Letting go of the past
I have struggled with the feeling “I am not wanted” most of my life.
Perhaps it has something to do with my childhood. Given away by my mother to grandparents when I was one year old. Sent back to my parents when I was three years old. Admitted to boarding school when I was five years old. Even though the child couldn’t make sense of what it felt, I am sure he felt something. And if the feeling could have been expressed in words it would be “I am not wanted.”
During an outstation work assignment, I was once sharing accommodation with someone. During the initial part of our stay this person was warm and friendly. Then all of a sudden there was no communication. I felt awkward at this sudden change of behavior. When the lack of communication continued it triggered the feeling “I am not wanted.”
There was anger and outrage at such callous behavior.
I now realize there were two aspects to my pain. The first was the discomfort at someone’s unpredictable behavior. The other was reliving the trauma of childhood. The latter made it difficult to look at the situation as just another situation. It felt like a rejection.
Till the time we worked together I struggled with how to relate to this person? Initially I thought I would disregard my discomfort and continue to interact. However I couldn’t act friendly given what I was feeling. Then I thought I will not give this person much attention. This didn’t feel right either.
I observed my discomfort. And counted the days for the assignment to get over.
This brings me to the topic of this article. Dealing With Emotional Pain.
Our emotions are not just a reaction to what happens in the moment. The current situation triggers past emotions that are buried deep inside us. And because these painful feelings were not experienced fully in the past they accumulate over time. It is as though we are carrying a bag load of emotional gunpowder. A small spark is enough to ignite this explosive baggage.
The initial reaction when our pain is triggered is to blame someone for it. There is anger, outrage and outburst. Or suppression, withdrawal and condemnation. We seethe at the unfairness. We churn at the betrayal of trust. We boil in pain. It is as though we have regressed into the trauma of childhood. The pain creates a compelling story of victimization. The story feeds the pain. The pain feeds the story.
What can help in such a situation?
Till the time we hold others responsible for how we feel, we cannot heal. Our attention is consumed by ‘me’ and ‘my story’. If we hold onto the story we only feed our ego. The identity of a victim becomes stronger. The more our story is validated by others the more the ego derives juice out of it.
The first step towards healing is the recognition that what we are feeling is a recreation of the past. This is not the first time we are experiencing these emotions. This same emotion — rejection, hurt, abandonment, betrayal, isolation, worthlessness — has been felt in the past. Only the trigger is new. The emotion is old and familiar. Once this awareness dawns we can move to the next step.
Do not resist what is happening. Observe where the emotion is felt in the body. Is it a sensation in the throat, chest or abdomen? What is the sensation like? Ultimately all emotions are sensations in the body. While the mind churns stories of blame, judgement and victimhood, the body experiences sensations.
The more we avoid experiencing the physical pain, the more it perpetuates. We must now give our attention to what was not experienced fully in the past. When we simply observe what is happening without the desire to change it, in a state of surrender, the sensation dissolves. The emotional knot in our system that is blocking the flow of energy begins to open up.
What about dealing with the relationship that is triggering this emotion? What choice to make? Should we stop talking to the other person? Should we forgive and move on? Should we try to communicate and find out the cause of the behavior? The mind wants to know how to relate and what to do in this situation.
What I have found helpful is to let go of the need to know. Just be. Don’t try to find a solution. The solution is not in our ability to do something. But in our capacity not to do. When we are in touch with our feelings, the choice that is in alignment to our naturalness makes itself. The focus is not so much on seeking a particular outcome, but on finding inner harmony and balance.
Later I came to know the cause of my colleagues’ unusual behaviour. I happened to make a comment on his working style, which he did not like. Instead of communicating this to me he chose to withdraw. “I felt terrible.” he later told me. I had no idea. If only he had told me earlier, I would have apologized and we could have moved on.
But he could not do that. Because my statement triggered his emotional pain of worthlessness. I was not the only one with emotional baggage, he had his fair share too. Ultimately the cause of all our suffering are the seeds of trauma embedded in us. What the other person says or does activates what is already in us. Unless we bring these emotional patterns to our awareness we will keep recreating the past and blame others for it.
There are no coincidences in life. Whoever we attract in our life for whatever period of time, we do so for a good reason. They provide the stimulus for transcending our suffering through awareness. Until we have exhausted our emotional baggage, the Universe will continue to put us in situations that ignite our pain. When we take full responsibility for our emotions, we open ourselves to divine grace and healing.
We grow through what we go through.