Sense and Sensitivity

The ups and downs of daily life as a Highly Sensitive Person

Face Your Relationship Fear

How to live life in the present without being driven by the past

Relationships can often be the place where our deepest and darkest issues emerge. Most of us spend our lives trying to suppress these issues, especially if they have come from a painful past. But whether or not we’re aware of the beliefs and judgements we carry around in our own minds, they will continue to have an effect on us, as well as on the people we care about, until we deal with them head on.

One of the most difficult things about dealing with a difficult past is often becoming aware of the effect it has on us. We all remember times when things were painful or we struggled to make others understand. Eventually we moved on. But even after years have gone by and we think we’ve moved on, perhaps even having physically moved to a new place and perhaps changed ourselves with a new job and a new hairdo, and believing we’ve left the past in the past, the hurt we felt long ago remains.

We’re often not even aware of this hurt because it can be too painful to acknowledge. So sometimes we make the effort to push aside those unpleasant memories and the feelings associated with them. And sometimes they slip into our subconscious mind all by themselves. It’s the brain’s way of ensuring our survival because being aware of too many painful feelings at once can be too much to cope with. Just because we’re not aware of them, however, doesn’t mean they’re not there. And they continue to influence our lives, our choices and decisions, our career path and our relationships. You may be riding happily down the path of life, enjoying the view, but your subconscious mind is driving the bus. And that’s what steers in you in the wrong direction.

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Many relationship issues arise because of the unresolved issues from the past. For example, if you grew up with a father who was unreliable, irresponsible and a drinker, you can still grow up to be a happy, healthy reliable person yourself. But you will probably feel hurt by your father’s behaviour and betrayed by his lack of responsibility as a parent, among many other feelings. If you’re a woman, what you’ve learned from this early experience, then, is that men cannot be trusted. If your father and mother argued a lot, you’ve also learned that committed relationships are painful. So when your boyfriend asks you to move in with him, you say no, not because he’s a bad guy or you’re incompatible, but because your past hurts are directing your present life. Without realising it, you are afraid that the pain you felt in a relationship with your father will repeat itself in your relationship with your boyfriend.

The key to breaking this pattern is to recognise it. Ask yourself whether you are hesitant to move your relationship forward because your partner is unkind to you, or whether it’s because you’re afraid you will get hurt again. Be honest with yourself and the truth will emerge, as thoughts and feelings from your past push their way from your subconscious to your conscious mind, like a hairy biker pushing his way from the back of the bus.

Accepting these feelings is not easy. But it will allow you to see your life as it really is, and the people in it for who they really are. You will see what’s right for you and what’s wrong. You will see who will hurt you and who won’t. And then you can decide who will be in the driver’s seat.

Deborah Ward's new book, Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness, is available now.

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