Are you a fan of horror movies and flesh-eating zombie shows?
Perhaps (and I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek) this is because I deal with so many real ghosts and zombies in my work … and, just like anyone else, in my personal life.
Because ghosts and zombies are definitely real. They will haunt you, and they do eat your brains.
Obviously (I hope!) I’m not talking about the paranormal remnants of once-living people.
I’m talking about the ways in which our past experiences, going back as far as we can remember (and even further), impact our present-day relationships.
A client with an unpredictably quick-to-anger mother is now hyper-defensive against the potential anger of her colleagues. She tells me of her tendency to over-react and her feelings of shame and embarrassment for being, as she puts it, “so unreasonable.”
Another client with a constantly-critical mother is slowly recovering her ability to acknowledge herself for making progress and doing the best she can. She regrets how quickly she deflects compliments and expressions of respect for what she’s achieved.
And another client is quick to defend his space and his needs, protecting himself from long-past relationships where others demanded much and gave little. He speaks of wanting to be a better person and open himself to empathy for the important people in his life – people who give much and for whom he wants to do more.
No one is immune from ghosts and zombies. I have my own, which haunt me into unwillingness to ask for help when I need it – and, even more, into feeling ashamed of wanting support.
We are all haunted by painful experiences from our past.
The key is to remember: that was then; this is now.
The old feelings are painful. The fear these ghosts and zombies arouse is real. BUT … that was then, and this is now.
Pause. Breathe. Fact-check yourself. Is what went on then actually going on now, or has your brain been eaten by old bad memories?
And while it can be helpful to tell the person who’s being impacted by your haunting – the person who’s here, now – what’s going on for you, it’s not necessary (and, of course, often not appropriate).
Instead, you can take a lesson from Harry Potter, and tell your personal ghosts and zombies just how riddikulus they are.
(For those not familiar with the Harry Potter series, here’s a brief explanation of the riddikulus charm.)