This is part 2 of a 2-part feature on emotional issues. These articles are meant to be a stepping stone to healing, but are by no means a cure-all. It is best to seek professional help to guide you on your journey.
In the first installment, we talked in general terms about becoming aware of emotional issues/themes and how they can negatively affect our thoughts and behaviors. Now it’s time to put a face and name on those themes.
A theme is a unifying or dominant idea, an overarching concept that connects and defines items in a group. In this case, the group is comprised of life events, specifically those that have greatly impacted you and shaped your worldview.
There is no finite list of emotional themes, but there are certain ones that show up frequently. Let’s examine them, shall we?
Common Emotional Themes
- Abandonment: Perhaps the most talked about of all emotional themes, abandonment is the feeling of being unfairly left behind or discarded. This theme can be rooted in a physical abandonment (an absent parent), but it can also refer to perceived abandonment that may have nothing to do with physical absence. If this is one of your primary themes, you may find that you rush into relationships or expect too much too fast (or just too much in general), which, in turn, may run the person off. Your feeling of abandonment is then intensified and the cycle continues.
- Loss: Loss may seem very similar to abandonment, but the main difference is that loss doesn’t involve something being withheld intentionally. It comes from complications with dealing with someone or something being taken away unexpectedly (ie death, natural disaster, house fire, etc.). If loss is one of your primary themes, you may have trouble forming secure and comfortable attachments with people because, in the back of your mind, you suspect that they may be taken away too. Others may describe you as “distant,” “aloof” or “detached.” You may find that others doubt your commitment in relationships, which causes them to dissolve. People who have a theme of loss may also have trouble progressing in their careers.
- Over Responsibility: If this is your theme, you probably feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. People with this theme often come to believe at a young age that the outcomes of those around them are dependent on them. (What a burden!) These people are often quite dependable and can usually be described as “fixers.” In relationships, though, they seem to gravitate towards those who need fixing (people with problems, be they financial, emotional or physical). These relationships can be very taxing because of the fixer’s efforts to fix something that truly is not their issue.
- Inferiority: This theme presents in a myriad of ways, but it boils down to feeling that you are not as valuable or as deserving as others. People with this theme may give themselves an artificial confidence boost by dating/marrying people they feel are even less deserving than they are. If you feel you have a penchant for absolute losers, inferiority may be your primary theme. This theme can also encourage people to sabotage perfectly healthy relationships because they don’t feel deserving of or comfortable with a good relationship.
- Violation: To be violated is to be acted up against your will, to have your rights stolen and disrespected. This theme is often found in people who have suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. People dealing with a theme of violation may be easily angered and may also become violators in their own right. (Note: This violation may not always match the type of violation the person experienced at the hands of another.) Control is often a big issue for those with a theme of violation. They may (but not necessarily) find it easiest to regain their control by giving it away before someone else can take it.
- Injustice/Unfairness: When one feels they’ve been treated unfairly on a grand scale, that feeling of injustice can develop into their primary theme. If you’re dealing with this feeling, you may be hypersensitive to issues of fairness. You may feel like you’re constantly getting “the short end of the stick” and that others aren’t giving you your fair share. Others may find it hard to please you or understand your frustrations with them.
- Anger: It is important to note that anger is NOT an emotional theme. It is a common emotion that is expressed as a result of the feeling associated with emotional themes. Most often, anger is a cover-up emotion that masks the true, more vulnerable, emotion underneath. For example, when people display anger, they may actually be feeling sadness, anxiety, confusion, shame, etc.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and themes can and do overlap, but hopefully this helps to put a face on some of the issues you might not have even known you were dealing with. Whether or not someone can completely eliminate these issues is debatable, but it is possible to get them under control by recognizing and interrupting your disruptive patterns.
Many of us go through life simply reacting, allowing our knee-jerk reactions and emotions to guide our thoughts and behaviors. That’s how these themes thrive and grow. Instead of simply reacting, we should thoughtfully respond. Take a step back and question ourselves about our feelings, particularly those that are very strong. Did a person just make you extremely angry? Did a new guy completely sweep you off your feet? Don’t just go along with it. Pause and ask yourself why you’re so upset, why he seems so wonderful. You may find that the only thing the other person did wrong is inadvertently activate one of your themes. And the guy may be appealing for that same reason.
Confronting emotional themes is definitely easier said than done, but it can be done. It takes patience and a willingness to get really uncomfortable with yourself. Not everyone is ready to take this step. Perhaps you aren’t, but if you are, I pray this information has been useful.