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Does my upbringing affect my life?
This article was written by Brent Taylor, successful relationship coach and author of Hiz & Herz Greatest Need. His website, featuring his book, helpful videos, and more can be found here.
The short answer is, yes. My upbringing created patterns in my thinking, emotions, and behavior that I wasn’t even aware of. Not feeling good about myself, being bullied, poor parenting, and parents who had a rough marriage, all influenced my own marriage and adult life. Addictions, marriage breakdown, and the loss of my business all came to a crash. I had to be broken to be awoken. Many of our adult behaviors are manifestations of our childhood experiences and the emotions attached to them.
How does upbringing affect our lives, our marriages, and families, our mental well-being, our communities, and our world? Fear, worry, and anger can cause us to hide or escape in ways that are not good for us and our relationships.
When we don’t have someone to give our love to, or share our thoughts, feelings, and time with, in a connected and healthy way, we tend to wither away. As well, when we feel alone and unwanted in our marriage, family, or with key people in our lives, we can feel depressed and turn to unhealthy patterns. Relationships are everything and everything else is secondary. It’s no coincidence that solitary confinement is capital punishment.
Here are some quotes of people who experienced abuse, provided by Maunder & Cameron:
“I have memories coming into my mind all the time of what happened to me when I was a child. I can’t understand why. I’ve never thought about those things until now… I don’t like what I can remember, it fills me full of fear, I can’t believe someone would do that to a child…”
“Relationships are a disaster area for me. I can’t trust anyone…the same old pattern occurs again and again, especially with men. It is as if my dad was still around and still harming me. I even react the same, always trying to please and pretending there is nothing wrong…what is it about me that causes this?”
“I know I don’t want to face what has happened in my life, so I don’t. I drink, take drugs, binge, and starve. All of this hides what has happened…”
“I can never say no to anyone, they can walk all over me, do and say what they want. It’s only later that I begin to feel angry and it’s usually at myself…”
“I sometimes think I’m completely bad and rotten, then at other times I think no it’s not me, it’s them…”
Do you find it hard to communicate when something is bothering you? Do you avoid or attack? Do you blame or belittle, do you feel criticized and hurt easily, or are you critical or harsh with key people in your life? Have you experienced stonewalling, rejection, and betrayal, even abuse? Do you find that you have unresolved conflict, resentment, anger, worry, and more?
Upbringing creates patterns that can be positive or negative, healthy or toxic, and loving or selfish. So how do I, and how do we, build on the positive patterns? How do I/we minimize or replace the negative or toxic unhealthy patterns with positive and loving patterns?
First, we need to be self-aware and identify the key patterns that are good and not so good. We need to recognize the good ones so we can give thanks and gratitude for the wonderful gifts we have. We get to share them and use them to help others. Plus, we need to look at the patterns we need to change. Admit them, understand what they are and how they are triggered, and see the negative or harmful consequences they have when we permit them.
Next, we need to understand how to de-program the toxic and unloving patterns, and re-program our minds with healthy and loving patterns. This will take us from patterns that cause fear, discouragement, and depression, to patterns of courage, peace, joy, and love.
Upbringing is related to family of origin, but family of origin also goes back into previous generations—which has a significant influence on the effects of nature and nurture on children. It is wise for all of us to become aware of our parents and their patterns. It can help us understand ourselves—the good and the not so good. Forgiveness and working on healthy changes are important. I would strongly recommend Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book Switch On Your Brain, to help retrain the thinking and emotional channels in our mind. As she says, “It’s mind over matter.” To change our mind takes time, devoted mental work, and knowing that God loves us and is always with us. He is our hope, and we can trust Him to work in our life.
Love is the most powerful motivation human beings have. Our ability to love is often shaped by our experiences. We usually love others as we have been loved. Think about how you love those close to you and how you treat or think about others. Think about how you love your spouse and how your spouse might like to be loved. How do those two ways compare? Do you even know how those two ways compare?
