Saturday, May 9, 2015
I am so often asked by friends and clients, “What am I doing wrong?”; “Why do I have to go on all these dates?” Or “It’s such a waste of time” (to take one’s time with someone). “What if I invest all this energy over and over and keep having relationships end?”
Well, though every situation is different and no answer I give is going to hit the mark for everyone; I do often hear myself saying some variation of, “You have to lighten up”. I try to frame this advice more cleverly, or with more tact and often there are nuances to the situation that need serious attention. But apart from all of that there is a common problem I often uncover of looking at dating as a win or lose proposition. And that is when the term “investment” comes up. It is often used to describe a negative feeling that too much has been given of oneself getting to know another or too much time spent hoping for something that may not occur.
This is not the way to approach dating, or life. When you approach experiences, like dating from a place of that sort of negativity and desperation for success, there is an inherent pressure and unnatural push within it that obscures the flow for both people. If you are so afraid you will be alone that you pressurize each experience, and each part of the relationship building- then that is what you will have – a pressure cooker.
Relationships are a part of life. Getting to know and connect with someone is in and of itself a life experience and can be a gift if looked at with an open heart and a desire to live fully. There is no reliable map to life. When I get lost in travel, I often find some really cool place I never knew existed. But I wouldn’t have noticed that if I had not been able to see past my plan, or peek around my disappointment to see the other things along the roadway.
Your friends who are married may think they have it all tied up in a neat little package. But they don’t. No one does. There are no neat packages when it comes to life, to love or to relationships. They last, they don’t. We marry, we divorce. People even pass away. Your friend who is getting married today may be divorcing when you are getting married in 10 years. A lot of people plan out their lives: college done by 22; married by 27; 2 kids by 33 etc. But this is not the way to live. This does not allow for the gifts that life can bring. It pressures your experiences. It makes you forfeit today for tomorrow, and it places undue pressure on that lovely date you could be having, because you are so intently sorting if he is the one. It is important to note that you can’t see clearly with your head buried and ignoring warning signs that someone isn’t a good person. But you can’t see clearly if you are trying to make your life fit into a neat little box either.
Let life flow as much as you are able. Try to enjoy your experiences and learn from them and be open to possibilities. Be grateful for the things you discover, the people that you meet and even the “failures” because you can learn and grow from them if you choose to do so. Yes, move on when things feel all wrong, but also relax the journey a bit. Don’t wait until tomorrow to be content or pleased with your life. You will wish away your today focusing on that day you marry the perfect guy. You won’t see the beauty in your life now if you spend today worrying you will be alone tomorrow. This thinking places you alone within yourself right now. You will be on your course if you have some peace with the moment.
Relationships are messy. We are social beings but we are imperfect. Strong emotional bonds form between people, and therein lay the potential for both deep connection, and also feelings of abandonment. Chances are you carry with you some emotional “baggage”; if not from an adult relationship, often from a childhood one. And if you are reading this it probably means that experiences from your past have felt hurtful in some way and have come to impact the way you relate to others now.
When we think of baggage we tend to think of something heavy and burdensome, that we would rather not carry. So my next question is; Why do aspects of your relational past feel like they are getting in your way today?
Another way of feeling could be that you have loved and lost, you have had some painful experiences with loved ones and intimates, but you see those experiences as part of who you are and not a drain on you psychologically. Sounds nice right? But for most of us, someone has caused enough harm at some point to leave us struggling in at least a few areas of intimacy or connectedness.
So what can we do that will allow us to heal, to move through painful experiences with others and to emerge feeling whole and centered? The answer is lengthy and much has been written about this topic but let me attempt to capture a few key areas for focus that can set the path toward healing from relational baggage:
· Integrate. In terms of experience, to be able to integrate something that has occurred requires that we are able to think about what happened. We can block thinking with alcohol, drugs, or a process of coping with very difficult experience called dissociation. And some way of blocking out pain is often employed by us when we are overwhelmed. But blocked experiences can remain stuck and unresolved. They become like phantoms popping up when we are triggered by anything that our brain senses as similar. In this way, something as benign as an unanswered text can lead to a cascade of emotions linked to a previous abandonment. We can experience confusing feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame and bring a whole host of less than optimal moments to our relationship.
· Become aware. By proactively thinking about your past and your relational hardships, and becoming mindful of your feelings, thoughts, perceptions and beliefs around these stressful events - you can give your mind the tools it needs to start to heal.
· Speak it. Find someone to listen. Talk about what is upsetting you, what happened, how it felt, how you understood it, why you think it occurred, and how it effected other areas of your life. If possible find a therapist for at least a few sessions to process your baggage so you can subject past hurts to the light of today.
· Find meaning. Sort through the experiences that have hurt you, or caused you to disconnect, lose trust, feel fear or shame. Identify ways these feelings are triggering alarms or causing discomfort today. Note when and under what circumstances you feel the difficulty. Then take measures to care for yourself NOW.
· Strive to heal. What did you need when the hurt originally occurred? Did you need more honesty, safety, compassion, love, communication, empathy, or attention? Knowing what your unmet need was when you became burdened with baggage can help you give that to yourself now, and to request that kind of care in your current relationship.
If it feels like there is something blocking you from being open to true intimacy in your current relationship, it may be that your current relationship lacks the warmth or authenticity necessary to allow you to feel connected. But it is also true that many of the feelings that haunt our current relationships are leftover from the past. You deserve a fuller experience and looking through that heavy luggage can reveal what needs attention.