Your Childhood Matters

It is relatively well understood nowadays that our early relationships establish templates or patterns that we tend to apply to all subsequent relationships. This is the nurture in nature/nurture and wonderful news if your early relationships were warm, attentive, and responsive. If this is the case, you tend to have trust in yourself and in the world at large. But what does it mean if your parents were unavailable, cold, or harmful? I’m afraid it might mean that you struggle to trust yourself and feel unsafe in the world to a greater or lesser degree. You may also find yourself unconsciously attracted to people, places and things that are unfulfilling and destructive.

The good news is that a bad childhood, even the worst of them does not need to mean you are doomed to a lifetime of terrible relationships, misery, and despair. The beauty of exploring these primary relationships lies in understanding our own stories and coming to know ourselves more fully. This exploration is one of the tools we have for lighting up the darkness of our shadow selves, the parts of ourselves that can leave us disconnected from the world, ourselves, and those around us.

Another great piece of news is that we are living in the information age. Everything you need to know about anything is available to you at the click of a button or tap of your finger. Everything you need to understand about psychology, self-development and healing is available to you, now. All you need is some courage, willingness, and some commitment to the journey!

Now, depending on your history, a book or two may suffice, but if, like me the road behind you was rocky you might need more help. There is a theory that suggests that if your emotional problems occurred in relationships, they need to be resolved within a relationship and that’s where seeing a counsellor can really help. This safe and supportive relationship can become a profoundly healing corrective emotional experience. When you feel truly seen and understood for as long as you need to, your wounds can be healed. This healing can help you transform the relationships that really count, the ones you have with the people that you love.

If you can persist with this psychological work, your husband will thank you (eventually) your wife will think you are a hero (eventually), and your children’s lives will be improved in ways you probably cannot comprehend. What have you got to lose?

My childhood was the stuff of nightmares, and it took me a long time to acknowledge that to myself. Who wants to admit that their parents are flawed let alone harmful? It is known that because our survival is contingent on the health and care of our parents, as children it is too dangerous to conceive of them as bad or incompetent. What tends to happen instead is that we internalise their failings as a sign that there is something wrong with us. Left unchallenged, this wrongness lives on in us as the unconscious beliefs we have about ourselves. These invisible scars influence our lives tremendously. The aim of therapy is to bring them out into the open, to question their validity or efficacy and to let them go if necessary and when we can.

If we fail to do this work, this pain is often numbed with substance addictions like alcohol and illicit drugs or prescription medications. It is also commonly avoided with what we call process addictions, workaholism, screens, eating disorders, obsession with appearance or excessive exercise, toxic relationships, pornography, and gambling to name a few. If you fail to stop, can’t sit comfortably alone for a while, or desperately and continually achieve in order to win approval from the world this could be you.

So, be brave, ask some questions about your past. How was your relationship with your mother and father? Did you feel like they loved you, liked you? Were they interested in you? Did they have time for you or were they busy arguing? Did their divorce break your heart and leave you questioning the sanctity of marriage? Did their depression or drinking render them unavailable? If this is the case, there may be some long-repressed sadness, anger, or a deep longing within you to be seen and loved that you need to acknowledge. You would not be alone. Do we not all want to know ourselves as loveable, to feel cherished and accepted? To feel good enough.

I do not regret a second of the time I have spent learning how to heal and feel deeply privileged to walk alongside my clients as they do their own healing work. How can we possibly know who we are if we refuse to look at where we have been? And if we don’t know who we are how can we create a life that is fulfilling and meaningful?

So many of us stagger out of childhood into adulthood with slightly broken hearts and questions regarding our own worth. We bury them under layers of dysfunctional projections and behaviours and avoid them like our lives depend on it. The truth is however that these questions must be answered if we are to hope for anything that resembles self-acceptance or self-love. This is surely what we hope for most for our children and if this is true, we must model it for them in the way we come to treat ourselves. We must develop an internal parent who is loving, interested and compassionate, one that wants the best for us and celebrates our very existence!

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