Sometimes we respond to situations in ways that others consider overreactive. We may have very strong feelings that we need to express, only to feel hurt and negated when someone says it’s no big deal or tells us to chill out. If a reaction is indeed out of proportion to the situation, it means that something else is bothering us, or that old emotions are being triggered.
If a woman gets angry at her partner and accuses him of being controlling, it may be that she was controlled by her Father (or Mother) and she’s had enough. As a child she could do nothing about it, but as an adult she will not put up with it. A man may feel that his partner is never satisfied. No matter what he does, it is just not good enough. This may upset him deeply if he spent his childhood trying to be “good enough” for his parents, but never succeeded. If one feels that his or her partner has little time to give to the relationship, this may trigger feelings of neglect and abandonment from earlier years. If one was constantly criticized by parents or siblings, there may be difficulty hearing honest feedback from friends or employers.
While we should not have to take the brunt of someone’s unresolved feelings, we can try to bring some compassion to the situation. No one can change the past, but simply feeling understood and supported can go a long way towards healing it. Really listening to the reasons why someone is so upset can allow them to release old hurt. In order to do this, we have to set our egos aside temporarily.
Generally, showing that we care will defuse another’s hurt or anger. Validating their feelings makes things even better. Then you are both in a more positive position to discuss the contentious issue. Mocking someone, and accusing them of being just like their parent, or of acting out childhood issues is one of the worst things you can do. That would be like abruptly awakening a sleepwalker. If the person is not conscious of the connection with deeper emotional issues, such comments could escalate their emotional reaction dramatically.
In close relationships, you have the power to profoundly assist in healing, but also the power to hurt the individual even more. That is why it is so important to be aware of our own unhealed parts, and those of others. Some will take the stance that they have dealt with their past, and it is no longer an issue in the current relationship. Unfortunately, past hurt is like radioactive waste, and does tend to seep up into our lives no matter how well we think we have stowed it. It also tends to operate through the unconscious parts of our being, and so we may truly be unaware that it is still affecting us.
Strong emotional reactions to current life situations are often a clue that there is something coming to the surface so it can be healed. It’s best to tend to that healing before it contaminates our present, and leaks into our future. Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.