July 13th, 2016
We are collectors.
Throughout our lives, we collect opinions, passions, memories and insights. We internalize these collections and they become a part of how we act and react, what we say and how we say it, and the decisions we make. By the time we are adults, we have collected decades’ worth of life-changing experiences. We are walking, talking assemblages of our past encounters.
And this includes trauma from our long-ago and not-so-long-ago relationships.
We carry with us the hurt from past intimate relationships as well as the pain from parents, siblings, friends and co-workers. This is what I call relational baggage. From my work with clients over the years, I know that many people lug a big, bulky pile of baggage around with them — into new romantic partnerships, new friendships, and new work environments. And that’s when your troubling past comes back to disrupt your brand-sparkling-new relationships.
When you bring baggage into your new relationships, your partner’s words and/or actions can become triggers for that past trauma. Take for example: If in the past you were lied to and cheated on, you will probably have your deception radar scanning at all times. If your partner is 30 minutes late, makes a complaint about you or goes out with his or her friends, you may be quick to assume that they don’t love you and/or they are deceiving you.
Your partner does not even stand a chance when they are up against relational baggage!
I know you may say, “Well, Suntia, I just have trust issues.” And my response is this: Deal with them by healing from them.
Healing For Real
Your trust issues should not be something your partner has to learn to adjust to. That’s not fair. They didn’t hurt you, they didn’t leave, they did not cheat on you. They are only trying to love you, but you won’t let them — because you are holding them accountable for what someone else did. Maybe it’s not a past boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. Your trauma may stem from something that happened as a child. Maybe your parents left you, so you now hover over your current partner because you fear they will leave.
But ask yourself this: What type of life are you living if you are constantly plagued by paranoia that your partner will cheat or lie?
If we don’t heal from past pain, our relationships can become war zones of fighting, miscommunication and loss of connection and intimacy. It is not our partner’s responsibility to heal us; we must take the lead on that. Can our partners show us compassion, empathy and understanding for our pain? Oh yes! That makes a relationship real. When we can share our hurt with our partner without the expectation that they take on responsibility for it, that fosters intimacy on a whole other level.
Let It Go
I’m going to be honest with you. This is not going to be easy. Healing from the horrible things you experienced in the past will be a challenge. But every difficult step will be worth it, because one day you will be freed of the burden of this baggage. You will no longer relive the feelings, the fear, the anger that has been tormenting you for so long, and you will actually give yourself a shot at happily ever after.
This process is difficult because letting go can feel like you are letting someone off the hook, right?
But I can assure you that is far from the truth. I work diligently to show my clients that it does not matter who left you, who would not or could not love you, who hurt you. You have a choice to move forward. You have a choice to use that pain to fuel your purpose in life. [bctt tweet=”We all have a journey in life filled with joy and pain, and they both equally shape who we are.” username=”suntiasmith”]
Having a parent leave you is heart shattering. I’ve been there. Having a person — a person you were going to spend the rest of your life with — betray you, it knocks the breath out of you. I’ve been there too. Having friends walk away from you in your time of need, it bring tears to your eyes. Again, I’ve been there too. But taking the time to heal from all that pain and coming out free and happy is priceless. I am there right now!
So, I can tell you from experience, the key to healing from relational baggage is to accept that someone you loved hurt you and to face that pain. You can never escape pain; you can mask it, and you can create defense mechanisms. But no matter what you do, the pain is still there just waiting for a chance to come out and heal (When you are ready to deal with the pain from your past, you can start taking my steps for letting go).
And honestly, if you want to remain stuck in the past, you are the only one suffering. The person who hurt you? They have moved on. So, are you willing to let someone else have that power over your life?
Taking Back Your Power
You know that old saying, “The first step is admitting that you have a problem.” Well, it is true. You need to realize and acknowledge that your past relationships are interfering with your current relationship. I usually have my clients observe their partner’s actions and think to themselves, “If I didn’t go through [enter past trauma here], would I feel like this or react like this?” This exercise brings your awareness to how the past influences your feelings and actions and how it is affecting your relationship.
Next, it is time to go through what I like to call “the differentiation process.” This is where you begin to journal about your past experiences. Write down your partner’s actions or words that trigger your pain, and then write down how your partner and the person who hurt you are different. I have my clients do this process until it is clear that the past is the past and the person who hurt them is different from their partner.
Remember, you have to move into the now in order to start healing. The process of healing from past relational hurt is different for all people. Some of my clients have gone through severe trauma, like sexual and physical abuse. Some of my clients have had parents abandon them. Some clients have gone through partners’ betraying them. But I usually find that the differentiation process is a good first step in healing.
If the hurt and pain is too challenging to tackle on your own, that’s when a good therapist like myself can help you find freedom from your past trauma. Lean more about my couples therapy services. You can contact me at (864) 559-8181 to schedule an appointment. I can help people in Greenville, SC, and surrounding areas.