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Meet Hardknock Hannah. Oh, you know her already: she’s the girl who’s always got the short end of the stick. Forget phone home, this chick specialises in moan home. What’s more, nothing’s ever her fault, she takes no responsibility when situations turn sour and when life throws her lemons, she rubs them – along with some extra salt for effect – into the wounds of her most recent bruising experience. You’d nearly knock Hardknock on the head and be done with her for good, but with someone this totally and utterly miserable, there’s gotta be something else going on.
And there is. Michaela Fitzpatrick, a psychotherapist with Aspire Counselling and Psychotherapy, (www.aspirecounselling.com), says behaviour like this always harks back to past experiences.
“Those times when we’ve been deeply hurt or have hurt others may have impacted us so greatly that we were unable to fully feel or resolve associated emotions at the time,” she explains. That can entrench bad behaviour and give learned responses for the future.
“Unless you’ve attended counselling or some form of personal development, there’s a strong possibility that you’re unaware of just how influential emotions from previous experiences are on your present,” Michaela confirms. “The past very much influences who we are and how we interact today. Holding onto baggage can keep you back because your emotions directly influence how you think and behave.”
Emily, 26, was best pals with a Hardknock Hannah, whose parents’ bitter separation left her caught in the middle since childhood. Because they often vented their anger at her, for years Emily sympathised with her friend, and offered a shoulder to cry on. Eventually though, she began to see patterns emerging.
“She’d react the same way if her parents had a point or if they were being unreasonable; if they were giving out to her over something small, like not cleaning up after herself, she’d go bananas,” Emily explains. “She couldn’t take criticism and she would read so much into it. Clearly it all came back to those big family issues. No matter what, she’d play the victim and turn on the crocodile tears.”
Hardknock Hannah’s life obviously wasn’t plain sailing, but her penchant for drama did nothing to help, and she became her own worst enemy. The pair drifted out of touch when she began to spiral down a path of Lindsay Lohanesque self-destruction, despite three interventions by friends and family. Ignoring Emily for weeks, Hardknock Hannah would then point the finger when confronted. “We grew apart,” Emily sighs. “Mainly it was a lack of effort on her part and the fact that she always played the victim. She said I didn’t understand – but I tried.”
It’s a pattern Michaela Fitzpatrick knows well. “My clients have frequently expressed genuine shock that they were being affected at all by past situations. If we’ve been deeply hurt, we can carry that pain for a lifetime,” she explains.
If you’re oblivious, then that makes change impossible. “We’re creatures of habit and tend to hold onto and act according to what we know, even though these behaviours are potentially destructive,” points out Michaela.
So, how do you know if you’re hauling around unresolved baggage? Firstly, acknowledge that difficult events in your life have affected you.
“Everyone has some emotional baggage,” she reasons. “Yet we all want to avoid painful situations and gravitate towards happiness.” And it’s true that everyone copes with the crap that life throws at us differently, but the key is pinpointing how you feel about those situations, and recognising how you then allow those emotions to colour your behaviour and decisions in the now.
Think you’re exhibiting signs of being Hardknock Hannah? Key indicators would be to assess whether you’re repeating patterns of behaviour. Be really honest with yourself and examine your relationships, and also how you handle the hiccups and hurdles of daily life, like work feedback, for example.
It’s crucial to let others in, rather than point the blame or push them away, Michaela explains. Keeping a diary and practicing meditation techniques will help you work out what’s going on in your head.
Note To Self
“A useful exercise to do is to ask yourself what messages you’ve received about yourself, about others, or the world in general from your parents, lovers and significant others based on your interactions and responses from them,” Michaela advises. Too raw? “Talking about your past with a trained professional will help you explore your feelings, as well as offer a different perspective,” she says.
Shedding yourself of emotional baggage is a journey, and it’s one with many stops. You may find yourself unpacking that metaphorical suitcase over many months or years, bit by bit. But it’s a journey worth taking because if you don’t address issues that are causing emotional pain, they’ll continue to fester. “Our emotions are signals for action, they let us know what’s working and not working in our lives,” Michaela says. It sounds like an open and shu