Guess what? Your endless loop of negative feelings are what’s keeping true intimacy at arms length.
And until you learn how to recognize the pattern of negative emotions that escalate from hurt, to looking for a new relationship, you’re risking having to start looking for a new partner again and again.
See, in relationships that never rise above hurt the worst habit we practice is an unwillingness to press a reset button. Transgressions never heal because there’s always “something else” to feel hurt about. This destructive pattern ultimately traps our minds in a negativity loop that limits the amount of emotional pleasure we can experience in our relationships.
So while your significant other may they’re doing what they can to make up for a transgression swimming in your head, you end up missing the full impact their efforts have. Why? Because you’re stuck in emotions that are dredged up every time you remember said offensive acts.
This means not only are you missing out on the pleasures your relationship could offer due to your partners efforts, you’re creating larger emotional wedges each time you vomit those negative emotions up. Next thing you know your partner is walking away, feeling like nothing they do will ever help you feel good about them, and your relationship in general.
This can create a “well, what am I trying for anyway?” thought pattern, as they begin their journey to giving up altogether.
If you recognize yourself in this post, you need to deal with this loop before it get out of control.
“To even the scales of justice, I’m going to do this hurtful thing today for the pain I experienced a year ago.”
This type of behaviour means your relationship never has a chance to heal and move forward. The lack of emotional evolution means feelings can’t grow deeper, gain security, and evolve to a level where you both feel absolutely magical together.
When positive emotions are constantly sideswiped by negative ones we start to guard our feelings, and this act of self-protection means we don’t allow our hearts to open up and trust completely.
This pattern is how you end up with couples who stay together not because they’re sharing a relationship filled with love, mutual understanding, and respect, but “because of the children” or “for financial reasons”.
To fully understand negative emotions and their impact on relationships, lets list them in the order in which they escalate. By recognizing the pattern that leads to the complete destruction of a relationship you’ll be able to interrupt this decline at any point, and turn the whole ship around.
At the base of all your negative emotions is an act that felt like a transgression, causing an emotional wound. This could be anything from an inconsiderate comment to a straight out betrayal, but the most hurtful aspect of the transgression is the other person’s lack of sincere apology or regret.
Left unresolved, hurt can morph into other, harsher emotions, that cloud judgement and drive actions towards bigger negative consequences.
When hurt is left to its own devices it will often turn into fear, and this is where the mind clouding effects start to take over. Fear in itself is a survival mechanism, meant to help us identify what we should avoid. Fear the edge of the cliff, fear the poison snake, fear the giant bear, basically, fear being hurt.
Fears purpose is to take over our minds and drive our actions into a protective stance. Fear is the emotion that leads us into a fight or flight state, which means if your most consuming emotion is fear your brain is desperately looking for an escape route. Given enough time without escape, this self-protective emotion will then morph into a stronger, more powerful form, meant to further help you out of this “dangerous” situation.
Now you’re overlooking the goodness in your relationship because you’re on guard, and looking to “fix” your emotional pain at all costs. Which will often lead you to…
Anger is usually a by-product of fear. Think about the car that cut you off on the highway; you honked your horn and swore, but what was the emotion you had right before going into an angry tirade? Fear.
That anger, accompanied by the resentment you feel over your inability to feel good in the relationship, begins to create what I call an offensive defensiveness. Now, instead of just shielding yourself from further attack you start setting up an emotional army, ready to strike at the first opportunity. Ain’t no good defense like a good offence, right?
“How can I protect myself?” becomes “How can I make this transgression so painful to my partner they’ll never do it again? How can I forcefully ward off further hurt? How can I make my partner pay for all this suffering I’m experiencing so they understand how much it hurts and never do it again?” Which then becomes…
With the transgressions blasting angrily through your mind on repeat, you may begin to look for opportunities to enact your offense. When a particular transgression is never resolved that offence can take years to come into play, waiting for its opportunity to come out and “make things right.”
The unfortunate part of this is the unexpected hurt your partner experiences, since they have no idea you’ve been harboring a scenario to the point where you’re willing to vomit it up years later, using it as an explanation for your present negative behaviours.
Being surprised in this negative way will create a fresh round of hurt, fear, and anger within your partner, and in response they’ll withdraw emotionally as they put up their own defenses. Then usually strike out angrily, trying to deal with their own newly wounded emotions.
“Why would you hurt me today for something that happened so long ago? Why didn’t you even tell me you were still bothered by this?” will be their main thought, and when they ask those questions usually both of you will go into the next phase of emotionally negative spins known as….
People are loathe to admit when they are wrong, and there’s an evolutionary purpose to that.
Our brains are geared towards helping us ensure we can maintain a functional role within societies because there’s strength in numbers. Fundamentally, it’s much easier to survive when many people contribute to procuring resources like food and shelter, and protection from perceived threats.
Because of this our brains are adapted to overlook our flaws and give us a sense of “rightness” so we don’t question our ability to fit with people. The opposite of this mindset? To beat ourselves up so much we don’t feel we deserve the company of other human beings. So this inherent trait makes it easy for us to sincerely defend our sense of rightness. But… our instincts don’t take into account our happiness.
