Putting everything into its proper place

Many of us have times in our life when we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it is because there is just too much going on in the present. Perhaps we are too busy or trying to manage too many tasks or responsibilities. In such instances it seems rather clear why we are feeling overwhelmed. However, there are other times when our emotional response to a situation or time in our life is disproportionate. Very often when we have a disproportionate emotional response to a situation, it is evidence that there is a transference occurring. In other words, our distress is not just coming from the present circumstance, it is coming from the past as well. In essence, the past is leaking out into the present. When this occurs, it can feel very confusing and overwhelming. We may wonder why we feel so anxious or why we feel so sad. Where is it coming from? On some level we know something is off, that there is something else at play so to speak.

It is helpful during these times to learn to do a bit of a check-down on ourselves ask the following questions: Is it an anniversary of some kind? Is there any past significant or painful life event that occurred during this time of the year? Such events could be any losses, profound rejections or humiliations, or negative events that were frightening and in which we were powerless. Do we associate (even unconsciously) this time of year with a past event? For example, if a certain month holds the anniversary of a painful event that is unresolved, we might find ourselves feeling feelings that particular month that we felt during the experience. If a certain event occurred 20 years ago in which we had a profound experience of pain, fear, grief, or humiliation, we might find ourselves being extra on edge, defensive, reactive, or emotional during that month each year. Our mind has recorded emotional memories from an event that can get activated by the anniversary of when that event occurred. The emotional memories will linger until we do the processing of the event that we never did in the past. This is good news that these anniversary reactions can be resolved and put to rest.

Not all of our transferences or disproportionate reactions are from anniversaries. Some of them are triggered by individual incidents or interactions that we have on a daily basis. We may have an interaction with someone that reminds us of interactions from a past, painful, and unresolved relationship. When someone in the present inadvertently activates that past unresolved experience, we react to the person in the present as though they are from the past. Sometimes others might even have certain traits, characteristics, or behaviors that remind us of someone we’ve struggled with in the past. These too can trigger transferences. When we are not conscious of these things and the past is allowed to leak into the present unchecked, we can find ourselves trapped in repetitive re-enactment cycles in how we relate and respond to others and to life itself. As a result, we can find ourselves wondering as to why we keep having the same experiences over and over again in our lives. Due to it being largely unconscious, we are not able to see our role in recreating these events or interactions through our transferences and re-enactments.
Having said that, there are times when something happens in the present that is legitimately wrong or painful and our feelings are tied to that present event alone. It is important for us to hone our skills of insight and self-awareness so we can tell the difference. We have to learn to separate the past from present. When we are successfully able to do this, to put everything in it’s proper place, we will be amazed at how much better we feel. We will feel more calm, at peace, in the present, and confident. In essence we learn to troubleshoot ourselves. This is an ascetical activity. The ability to separate the past and the present and the insight and self-knowledge needed to do this can only help us spiritually and reveal the areas of our life that need addressing so we can continues our spiritual growth unimpeded.

Fr. Joshua Makoul

About Fr. Joshua Makoul

Fr. Joshua Makoul has been serving as the Dean of St. George Cathedral in Pittsburgh since 2012. Before that time, Fr. Joshua worked in the Counseling Field for 16 years. This involved work in a family-based, school-based, and an outpatient setting. Fr. Joshua received two years of training in family therapy at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center and completed a one year certificate course in Cognitive Behavior Therapy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. During his last six years working in a small outpatient group, he was supervised by Dr. Jesus Salas who supervises at the Beck Institute in Philadelphia. Fr. Joshua received his Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia and his Bachelors in Psychology from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He is licensed in the state of Pennsylvania for counseling. For seminary he attended Holy Cross Seminary in Boston and received an M.Div.

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