Sometimes current issues are rooted deep in the past—a past we must honor to heal from. Dr. Hick helps us in exposing old wounds to find a happier today.
Some of you were lucky enough to have had a pretty “normal” childhood. What is “normal” these days, you ask? Well I don’t mean picture-perfect, Leave It To Beaver style, that’s for sure.
In fact, having a childhood like this might render you less resilient to losses, transitions, and upsets later in life. If you never experienced pain as a child, or had someone help you through your pain, it may be more difficult to cope with or navigate trouble as an adult.
What is Normal?
“Normal” by today’s standards (just so you’re up on current shrink-think) is a childhood in which you had a consistent parent(s) or other caregivers who were present and responded to your needs, experiences, and feelings in a warm, empathic way on a fairly regular basis.
Even in a “normal” childhood, you may have had some painful, challenging, and adverse experiences. If you had a caregiver there to help you through those nasty times, however, your experience likely aided in your resiliency as an adult, as well as helped you develop a model and skills crucial for healthy adult relationships.
Some caregivers are not able to provide such reparative interactions during difficult times—perhaps because they are absent, inconsistently available, or preoccupied with other relationships, substances, or their own needs and experiences. I imagine we’ve all encountered at least one or two of these troubled caregivers (“caresuckers?” “carewitholders?”) in our lives.
Even if you were fortunate enough to have a parent or parents who did provide this care, this may not have been enough fully to heal the wound created by the painful experience. As a result, you may find yourself living and relating as if that old experience of pain could happen again. As if that old experience is happening again, even if it actually isn’t.
Old Wounds, as David Kessler (2014) describes, are caused by hurtful, confusing, and/or painful experiences, in childhood (but adulthood as well) that leave some sort of imprint on you internally. Examples of such experiences include losing a loved one, having difficulty with your parent’s divorce, being bullied or rejected by peers, or experiencing profound heartbreak, especially heartbreak caused by deception.
Old wounds can create uncertainty, fears, and avoidances to current feelings and experiences that are really based in the past. They may even be influencing your attraction to familiar figures from your past or leading to conflict that is really more about unresolved hurt.
Old Wounds vs. New Upsets
Wounds not only cause painful memories, they may alter how you move forward in your life and in your relationships. They can create minefields in your relationships—those with friends, work colleagues, but especially romantic partners—if left unaddressed or untreated with the help of a professional.
For example, let’s say your significant other says or does something: he or she teases you, doesn’t invite you to his/her work happy hour, glances at another person while you’re out to dinner together, or goes radio silent for a few hours. The end result: you feel hurt, confusion, or pain, similar to that which you felt long ago.
The question is: Is it the Old Wound, or a Brand New Upset?
The answer is it may be both. And yet, to launch into attack mode for what this particular person did on a single occasion is pretty unfair and may irreparably damage your relationship. Furthermore, if the feelings are strong enough to make you hit the “fire missile” button, this isn’t about the present upset. This would be the old wound rearing its ugly, unresolved head.
Some less obvious and more persistent examples of how old wounds impact current relationships may include feeling unable to speak up about your feelings or needs, to suspect a partner is cheating on you, to have difficulty trusting or being vulnerable with others, or to withdraw or isolate when conflict or tension arises. The list goes on and on.
What is common among all of these behaviors is they all have little to do with the present situation and likely a lot more to do with what happened a long time ago. And yet, the person (in this case, you) is living and relating as if the “old” situation is happening or will happen again, despite evidence that things are now different.
Disarming to Heal
The first step in beginning to live in the present in your relationships is to learn to identify which are old wounds and which are new upsets.
Two aspects of an emotional response that will help you distinguish between an old wound and new upset are the severity or intensity of your:
- Emotions following the upsetting event with your significant other.
- Behavioral response following your emotional reaction to your partner’s actions.
Evaluating the intensity or severity of your feelings and response (behavioral response to your feelings) relative to what your significant other did will help you clarify whether this may be about what he/she actually did, or if, instead, it may indicate that something from your past relationships—as a child or an adult—is being triggered and unfairly directed at your loved one.
This doesn’t mean if your extreme feelings are more connected with your unresolved hurt from the past, that your current partner is off the hook for his/her current unloving actions. Not at all.
However, by taking the time to clarify what part is about the present (new upset) and what’s really from the past (old wounds) will help you deal with your emotions and stay grounded in the present in your response to your partner. It will help you avoid detonating a bomb that is completely irrational—and blowing your current relationship all to hell in tiny bits.
Do yourself and your budding relationship a favor. Take a breath—or several—and make the distinction between a current trouble and old baggage. Express how you’re feeling about the present upset, if warranted. Then, take steps to deal with the your old wounds before they hijack any or all of your future relationships.
Kessler, D. (Presenter) (2014, October 22). Heal Your Heart After Grief: Help Your Clients Find Peace After Break-Ups, Divorce, Death and Other Losses. Seminar. Seminar conducted in Denver.[image: via pixabay]