Emotions: The Ties that Bind How we learn to love
By Cara Strickland, MS, LMFT Associate
Relationships are messy. They don’t always play out how we might have imagined them in our heads. Why is that? Why does one person blow up at the slightest thing while some people completely shut down, or others don’t even seem to be affected? Emotions are not simply felt and experienced, rather they are learned.
Believe it or not…emotions are learned behaviors that are taught to us through our family of origin. Love, anger, sadness, the way we relate to others, how we perceive our self-worth, how we express “I’m sorry” and forgiveness (and so much more)—is the product of the way we were raised and the environment in which our identity was developed. Emotional blueprints provide the “map” for how we relate to, understand and connect with our loved ones. Understanding this process and gaining self awareness of our own personal blueprints provides the path for moving beyond whatever your past might be holding you back from and creating space for true intimacy and connection.
Emotional expression is often transmitted from generation to generation. What we observe and marinate in is what we learn, and what we learn is what we repeat. We all inherit an emotional “tool belt” from our family of origin that sets us up for how we engage in relationships as adults. Our “training ground” sets us up for how we not only express emotion but also how we receive and understand the emotions of others, how we repair relationship rupture and how we communicate with each other.
Consider the impact of the following: Growing up in a household that expressed love with physical touch (hugs for instance), verbal affirmation (“I love you”) and warmth, versus “love” expressed as warmth, hugs and “I love you’s” only until the parent became angry and then shifted to possibly yelling, hitting or even abusive acts. Or even yet, one may come from a background where no one ever verbally expressed “I love you” at all, no one engages with physical touch and related to each other from a cold distance. How about anger? Anger can be expressed in a variety of different forms as well…yelling, throwing things, physical altercations or anger can sometimes be expressed as emotional cutoff and days of the silent treatment.
Each and every emotion is represented on our personal blueprint and is reflected in the way we engage in our current relationships. However, like our unique fingerprints, our blueprints are our own and although they may be similar to someone else’s, there will always be differences. This is where we find that our partner reacts in ways we do not understand, they do things that infuriate us, they don’t understand us, we don’t understand them or we can’t seem to agree.
To gain a better understanding of a persons blueprint, I often ask clients: How did you learn to love and with whom? How did you know you were in trouble? How did your family express anger? Were you allowed to want? Were you allowed to have needs growing up- or were you told, “What do you need that for?” Were you allowed to thrive? Were you allowed to experience pleasure- or was pleasure just a break between work sessions, a reward after a lot of effort? Were you allowed to cry- and were you allowed to cry out loud, or did you have to hide it? Were you allowed to laugh- out loud? Did you feel protected as a child by those who needed to protect you- or did you flee for protection? Did the people who were supposed to take care of you do so- or did you have to take care of your caregiver and others in your household?
Learning more about the details of one’s emotional history helps uncover not only how a person expresses and receives emotion, it also reveals how a person actively engages in the relationship. It provides an understanding of the verbs that often give structure and provide a framework upon which the relationship rests. These verbs include: receiving, taking, giving, refusing, asking for something and even how a couple “plays” together.
The blueprint is comprised of whatever thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and messages you have about relationships. Understanding your emotional blueprint and that of your partner can provide a new opportunity for you both to find more productive ways of overcoming conflict, deepening intimacy, enhancing connection, fueling desire and learning to communicate more effectively.
If you would like to explore your personal blueprint, strengthen your relationships, gain self-awareness and find ways to resolve relational conflict, reach out. I can help. I can be reached at (817) 875-1771 (cell) or click here.