Once you understand something, it’s hard to stay mad at it.
I also support parents who are struggling in their relationship with their kids, from primary school-aged, all the way through to young adulthood. Raising kids is hard. Full stop. However, there are right and wrongs in this journey. Perhaps the wrong you did is less the point, than the amends that are required to make up for it. And some parents aren’t sure how to make amends, or even acknowledge that they should.
The point is, our journeys with ourselves, and in our relationships with others, are made up of many imperfect moments. We are not perfect beings, and therefore the very act of being in relationships means you are going to hurt people, and people are going to hurt you. For some, these can be benign, small things that cause hurt feelings of varying levels. For others, these moments are physical or sexual in nature and cause much deeper and long lasting pain. When you come to terms with the fact that the Incident happened in your relationship, how do you move forward?
There are three main things to focus your attention on:
- the Incident itself,
- the consequences of the Incident, and
- how to start moving forward.
How did this happen? Can you say out loud, or listen to someone else say out loud, the thing you did, or the thing you said, that hurt someone you love. What about if you are the victim? Have you been able to acknowledge that what happened to you, or was said to you, was not appropriate? What were the circumstances? Were you angry? Were you in an emotional state that you could have managed differently? What were the circumstances in your lives? Once you have a broader view of the context of your lives, or as some like to say, the view from 30,000 feet, you can start to consider how far reaching the consequences have been. And maybe you will not be moving on as part of a couple. But whichever path you chose, you must have an understanding of what was happening for you in the moments leading up to this impassable place.
Consequences range, depending on what it is you are trying to get over. Sometimes consequences stretch this period of time out for a long time, for example, if you are dealing with the legal system as a result of a domestic violence charge. Perhaps you are with an unforgiving partner, child or colleague. Consequences can be far reaching, from judgment from your family and friends, to job suspension or loss. Coming to terms with the natural consequences of your choices can be difficult, especially if you feel misjudged, mistreated or a victim of circumstances yourself. Sitting with all of these unresolved feelings is difficult, especially if you haven’t been able to lean on your partner for support. You might be able to move forward with your partner, or you might be starting to face the possibility that you will be moving forward without that significant person in your life.
Moving forward is one general step, but the biggest one. Moving forward involves deep reflection and self-education. Reflection on the nature and state of your relationship, from the beginning, and everything leading up to the Incident. Understanding how you got to this place in the first place. Educating yourself on where your experience falls with other people who are in similar circumstances. You might feel alone, however the depth of the emotional pain felt by people who are emotionally disconnected from themselves, from their loved ones and from their sources of pain who are struggling in relationships, is universal.
Focusing on the 'Incident' is where most people get stuck.
But the reality is, there were 100 things that happened in your life, in your relationship (and in your past relationships), that led you to be in that place at that moment, when the incident occurred. Whether it was a marital argument, losing your cool with your child, being intoxicated at a work function and getting fired, saying something hurtful or hateful you immediately regret but can’t take back, or compromising your values and putting yourself at future emotional risk. Once you have a deeper understanding of how you found yourself in the situation where this Incident occurred, you can acknowledge the very fact that you are there. You probably did the best you could, with what you knew. Looking back, it might also be reasonable to think there might have been some other things you could have done that could have changed the path you were on. However, you didn’t. And here you are. Acceptance for this very simple fact is one step that is necessary to move forward.
Once you have accepted that You Are Here, you can look out ahead of you in life and start to figure out where you want to be. Notice I didn’t say, ‘where you are going’ because now you are driving now with a clear windshield. You can see some signs that you didn’t see before. You can make a decision ahead of time, whether you want to get off that highway or continue on. Our society does a great job of encouraging us to ‘stay the course’, ‘never quit’ or ‘never give up’ which sends the message that you just have to keep plowing forward no matter what is blocking your path. But the truth is, you can exit at the next town anytime you want. There are new and different people living there, with new shops, new restaurants and new schools. There are ALWAYS options. You can learn to insert a pause and breathe, where previously, there was no consideration to making that exit. Once you allow yourself to consider the fact that you do in fact have a choice, you can start to consider your options.
Collectively, we know so much more about health, science, the development of disease and the choices we make in life, than anyone has ever known throughout humanity. No doubt, some of our more ancient cultures have known these things intuitively a lot longer than popular culture acknowledges, but now we have science to prove it. For decades, mental health and medical professionals have understood that emotional, physical or sexual abuse of children impacts long-term health, both physical and emotional, outcomes for those children as the move into adulthood.  Thinking about making amends to people we have hurt, should also include making amends to ourselves. Relationship science now tells us that it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative one!  You can start to think about the changes you can make in your life moving forward to bring less judgment, and more self-compassion forward. To bring more emotional safety in your relationships and less hurt.
What comes before, impacts the future.
The same principle holds true in our daily lives, and in our daily interactions with our loved ones. As we have reviewed, when something, that Thing, is bothering you, or repeatedly comes up, in your relationships, your first step is to own it as your problem, and the second step is to reflect on how you got this problem. Its important here to unpack this problem with someone you trust, someone who will not just tell you what you want to hear, and someone who you also feel safe with and you feel will not judge you.
Once you have a clearer picture of why you keep making the choices you are making, including the ones that are causing you pain or turmoil in your life, it makes sense doesn’t it? Of course that’s why things have happened this way, because of X, Y and Z. A-ha. Now, what do we do now?
Envision your future.
Your life is yours to live and to create. If you’ve got stuff tripping you up, its time to take the blinders off. Your experience of your life is what holds the answers to the questions that keep coming up for you, not what anyone else thinks your life should be. Acknowledging how you got here, reflecting on what all of your options are (even the ones you don’t like), and doing a totally free brainstorm of what your future could possibly look like are worthwhile pursuits that could totally change your life for the better. Move away from being someone bogged down by a once debilitating incident that unleashed undesirable consequences in your life, to someone who can own that a negative but understandable problem is now something that is positive, empowering and life affirming.
Learning to repair in relationships is a fundamental life skill, one we have not done a great job of teaching our ourselves, or our kids, in the past. However greater awareness of the critical importance of healthy relationships – both with ourselves and with our loves ones, their impact on our physical and emotional health – is what allows us to thrive once again. Yes, you can move past whatever it is that you feel is holding you back. There is a process and you aren’t the only one who feels this way. Each new, positive and emotionally safe interaction with the ones you love (partner, children or extended family) can help heal the wounds of the past, should you chose to move forward in that direction.
 For more info, check out the CDC website and all the interesting information on The ACE study. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/