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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

Understanding mixed feelings in relationships

Any relationship we invest in will bring up mixed feelings.

The more we invest, the more vulnerable to hurt and disappointment we become and the more likely anger will come up when people fall short of our expectations and how we think things should be.

One common response to these mixed feelings is to try to ignore the “bad feelings” that come up and only focus on the good part. In order to do that, we have to distract and avoid.

Unfortunately, we aren’t very good at hiding our feelings, so all of a sudden we become annoyed by how our partner chews their food or we find ourselves bickering or being short with our loved ones.

Another possibility is that we internalize the energy from the “bad feelings” we don’t want, after all, we don’t want to be upset with the people we love, so we are unconsciously trying to protect them from our upset feelings. Given that feelings are balls of energy (which is why anger makes us want to DO something, and we feel tired after a good cry), when we ignore or stuff them in any way, it just pops up in some other way.

When we internalize the feelings, they can show up through negative self-talk and poor self-care, after all, if I am too busy telling myself how crappy I am, there isn’t any room to pay attention to how upset I am with someone else. Alternatively we just stay busy – with work, Netflix, other people’s drama – or we spend more time in “what if world” (anxiety) instead of being in the present with our feelings of frustration or hurt towards our partners or our close relationships. For some people, internalizing feelings results in our physical body manifesting our emotions instead and we end up with an upset stomach, feeling foggy and unable to think straight, migraines, lethargy or body aches and pains to name a few examples of how this goes for some people.

“What if world” is when we focus and ruminate about what happened in the past, what may happen in the future or what is going on in other people’s heads. If we are in the past, future or in other people’s heads, we no longer have time or space to notice how we feel in the present, so as avoidance / distraction strategies go, “what if world” is pretty effective. Another common way we often end up avoiding mixed feelings is that we intellectualize, rationalize or justify people’s actions, and by doing so, we stop ourselves from being allowed to be upset with them.

We are a social species. Consequently, we are constantly walking a tight rope between our need for independence and doing what is healthy for us, and our need to belong. Given this predicament, understandably, when mixed feelings come up, they can be difficult to process or even acknowledge.

One of my patients, “Mila” (name changed for confidentiality purposes), recently agreed to share a letter she wrote to her mother with our readers, as it beautifully captures the mixed feelings that come up in our closest relationships.

” I am sorry I am not the daughter you wanted.

I am sorry I cannot be your yes person.

I am sorry I cannot focus on all the avoidance and enabling behaviors you do and praise them or ignore them.

I am sorry I struggle to be around you sometimes.

I am sorry I don’t come by more often and that we cannot be closer.

I am sorry we cannot share our deepest secrets and do things together.

I am sorry I am not the daughter you want.

Instead, you got a daughter who loves you so much that it hurts me and frustrates me when you isolate yourself.

I love you so deeply that when I see you are not taking care of your physical and mental health, it makes me see red and fills my heart with sorrow all at once.

Instead, you got a daughter whose heart breaks as I watch you refusing to fully invest in you, because it makes it not safe for me to invest in you

…and I wish I could.

How can I trust you to have my back, if you aren’t even bothered to stick around by being as healthy as possible while you are here?

Instead, you have a daughter who grieves that we cannot be closer, that our relationship cannot be safer.

You have a daughter who loves you enough to have tried, and who feels settled knowing she has done what she can to do her part, and lovingly accepts that you are not there.

You also have a daughter who is filled with gratitude and appreciation for what you have taught me.

My perseverance.

My deep passion and compassion for helping others.

My unwavering determination in the face of repeated obstacles.

My ability to be resourceful and work with what I have available at any given moment.

My ability to ask for help when I need it – which allowed me to love you today. All of you. 

Thank you for giving me the building blocks of what I needed to also learn to love me. All of me. 

Thank you for your part in getting me to where I am in my life today

… even though I may not have always agreed with how you taught me.  

– with love, from the daughter you have

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