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Don’t let the past ruin your future

Updated: January 13, 2013 6:07AM

Have you ever felt as though the pain from your past is keeping you locked in time, leaving you unable to move forward and find joy?

You’re not alone. I recently met with a couple named Mario and Chanda who were facing that problem. Mario and Chanda were guests on a recent episode of my show, “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman.”

M any people can likely relate to their issues. They love one another deeply, yet Mario can’t ever seem to bring himself to say those three little words.

Nor can he engage in affection or be tender with Chanda. In their four-year relationship, she says that they have shared only one passionate kiss. The result is she is starting to shut down and has fears regarding their relationship, so has postponed their wedding three times.

It isn’t that Mario doesn’t love Chanda or want to be with her forever, but like many people, his painful past has prevented him from feeling secure and strong in his future.

As a firefighter Mario seems like a very tough, powerful guy — and he is, saving lives and confronting danger on a regular basis. Yet the pain and trauma he suffered during his childhood left emotional scars, even though he might not always be conscious of it.

Many people who endured a difficult and even abusive childhood have similar reactions.

They want to move forward and claim the happiness and love that they deserve. Yet painful memories keep them locked in place, unable to move forward. Every time they get close to experiencing a true emotional connection or entrusting their heart to someone, they get scared and shut down. If this sounds familiar, here are some things to keep in mind to help you on the road to healing:

Get the emotions out. No matter what you are upset about, it is important to get that anger and sadness out of you so that you can move forward.

Hiding issues under the rug only allows them to fester and gradually poison everything in your life, even happy moments such as an impending marriage. One way to get anger out is to punch a pillow with your fists or to hit a foam ball with a bat. Another strategy: fill up a sink with water and scream into it.

When it comes to sorrow, crying, journaling, or simply allowing yourself to be sad is a crucial step. Remember, there are no ‘bad’ feelings — all emotions, including sadness and anger, are valid feelings and you have a right — and responsibility — to experience and work through them.

Connect through intimate touching and kissing. One of the homework assignments I gave Mario and Chanda was to take a bath together, and to touch each other from head to toe (without having sex) for 10 minutes each. The idea is to strip away the boundaries and simply focus on one another without hopping right into sexual activity.

I also asked Chanda to kiss Mario the way she likes to be kissed, and asked him to stay present and to try to tune into the moment, rather than shutting down and running away from the affection and love. These were not easy assignments for Mario, because he has never been in a relationship where love and intimacy were shared deeply and openly. I am happy to say he stuck with the program, even when (or especially when) he wanted to run out the door.

They now are kissing, touching, saying I love you — and happily planning their June wedding.

The scars of a painful childhood do not go away simply because we get older and become adults. Sometimes they even become deeper and more intense. The only way to reclaim love and happiness is to confront these issues and to accept that the abuse was not your fault and that you have the ability to be whole and loved despite past trauma.

To find a therapist in your area, visit

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