Ok I'll admit it. I am a pretty devoted fan of the ABC reality show The Bachelor and I watch it every week with my wife. Let the judgment rain down upon me, I can handle it. The show certainly has it's trashy moments, and the premise is bizarre at best. 30 single women come to a mansion vying for the love and attention of 1 man and he proposes to one of them at the end of the show. I usually turn off my "counseling" brain when I'm not at work because it would be too exhausting to have it on at all times and no one would want to be around me, but one of the main reasons I like this show is because it provides really fascinating glimpses into relational dynamics- how the women befriend one another or don't and why some women click with the bachelor and others don't. The aspect of the show that is getting my attention today is how we respond under stress and emotional turmoil.
It Brought Out the Worst in Me
You will repeatedly hear contestants on this show talk about how they had no idea how to handle the situations it presented and how it brought out parts of them they had no idea existed and didn't like. This is on television for the world to see, and many viewers love judging the characters for flying off the handle or being obnoxious. But this show is touching on the truth that for all of us, when something touches on our wounds or insecurities, bad things can happen. It's amazing how many of the contestants talk about feeling worthless or unlovable. Usually, the closer we are to someone, the more power they have to touch on these wounds, especially if they are a spouse or someone we're romantically interested in. The only difference between us and the unfortunate contestants on the show is that our daily poor responses to emotional upset are not broadcast.
So how will we find a way to respond differently when we're feeling rejected, attacked, worthless? I would suggest that whenever something in the present triggers a strong emotional response that it is likely connected to an unhealed wound in the past. We all long for acceptance and security, and God designed it that we would come to experience this through our parents and in relationship with Him. Our parents are very important in our development. Many people want to downplay the role of parents or the role of their past in general and they dismiss therapy because it seems to be so focused on the past. There's a lot that could be said in response to this, but for the sake of brevity I will just ask "How is that working out for you? Are you able by sheer force of will to have a great marriage or change your behavior? When your spouse hurts you are you able to respond exactly as you would like? When you are on the show The Bachelor and another woman steals away the guy you've been talking to for 2 minutes and have only just met and you lose it for the next several hours, do you think it is only related to what just happened or could it be tapping into something deeper?" Ok that last question might not apply to you but I hope you get the point. I once read a helpful analogy that our lives are like a train- if the train derails off the tracks at age 10 by the time we are 40 we will be very far from our original destination. You cannot just redirect the train to start traveling in the right direction. You must go back to where it went off the rails and move on from there.
Even in the best of families, we all have wounds because we all have sin and there's no such thing as perfect parents. Abuse is horrendous and usually easily recalled, but it is harder to wrap our heads around lack of nurturing, physical affection, and verbal affirmation. By the time we are adults we have received so many slights, disappointments, and outright wounds that it's only by God's grace we can function in society. We need to be willing to look at those wounds and to do the necessary work so that they can be healed and we can stop getting triggered and set off by those around us in the present. This does not mean that we criticize our parents or become victims and whiners. It means having the courage and honesty to understand where we might have gone off the rails and taking responsibility for it.
I've recently synthesized steps toward healing from a variety of books I have read over the years that I will post following this one to begin to give you some idea of what that process looks like. For now, my main aim is to help you see that your current situation isn't the only problem and that there is benefit to looking at your past and finding healing there.