I say it to my clients on a regular basis when they are trying to find love in all the wrong places. I thought it would make the basis for a good article so I will expand upon it here. Hopefully, you will recognize where you are ‘going to the hardware store for bread’, the reasons why you keep doing that, and then lastly, will gather some new tools for going straight to the ‘emotional bakery’ when it’s ‘bread’ you’re needing.
Let me give you an example of how this works:
A client of mine (let’s call her Sue) has a really difficult relationship with her mother. Sue is quiet, introverted and soft-spoken and extremely thoughtful. Her mother, on the other hand, is loud, extroverted, and blunt when she speaks- so blunt in fact, that she often makes others cry with her harsh words.
Sue and I have been working together for two years and she has made great strides in coming to terms with the fact that her mother is not the soft, warm and fuzzy kind that she had hoped for and that she doesn’t get the nurturing she wants from her. For the past year, she has done a lot of grieving over the fact that she and her mother are not good “matches” in terms of personality. I used the ‘hardware store/bread’ analogy with Sue and she really liked it and has used it a lot lately.
In this case, Sue wants and seeks warmth and nurturing (“bread”), and yet she keeps going to the ‘hardware store’ to buy it. In this scenario, Sue’s mother is the ‘hardware store’. When Sue tells me another story of trying to get nurturing from her mother I gently ask, “Which store did you go to this time?” She often smiles in quick recognition and answers, “The hardware store”. I usually respond with something like, “That’s funny- I thought you were shopping for bread, not nails…”
It’s not that Sue is lacking in intelligence, nor common sense. It’s just that she can’t get her emotional needs met from someone who is supposedly in a position to meet them (in this case, her mother). This is the case for many of us who come from dysfunctional families. Oftentimes, one or both parents are unable to meet our emotional needs. This can cause much bigger problems later on when we become adults and start dating. In Sue’s case, she picked a partner who was harsh and critical towards her; just like her mother. Although what she wanted and needed was softness, kindness, and nurturing, she instead went with what felt ‘familiar’ when choosing a partner- someone harsh and critical. Even though she didn’t like being treated that way, because it was a family pattern and was familiar, it felt ‘like home’ to be with someone who treated her like her mother did.
For Sue, even though she loved everything she experienced when she walked into a bakery- the warmth coming from the ovens, the delicious smell of baking bread, the sight of fresh new loaves right out of the oven, and the taste of freshly baked bread- metaphorically speaking, it wasn’t the first place she stepped into when she was hungry. You see, growing up in Sue’s family was like living in a hardware store- no warmth, no alluring smells to tempt the palate- just rows and rows of screws and nails and power tools. Let’s face it- a hardware store is a great place to go when your toilet needs fixing and they have just the part that will make it stop making that non-stop swishing sound…But when it comes to finding a warm and loving pair of arms to wrap around you when you’re having a bad day, it will always come up short.
Another reason Sue entered therapy was because she recognized a long-held pattern of dating emotionally unavailable men and was sick of it. She wanted to figure out why she kept meeting ‘the same guy’ over and over again; even though hair colour varied from man to man- all of these men had one major thing in common- they were emotionally unavailable and cold. As you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I’ve figured out the riddle for Sue’s pattern!” and are eagerly waving your hand in the air hoping that the teacher picks YOU to shout out the answer…
Well, here’s the answer you most probably figured out already:
When Sue was able to make the connection in therapy between the kind of men she kept picking to be in relationships with, and the pattern she experienced throughout her lifetime with her own mother, a big light bulb went off inside her head where she experienced a life-changing “aha moment”. For the first time in her adult life, she was able to make sense of a confounding pattern she found herself repeating, even though she was totally aware that it was not helping her.
Sadly for Sue, she had learned from her experiences in her family-of-origin to go looking for bread at the hardware store. In Sue’s case, it was her mother who became the proverbial ‘hardware store’ who could never supply her with the love, warmth, and affection she craved and needed. Metaphorically speaking, Sue didn’t even know there was such a thing as a ‘bakery’ and that she could go there in the first place when she needed some ‘bread’.
The next part of Sue’s journey was to familiarize herself with the concept of a ‘bakery’ when it came to other people- her starting point was to learn that there actually were people out there (including datable men her age) who were warm, compassionate, and nurturing. For this phase of therapy, I often invite clients to conjure up positive memories of people they have known in the past or present who exhibit the qualities they are seeking in a mate. This task was very emotional for Sue as she immediately recognized that all four of her grandparents had showered her with warmth, tenderness, and nurturing when she was growing up. I asked her to expand on these memories by telling me stories of when she experienced this warmth and nurturing from them and she had so many that she decided to continue when she got home by writing down as many of these memories as she could.
She came back to our next session and excitedly read me story after story of receiving ‘countless loaves of bread’ from ‘real bakeries’ she had visited as a child. She increasingly came to realize that while her mother had been, and still was, a ‘hardware store’ for her emotionally; that she had experienced FOUR emotional ‘bakeries’ with her grandparents and had therefore been shown what she should be looking for in relationships with men in her life today.
She has also done a lot of work grieving the loss of getting the love and nurturing she always wanted from her mother, and is slowly coming to peace with whom her mother is and what she can and cannot give her. In fact, she has even developed an appreciation for ‘hardware stores’ through knowing her mother and finds they can be very useful when you need to make a business decision or when choosing paint colours and goes to her mother for this sort of concrete advice. But when it comes to choosing whom to date, she is now relying on the memories and felt experience of being loved and nurtured by her grandparents. In fact, she’s even gone on a couple of dates with men who can bake!