Self-Reflection: Asking How Our Childhood Impacts Us Is An Important Step — On The Forum
What made us the person we are today? Perhaps reflecting on how our childhood impacts us can help us better understand.
The pain in others is much more obvious
It is much easier to examine others. Countless celebrity stories, for instance, trace destructive behaviors back to an experience in their childhood.
Michael Jackson struggled because of his father’s ambitions. Consequently, as an adult, he built an amusement park to live an experience stolen from him.
Marilyn Monroe was given up by her birth parents. Therefore, she sought validation from men — hence her provocative image and her three marriages.
Some celebrities are forthcoming about their own struggles. They speak honestly about how these struggles are rooted in their upbringing.
In his book Black Privilege, for instance, radio personality Charlamagne tha God is candid about his father’s behavior and relationship with his mother. He views his own past struggles in his relationship with his wife as a reflection of this.
How ready are we, though, to put the same critical lens on our own experience?
Unfortunately, not as much as we should.
In reality, by looking at how our childhood impacts us, we are more capable of transforming our situation. It allows us to understand ourselves better.
Though difficult, it is much more fruitful than placing the blame on circumstances outside ourselves.
Research on how our childhood impacts us
Experts have tried to uncover correlations between our childhood experiences, and who we are as adults. Many of these studies, though interesting, point to things that only on the surface seem important. However, they do not explain the main drivers of our personality and behavior.
Still, more and more studies continue to shed light on the impact of our childhood in adult life.
The following our two examples of how our childhood impacts us.
Our childhood and our anxiety
With the amount of resources out there about managing anxiety (books, videos, courses, etc.), the prevalence of this mental health issue is obvious.
Moreover, it has been practically accepted that our modern lifestyle makes anxiety inevitable. Perhaps this conclusion speaks more to our still limited understanding of the causes and consequences of anxiety in our lifestyle and behavior.
A 2015 study researchers in Turkey evaluated factors that triggered the most anxiety in university students. They made an important distinction between state anxiety and trait anxiety.
The former refers to anxiety triggered by environmental factors (exams, adapting to a new environment, etc.).
Trait anxiety, on the other hand, is an almost constant in a person’s life. It causes a person to “perceive objectively neutral situations as dangerous and threatening.”
Among the factors researchers identified as likely causes for trait anxiety, they noted that the status of family relationships and negative life experiences were among these.
Trait anxiety is a bigger cause for concern
Certainly, trait anxiety is more difficult to live with. It permeates our life experience much more insidiously. Perhaps, looking at events from our past will reveal its origins.
For example, if one or both of our parents suffered from anxiety, we are more likely to have internalized the same anxiety.
Or, perhaps a close family member or friend died in a horrific car accident. This would help explain why our anxiety is triggered when we sit behind the wheel, even though there is no apparent danger.
Granted, the correlation is not always as obvious. However, by digging deep into our past, we may find the explanation for our present day anxiety.
In doing so, we can shift our focus when it comes to our anxiety. It will help us soothe it. Simultaneously, we will be able to address and eliminate the internal triggers.
Our relationship attachment styles
Another area where our childhood impacts us is our ability to build stable romantic relationships. Romantic relationships bring a lot of joy into our life. At the same time, they can produce a lot of pain.
Clearly, building a strong relationship takes a lot of work. It consists of a joint effort between both partners in the relationship.
Not surprisingly, when our relationships start to go south, we tend to look at our partner as the cause of the problem.
Of course, If our partners are failing to put in the necessary work into a relationship, we may be right. Additionally, if they are emotionally or physically abusive, it is not our fault. We cannot control other people’s behaviors as much as we would like to.
On the other hand, many of our own mistakes and insecurities contribute to the difficulties in our relationships.
It could be our need to control, or maybe our inability to connect. Considering that we are the toxic partner may not cross our mind as frequently as perceiving ourselves as the victim.
Examining our role in our relationships
The plethora of dating and relationship content out there has provided us the space to explore our own behavior in relationships. They all seem to converge on the validity of the attachment styles model.
One of the most mentioned books on this topic is the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love by Amir Levin, M.D., and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.
The theory behind the attachment styles model, the authors explain, is that our attachment style is largely shaped by our early relationship with our parents. Specifically, the way they responded to our need for connection leaves a mark on us. It influences our attachment needs in our adult relationships.
Briefly, these are the three attachment styles described in the book:
A. “If you have an anxious attachment style, you possess a unique ability to sense when your relationship is threatened.”
B. With an avoidant attachment style, “you are always maneuvering to keep people at a distance.”
C. When it comes to people with a secure attachment style, “[t]hey’re attuned to their partners’ emotional and physical cues and know how to respond to them. Their emotional system doesn’t get so riled up in the face of a threat (as with the anxious) but doesn’t get shut down either (as with the avoidant).”
We all certainly hope to be secure in our relationships. However, if our parents made us feel insecure about them being there for us, we might have been molded to either be anxious, or to protect ourselves by keeping a distance from those who think will not be there for us anyway.
Your current self is not written in stone
The above are just two examples of how our past is reflected in our present.
There are many more fears and limiting beliefs that we have developed as a result of our childhood experiences. For example, whether we have a scarcity or poverty mindset may have resulted from how our parents talked about money at home. It was also shaped by the friends and groups we associated with.
With the exception, perhaps, of more deep traumas, if we understand the root of our current fears and beliefs, we will be able to change them.
It takes many years to change our automatic behaviors and thinking patterns. We will make many mistakes along the way. The key is to persist, and to notice the small, positive changes along the way.
What will we gain through this work?
There are three abilities we will develop if we persist on our journey towards self-development:
Resilience: The capacity to sustain emotional strength despite our anxieties, limiting beliefs, and circumstances in life.
Security: An understanding that no matter who we are or if we are alone, and the mistakes we make, we will be ok.
Self-Belief: The knowledge that we are capable of achieving what we set our mind to, regardless of our circumstances.
Why it matters that we work to change ourselves
Why does it matter anyway that we work to understand how our childhood impacts us, and to start changing it?
The obvious answer is that we will be happier. When we understand why we feel the way we feel, and learn that we are not alone, it makes the suffering more bearable.
It also frees us from blaming others and to take control of our life. Having the confidence that we are alone responsible for the way we feel is comforting.
We may also need to acknowledge that our parents did the best that they could. Putting the blame on them for how we turned out is unfair to both them and us.
An added benefit of beginning to take responsibility for our circumstances by recognizing the influences of our past is that we will learn to be better parents. If we fail to correct ourselves and understand the past, we will repeat the same behaviors that shaped us. This, in turn, will influence our children. They will suffer through the same pains, anxieties, and limiting beliefs.
There is a lot more to say about this topic. However, understanding the above can push us towards the journey of self-discovery that can lead us to live more fulfilling lives.
Thank you for reading! I hope this helps you reflect on your own struggles, and that it provides you with relief that you can always change who you are today for the better. On a more positive note — What were some of your more positive childhood memories? Share below!
Originally published at https://ontheforum.com on May 19, 2020.