Your past is connected to your present and future.
Emotional health is a broad term but I see it as an overall sense of “alrightness,” of peace, of emotional flexibility, openness, absence of shame and felt happiness. Others may define it differently. Many people are positively shaped by their experiences but some have a different story. There are also many who have experienced negative consequences of their earlier experiences, often times leading them to therapy (and they may not even realize what ails them has roots in the past initially).
Ways experiences can impact your emotional health include:
- Negative views of self (I’m unlovable, I’m not a priority, I’m not good enough…)
- Mood disorders (depression, anxiety)
- Emotional regulations problems (easily agitated, rage, hair-trigger, overwhelm, lack of resilience)
- Lack of trust of others and the world
Many understand the connection between past and present in this way. But sometimes there are those who don’t buy it because they believe, “What’s done is done and I can’t do anything about it.” True as that may be, there is more to the story. You can’t change what happened but if your self, other and world views are skewed in unhelpful ways because of your experiences, especially if they occurred during childhood, THAT is what can benefit from exploration and CAN change.
Some ways wounds can show themselves:
- Struggles with self-esteem and self-compassion
- Difficult relationships (high-conflict, trust problems, unhelpful patterns)
- Addiction and other self-destructive behaviors
Unresolved family of origin wounds are profoundly related to emotional health. I cannot think of one client in my individual therapy practice who has not had wounding in some way, whether they initially connected those dots or not. The reason why children are the most vulnerable to negative experiences with the people closest to them (and other trauma-related scenarios) is they don’t have the cognitive ability to make sense of the events/actions as adults do. If you have your own children or have been around a lot of children, you’ve probably noticed the world revolves around them (in their own minds). It’s for this reason that difficult situations can be internalized in damaging and false belief systems about what these events/actions HAD TO DO WITH THEM. This mis-attribution can plant a seed that grows into a weed that strangles their sense of selves and relatedness to others as adults.
Here are a few types of family of origin wounds:
- Childhood trauma (sexual, physical, emotional)
- Harsh, critical parenting style
- Rejecting or dismissing parenting style
- Chaotic, fear-based environment
- Witnessing a violent, high conflict parental relationship
- Emotional deprivation or being left alone
There are untold numbers of trajectories people take being children who have experienced some of these conditions. Simply know that the way people function as a result can range from extreme life dysfunction to seemingly “under control” (an effective yet not ultimately productive coping mechanism) yet it’s clear there’s something simmering and unresolved under the surface. A wounded adult might personalize things often or push people away with their criticism and judgment. A wounded adult might be involved in a power-control type relationship, either as the victim or perpetrator. Neither of them would likely be in that type of dynamic had they been emotionally healthy individuals.
If you resonate with being a person who struggles as a result of old wounds, you are far from alone. Being a therapist bearing witness to life-changing shifts in others - and having worked through many of my own family of origin wounds in therapy, I know it to be true that change is possible. It doesn’t serve you in the long run to deny or minimize painful experiences because “what’s done is done.” It does, however, serve you to bravely look back, to face and develop a new relationship with the shadows of the past.
Find someone to help guide you through it – and out to the other side. Therapy with a skilled therapist can be a valuable tool to empower you to make lasting, positive change.