This article was first published in humanHi magazine in November 2008.
To me being connected with someone means that you have feelings associated with them. Those feelings can either be positive such as love, compassion, trust and pride; or negative such as hate, resentment, blame, loss, fear and guilt. When we are connected to people in a positive way their presence in our lives is enriching and supportive; negative connections drain our energy and distract us from what we really want in life. They are bad for our health, wealth and happiness.
Take a moment now and cast your mind back through your past relationships. Are there any ex-partners who bring up negative feelings when you think about them now? Anyone who you have kind of split up from but are still in your life? Anyone who you no longer see and would like to forget but are reminded of often and for all the wrong reasons? How much of your energy and attention is taken up by these unhealthy connections? What other uses could you find for that energy?
In any relationship there is give and take. To illustrate this I like the metaphor of two people living in separate houses who start having a relationship with each other. To begin with all of their possessions are in their own house and they take it in turns to visit each other. As the relationship develops a certain amount of lending and borrowing begins to happen. He wants to borrow a CD from his partner and she is happy to lend it to him. She plans to do some DIY but needs a specific tool that he has and is happy to lend it to her. He has a small house full of junk and needs some extra space so she offers to store some boxes of junk in her loft. If this process continues then the partners possessions can become quite mixed up and they may even forget who owns what. (In the real world people move in with each other and own things jointly which can make splitting up even more difficult but for the sake of the metaphor lets assume that they keep their separate houses.)
On an emotional level there is also give and take. There are certain things that I want to do which I do not do because I believe that they will hurt my partner, for example, not sleeping someone else who you meet on a night out. There are other things that I don’t really want to do but I do anyway because I believe they will please my partner, for example, going with them to see their favourite band. I behave in the way that I do because I believe I know how my actions will emotionally affect my partner and I take responsibility for those effects. I hold an impression of them as a person in my imagination and use this internal model to guess at their reaction and choose my behaviour accordingly. Some of the information I use to build my internal model of them will have been based on their past reactions; others will be assumptions I am bringing into the relationship based on my experience of how other people have reacted in the past (transference) or how I would feel if someone did it to me (projection). Me having this model of them in my imagination is a bit like some of their stuff being in my house. Me guessing at their reactions based on how I would feel is a bit like me putting some of my stuff into their house.
Being in a relationship is sometimes likened to walking hand in hand down a shared path. We keep each other company and support each other along the way. But as we grow and experience life our priorities can shift and our paths can change direction. A good example of this is when one partner decides they want children and the other does not feel ready for this commitment. We find ourselves at a fork in the road and compromises begin to look like neither partner is getting what they want. Rather than trying to hang on sometimes it is better for both partners to let go and move on.
An ideal separation happens with love and compassion. Both partners are honest with each other, decide on the split together and stop taking each other into account when making decisions. In our house metaphor they give back the things that do not belong to them. In emotional terms they stop consulting the model of their ex-partner when deciding what to do and this image gradually fades and recedes into the distance.
Other separations are less ideal. Sudden cutting of ties such as walking out during an argument, leaving home without warning or even an unexpected death give no opportunity for both partners to be open and honest with each other, understand and forgive each other and move on. Emotions such as pride, fear of violence or emotional overwhelm may hold them apart. In the house metaphor he holds onto the CD to piss her off and she is sad and angry because she misses it; she doesn’t want to give the tool back because she is using it and he feels too guilty to demand that she gives back; he doesn’t have room for his boxes of junk and she doesn’t feel able to throw them away. The internal models of the other may be pushed away or blocked out but they are big and powerful, amplified by negative emotions, sapping energy, still exerting control.
The problem perpetuates
If you have not properly disconnected from your previous partners then you are not in a good position to welcome another partner in.
Every time you see something that belongs to them or remember something they have of yours you are reminded of them. Every time you are reminded of them you feel those unresolved negative emotions. When you feel negative you focus on the negative; and then you get what you focus on: a new partner with the same characteristics as your exes.
If a new partner does come along your internal model of them has to live with the internal models of you exes. The models of your exes influence what you expect of your new partner and you transfer these expectations into the model of your new partner rather than building a clean model from scratch based on your experience. You behave according to your flawed model of them and they simply respond to your behaviour … probably in a way that fulfils your negative expectations.
Making imaginary space
In last months article I introduced a way of disconnecting and freeing your energy by talking to the models of people you hold in your imagination. This technique gets the same result but by using energy rather than words.
– Find yourself a comfortable place to sit. Take a few deep breaths to relax and allow your eyes to close.
– Get a sense of the ground beneath you and encourage your awareness down into it. Continue down through the layers of earth until you reach the centre. As you connect with the centre of the earth notice how this sense of groundedness affects the way you feel at the centre of your body – in the area of your navel.
– Remaining connected to this centre now sense up above your head and out into the vastness of the universe. Imagine a source of light and infinite wisdom – a sun or higher form of self – to be there above you, happy and ready to help you when asked.
– Allow the image of your ex-partner to come to you – this is your model of them. Notice what it is like between you … is there anything preventing them from being right there in front of you were you can see them easily? Allow the source of light to heal anything which is preventing you from facing them until you are able to sense them clearly.
– With the support of the light above you accept back anything that they were holding for you. If you are holding anything that belongs to them then give it back.
– Notice how you feel as you face them. Allow the source of light to shine on you and heal any negative feelings in you – filling you up with acceptance and compassion.
– When you are healed share this energy with the model of your ex-partner. Allowing the energy to flow where it is welcome and heal what wishes to be healed.
– When you are both healed notice the sense of understanding and forgiveness between you and allow the other person to drift away. When they have gone bring your attention back to your sense of connection with the earth and the light above you. Notice how this strong connection with yourself gives you the freedom and ability to make new and empowering connections with others.
After you have completed this exercise allow yourself some time for reflection. How do you feel about that person now? What has changed? Who are you now and what is important to you? Complete the process with all of your significant exes and then with the less significant ones all together.
Making real space
Now you have cleared space in your imagination it is time to put that freedom into action. My challenge to you now is to go through your possessions and to make a pile of all of those things that belong to ex-partners. Dig out your address book and return them to their rightful owners with a polite note requesting that they do the same for you. While you are at it notice how many other objects such as photos and gifts there are on display. Do these bring back good memories or bad? Is it time to clear them away now and make room for some new memories to begin?