I can’t remember where I first heard of the phrase “hurt locker” as a dating analogy, but I thought it hit too close to home for me a couple of years ago when I kept choosing the wrong partners.
Originally, “hurt locker” is a slang term for a place of deep pain, discomfort, or severe injury.
In the context of romantic relationships, a “hurt locker” means someone whom you are drawn towards — not because you like them for who they are — but because you want to be them.
In other words, you project all your hidden wounds and fantasies into your romantic partner, a.k.a. your “hurt locker.” Through them, you think you can heal yourself.
For example, they have a successful career that you want for yourself and so, being with them, you feel successful by association and can justify your own lack of success and effort.
Though, it’s not because you don’t want to put in the effort; you don’t even know where to put that effort. You’re scared to face yourself and you’re at a loss where to begin.
Well, burying yourself in someone else’s world is easier than dealing with yourself.
In truth, “hurt locker” is a form of objectification.
You don’t actually see them as human beings with flaws and actions that might have nothing to do with you.
In your mind, they exist solely to serve your needs and eventually save you from yourself, which — if you don’t know by now — is never going to work.
My personal experience
My last breakup was with a “hurt locker” who was a walking fantasy of many things I wanted to have for myself — or at least I thought I wanted to.
When I first met him, he appeared to me as career-focused, outdoorsy, and confident. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a job role I hated; I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, and I questioned my worthiness. I felt ashamed of my identity as an emotional introvert.
As he pulled all the stops to impress me on our first few dates, I quickly got attached to him and depended on his validation. I put an exceedingly high value on those prominent traits he possessed without realising that they didn’t exactly make him a suitable partner for me.
In fact, he was a terrible partner and person. He was obsessed with his job, he couldn’t sit still with himself, and his confidence stemmed from ignorance and a serious lack of empathy and emotional depth. However, all I saw back then was someone who had everything I didn’t and could therefore fill a void in my life.
I became a drug addict, and his attention was my drug. The more I hated my life, the harder I clung to him, and the worse he treated me. I felt like I was abusing myself by interacting with him, but I didn’t know what else to do because being alone with myself would scare me even more.
I ended up deeply wounded. However, what I did next changed my life completely.
4 Signs a guy is your “hurt locker”
Here are a few common signs you might be with someone for the wrong reasons:
1. You feel empty without him.
He’s the only interesting thought in your mind. Without him, you don’t know what to do with your time. You dread thinking about your own life. You can’t imagine losing him for good.
2. You wouldn’t be friends with him.
If you weren’t dating or having sex with him, you wouldn’t really want to hang out with him. If a friend treated you the way he did, you wouldn’t tolerate it.
3. You compare yourself to him.
Instead of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and admiring him for what he can achieve, you’re envious of him and want to be better than him, especially in superficial areas.
4. You think being with him would make everything okay.
You fantasize about a life in which he loves you and thinks highly of you — that would make you feel good enough. This fantasy is so powerful that it leaves you no space left to face your own reality without him.
That’s why, even if you have him, you don’t suddenly stop to focus on yourself — the void in you just gets bigger and needs to be filled again.
Deep down, you realise he’s not the answer, but you don’t know what to do, so you keep directing your energy at him, making unspoken requests that he can’t fulfill.
This causes him to pull away, which then becomes a new problem that occupies your mind again — now you’re stuck in your very own… bullshit.
Use your “hurt locker” as an opportunity to grow
The problem with dating a “hurt locker” is that it’s mind-fuckery. One thing can lead to another and, before you know it, you’re psychologically intoxicated by a heavy cocktail of brain chemicals.
All your past issues seem to snowball into one, coming at you at a dangerous speed. As the break-up unravels and reality kicks in, you feel like your existence is being dismantled. Something is broken inside, but you can’t pinpoint what.
The truth you already know is: men and romantic relationships aren’t your answers — you are.
But encountering your “hurt locker” is an incredible opportunity for you to learn about yourself and turn your life around. It’s what I did.
I thought to myself: My “hurt locker” couldn’t give me what I needed — okay. But what is it that I really needed? Why was I so irrationally drawn to him? What did I value so highly in him that I tolerated his bad treatment of me? Why exactly did I value that?
In my case, my attachment to him told me a few core things about myself: I valued hard work, but I didn’t think I was working hard enough. I was convinced that my emotional and introverted nature was holding me back (I was wrong), and I needed security.
I idealised the guy who had nothing in common with me because I didn’t know how to love and value myself.
It was the insight that led me to go to therapy and stop dating altogether.
During 2019, I fought hard against my inner working and started to learn how to meet my own needs. I identified my values and took actions that aligned with those values. I embraced my core gifts and stopped looking at myself through the lens of others — It’s my life; I call the shots; I make it work.
The process was slow and difficult, but it was essential. I felt like I was walking in the dark, but my gut told me that I was going the right way.
It’s my life; I call the shots; I make it work.
Soon, the light came, and guess what — it came from me.
As I gave myself everything I’d been looking for in other people, I was able to see my “hurt locker” for exactly what he was: equally scared, broken, and lost, and definitely not a role model to measure myself against. Well, I could be wrong about him but, frankly, it’s none of my business.
The point is, I looked at him then, not as a reflection of me, but as a separate person who, like everyone else, had something good and bad to learn from. In other words, I stopped objectifying him, and that’s when I was able to let go. As I got on with my blissful life, I naturally became indifferent to him.
Meeting my “hurt locker” was a traumatising experience but, in hindsight, it gave me more than it ever took away from me. In fact, it gave me the rest of my life. For the first time, I stepped into my whole self and felt okay on my own. It closed all the wrong doors and opened so many new ones that were just right for me.
Now that I’m happily engaged, I realise something significant.
There’s a stark difference between the wrong people I dated and the man who is going to be my husband.
I felt pulled towards the “hurt locker” and the guys before him because I hated myself and wanted a life different from mine. However, I chose my fiancé because I loved myself and I loved that he was similar to me.