Who we are–our personality–is really a combination of our early experiences and what our subconscious took away from those experiences. As parents we have such a tremendous responsibility because we can make or break our children’s entire lives depending on how we treat them, especially early on in life.
I’m currently reading Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward, a phenomenal book that goes through many examples of just how much of an impact our relationship with our parents, has on our behavior throughout our lives and how it affects how we feel about ourselves.
“All of us develop our expectations about how people will treat us based on our relationships with our parents. If those relationships are, for the most part, emotionally nourishing…we’ll grow up expecting others to treat us in much the same way.”
When we think of people who were negatively affected by their childhood, we often picture adults with very disorganized lives who were never able to amount to anything. Sometimes it is actually quite the opposite. Interestingly, some negative childhood experiences may end up being the source of personality traits that help us succeed in life.
In her book, Susan talks about a patient of hers who became a very successful person despite having to deal with alcoholic parents as a kid.
“[The ‘golden child’] is showered with approval from both parents and the outside world because of the enormous responsibility he or she is forced to assume…the golden child drives himself mercilessly to achieve unobtainable goals of perfection both in childhood and in adult life.”
Always striving for perfection, he ended up with a very successful career, but still, at forty years old, with deep issues he was unable to resolve.
“As a child Steve earned approval by assuming burdens beyond his capacity and managing them with a maturity beyond his years. Instead of building a core of self-esteem by being treated as an innately worthwhile human being, he had to prove his worth through external achievement alone. His self-esteem became dependent on accolades, awards, and grades instead of inner confidence.”
Would Steve have been as successful, in his career at least, without having gone through what he did as a child? It’s an interesting thing to ponder. Also, consider the fact that a different child in that same exact situation could have been affected very differently. Some children of alcoholics end up becoming alcoholics themselves.
The environment we grow up in is a very important ingredient, and what results depends on the “chemical reaction” that occurs when it is mixed with those traits that are more innate. It’s not nature or nurture that makes us who we are. It’s a combination of both. From that combination a unique self emerges; one that is very difficult to change once established.
I love the picture above. The horse is under the illusion he cannot go anywhere. He’s so convinced of this that he doesn’t even try. Many lack the self-awareness to even realize they have their own plastic chair, while some tend to over-analyze themselves, sometimes contributing more to their self-hatred.
The subconscious is so powerful that often being aware of the problem and its source, isn’t enough. Issues of the mind cannot be done away with by using reason to convince oneself to change. Think about all the people that struggle to get rid of fears that we see as completely irrational.
One thing I’ve been looking into lately is Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). It’s basically a set of techniques that can be used to re-program your subconscious through mental exercises. While conventional wisdom says that it takes a long time for a person to change–if they ever do–NLP creator Richard Bandler, who studied many cases of people who were successful at getting rid of their unwanted behavior, says that change–when it is real–actually happens almost instantly. I’ll be writing a separate post on NLP soon.
Who we are, both the good parts and the bad, we owe to that unique combination of the environment we grew up in, and the set of traits we were born with. As a result, most of us have certain limiting beliefs about ourselves that may have developed, that prevent us from getting past a certain point in life; that plastic chair that to us looks so heavy, when in reality, it’s not even there.
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