Sometimes the stories of our past influence how we behave in the present. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our relationships. We sat down to talk with relationship experts Debi Berndt and Shoshana Bennett about the bad relationship behaviors we should definitely leave in the past.
Berndt explains that the problems can start with a blame game, "One of the biggest hurdles to change is blaming your childhood for the things that aren't working in your adult life, especially in relationships. The personal development industry was created from the therapy model. You have to heal your inner child, forgive your parents and care to your wounds so you can live a normal life.
There is a huge blame-game going on with parents. They were either too mean, too needy, had a bad marriage or even just didn't pay any attention to you. All of these are reasons the experts will tell you is why you don't have the love or success in life that you desire. The popular therapeutic approach is to heal these wounds of the past so you can move forward. Unfortunately, simply looking at these experiences as 'wounds' are a big part of why you are stuck in your life."
Bennett expands on this: "Be careful that you don’t wear your hurt on your sleeve like a badge—an excuse to behave badly. Act the way you want to be, even if the fear lingers for a while as you’re working it through. Talk back to any anxious, fearful thoughts running through your mind about your current relationship, and remind yourself that they're not true. Make sure you practice communicating honestly to your loved one, and don’t be concerned about becoming a burden. Remember that you’d be there for your partner if the situation were reversed. Be careful not to isolate yourself or push your partner away, and don't assume he or she can’t understand or won't be interested."
When it comes time to really heal the ills of your past, Berndt say, "Most therapy-based coaching and healing methods approach letting go of the past with a wounded perspective. This is not transcending the past, but merely re-arranging the furniture. You are either putting up a fresh coat of paint to hide the scars or magically "releasing" them someplace… where does all that stuff go, anyway? The parent is still the 'bad' one; the child is still the wounded one, but now some magical healing has taken place. Unfortunately, the story is still the same. Then the wounded healer uses their story as a way to serve some sort of purpose in life. I know this, because that is how I lived for many, many years and never felt truly free."
Bennett explains this challenging issue: "From trauma comes fear, and fear always gets us into relationship trouble. If we don't feel safe, there's an expectation of loss, such as betrayal of the other person. It becomes very hard to trust others, which can lead to jealousy, control issues, and disconnection from our partners.
There is typically also a fear of intimacy—emotional and physical—since we're expecting to be hurt. Why would we want to become close and attached to another person if he or she is going to leave us, cheat on us, or otherwise cause us pain? Problems with anger and aggression commonly arise because of the feeling of loss of control in our lives and our vulnerability. We can easily feel threatened, get defensive, and push our partners away for fear of being hurt.
If there's shame about the trauma and embarrassment about what happened, this will affect the relationship negatively. Likewise, if we're feeling guilty about what happened — thinking we could have done something differently, for instance — this will also be problematic. We can then feel unworthy of being loved, and this will undoubtedly lead to distancing ourselves and refusing intimacy."
Berndt discusses a healthy way to accept and heal the past: "A more enlightened approach to facing the past is to see beyond the story and just work with the emotional residue. The fears and the conditioned responses that hold you back in life are ALL the same for everyone. We just use our childhood story to make sense of them. In truth, everyone has fears and conditioned responses to stay in their comfort zone as a result of simply being born human. Instead of looking at your past as a pathological issue, what if it was just an experience that wasn't good or bad. What if everything you went through made you stronger, more resilient and more open to change? What if your past was a gift instead of a tragedy?"
And, from Bennett: "Negative behaviors resulting from trauma can feel confusing, not only to our partners but to ourselves as well. Before the trauma, we might have been very different and it's hard to understand all the changes. If you'd like help releasing these behaviors, there are great support groups and professionals ready to assist. Most importantly, please be clear that no matter what the trauma, length of time it lasted, intensity or type of experience, the past does not define us unless we make it so."
Finally, Berndt leaves us with some inspiration: "It is never too late to have a great childhood. Make it a great story because we need more hero’s in this world. From a clean state, this moment, you can create something fresh, alive and a story that you want to hear. That story will lead you to your destiny."
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