In my therapy practise, the work lately seems to be about helping clients release and let go of ‘unfinished business’ from the past; whether it’s an old romance that still niggles away at their psyche, healing from a past trauma, or coming to terms with one’s family-of-origin and learning to reposition oneself in our families as the adult women we are now, rather than reacting like the child we used to be.
For example, one client came to me because she was having trouble trusting the new partner in her life, even though they were getting along and he treated her very well. She couldn’t shake the belief that he would one day discover that she ‘wasn’t worthy’ of him and trade her in for a prettier, younger version. I hear this story a lot for some reason- as an unbiased observer, it always strikes me as ludicrous because the woman sitting before me is inevitably bright, beautiful, and lovely with everything going for her. But hey, I’ve been there myself so no judgment on my end.
Once we examined her family-of-origin and recent relationship history, it became extremely understandable why she was having this particular reaction to her new mate. As a child, her father didn’t ‘get’ her because she was shy and sensitive and needed emotional connection from him and he was the exact opposite temperament. This set up a devastating dynamic for the little girl who always felt that her daddy was rejecting her and came to the conclusion that because he was uncomfortable around her and couldn’t meet her emotional needs that there was something horribly defective about her-that she was basically unlovable.
Fast-forward twenty years when she’s in a long-term relationship and chooses a partner just like daddy- who doesn’t ‘get’ her and is emotionally unavailable- and you have a formula for lifelong pain and suffering. In fact, the boyfriend before her latest love went even further than her father had- he kept leaving her, and thus, she was always on edge when they’d reunite, wondering when the other shoe would drop once again and she’d be without him.
With this background context, it’s understandable why she was having such trouble trusting her new boyfriend and believing that he was actually there for her and wasn’t going anywhere. What was extremely helpful for this particular woman was to gain an understanding of where all of these anxious thoughts and feelings came from (i.e., past experiences with men), letting go of judging herself for having them, and instead, finding some closure with her father and the previous boyfriend who had helped create this state of high anxiety for her in relationships with men.
One of the best methods I know for obtaining closure with the past is through letter writing. This is what I prescribed to this particular client and it worked wonders. In her case, I suggested she write letters to both her father and the most recent ex that she did not send to them. This part is extremely important! This exercise is for your own therapy and can cause terrible boomerang effects if it’s shared with the people you have unfinished business with. You write such a letter by stating the facts of what happened in the past between the two of you and what they did or said to you specifically that has caused damage. Then you write about how the behaviour and/or words affected you and how it’s still affecting you now (especially in your current relationships), and why you want to let it go for good.
If you don’t feel safe leaving this writing to be found by others, simply type it out in a blank Word document and delete it immediately after writing so there is no trace of it for others to find later on.
Then write a letter to your inner child (the darling little girl you once were and still are inside) stating the opposite of what you were taught that was so damaging. In the case, my client told her little girl that she was totally lovable and deserved a wonderful man who could give her what she needed. She also told her that the big her (i.e., the adult she is now) totally loves and accepts the little girl exactly as she is and that she deserves all that she desires in relationships
Good luck with putting the past where it truly belongs- in the past.
Esther Kane, MSW, Registered Clinical Counsellor, is the author of the book and audio program, “It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide To Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies” (www.endyoureatingdisorder.com ) and “Dump That Chump”(www.dumpthatchump.com ), and “What Your Mama Can’t or Won’t Teach You”(www.guidebooktowomanhood.com). Sign up for her free monthly e-zine, Women’s Community Counsellor, to uplift and inspire women at: http://www.estherkane.com .