What do you do when the past gets in the way?

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What do you do when the past gets in the way?

Do you sometimes get overanxious or panicky and find yourself unable to deal with everyday life? Do you feel vulnerable helpless and afraid when faced with certain situations, as if your usual coping mechanisms have suddenly failed?

Most of us feel anxious at some point in our lives. Behind anxiety lies a negative thought that triggers a fear of loss, rejection, abandonment, potential threat of harm or shame, as well as feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and incapacitation. At the root of it all is the belief that you are not good enough that triggers a fear of loss of control. This in turn increases our stress levels, creating havoc with our hormones and chemical balance, which results in anxiety and panic attacks.

Unfortunately, these behaviours are determined by our life experiences. Like an invisible suitcase, we carry our childhood wounds and those of our parents, sometimes through several generations, without being consciously aware of it. It’s only when something happens, that we are willing to look back into our past.

Many people believe the past is over and done with and you should simply ignore it and move on. But if your house had subsidence, would you ignore it, decorate it, and carry on? Or would you dig up the foundations, fix them and then paint to look good?

Strategy for survival

We all have a network of defence mechanisms that operate at an unconscious level to help us survive and cope with internal emotional turmoil which is usually rooted in our early childhood.

I know I often go on about the impact of our early developmental years. I’m not on a quest to blame our parents for all our mistakes. But like it or not, our formative years contribute, impact and play a big part on who we are today – fears, negative self-belief, low self-esteem and plenty of others all impact on our behaviour patterns. I would like to share Jane and Frank’s story to illustrate this.

Jane and Frank

Jane was having frequent bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. She’d wake up in the morning engulfed by anxiety and overwhelmed with panic to the point that she felt unable to face the day. Her husband Frank would get their three children ready and take them to school and nursery before going to work. 

Jane worked from home and most days she called her husband at work late morning sounding hysterical and unable to cope. He would leave the office, head home, and once he arrived, Jane settled into the day as if nothing had happened.

Jane and Frank’s relationship was strained. They were raising three young children and were in the process of renovating their house. They’d not socialised or had been intimate in over a year. Their time was focussed on work, home and the children, with no space to nurture their relationship. 

Jane believed her condition was medical, possibly relating to a heart problem, which had not been detected. She felt she was wasting her time in therapy. Frank wanted to investigate other possible causes, as all medical tests had been clear. As we explored Jane’s patterns and triggers of her anxiety, we unveiled a deep fear of loss. 

Jane’s father left the family home when she was a young child to be with a woman he had met at work. Jane and Frank met at work whilst still married to their previous spouses; they both subsequently divorced to be together and in the last couple of years Frank changed jobs. Essentially Jane feared Frank would meet someone else at work and leave her just as her father did and just as they had done to their previous spouses.

Effective strategies

Jane’s anxiety and panic attacks were her defence strategies. According to Jane’s unconscious thinking, it reduced the possibility of him meeting someone else. Remember, Jane wasn’t being deliberately controlling and manipulative – she was still hurt and traumatised by her father leaving and had simply developed an unconsciously effective strategy to safeguard her relationship. 

Empty nesters

It’s not just anxiety about affairs, or fear of being left where I am called in to help couples. I’ve come across many examples of these types of behaviours, in particular with couples whose children have grown up and left home. The emptiness of the home without children and the lack of need to keep the family together can develop into fear and loss, eventually triggering anxiety. Often it is the woman who is most affected. She may have focussed on being the homemaker and may not have developed a career or interest outside of the home. No longer having children to take care of, she may feel redundant and lost. This may lead to her relationships with her partner failing, as they drift apart, linked by marriage but with no common interests anymore to keep them together.

Explore your fears

The first step to getting a handle on your triggers is to explore your fears. When they happen, write them down in a notebook. Notice what strategies you used to either compensate or mask your fears. And what happens when you use your familiar defence mechanisms? Do they bring respite or does the situation end up with drama, arguments and further conflict so that you feel worse afterwards? If you are not feeling better, you need to find an effective way of healing so you can move on with your adult life in a healthy way. Working with a therapist will enable you to look at, understand and work on healing your early life wounds.

Change your behaviour

With so many people suffering with anxiety brought on by Covid, lockdown, financial concerns and many other reasons, it’s vitally important to seek help before baggage from your past starts to dictate your future. If you need professional support so you can develop healthy strategies enabling you to enjoy life and your relationships, call Carla Devereux on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.

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Psychotherapy delves deep into the root causes of your symptoms.  Psychotherapy in Solihull, encompasses a multitude of approaches, each offering a wide range of tools that help different people.