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The luggage of the past you carry affects your interpersonal relationships badly, sometimes devastatingly. If you carry less luggage, it often translates to more comfort and makes relationship a pleasure

Man hugging woman

Baggages that couples often carry are, essentially, toxic contaminants. They need to be identified and removed for the sake of marital health and harmony.

If you have, in some way, been emotionally scarred prior to entering a relationship and scars remain unhealed, you may be inadvertently and unintentionally contaminating the relationship, yet contaminating it.

Sexual molestation or physical abuse in childhood may also sometimes come in the way of freely participating in an intimate relationship. Likewise, when you have been deeply hurt in a previous relationship, or marriage, you may carry the pain and fear into the new relationship, and project it onto your partner.

The downside that Freud figured

If you have had a painful and combative relationship with either one or both of your parents, you may have great difficulty relating freely with your partner. If you have witnessed your parents in a conflicted or dysfunctional relationship, it may deeply affect how you relate in your own man-woman relationship. Whatever the cause, if you have been scarred emotionally, the experience changes who you are and how you relate within your current relationship.

Sigmund Freud's view is - all symptoms and strange and unhealthy ways of thinking/behaving are the result of our struggle to cope with a hostile environment in the growing years when one has limited inner and outer resources. These coping strategies, which get developed as survival mechanisms at a particular time and environment, may be unnecessary and even inappropriate in a current scenario, when not only the environment could have changed, but you have access to additional resources. You are also now an adult - an autonomous human being. Nevertheless, when one is unaware one may remain on auto-pilot, mechanically reacting in a way that you are used to, contaminating your present adult-interpersonal relationship.

Emotional scarring

In addition to emotional scars, we also carry thought, feeling and behaviour patterns of our childhood in our body-mind. Psychologist Eric Berne defined them as ego-states.

Each person has three ego states which are separate and distinct sources of behaviour: 1. the parent ego state, 2. the child ego state, and 3. the adult ego state. These are not abstract concepts, but realities. When you are acting, thinking, or feeling, as you observed your parents to be doing, you are in your parent ego state. When you are feeling and acting as you did when you were a child, you are in your child ego state. When you are dealing with current reality, gathering facts and computing objectively, you are in your adult ego state.

All emotional scars, defence mechanisms, unhealthy coping strategies and patterns keep you fragmented and less than whole. In other words, they act as contaminants in the relationship. The truth is that you cannot give away what you do not have. If your heart is encumbered with pain and angst, and if your mind is controlled by unconscious childhood patterns, you cannot give pure, clean and unencumbered love to anyone. You become part of the "pain chain," wherein your own victimisation is transferred to other people in your life - because, a "victim" creates another "victim," and the "pain chain" goes on and on.

This brings us to the removal of all such contaminants and toxic elements in a relationship. How can we accomplish this task?

  • Acknowledge that you are bringing in a contaminant
  • Enlist the aid of a counsellor who can help you to specifically identify, challenge and transcend your pain that is creating the contamination
  • Be accountable for your pain
  • Try to actively do whatever it takes to transcend your own pain - i.e., participate in your own healing and break the "pain chain."

It may sound strange when one suggests that people are accountable for what happened to them as a child - so let us be clear.

Be a survivor, not victim

You may have been victimised, and yes, you were a victim, but you should understand that those who have victimised you have themselves been victim of circumstances. One victim victimises another and creates another victim. Which means: you are creating, and will continue to create more victims if you don't consciously choose to break the "pain chain." You can stop the transference of pain, right now, with you. You can choose to say: "Enough, I shall not pass it on. I choose to break the chain with me." This is the meaning of being "accountable" for your pain.

We are not at all suggesting that you as a child were accountable for what happened to you as a child. Having said that, accountability only means that the adult [grown-up child] holds the responsibility for what he or she does in the aftermath of painful events in life. The adult can consciously choose to see how s/he is unintentionally, but undeniably, contaminating the relationship, and can consciously choose to stop contamination through self-healing.

Once this is done, the pain of the past is not trivialised. Also, you will become totally responsible today, for your tomorrow. If you are aware today [present], you break away from yesterday [past], and you create a new tomorrow [future].

Result: the "pain chain" is broken with you. You are no longer a "victim." You are a "survivor."

Agree, Don't Deny

Don't delude yourself into thinking that you can effectively compartmentalise your emotional pain and keep it from infecting your relationship. It requires an immense amount of energy to keep it contained, more so, when pain or discord constantly remains inside like an about-to-erupt volcano with bubbling lava.

In addition, the very fact that so much of energy is devoted to containment of the pain undeniably changes who you are. Denial or suppression of unresolved feelings or unaddressed problems does nothing to help a relationship. In fact, if there is anything worse than having a problem, it is denying that you have one. The fact is - no relationship can survive the onslaught of dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours stemming from unresolved issues and unhealed scars of the past.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre

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