Unfortunately if all a person is doing is deflecting they’re never acknowledging what could have been done differently, and positive change doesn’t happen because we never look to identify real, concrete solutions. Instead, we often fall into the next negative emotion.
Leading us to…
Blame is the most dis-empowering emotion on the spectrum because it doesn’t give you a chance to change the outcome. If all the power for a better relationship lies solely on someone else’s shoulders, while unchecked anger over transgressions create their own negative courses of action, there’s little your partner can do to help you feel better. Though one action may be taken to attempt to compensate for one hurt, other retaliatory behaviours will ultimately cancel out any positive impact your partner is trying to have on the relationship.
And in this way hurt, fear, anger, revenge, defensiveness, and blame keep cycling over and over.
Which can then lead to…
This emotion spells the beginning of the end for most relationships. When someone feels like nothing can be done to change the pattern of negative emotions hopelessness can set in, and partners truly give up on even attempting positive change.
“No matter what I do I’m always in the dog house.”
Now, instead of planning a future together people begin to plan their exit strategies, thinking “what’s the point of even trying. Nothing is going to change anyway.” This hopelessness can then breed contempt, as we begin to hate our partner’s perceived neglect for our emotional well-being.
But change is always around the corner. All it takes is the power to observe your own reactions and take responsibility for them.
Sometimes relationships can go through some very turbulent times, as people learn to adjust to each other’s individuality while also dealing with past issues creating fearful knee jerk reactions in the present moment.
Fear that past pains will repeat themselves can make us say or do hurtful things to our present partner, and if we never take responsibility for our reactions when we have them or forgive our partners when they themselves exhibit those reactions, we end up in a constant cycle of hurt and negativity.
I like to say, the answer to the question “Is it too late now to say sorry?” is, never. It’s never too late to say you’re sorry about your past reactions and change the course going forward, and it’s never too late to accept your partner’s apology either.
Your resistance to this simple key will keep you from moving forward and creating something better in your future.
Apology and forgiveness is the first step towards healing the past pains you’ve caused each other.
The second step is a measure that keeps you from falling down the same rabbit hole all over again, and this means modifying your brain in order to gain a better outcome going forward. I always tell my clients, “I can’t help you achieve a new life with your old brain.”
The part of your brain responsible for your fear reaction, called the amygdala, can be shrunken in size by doing a few minutes of mindfulness/meditation every day. This will reduce your capacity to feel stress, anxiety, fear, and anger, and a reduction in those negative emotions makes it easier to forgive yourself and your partner, and keeps you from being so reactive going forward. This will also keep you grounded in the present moment, helping you see and appreciate your partner’s efforts.
Know that the increase in grey matter in your hippocampus that your mindfulness exercises will create also increases your ability to feel compassion, which not only helps you pick up that apology when it’s put on the table and move forward, but subsequently helps you see both you and your partners behaviour for what it is – mere reactions to past pains and not something intentionally meant to fundamentally damage each other’s well-being. (IF you’re in a relationship with someone who ISN’T a douchebag. If you’re wondering if you are, it might be time to read my book No More Assholes to gain some perspective)
Remember, perspective is key to forgiveness. If you can understand why either you or your partner had a negative, hurt reaction, then you’re better able to forgive and move past it before that hurt escalates into something more damaging to your relationship.
So what can you do about all this?
First, understand that negative feelings don’t happen in a bubble. If you think about them long and hard enough, tracing them back to their origins will bring you face to face with the real reason why you felt hurt in the first place.
Dealing with the hurt is much more effective than trying to deal with all the fallout unresolved hurt creates, so becoming a pro at analyzing your feelings before they escalate means you’ll become more adept at warding off unnecessary fights.
Giving your partner room to grow and make mistakes is important to the evolution of a relationship, and it’s a leeway you’d want from them too. The more negative past experiences you’ve suffered the more likely it is you’re bringing baggage into your next relationship, and giving yourself and your partner room to make, and recover from, mistakes, means you’re giving both of you room to grow into better people.
Functional relationship are a safe place where we can finally heal and put the past behind us. If we’re constantly being reactive to the past, and then being reactive to our reactions, we’re never healing and are only replaying the same hurts over and over.
Dealing with the hurt instead of only the negative emotions that erupted from hurt will help you put out the pain once and for all, much like pointing a fire extinguisher at the base of the flame is much more effective than spraying the flames themselves.
Taking responsibility for your reactions, apologizing for the fallout, taking the time to understand and explain the origins will help both of you move forward, while practicing mindfulness will keep you from falling into the same cycles over and over again, clearing the path towards a functional relationship filled with love, personal growth, and appreciation for each other’s efforts and good qualities.
Chantal Heide is an Author and Motivational Speaker, focusing on dating and relationship building. Her books Dating 101, Comeback Queen, Fake Love Need Not Apply, No More Assholes, After The First Kiss, Fix That Shit, Say Yes To Goodness, and Custom Made (available on this website, Amazon, and your favourite online book retailer) . View her BOOKS page for more information. Be sure to sign up for her mailing list (scroll all the way to the bottom to join, and get a free book!) and check out more free advice on Facebook, YouTube, and Itunes, as well as fun tidbits about her life on Instagram and Twitter.