Written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, M.Ed, MSW, LCSW
Be mindful and aware of what is really happening in the present.
Painful feelings stemming from past emotional wounds have a way of resurfacing in our present day relationships. Although this concept is nothing new, many of us are totally unaware of what is happening when our feelings surrounding old injuries are triggered. We may believe that the prompting event in the here and now is the sole cause of our emotional distress without connecting the dots to the past. Many times what is happening in the present is a reminder, either conscious or unconscious, of our history. Displaced emotion can wreak havoc on our current relationships if we do not really know what is going on within us.
Being aware of our patterns, being able to identify our emotions, and having the ability to recognize when our emotional response is too extreme for the present situation, can dramatically improve our relationships in the here and now.
Take a look at the following examples that may have a lot more to do with the past than the present.
Sally’s husband forgets to hug her before leaving for work. She becomes overwhelmed with pain; feeling lonely and unloved.
Kimberly’s partner raises his voice. She becomes extremely hurt, feeling like she is a four-year-old child. She begins to cry.
Tina experiences feelings of extreme betrayal and rejection when her friend, Sue, does anything with anyone but her.
Tony comes home, and his wife has cut the grass. Instead of feeling gratitude, he feels defensive and angry. She thinks that I am a lazy loser, he tells himself.
Chris is cut off by another driver. This does not cause an accident, but Chris fills with vicious rage.
Trina does not think her husband is listening to her. She immediately feels lonely and unloved.
The man on the train is staring at Dave. Dave is ready to fight.
Tim has no reason to believe that his wife has ever been unfaithful, but when she decides to have dinner with some girls from work, he feels angry, jealous, rejected, and abandoned.
Frank becomes angry and experiences underlying feelings of worthlessness whenever he perceives that he is being criticized.
All of these emotional reactions may appear extreme, given the situation. The intensity of the emotion should be a signal, informing us that a past wound has been triggered. If we can learn to recognize our triggers and trace them back to where they originated, they are less likely to erode our current relationships.
Sometimes these extreme emotions originated when we were very young children, making them impossible to trace back. That is okay. Just recognizing that the emotion does not belong in the present, is enough to change the way in which we react to it.
Being able to identify our emotions and being able to recognize that they do not belong in the here and now is often a first step to healing. Sometimes what is triggered is fairly minor, causing only mild irritation, but other times past traumas may be triggered, causing almost unbearable emotional pain. Healing from past trauma is a process, and although it is beyond the scope of this article, it is very possible. Many times it is helpful to find a qualified mental health professional to guide you on your healing journey so that you can reach your full potential and your past is not played out again and again in all of your current relationships.
Next Post: Our thoughts create our emotion. It is not the prompting event that creates our emotional response, but our thoughts about the event. Observing thoughts and feelings from a distance can improve all of our relationships and lead to greater internal peace.