Working Toward Positive Emotional Relationships

By: Lisa Philippart

Let’s look back several weeks ago to an article I wrote called “Unhealthy Relational Patterns.” I promised you a follow up article on how to break the cycle of harmful relationship patterns by focusing on improving positive connections. In between these two articles I shared with you the process of finding a mental health counselor and what to expect from the counseling experience. (I love tying concepts together in a neat bow, which is what I am doing here!) So, let’s say you came to me struggling with negative emotional attachments, and were wondering what I could possibly do or say to help you to improve yourself or your situation. The following are some examples of what I might share with you and the theories used.

Learning to challenge the negative patterns you have formed throughout your life is the best place to start. You can’t change your relationships without first examining who you are and what is keeping you from becoming who you want to be. And one of the best ways to begin that change is by forgiving yourself. (Forgiveness Therapy.) Let’s get rid of the blame. Stop asking yourself, “What is wrong with me?” or “Why did this happen?” Instead, look at yourself as someone who hasn’t learned the lessons you were meant to learn yet. You want to resolve conflicts, but you just need the right tools. So tell yourself that you acknowledge entering into difficult relationships that made you feel hurt, unworthy, or unnoticed. Close your eyes and forgive yourself. Tell yourself you forgive and let it wash over you. Repeat as often as needed.

(Family Systems Therapy.) What is this unpleasant pattern that you keep sewing into your life? Relationship patterns are made up of consistent traits, characteristics, and symptoms. So, take some time to write down the answers to such questions as: what do my relationships have in common, what were some warning signs that I see so clearly now, what behaviors did these relationships bring out in me? Now think about why you chose to enter these relationships. Many of us long for a need to be met. Maybe our feelings were stirred in new and exciting ways. Our motives for connection can often be completely selfish. And a lot of times, we just enter into and stick with relationships that simply feel familiar… like a story we know so well. Sometimes that’s okay, and other times it’s a reflection of a story that wasn’t good for us to begin with. Understanding the pattern is the key to finding ways to break it.

What kind of relationship are you really hoping for? Can you describe it? What does it feel like? (Emotion Focused Therapy) Emotions are not the only important factors in our relationship lives, but they are the keys to who we are. So many of us are so caught up in the surface feelings of guilt, shame, or fear, that we are unwilling or unable to identify the underlying feelings. For example, you may have been in a bad relationship that left you feeling insecure, longing for comfort and respect. Peeling back those layers of hurt may help you to discover that what you are really searching for is a relationship of peace. Your quest for love may end up in the unlikeliest of places…an everyday dynamic of harmony that makes your relationship that safe place. Once you have identified the emotions, and what you want to feel, you are ready to improve emotion regulation, to transform those emotions from maladaptive to adaptive (which is the next step for you and your therapist to take together.)
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor