar. That stinky old negative interaction from past trauma becomes internalized. It’s like being frozen in time and interferes with the ability to love and be vulnerable. If I am vulnerable, I could be emotionally abandoned once again.

Is this gender related? Men tend to be seen more as commitment phobics as underscored by Warren Farrell who writes, “ when women hold off from marrying men, we call it independence, when men hold off from marrying women, we call it fear of commitment.” One can see the myth in the folklore. Both men and women obviously can have trauma from the past and both inevitably would suffer with trust and commitment issues.

I frequently see adult clients caught up in the frenzy of the dating scene. A common issue that comes up in therapy is who dares to say they care first? If a couple falls in love, which of the duo should first state the words, I love you? Who wants to take the risk? I always remind that it is a great gift to be able to love. It is the most fulfilling feeling there is to have your heart filled with love for another person. Regardless of whether the other loves back, it is a proud and exciting art to know how to love. Narcissistic parents do not have that capability so when their children struggle with this issue; we celebrate the ability to love! I happen to believe it is actually better to love than be loved, although we all want both.  Jarod Kintz shares a statement of love that almost draws a picture.

“With my last breath, I’ll exhale my love for you. I hope it’s a cold day, so you can see what you meant to me.”

Looking at divorce statistics today makes one wonder about how commitment is currently viewed. In many wedding ceremonies the old vow, till death do us part, is omitted.  But it is all more complicated than this. Of course, if two people become united and want to have a lasting relationship, commitment to that union is a dedicated choice that will make a difference in the success. But, finding the right person, and working through past trauma are the two major keys to success in love relationships.

If trust was impaired in early childhood, it will always be an issue with which to deal. Many clients report being distressed about having trust issues and couples in therapy become frustrated with each other over trust. From my experience as a therapist I think it is far more loving to self, to accept that trust is an issue, admit it, talk about it, be accountable for it, and work through it together as a couple. If it’s a given anyway, why not be kind to yourself? Beating oneself up for having trust issues is taking three steps backwards and makes it hard to grow, heal and move forward. We all respect accountability.

If you find yourself just planting one foot in your relationships and you truly want to plant both, it’s time for introspection and recovery. Learning to love you is first.

Repeating negative patterns from the past does not heal the wounds, but in fact, actually reenacts trauma. Use your gift of love and give it to yourself, work through past trauma, and you will find the magnets that attract other loving people. Commitment to yourself is worth it even when it feels like love will never happen. As Charles F. Kettering says, “Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down.” Maybe it’s time to plant you, both feet,  and see where you will grow. If you water, fertilize and nurture your own growth, it is likely you will also find that fitting match who wants to walk along with you.

Additional Resources


BookWill I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Book Audio:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Online workshop in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:


Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. McBride.

“Is this your Mom?” Survey:

Shop online:

Meet up recovery groups:


Authors’ Books and Kindle – Click for Amazon Reviews

© Copyright 2013 Karyl McBride, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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Dr. Karyl, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Denver, Colorado with almost 30 years in public and private practice. She specializes in treating clients with dysfunctional family issues. For the past seventeen years, Dr. Karyl has been involved in private research concerning children of narcissistic parents, with a primary focus on women raised by narcissistic mothers. She has treated many adult children of narcissistic parents in her private practice. The author holds a B.A. from the University of Wyoming in elementary and special education, an M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado in counseling psychology, an Educational Specialist graduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado in school psychology, and a Ph.D. from The Union Institute in clinical psychology. Dr. Karyl also has extensive clinical experience in the fields of trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence, divorce and step family therapy, marital and family therapy, specialized trauma treatment in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and individual adjustment issues related to anxiety, depression, and life transitions. In addition, she does forensic consulting and has served as an expert witness in numerous civil and criminal cases involving children and sexual abuse. She has nine years experience conducting sexual abuse investigations with law enforcement and has conducted training for law enforcement in the area of sexual abuse investigations. In 1996, she was invited to present her doctoral research at the International Police Research Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Additional information on services provided and background experience can be found on Dr. Karyl’s private practice website at Dr. Karyl is available for workshops, talks and media appearances on the topic of maternal narcissism. Contact Dr. Karyl for more information.


  1. Trust is such a key issue for people from dysfunctional families. They either trust too soon or can’t trust at all. Some to the former hoping for the special trusting relationship which they never had with their parents, or they decide they have to be self-sufficient and can’t trust anyone. I wrote about this in my post: “To Trust or Mistrust?”