Can we really react unconsciously out of fear and push people away without knowing why? How can this happen?

I wrote earlier about how anxiety can make us push people away. The second way I mentioned in which your mind can react in an unhelpful way with relationships, is by storing hurt and trying to use that stored information to make decisions, unconsciously working to steer your life. In both cases it starts with a feeling, both when it’s laid down and when it pushes you.

When something really upsetting happens, we refer to the hurt as emotional trauma. When an event is simply too distressing, the usual way the mind deals with it, is overwhelmed. The brain then reacts differently to the situation to try and avoid it happening again. It keeps it active in your memory so you will be able to spot and avoid any similar hurt in the future. Let me give you an example:

A soldier who has their position shelled and is terrified, in genuine fear of their life, might find that their mind ‘locks-in’ all that they are seeing, hearing, and feeling at that time. It overwhelms their system and it all gets lumped together. Later, once they are home and safe, a sight, sound, or smell that matches some element of that ‘locked-in’ information can be enough to take them right back to that fear. A sudden bang could see them flat on the ground without any conscious thought. The mind just goes – ‘that was like the time I was shelled, therefore I need to dive for cover, now!’ And they find themselves on the ground with no conscious reason to hand for why.

Trauma about relationships can have just as strong an impact, if a less sudden one. The same functions are to be found – a huge hurt results from the relationship ending for example. Your mind ‘locks in’ the hurt and the situation, and tries to use this to keep you from ever being in danger of that much pain again. When you recognise a situation (even unconsciously) that is similar to the last time, it creates the feelings to keep you away from the risk. This could be anything that was important to you around the emotional trauma. Maybe when you see the relationship getting serious, your mind recognises that this happened before the previous hurt, and works to keep you from the serious relationship. You feel out of sorts, afraid, angry, and push the other person away. Or it might be that they do something that your ex did, and even though they are a totally different person, you act as if they were the same person doing the same thing again, and respond in an over the top way. If your ex was a compulsive gambler and your new partner puts a small bet on the Grand National it can feel to you as if they were doing the same thing and a big overreaction can explode without thought as the emotion does its work.

If you have had a series of bad relationships, you can have strong ‘programming’ present. Several memories-worth of hurt might be present, working together flagging anything similar to those memories and creating bad feelings that sabotage your relationships.

All of this goes on unconsciously and all you feel is the frustration, fear, and anger that your mind is using to signal you about the potential danger, trying to steer you away from pain, and in so doing sabotaging your relationships.

It can be the same for friendships – if friends hurt you in the past you may steer away from close friendships in the present.

So, what can you do about it?

Firstly, notice your feelings and ask yourself: why am I feeling this way?
Ask yourself: who does this remind me of?
Be clear: Is this a real risk of similar behaviour? (If they’re your third compulsive gambler in a row, then listen to the feeling and run. If they’re a nice person who plays the lotto once a month, reassess the feeling rather than the relationship).

Next, if you have serious ‘locked in’ hurt that you can’t control, why not get some help. There are 4 types of therapy that are proven to be able to reduce the trauma hurt and to allow your mind to move on.

Lastly, practice mindfulness to get to know your emotions and to spot them when they are at work. This will give you much more control over them.

If you have any questions or simply want to comment please do so below. Thanks.

Change is easier than you think.