No matter how you were raised or where you were born, we were all raised by people and these people are human. Humans are flawed and carry with them lifelong patterns (both good and bad) of beliefs, fears, anxieties, behaviors, and opinions that are handed down to us through parenting and social connections. No one is perfect. No one has escaped childhood unscathed. This does not mean just the influence of parents. All of our relationships affect us in some way. Some positive and some negative.
Some of the patterns or emotions that are passed down through our relationships can be considered traumas. Trauma can be defined as a distressing or disturbing experience or emotional shock following a stressful event. Trauma can also be injuries, stress, strain, damage, wound…you get the picture. Traumas (realized or not) can have long term affects on us in some way. These traumas need not be huge, catastrophic events but may be small things that negatively affected our thoughts, attitudes, actions, and beliefs. You can be suffering from a trauma and not even realize it. Even a negative word or action can be nothing to one person and cause “trauma” in another. These traumas left unchecked may contribute to bad habits, negative thinking patterns, destructive behaviors, and can affect our children, spouses, and friendships. Sometimes these traumas can be so subtle we don’t even realize that we are affected by them, until we are.
It is important to understand that serious traumas may need the help of a mental health professional. I am not a professional and do not pretend to be. These are my observations and experiences when dealing with some of my own “traumas” and unwanted patterns of behavior.
How do we start to heal from and break free from these patterns?
First, I believe you have to acknowledge or identify the pattern or issue you to which you are reacting. You cannot even begin to make changes if you don’t take the time to become aware that a problem exists. Many people just go on with their routine or habits without even realizing there is a potential problem. That is the “head in the sand” approach or the protective measure of “I’m good but every one else is wrong” attitude. Or they believe that their reaction is normal or okay because they have always behaved that way. So, before you can fix a relationship or yourself, you have to be able to acknowledge that there is a problem. You have to want to be better.
Second, you must become aware of how the problem is affecting you. What feelings does it provoke? Not just surface feelings but the real feelings, those that you may usually try to suppress, hide or ignore. This may not be easy either and may require you to work through subsequent steps and come back to this phase until the pieces fit together. So, try to determine what you are really reacting to. At first glance, we may think we are reacting to something someone has done or said but it could be just the surface. We may be reacting to a pattern of behavior that provokes negative feelings. There may be history that is getting in the way that may no longer relate to the present. Trying to determine what you are really reacting to is a hard but important step. This may not be easy and may take some time to figure out. It also may be multi-faceted and may relate back to another event or trauma that you didn’t realize was connected.
For example, if your perceived problem stems from the actions or words of another person, you should look at how and why you are reacting to those actions or words. Also consider what THEY may be reacting to and why. What does their past or their personality say about their actions? Understanding, or at least trying to understand, yourself, the other person, your past together, their experiences and emotions, your experiences and emotions and where you both are today, can help figure out what’s really going on. It’s all intertwined. You just have to try to see the issue from multiple perspectives.
Step three is to journal. Write down these thoughts, feelings, observations, and realizations in a notebook. Working through these steps on paper can be very inspiring, eye-opening, and cathartic. You may start to see patterns in your own behavior and make connections to hidden origins. Make sure that you are acknowledging any and all thoughts that come through. You may not see the connection but if you write it down, you may find the connection later. Also, writing down your feelings helps to get it off your mind. Once its out, I always find a sense of peace and calm because I stop rehashing it. I can actually move forward with the thoughts instead of spinning my wheels on the same, repeated trauma.
Even as I write this, I am working through my own issues in a practical, logical, non-judgemental way. I am practicing the art of trying to see an issue from multiple perspectives which can reduce its power or control of me and my emotions. By writing these feelings and train of thoughts down, it no longer feels so intense. It no longer has a negative affect on me. I can move on and let it go.
Finally, think about how you can react differently to this situation. How can you change the pattern? What can you do to create a healthier reaction or relationship to this issue?
1. Sometimes we need to set up boundaries. This is not easy to do but it is a very important life skill. Everyone needs to learn to set boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries. This is a self-love technique and should not be used as an aggressive action towards someone else. If someone feels the need to establish boundaries with you, do not take offense, they have a right to create a life and expectations that they can live with and handle, even if you don’t understand or agree. Respect others as you would want to be respected.
2. Maybe we need to learn to speak up instead of remaining quiet. Sometimes we need to learn to be quiet instead of speaking up. Always consider your motivation for your choice. Some people won’t listen, they are too busy trying to be right so why bother frustrating yourself? On the other hand, some people are very open-minded and willing to listen if you give them the chance. Sometimes you have to love yourself enough to do what’s right for you.
3. No matter how you decide to react, make sure that you are acting out of love for yourself and those involved and not out of fear, spite, anger, frustration or agressiveness. It is also really important to avoid being passive aggressive. Many people do not even know when they are being passive aggressive so it might be hard to tell. However, you can start trying to be more aware of this behavior and see if you think you might need to make adjustments.
4. It is also important to see an event from a different point of view. Trying to see an issue from another perspective is hard and takes practice but is important when trying to work with other people and difficult situations. There are many ways of practicing this. I like to think of a car accident. Each person is traveling down their own road with their own experiences, thoughts, and expectations. When these realities collide it becomes one event. However, if you were to ask each person to describe the event, you would probably get two completely different stories. How can that be? It’s the same event. I say, it’s perspective. (this is one of the topics we address in my class “Healing Through Photography”)
5. Name your pain and let it go. When jealousy, rage, anger, frustration, or any other negative feeling comes your way….name it, own it. Understand you are human and have these emotions but do not hold onto it. Allow it to go. Don’t keep replaying the scenario over and over allowing it to take over and negatively affect you. Unless you are working through processing/normalizing it (as above) and learning to let it go.
I have a friend who says something like “Oh hi ‘Jealously’! I see you! You can go now”. I love that.
Each of us has our own back story. We are all on a journey that is as individual as we are. Sometimes these stories play nicely with others and sometimes they don’t. However, I do believe that everyone we come in contact with is here to teach us something. It may be about ourselves, life, empathy, hardship, etc. Family can be especially hard to deal with because you don’t choose them like you choose your friends. However, they can be a mirror into yourself. Always ask yourself what this person can teach you about life and yourself. You may not always like the answer but it is always important to ask the question. No one grows without letting go of old bad habits and beliefs.
Remember, you do not have to like someone else’s behavior, but you also do not have to let it affect you either. You make that choice. You can change how you react.
each of us is on a journey
some will grow
some will not
it is not up to us to judge another’s journey
we have too much to do on our own