Mark Twain wrote “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” An important part of emotional intelligence is separating the past from the present, even when it rhymes! This skill is most important when we find ourselves overreacting to a present situation that may unconsciously be reminding us of something similar from the past.
Taking the time to trace back a strong reaction to an experience in the past can help us to stay in the present, especially in relationships. The term “baggage” is sometimes used to refer to negative emotional reactivity that has its origins in a past experience. A triggering event reconstitutes the past as if it is happening again in the present. Memories that have been encoded with painful or negative emotions tend to deeply engrave themselves into our minds, and a lack of awareness of the weight of them can keep us from going forward.
Betrayal in any form is an especially sensitive area. If we have experienced being lied to or deceived in the past, the defenses we put up to prevent that from happening again in a new relationship can harm fragile new trusts, yet untested by time. While lessons learned can be helpful, it is important to sort out what was then from what is now.
Sometimes we find ourselves reactive to a boss or a co-worker or a new acquaintance and we really can’t identify why they get on our nerves, It may be time to look back into our personal history to find a clue from the past that may be coloring the present. Being emotionally intelligent is all about response instead of reactivity. Managing our history prevents it from managing us.