How Does Your Past Environment Relate to the Choices You Make in Future Relationships?

Saturday, 03 July 2010 20:47 Written by  Iya Bakare

Is it true what some say––what you see is what you’ll be? Many don’t dare to dig deep and uncover the underlying reason why they choose to pursue suitors as their significant others. What would they uncover? Perhaps if they took the time and effort to find out, they would discover that their past environment plays a major role in both their present and future relationships.


Elements in one’s past environment such as her relationship with both of her parents, or lack thereof for example, is one of the most significant relationships in a woman’s life, says Alduan Tartt, Ph.D., a psychologist and relationship expert from Atlanta.


According to Dr. Sadie Sheafe, a clinical social worker, psychotherapist and sexologist, people, especially those of African Americans, are conditioned by their parents or caregivers.


“They model for us how to be a man, woman and friend,” she explains. “The question is: What do we take from it? We learn a lot of bad behaviors and have to unlearn them.”


Tartt explains a woman’s relationship with her father is critical because it helps her to understand gender roles. With the absence of the father, women often deal with unresolved anger from rejection or abandonment from it in their intimate relationships. Women in this situation also have trust issues with men because the first man in their lives didn’t stay around. It’s also difficult for women to learn how about submission from their mothers because they’ve never witnessed the benefits from it.


“You can’t look for something you’ve never seen,” comments Tartt.


Women take heed to the relationship they see between their parents and their individual relationships with them. Tartt says women experience insecurities because of the absence of their dads reaffirming how beautiful, special and valued they are in this world.


“It’s hard to replace that physical intimacy and bond between a daughter and father,” adds Tartt. “This doesn’t make a woman good or bad, but without that relationship early in life, she starts at a disadvantage.”


Through these experiences, Tartt explains people develop psychological environments where they create what they want in relationships, but it’s based on safety so they don’t get emotionally hurt from others. This keeps them lonely and distant and results in the inability to truly connect with others.

“If you don’t feel safe, you can’t fully focus on being loved,” Tartt says. “When it comes to love, you can’t get what you want based out of fear. In relationships, you are what you think about.”


Sheafe says this fear can be based from shame, guilt and abuse experienced at an earlier time in life that causes people to have low self-esteem. This also forces people to feel they deserve to be unhappy and they can’t escape the vicious cycle.


“Abused people abuse people and hurt people hurt people if they don’t get help,” she adds.


Both Tartt and Sheafe say seeking help is crucial to moving forward and experiencing a healthy life in the present and future, which unfortunately remains a taboo in the Black community as a whole. But, how will people deal with unresolved issues if they can’t talk about them and work through them in a healthy manner?


“Healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships play by different rules,” Sheafe says. “People need to realize healthy relationships are attainable. But, in the quest for a good man or a good woman, people should ask themselves: What am I offering?”


Sheafe adds both bad things and healthy things are contagious.


Tartt says people need to see a model of what appropriate relationships look like in order to have one. Since “The Cosby Show” left the airwaves, no one’s stepped up to the plate in mainstream media until a few years ago when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on the scene.


So, what do you say to the young woman in her 20s whose father abandoned her as a child and grew up in a home where she witnessed and experience physical and emotional abuse? How does she learn to trust men and venture into the world of dating as she timidly tip-toes around it?


“Although our environment impacts us, we can turn negatives into positives,” Sheafe comments.


Don't forget to visit the Glossy Blog!


-Photography by GMO Photo Editor Billy Montgomery

Iya Bakare

Iya Bakare

Iya Bakare, GMO's managing editor, earned both her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in print journalism. She earned her B.A. from Delta State University with a minor in English and graduated with a M.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago. In her spare time, the Chicago native continues to freelance and ponder ways to both inform and improve her community one story at a time.

She can be contacted at
Follow her on Twitter: @ibakare