The Past Destroying the Present past habits slip into present routines
How we label someone—whether consciously or not—influences the following interactions. We are biased. We label everybody—friend or foe, safe or dangerous, pleasant or unpleasant. Many scientists suggest the need for social skills spurred brain growth. Those unable to accurately differentiate friends from foes didn’t survive. Maybe part of the reason we join in social gossip. There’s a tremendous payoff to accurate social judgments, quickly determining safe from dangerous is advantageous. Although genetically capable of social smoothness, many of us are lacking.
We adapt to our environment. We evaluate experience based on the emotions the experience generates. Pleasant emotions attract; negative emotions repel. Future encounters utilize memories of the past experiences to analyze the present. If a man acted violent yesterday, his very presence makes us nervous today. But the associations may spill-over beyond being connected to the same person. The location may be deemed unsafe stirring fear. Similar movements, hand gestures, or words may cause goosepimples reminding of a past frightful day. New encounters are constantly and unconsciously compared to the past. The organism asks the ultimate question: Am I safe?
This ability isn’t perfect. We routinely judge based on false pretenses from the past—ill-suited for the present. A painful childhood attachment may project all future attachments as dangerous—. All attachments can become painful to the chaotically childhood programming, past pain spilling into the present. New attachments unconsciously associated with the past strike fear and leave us screaming for escape—the past influencing the present. These intricate pairings of past and present occurs beneath consciousness, stubbornly resistant to reason. The past orchestrates feelings from the past that present events trigger. Successfully navigating personal constellations of hurts requires new cognitive strategies, some therapy, and a host of supporting others. With experience, we recognize the past interfering, manipulating the emotions by disrupting peace and misguiding choices. Empowered by wisdom we are strengthened to better manage behaviors, and act in healthier ways.
The old cognitive strategies providing a small sense of stability in chaotic childhoods interferes with adult intimacy; adaptive for the child but maladaptive for the adult.
The broken soul inappropriately clings or emotionally separates; fearing abandonment or recklessly fighting attachment. These destructive drives twist and pull on relationships, requiring emotional understanding in partners to work through the burdensome demands. But coming from a chaotic past, our demands seem appropriate—natural responses to feelings disrupting inner-peace. Instead of correctly identifying flawed internal mechanisms, we self-righteously blame partners for triggering the unjustified storm.
New relationships temporarily disguise these maladjusted reactions. We overlook external triggers blinded by the natural haze of new love. The new partner is perfect—and they also see us as perfect. The temporary escape proves the past harsh external events were responsible—not personal maladjustment. Emerging from a recent painful relationship, we idolize the new love object. Our interpretations are distorted. We interpret a new partner’s poor behaviors as positive. New relationships feel good and we feel good—in love, and when in bliss, the whole world is great.
The blissfulness ends and reality returns. The past still etched in our hearts resurfaces—emotions and all.
Past cognitive programs re-emerge; insecurities strengthen and disrupt. Behaviors easily explained in bliss now appear sinister from the darkness of insecurity. Pain from the past reinserts itself into the present; we revert to past protective cognitive strategies. These critical junctures determines the relationship’s direction —flourishing growth or damning pain.
Following the same chaotic feeling states, we doom relationships with familiar heartaches from the past. All relationships face may fail, whether we skilled with connecting or not. Attraction doesn’t guarantee intimacy. The further our traits veer from normal, the more difficult the work of finding a compatible partner. The level of compatibility takes weeks or months to discern. When childhood attachments were anxious or chaotic, patiently working through the exploratory phase can be hell, creating unhealthy dependence on potential partners before the relationship naturally develops or conversely fearfully maintaining space when closeness is needed.
The chaotic attachments of childhood leave us unfamiliar with the path of creating connection, missing opportunity, fearing healthy closeness and over-looking warnings of danger. A history of disorganized attachments creates anxiousness with every new connection; because we don’t know what to expect and how to properly interpret the constant flow of information. Am I safe? I don’t know. Childhood relationship disabilities dumbfound the adult when confronted with the confusing maze of connection. Even when confident in other areas, our relationships expose insecurity. A child born into darkness and hidden from light during the first few years of life will be blind. The missing sight stimulation in early development subjects sight modules of the brain to the pruning process, where synaptic connections, unneeded in the dark are eliminated. A child neglected and abused during primary brain development stages also suffers significant loss of healthy synaptic connections, essential for adult relationships.
If fear of abandonment dominates, the self-confidence to enforce boundaries fails. If fear of attachment dominates, the commitment to respect boundaries fails. The path through childhood deficiencies often requires a guide and persistence. The adult brain continues to develop and adjust to environments. The blind child learns to utilize other senses to survive and flourish.
A museum tour guide held the hand of a blind man, directing him through a maze of exhibits, explaining the historical artifacts. While deep in side of the building, with a flash of light and a crash of thunder, the lights were darkened. The guide instinctively grabbed the blind man’s hand a little tighter, “Hold on the lights are out, I will get you out of here.” The blind man chuckled, “You are in my world now. Hold on I will now guide you.”
Intimacy is not beyond our abilities. We may travel unconventional paths, facing experience differently than a child raised in loving and healthy environments; but we still can enjoy healthy attachments We may be required to recruit other areas to assist in connecting, seeking out those who will patiently work and grow together with us. They may guide during the light; but we can guide during the dark.
Healthy and unhealthy relationships provide opportunities to learn. Our social encounters unveil faulty programming but only visible through honest examination. Raw emotions offer lessons. With help, we recognize the emotions, soothe them, and then practice healthier responses, abandoning the sharp retorts of the past. Knowing our pain, we can soothe with less defensiveness. Anxiousness will still exist but we can prevail. Enjoyable connections are uncharted territory. Closeness will still strike tender wounds, spiking fears. Even for the healthy, relationships magnify emotions; but for those with disrupted childhoods, relationships ignite panic—intimacy, at first, may be limited but possible.
Unaddressed emotions repeat, disrupting closeness, and preventing intimacy. We employ protective mechanisms to blur the embarrassment of underlying shame. We resent feeling inadequate and instinctively attack those initiating the stabbing reminders of our insecurity. We bury the shame with anger, injuring the partner, and dissolving connection. Anger approaches conversations differently, resorting to blame and character attacks—the cycle of deterioration begins. The idolized partner flips in our mind from perfect to flawed—from loved to hated; from friend to foe. The underlying negative labels, far from the blissful states, become the foundation for behavior interpretations. The endearing behaviors of new love morph into anger triggering annoyances. The dynamics of interpretation changes send a relationship spiraling downward. A harsh environment evolves to replace the joys. Both partners reacts to the changing environment—a little more protective; a little more defensive, setting off a chain where each partner responds to the other’s negative reaction. The security, happiness, and acceptance, once enjoyed is destroyed and forgotten by the developing drama. The loving partners retreat; the relationship is destroyed.
If we catch destructive patterns early, we can intervene. Our brains are resilient. Early connections influence connections but don’t predestine us to a life of solitude. Important circuits continue to form throughout our adult lives. We still have a chance. We are endowed with something that transcends the firing and wiring of neurons. We can learn, we can change the trajectory of our lives. Instead of responding from our past, we can respond with hopes of a better future. Once the discomforting emotions emerge, we can recognize them and their origin. Instead of attacking a partner in anger, we can share and connect. By addressing each partner’s negative emotions, the triggering episodes of feeling don’t destroy. Facing discomforts and working through them together creates safety. The feelings of safety establish a foundation for trust; and from trust, intimacy. ~Troy Murphy
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