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Understanding the psychology behind being attracted to bad guys

The stereotypical idea that most women favour “bad guys” over “good guys” is nothing new, but where does this stem from? Some individuals like Shehrina Rooney a.k.a ‘Recovery Mum’ would argue that this pattern of behaviour started centuries ago during Neanderthal times, when women found the toughest and fiercest hunter-gatherer of the group to be most attractive due to their protective and food-gathering abilities. She adds that she (along with many others) believes that as humans have evolved those who feel most vulnerable continue to find these alpha personalities to be the most attractive, because they believe that they can offer a sense of safety and security in turn helping them survive. 

Others however might argue that this pattern is prevalent because according to Bowlby’s attachment theory (1958) if a child does not feel secure and safe within childhood due to unmet essential needs (like safety, shelter, food etc) then they spend all of their adulthood overindulging in things that make them feel safe and secure. In this scenario this could mean finding partners that resonate with “bad boy” energy because they believe that partners like this can keep them safe. 

Individuals like Dr. Grande believe that women are often attracted to bad boys because most of them, especially those with narcissistic or psychopathic traits tend to have artificial charm, confidence, aggression and dominance. He believes that this is what initially makes them irresistible alongside their lack of impulse control, making them appear very entertaining and fun. One could even say that from a Freudian perspective some individuals might find themselves attracted to “bad guys” because they spent their childhood around parental figures that only portrayed traits of a “bad guy” and therefore in adulthood they seek out interpersonal relationships with people that replicate these characteristics to feel a sense of normality. 

In all different perspectives listed above, seeking out a “nice guy” appears to be the most undesirable option at first glance. It’s important to emphasise that this really is only at first glance. Oftentimes relationships with “bad guys” rarely turn out well and this is proven time and time again through statistics. According to Hughes (2000) Psychologist Carole Stovall highlights that “no two bad boys are the same” but he adds that they all “fall under a continuum”. He continues “Some have not learned how to relate to women so they do silly things but they don’t have intentions of hurting anyone. Extreme bad boys are seriously disturbed sociopaths because they can’t understand anyone’s feelings other than their own so they will manipulate, lie and tell women whatever they want to get what they want. These men are dangerous because they can’t connect to anybody emotionally”.

Although in my opinion there is no “bad boy” that is ideal, because ultimately I believe that all are bad for mental health but those who portray sociopathic traits should most definitely be avoided like the plague. This is because they are more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence in relationships due to their lack of empathy. According to Bryant and Bricknall (2017) in Australia “one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner” as evident in the National Homicide Monitoring Program report. Domestic violence doesn’t always have to result in death, it can be financial, emotional, physical, verbal, psychological, social or sexual abuse and the trauma that results from this can impact all domains of life. For example according to The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine (2019) trauma can impact four different types of memory with the first being the sematic memory, secondly the episodic memory, then the procedural memory and lastly the emotional memory. 

Hughes (2000) states that clinical psychologist Dr Spivey claims that “women seek out all types of bad boys due to low self-esteem and having a consistent amount of poor male role models to look up to throughout childhood, later resulting in them seeking out similar partners in adulthood”. This is because this type of behaviour is all that they know, so guys portraying “nice” characteristics could possibly be perceived as “boring” or “unusual”. 

It is clear in the end that while “nice guys” might come across like they finish last,  but in actuality they are the ones who win because relationships with “bad guys” hardly ever last. This means that the “nice guys” get to secure long-term relationships and receive all of the praise for providing stability in all domains. Furthermore they are renowned to make excellent role models, which means that their future offspring will subconsciously seek out nice guys too while searching for a sense of “normality” in interpersonal relationships. 

If you find that you are constantly seeking out “bad guys” the most common recommendation for you would be to participate in deep self-reflection and ask yourself what unmet internal needs of yours are you trying to fulfil externally? Secondly ask yourself what is stopping you from being the “fun” one? So that you can stop relying on “excitement” from a “bad guy”? You might even want to examine what your definition of “fun” is and where this idea stems from? Was it from observing a “good” male role model? You might even want to start examining what your definition of a “good” and “bad” guy is and envision what it would be like for your future offspring to be raised by role models with those characteristics. Then you can compare and contrast which one you would prefer and why. 

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