Let me start by saying, perfection is not the goal. As a believer in Christ, I know that I will be working out my salvation (becoming more like Christ) daily until the day I die. Put plainly, I’ll be a hot mess until I’m called home. So what I’m really pushing here is, awareness and the pursuit of our own healing.
Because of the human condition which is inherently flawed or sinful in nature, we are all bearing some kind of baggage. Whether it’s resulting from the environment we grew up in, our family dynamics, being exposed to any kind of abuse, a mental health diagnosis, overcoming the loss of loved ones, etc, we all grow up with something we’re still learning to navigate in our adult lives. And often this thing proves to be problematic in romantic relationships.
By now, you all know that I am a survivor of sexual trauma and it’s probably fitting to say that I am the survivor of emotional abuse as well. Both of these have in the past completely dictated the way I engage romantically. After years and years of pursuing healing of various kinds, my symptoms are much more controlled—not extinct, but certainly manageable.
When we don’t take the time to address our crap, here are some things that can happen:
- Codependency – A dear friend of mine feels strongly that most people are in codependent relationships (see post Is Codependency Masking Itself As Love in Your Life?). I’m not sure I disagree. When we don’t pursue our own healing, we end up expecting others to heal us. Codependency is insidious. It can be extremely subtle and seemingly harmless but the breakdown of these types of relationships is where you see the most damage. What this has looked like in my own life is being in a relationship with someone who is controlling or manipulative, and I justified their behavior because to speak out against it meant risking a loss of the relationship. But what happens is, the more I justify, the worse the behaviors get. Unhealthy people tend to attract one another. These types of relationships are usually the most explosive during rocky times because the issues in the relationships are likely attached to more deeply rooted problems that have not been addressed. So, meaning is assigned to these interactions that is not based on truth.
Example: a man who was abandoned by his mother has learned to stuff his issues. He enters into relationships with women subconsciously wanting them to fill that void. Inevitably the women disappoint and fail to consistently fill his voids so he displays any range of reactions (anger, disrespect, shutting down, passive aggression, etc.). The woman (likely also stuffing issues) feels the weight of these reactions and feverishly pursues the guy because for her, this feels like the scenario where she was constantly fighting to win her mother’s affection growing up.
(This is a toxic cycle that many remain in for years and sometimes the duration of their lives. Not realizing, the solution is to look inward (and upward to God) as opposed to grasping for straws outward.)
- Unrealistic Expectations – When we neglect our crap, we carefully curate the persona in which we project to the world and become rigidly attached to things, people, and ideals that buttress this persona. We become so incredibly well-defended/guarded and expect things to happen exactly the way we have it worked out in our head. When something happens out of the order we cling to, it turns our world upside down. The fact of the matter is, life does not go according to our plan. Things happen unexpectedly and that are outside of our control. But for the person with rigid expectations, this can cause great distress for us and those we are in relationship with. Anxiety and Depression are produced by this posture.
- Undiagnosed Mental Health – Internalized stress results in mental health and physiological issues. People who experience the greatest levels of internalized (unchecked) stress often possess characteristics of either depression, anxiety, or both. Mental health is a huge burden on relationships. Especially when it is not being actively managed.
A study cited in Psychology Today that was performed by Uzma Rehman and colleagues (2015) states, “people who have major depressive disorder have higher levels of distress in relationships, feel that their marriages are less satisfactory, and become unusually upset when problems develop in their relationships.They are more likely to blame their partners when things go wrong, and they tend to shut down emotionally instead of reach out and connect. Their partners, in turn, feel more emotionally burdened and distressed themselves.”
Likewise, anxiety.org says, “When someone is diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), if they are in a relationship, it likely has higher marital conflict. Individuals diagnosed with GAD may perceive the actions and intentions of others with greater suspicion and vigilance than those who do not experience this anxiety disorder. People experiencing GAD may also be more likely to feel easily hurt by others, and they relate to others with passive, aggressive, or intrusive interaction styles.”
All of these patterns are interconnected and not only pave the way for troubled relationships but also a compromised quality of life. It’s sooooo intuitive to stuff and try to avoid dealing with our crap., but imagine if we exert the same effort to actually resolve our issues. The impact of this is dynamic!
Recently, I provided my take on someone who is already in a relationship tackling their baggage.
“Veronica, I Need to Deal With My Stuff!”
Question: “I’m already in a relationship, is it too late to address my baggage?”
Answer: Absolutely not! Set aside some quiet time to write down the issues you tend to experience in your relationship and how they make you feel. Take each issue and peel back the layers until you get to the root. Example: You have an issue with your man/girl coming in late every night. This makes you feel angry and disrespected.
- Layer 1: You feel disrespected because you expressed your feelings about this and feel like you’ve been disregarded.
- Layer 2: You feel angry because this reminds you of a pattern from a previous relationship where you were cheated on.
- Layer 3: Being cheated on made you feel betrayed. Thus your current situation is triggering for you.
- Layer 4: Feeling betrayed was scary and left you feeling unloved and exposed.
- Layer 5: Feeling unloved and exposed resulted in you developing the core belief that you aren’t good enough. While you didn’t realize it, all of your efforts and striving in this relationship (and in life) have been to prove that you are good enough.
Once you peel back every issue to the root of your feeling/the way you experience it, test your findings against what is true. Compartmentalize these issues, example: A.) Issues you need to dig into and address on your own B.) Issues that are legitimate and need to be discussed with your partner in a logical way. Suggestion: Have an idea of what you need from your partner to collaboratively resolve these issues.
If you are single, you can follow the same process of peeling back the layers of issues you typically experience in dating relationships. Take advantage of this time to do a deep dive, seek counseling, do your own research, get involved in a supportive community (church, support group, etc.).
Let me know your thoughts surrounding unchecked baggage and dating relationships. This is a tough one because we tend to be crippled by fear here. The fear of unleashing pain and not knowing what the result of that will be. And the fear revealing our stuff to others.
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