Do you ever experience déjà vu in personal interactions, especially in close relationships? i.e. that sense that “I (or we) always end up here?” We can learn patterns of interacting from any relationship, but at times we are triggered by words or actions or postures of another in familiar ways that fuel negative perceptions and actions.There are ways to increase mutual understanding and connections with others in the moment when our reactions and perceptions are reminding us of past hurts, but there may also be a need to address those hurts.
In this article, I want to highlight a few signs that may indicate that what is happening at the moment between me and another could be fueled by what has happened in past relationships and a few hopeful suggestions about addressing past emotional wounds. The Christian faith gives hope for healing and change. Honesty is the starting point for healing.
Taking a step back to reflect on what happens in your life can be a powerful choice. David realized that God desires truth in the inner person (Psalm 51:6a) and he asks God to search his heart to identify any anxious thoughts or hurtful ways and to redirect and lead him in God’s ways (Psalm 139:23-24).
Signs of the Impact of the Past on the Present
Repeating negative patterns If there are negative patterns in your responses to people and/or situations and the pattern is recurring, cyclical, describable, predictable, or familiar, and the outcome impairs your functioning and/or relationships or both, then these may indicate that you are experiencing effects that go beyond the current situation.
Maybe you have learned to engage in the present relationship as you did with others in past relationships. For instance, you may withdraw when hurt or disappointed to spite the other person’s efforts to make amends.
Or you may anxiously pursue attention or contact when distressed in your relationship. These patterns may have been established in the present relationship reinforcing old patterns learned before this relationship. These patterns can be changed but must first be identified.
When your reaction is quick or impulsive and visceral, rather than measured, moderate, or controlled is may mean your reaction is activating something from your past. When I am instantly reactive, thinking the worst about myself and or the other, and my actions are difficult to control, it may be a learned reaction. The good news is that we can un-learn those reactions.
If you experience strong and escalating emotions in the interactions in the present relationship, difficult to control, they may reflect current hurt and distress, and they may be intensified because of past hurts from other relationships.
This later occurrence is not always the case, but it is possible. Learning how to regulate your own emotions, be calmed and soothed, and identifying any projections is vital for close connections with others, especially in your closest relationships.
Reasons for Hope
Change is possibleGod and a new awareness of yourself make change possible. Jesus said, “…all things are possible with God” (Matthew 19:26) Paul affirms that Jesus transforms anyone into a new creation(2 Corinthians 5:17).
With increased awareness of self and others, you can recognize negative patterns of interacting and thinking, arrest the patterns and choose and engage in new ways of thinking and interacting; the emerging field of neuroscience confirms that neuroplasticity is possible and as new neuro-connections are being made in the brain, new behaviors, ways of thinking and character can be outcomes of new beliefs. (Dr. Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain)
As a man thinks, so is he, i.e. so he becomes. – Proverbs 23:7
With God’s help, self-perceptions and meaning given to others’ words and actions can be checked out, i.e. confirmed or disconfirmed by asking the person what he/she meant. God can give the courage necessary to ask.
With God’s help and increased awareness of your inner world of emotions and needs, your reactions to familiar triggers to negative perceptions can change. You can only control your own reactions, not others’. You can check out the meaning of others’ words and actions, learn how to soothe yourself when distressed, regulate your own emotions and reactions.
Relief is possible
With God’s help and verbal processing of your life story, triggers to intense emotions and emotional reactions can be identified and relief for the sources of the intensity, e.g. traumas, can be experienced through therapeutic interventions and new strategies and ways of addressing needs can be developed.
Christian counseling can help
If you are a person of faith in Christ, processing and making sense of your life through the lens of a Biblical worldview is often the starting place of emotional and relational healing. A Christian counselor will affirm the truth that God not only understands, is mindful of us, and cares for us, but that in Jesus, God has suffered for us!
He has carried our sorrows and experienced our afflictions and borne our iniquities. His wounding is the basis for our healing! (Isaiah 53:3-6). Support and professional help that encourages and leverages faith in Jesus can be a significant element to your healing.
Some Christian counselors can offer Christ-centered trauma relief interventions. If you or someone you love may be suffering from the negative effects of the past in the present, please contact me or one of my colleagues.
“Cooling Off”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Looking Up”, Courtesy of Camille Villanueva, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pensive”, Courtesy of Tachina Lee, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Tracks”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License