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Assessing Relationship Patterns
How to Stop Carrying Emotional Baggage from One Relationship to the Next

By Alisa Battaglia


In our world of conditional love no one escapes childhood unscathed. This does not mean that everyone suffers through terrible childhoods, only that each of us has endured difficult or even painful emotional experiences during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, albeit some more than others. Growing pains accurately describes our transition into adulthood.

When we look back to our lives it is our emotional memories, particularly the more painful ones that significantly impacted us. How deep the emotional imprint is indicative as to how we conduct ourselves in all our relationships--significant others, friends, loved ones, co-workers and strangers.

Our past experiences and relationships have a profound influence on the kind or people we are drawn to, how we think, feel and behave in our present relationships. Too frequently we carry the unprocessed wounds and insecurities of our most troublesome relationships with us into our current one, which often becomes a battleground for power struggles doing severe and often irreparable damage.

For instance, our first negative relationship sets a relationship pattern for all future ones. We carry the scars of our emotional damage with us and attract to us people that repeat those wounds. For instance one may be attracted to a characteristically unkind, inattentive, mistrustful, crazy sort of hot and cold behavior, and verbally or physically abusive partner that mirrors primary negative relationship experiences. This creates the future relationship “same scenario, different face” pattern.

Such difficult relationships are mirrors reflecting back to us what we must work on. They show where in our lives we are imbalanced. This mirror principle underlies every spiritual tradition: "As within, so without” in which the inner and outer are reflections of one another, teaching us that whatever or whomever we encounter in our lives, is the reflection of our own qualities, impulses, or beliefs. This definitely reflects the saddened state of our planetary affairs. There is a lot of work to do and it starts with self first.

Surely some who are reading this don’t approve of this mirror statement especially if they have been victimized. Let me explain clearly how responsibility for how things occur lies with us first. The victimized does not necessary victimize others. Such a person perhaps victimizes them self with constant criticism, for not being good enough; or not giving enough credit for hard work done, and so on. When trying to understand meaning, look in broad terms. Seen another way, if there is a thief in our surroundings consider in what way that we might be "stealing" too. Are we taking something that does not belong to us? For instance being involved in a project that will take something away from someone, a group, or the masses? I would say the worst form of stealing is making promises to others that we never plan to keep because time is the only thing that can never be repaid. Time is so precious because all we have is the moment-one moment to the next.

So, remember that the mirror principle is true for any relationship, particularly close ones. Most often our partner possesses qualities that we need to develop, and we posses qualities that he/she needs. In my last relationship I felt neglected and unloved, so I decided to do an experiment and consciously showed more love where it was difficult and low and behold, my partner began to respond in a more loving way to his capacity. I began to see that however difficult my partner was from a life of intense emotional abuse and neglect, that he was teaching me qualities that I needed to develop in myself and vice versa. I had a lot of patience where he had a short fuse. I needed to have less tolerance for his abuse and he needed to develop patience around things he had no control over. I would give up too soon where he was tenacious. He was like a pit bull and would never let go because he had to be right all the time even in truth, this never changed. I had difficulty focusing for any length of time and would get bored where he would get so absorbed that nothing else existed, including me. I learned how to focus for long periods of time because I am in my passion and am never bored. I am not sure whether he ever grew out of being self absorbed, but the point I am trying to make is that our best and worst qualities are displayed before our eyes and nothing will show them so clearly as being in a relationship. We have an opportunity to choose to "climb the ladder of ourselves," by working toward becoming the best we can become or live with inner neglect like I had. Seeing relationships as an opportunity for self growth where our partners are both our teacher and student makes our life lessons are more tolerable and once we get rid of the emotional baggage, even enjoyable.

After we tear down and break free of our inner resistance we have to rebuild new ways of being. After breaking away from that dysfunctional relationship of seven years many years ago, I decided to take a two year sabbatical to get to know and love myself more. In that interim dating became an experiment that helped me exercise my new boundaries. Once I freed myself from the past I was able to appropriately respond to warning signals from men with unhealthy relationship patterns and move on. I learned to communicate my feelings truthfully instead of repressing them begrudgingly or placing blame. Voicing my truth from moment to moment, although uncomfortable at first, was so freeing that it is a way of life for me now. This allows for clarity at every turn so that I am understood. In the past I would go along passively and put everyone’s needs first before my own. No one who knows me today can imagine that I was ever like that, neither can I! I have come a long way!

Communication is a vital ingredient in any relationship. Once we take responsibility for what we create and sit in our truth we draw people of those qualities to us. For instance: kindness, reliability, compassion, and especially, emotional maturity. If we consider the possibility that our purpose in all our relationships is not about giving and receiving love, but an accelerated path to discovering our true identity, to find out who we really are, they become very empowering.

A Mirror Exercise: Think of a person whom you really appreciate. Most likely the qualities you like in this person are the qualities you like about yourself.

Now think about someone you do not like. You may discover that this person possesses qualities that you do not like about yourself, or have not yet recognized existing within you. People who possess those negative qualities will keep appearing in your life until you recognize the true message. Once you do, you may choose to work to weed out the qualities of yourself that you least appreciate.

Six Tips to help you achieve your relationship goals:

If your insecurities and/or emotional baggage from past relationships hamper your emotional growth by causing you to get involved with unkind individuals, or by preventing you from entering any love relationship at all, or by causing damage to your current relationship, it is time to confront the problem head-on. You will finally be able to move past the old hurts and attain the relationship happiness you have been seeking.

Here, then, are six tips to help you achieve your relationship goals:

Do not Assume: Do not make a sweeping assumption that all men/women are alike because a certain ex-partner in your past mistreated you. OR that every person you date will treat you just as poorly. Each new person has the right to be evaluated based on his/her own unique merits and flaws as opposed to being evaluated from past relationship experiences. If you’re too busy unfairly projecting your past negative relationship experiences you will miss out on getting to know a potential "Perfect-For-You" partner.

Do not Obsess: Obsessing over anything is not healthy because it plays the negative feedback loop over and over again in your head, which is not conducive to creating happier, healthier relationship experiences especially painful incidents or relationships from your past.

Do Not Give Up on Relationships: Do not allow a difficult past relationship to take power over your happiness and your life. It is understandable that you may feel bitterness, sadness, anger or bereaved from a painful, failed relationship, but you deserve to be happy, too! Let go and try again.

Be Vigilant of Self Sabotage: Do not fall into the all-too-common insecurity and low self esteem trap of self sabotage. Conscious or unconscious sabotaging a love relationship through self defeating behaviors can potentially drive your partner away in order to confirm your own worst fears and beliefs about yourself.

History Need Not Repeat Itself: Painful relationship history need not repeat itself over and over again. You can break free from past destructive dating patterns and create a new dating destiny.

Create Healthy Boundaries: It is extremely important to protect yourself emotionally. All negative experiences create intrusion into emotional boundary space. However, opening your heart and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to a potential new dating partner involves a certain degree of risk-taking, as does life. Take a leap of faith so that you can continue to grow emotionally. Therefore, if you’ve recently met a good, kind, loving, emotionally whole and healthy person who is available to create a relationship with you, then get ready to take that leap!

©Alisa Battaglia, 2008

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