Lifestyle‎ > ‎

Family History and Relationships - Exploring Emotional Baggage

posted 6 Nov 2010, 14:21 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 6 Nov 2010, 14:23 ]

Some relationship issues are easily resolved. But if they are
rooted in past "baggage," they often require a deeper look
before you and your partner can move forward.

"Archaeology is our voyage to the past, where we discover
who we were and therefore who we are." Camille Paglia

Why does man (and woman) look back?

When an archaeologist locates a previously unknown
settlement, he/she may spend years excavating, collecting,
studying and analyzing artifacts and relics to glimpse a
reasonable picture of the past. The study of history helps
us see how societies sustained themselves, why some survived
and others collapsed. It helps us avoid the mistakes of our
ancestors and emulate their successes.

The Archaeological Dig in Therapy

"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History
is who we are and why we are the way we are." David

Why do therapists look back? How could your family history
so long ago possibly have an impact on your relationship?
Some would say, "Ridiculous."

Take the example of Joan and Steve:

Joan: You never spend time with me. After work, you come
home, eat dinner and then head to the basement to watch
ESPN. I ask you to come upstairs when I go to sleep and you
say, "Be there in a minute," but I am usually asleep before
you get into bed. I feel so alone every night.

Steve: Don't you get it that after working all day and
managing 15 women, I need downtime and alone time. I need to
escape the stress from the day?

Joan: Why can't you do that with me? I am not one of the
women you supervise, I'm your wife.

Steve: I don't know. Your feelings are so intense and I feel
smothered. It's not about you; I just need some "me" time.

Joan: It's always about you. I feel abandoned every night;
doesn't that matter to you?

In counseling, the therapist learns that Joan grew up in a
family where her parents were always in conflict. After a
fight, her father would walk out. Each time this happened
she felt more and more anxious and worried that he wouldn't
come back. When she was 11, her worst fear came true.

The therapist also learns that when Steve was eight years
old, his father left for another woman. His father divorced
his mother and a year later married the "other woman." When
his father and new wife had children, Steve's father stopped
coming around. He had "another family."

Joan and Steve's current relationship issue is actually
rooted in the past - and deeply.

The Power of Then

Thornton Wilder believed that "the Past is not dead," in
fact, he wrote, "the Past isn't even Past."

Our past, if you think about it, is who we are.  Who or what
else can we really be - a self no less reflective of a
precise stacking and most intricate interweaving of all the
events of our life - beginning even before "Day One" of our

We are often lying to ourselves if we think we can just "get
over it and move on."  According to the burgeoning field of
Brain Science and the new uses of interventions such as
functional MRIs and PET scans, past events and life
experiences are not only carefully and exhaustively
inventoried in our feelings, but remain active. They are
physiologically alive and well, and forever asserting
themselves in feelings, thinking and decision making. Even
more so when we try to repress them. And what makes us even
more vulnerable, is that we are substantially unaware that
this process is even going on.

Our only real choice here is to bring this material up to
consciousness, painful and fearful though it may be, and not
to "move on" from it, but to chose to move into and through
it with courage and expanded awareness, lest our unconscious
past control us.

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but
if faced with courage, need not be lived again." Maya Angelou

Your Choice

Will you choose to be courageous enough to confront your
fears, your sadness and your pain and bring your history to
consciousness, so you can work with it to fashion the
journey you want take in your life, and in your
relationship? If you answered "yes," you are ready to
undertake your "Archaeological Dig."

Your Archaeological Dig

Here is our way of conducting an archaeological dig so you
will not have to repeat your past:

1) Unearth - Dig up your past with conscious intention and
embrace it.

2) Under-stand - Or "stand under" it and observe the
information you learn about your family history.

3) Unravel - Undo the knots; think about and analyze the
meaning of what you found and in what ways it blocks you.

4) Unlock - Free yourself from the past; take turns telling
your story, explore as partners, and help each other carry
your respective baggage.

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat
it." George Santayana

About the Author:

Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, is a licensed counselor and
co-founder of Relationships Work. Along with her husband and
co-therapist, Bob Hollander, LCSW-C, JD, Lori encourages
couples to consciously co-create their relationships and
achieve a more intimate connection.

Dive deeper into the topic of Emotional Baggage with
thought-provoking audio resources: