Perceived Value Syndrome (and why you can’t seem to commit)
So often in love, particularly romantic love, we want those who don’t want us, and don’t want those who do. Pairing failures are inevitable, having to do with taste, personality, education level, looks, and other randomness, but some pairing failures are actually based on a self-defeating aversion to what is available simply because it’s available. We so often don’t want what we have simply because we have it.
Psychologists have named this little psychological phenomenon perceived value syndrome. I stumbled upon it in counseling a client who kept falling in love with men who didn’t want her, and falling out of love when they did. I did some reading and this idea seemed to fit.
In perceived value syndrome, Julie loves Mack until Mack loves Julie, and then Julie stops loving Mack until Mack walks off in a huff and starts talking to other girls, at which point Julie loves Mack again. Mack remains charming, good-looking, and desirable throughout; the only changing variable is his availability. When available, his perceived value to Julie descends; when not, it rises. And on and on and on.
Pop psychology says, “Well, Julie needs self-esteem work. She thinks that any man who loves her must not be a valuable man, so she rejects him.” But I wonder—if her self-esteem is so low, why does she want a valuable man at all? I’m not denying that low self-esteem leads some Julies of the world to choose low-life Macks; I’m simply questioning whether low self-esteem is behind the perceived value syndrome. After all, Julie is trying to acquire something of value. Doesn’t look like low self-esteem to me!
We sometimes call this syndrome fear of intimacy, but then imprecisely distill it down to fear of rejection. Actually, fear of intimacy is more two-sided than that. Fear of intimacy taps into both of the essential relationship fears—abandonment and suffocation. We fear being left behind, but we also fear being attached when we’d rather leave someone else behind. We fear being treated like we have kooties but we also fear other people’s kooties.
Actually, the perceived value syndrome flows out of our naturally high-self-esteem, or at least our desire to have high self-esteem. The perceived value syndrome, at its core, is covetousness. We traditionally understand covetousness as wanting other people’s stuff. But the flip side of it is just as dark—it’s not wanting our stuff.
If Julie doesn’t get a handle on that little covetousness gremlin she’ll never love anyone. I’ve learned this the hard way. The moment I fail to cherish my own husband, marriage, family, income, ministry, house, garden, and dog, I start coveting the husband, marriage, family, income, ministry, house, garden, and dog of my neighbor.
Then the moment I start coveting the husband, marriage, family, income, ministry, house, garden, and dog of my neighbor, I fail to cherish my own husband, marriage, family, income, ministry, house, garden, and dog.
Dizzy-making to say the least! Life and love failure at its worst.
One simple cure for the perceived value syndrome lies in the spiritual discipline of gratitude. God gave us everything, His very life, because He loved us in spite of our kooties. We stand in a wealth of infinite blessings. Beginning to count them every day moves us from a mindset of always trying to acquire more, to recognizing what we already have. Starting with developing a habit of contentment and gratitude, overwriting the habit of covetousness, we will have a better shot at forming a successful partnership. To quote the songwriter Sheryl Crow: “It’s not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.”
See you in New Jerusalem, NY March 23-24
Then in Chicago April 13-15