When Jim’s steady girlfriend called and said that she’d have to change their plans to go out to dinner that night, Jim found himself shouting over the phone,”If that’s all you care about me I never want to see you again.” A few minutes later he called back and apologized. “Why do I over-react to such insignificant things?” He wondered.

Like many of us, Jim has forgotten many uncomfortable things in his past. He felt instant overwhelming anger and disappointment when his girlfriend called, without realizing that those were the same feelings he couldn’t express when he was a little boy and his alcoholic father would break a promise to take him somewhere.

The problem now is that he’s expressing these leftover feelings without even being aware of the memory that stimulated them. If you’re experiencing strong feelings at what seems like inappropriate times, they’re probably old feelings that you now have an opportunity to complete.

One way to complete these feelings is to allow yourself to recover the memory of the early stressful time that you’ve forgotten.

When your reaction to something seems out of proportion take some quiet time and think about when in the past you experienced a similar feeling. Go back as far as you can to as early in your childhood as you can remember. As the memory returns, recapture it in as much detail as you possibly can: who was there, what was happening, how old were you, how big were you, what did you need, what actually did happen?

Several people in one psychotherapy group all had memories of hiding in a closet. Each one of them was hiding to avoid some violent or angry outburst in the family. Each had the common complaint of feeling afraid any time they experienced any conflict.

They finally formed “The Closet Club”. As they talked about those scenes they found themselves reacting less and less irrationally to current conflict situations.

Once you have recovered your own memory, imagine what you would have needed when you were a child and see if you can provide that for your own child self.

You may need an opportunity to feel sad and cry, or to tell somebody how angry and frightened you were. Your child self may still need information that you have as a grownup that you didn’t have then. Learn to nurture your child self, talk to him, talk to her. If you can’t do this for yourself, get help from a friend or even a competent therapist.

When you feel those extra strong and irrational feelings again, remind your child self that s/he had a right to be scared, angry or sad then, but this is a new situation, a different time. You’re a grownup and you have more resources and you can solve the problem. As you complete the trauma from the past the overreaction will diminish.

Excerpted from I Don’t Need Therapy, but Where Do I Turn for Answers?

[tags]Emotional Problems, Inner Child, Personal Growth, Relationships, Self-Improvement[/tags]