Incidents or traumas could have a massive impact on how we perceive the world and respond today. This we know. But, sometimes, it’s also what we perceive as ‘small’ incidents, the ones you would remember and then discard just as quickly because it seems too insignificant to have an effect on you now. What I have learned is to not downplay things that seem to pop up every now and then. If there’s a bee, there’s a nest. And, if it’s having an effect on you now it’s important enough to pay attention to.
In the early years of my marriage, I used to flip out often at suggestions from my husband that I should do the dishes or washing or some other housework. I never really understood why I reacted to him in this way. If there were ever an undeserving recipient of my anger, it is my husband. He really doesn’t have a sexist bone in his body. He’s never been that way and is on the contrary quite outspoken about such matters. I would blow up at the slightest inkling that a woman is being treated unfairly because of her gender, no matter who the recipient of my anger was. So why did I react this way?
I needed to do some introspection. These situations triggered some old thoughts and emotions I didn’t even know were there. One day, after an embarrassing emotional meltdown at my family’s house, it dawned on me that I really needed to stop and pay attention to this issue because it was affecting my life and relationships.
Have you ever found yourself reacting strongly to a person or situation? Afterward, when the strong emotions subsides you realize that your reaction was excessive. Or, that your reaction was completely unfair to the person or people you reacted to. You end up thinking, where the hell did that come from?
I realized where this came from. After my mom passed away we were all hanging on by a thread. Me, my dad, and my brother. I was 18 and felt like all the house responsibilities came down on me. Because I was the girl in the house, I had to do the cooking and dishes while holding a full-time job. My brother did not help me even though he was more than capable. The pressure was too much. I did not realize that those years had such an impact on me.
Because you grow older you tend to think that it’s all in the past and you’re over it. You keep telling yourself that you are just a fiery type of personality, but deep down your short fuse scares even you sometimes. You try to justify your behavior to curb the feelings of guilt for your behavior. Your desperate attempts at keeping your emotional defense walls up are tiring and isolating you. Leaving you feeling lonely and unfulfilled. You know this is not who you really are but you can’t seem to find that sweet-natured person buried deep inside. And, maybe you don’t want to because it would be too painful.
If you keep finding bees buzzing around, it may be time to face the fact that there’s a nest to deal with. Being introspective does not come naturally to everyone, and for some personalities, it's quite a challenge. Either way, it’s never a fun thing to sit and look honestly at your reactions and delve into past issues. Sometimes we might find it very difficult to stare at who we have become in the face, and then having to figure out where it started.
But, it's worth it.
Where did it all start?
Everything links together like a giant web, nothing is really an isolated reaction. Reactions are attitudes that stem from our thoughts. Our thoughts are shaped by our experiences, upbringing, culture, religion, and the like. Understanding where our thoughts come from is really the big question. Just like I had to, to understand why I acted the way I did toward my husband and other men in general.
If you’ve had a negative experience, you will probably have experienced negative thoughts and feelings in those moments. These thoughts and feelings then connect to this type of experience and sometimes even anything resembling it. The result is that, even many years later, whenever you find yourself in the same or similar situation; all those negative thoughts and emotions come rushing back. In this way, your reactions are shaped by past experiences.
Just like I felt I was being treated unfairly because I was the woman in the house. So, when a man would hint that I do the dishes it was a recipe for disaster. I had all these strong negative emotions flooding back and the outcome was a bad reaction.
I needed to give myself space to process what had happened, to deal with the emotions that came along with it, and not suppress them. I had to let go.
Allow yourself to feel
You are allowed to have the feelings you feel. I mention this because I’ve spoken to many people that won’t allow themselves to feel. I did the same and truly understand. In order to process things, we need to allow ourselves to feel all the emotions. I used to think the emotions I was experiencing weren't valid. I told myself that what happened isn’t so bad and doesn’t merit these emotions or attention. Or, you may be trying to avoid pain by ignoring the emotions and pushing them down. Like I was trying to avoid facing my mother’s passing by not dealing with all the things that came along with it. Or you may be blaming someone else or very likely yourself.
Ignored emotions do not go away. This is of utmost importance to understand. Even if you sometimes feel like you’ve got this and everything is okay. They are still there, they live down in that dark place where we banish them to. But every now and then they try to escape. Those buzzing little bees that will not be ignored. If it’s healing you’re looking for, they need to be set free. Trapped emotions start to fester and morph into worse things. Anger can turn into rage, unforgiveness into hatred or bitterness, and so on.
Forgiveness and perspective
Acknowledging that there is an issue and working through it is not easy. Forgiveness starts with a choice to want to forgive, to want to be free, and move forward.
This is crucial. By forgiving others we set ourselves free. Forgiveness is often looked at backward. You feel that the person does not deserve your forgiveness, and they most probably don’t, but you do. You deserve to be free of the past, free of the burden of being hurt and angry. Free of the pent-up emotions that keep you hostage in your own soul.
An equally important part of healing is forgiving yourself. This can be so much harder than forgiving someone else. Learn to be kind to yourself, especially your younger self. That child or young you did the best they knew how. We judge ourselves so harshly. Give yourself a break.
Sometimes, it's not about forgiving so much but rather gaining perspective.
After my emotions boiled over and brought the issue to the surface, I had the choice to face it or to push it down again. Once I decided to face it there was already a great emotional release for me. Because at last, I understood. Understanding myself and my behavior for once was liberating. I did not feel like a victim of my own anger anymore. I gained perspective and that brought understanding. My father did not mean to treat me unfairly nor did my brother. We were all just trying to keep our heads above the water at that stage each dealing with loss in our own way. I prayed and asked forgiveness and forgave myself for my attitudes and the way I have behaved. The emotions were set free. I mourned my mother’s death some more, and it was as heartbreaking as I expected. But then, there was peace. The anger subsided and the outbursts stopped.
This is a short example from my life and by no means the only thing I have had to deal with. I want you to know that no matter how impossible it may seem from the other side, honestly, moving past issues is always worth the effort.