At birth, all of a baby’s organs—with the exception of the brain—are fully developed. At birth, a baby’s brain has more than 100 billion cells. Some are already connected for the heart to beat and the lungs to breathe, yet most brain cells are formed after birth, within the first few months and years. These connections shape a baby’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviours.
A child’s brain is largely developed before school age. And it’s the childhood years that greatly shape one’s foundation for healthy relationships. Pressure from our parents, siblings, and peers about our performance and appearance has a huge impact on how we see ourselves. It can be damaging or enriching. Unfortunately, we determine our identity by what we think others think of us.
Roughly 90% of our thinking and behaviours are non-cognitive (e.g., subconscious). For the most part, we are on autopilot (habits, programming, and wiring). If 90% is autopilot (subconscious) then roughly 10% is conscious. It’s the conscious that is responsible for filtering, selecting, and receiving what goes into our subconscious. And it’s the conscious part that we can control. What we think on and what we do is critical. However, it’s up to the parents to create the loving environment that a child will receive, for they have not developed the consequential thinking in the frontal lobe yet. The frontal lobe is largely developed in the teen and young adult years, which is when the consequential thinking and decision-making starts to grow and develop.
An article by Anne-Laura van Harmelen and Marie-José van Tol on brain development shows the effect of emotional maltreatment in childhood. They talk about how positive and negative experiences greatly affect brain development at such a young age. They say children are especially vulnerable to persistent negative influences and how significant positive experiences have a huge impact on the child’s life for achievement, success, and happiness.
They say the first three years of a child’s brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood, and this means they are very sensitive to absorbing external influences at very young ages. They state: “Between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.” (Urbanchildinstitute.org)
They explain that children who are maltreated by parents or caregivers (in the form of verbal abuse, being humiliated, or not being shown affection) have an increased risk of depression or anxiety disorders in adulthood. Their research showed how emotional abuse was just as harmful as physical abuse with regard to the possible link between emotional abuse and a reduction in the volume of the medial prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that plays an important role in our emotional behavior and how we handle stress. A reduction in this area of the brain could explain why adults who have suffered emotional abuse have an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders.
Not only have I seen this in my life, I’ve also seen it in the lives of others close to me. Many of us desperately want connection, acceptance, and approval that seemed lacking in childhood. FEAR stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real. Yet, the opposite, Love and Faith, cast out fear.
We tend to hear so many more negatives and criticisms than we do positive encouragement, especially from those closest to us. If someone hurts you out of fear, then to forgive them is the right and healthy thing to do. Returning the hurt or judgment only brings more fear in both of you. Anything that is not of love and faith is of fear. Revenge may be sweet in the contemplation, yet painful in the aftermath. Fear can be crippling and destructive. When there has been abuse or unhealthy treatment in our childhood, it has significant influences in our lives and relationships.
Lesley Maunder and Lorna Cameron also provide information and guidance for adults physically, emotionally, or sexually abused as children. They share how child abuse still goes on today and often is unrecognized. I believe it’s a lot closer to home than we realize. Abuse comes in various forms: Neglect: emotional and/or physical. Violence: physically and/or emotionally (e.g., beating, biting, yelling, belittling, harsh criticism, blaming, and name-calling). Sexual: Intercourse, fondling, and other inappropriate physical manipulation.
Abuse can be subtle, or it can be forceful. It can be overtly damaging or manipulative in little ways that can have long-term effects. It can be over a short period of time or over a long time. It can be from parents, spouses, siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, teammates, teachers, coaches, work colleagues, school mates, and strangers. Whatever the case, it’s cruelty from one to another, even from ourselves. Those who have been abused may not even remember the hurtful times or relate the abuse to their current ways of handling stress or relationships. Many of us deny or dismiss past emotional hurts of abuse. Do I try to excuse it? What causes my stress or outbursts? Do I make light of it? (e.g., he bruised me, but it didn’t go any further, it was my fault, I must have done something wrong, I was only touched.)
Those who are abused may struggle with some serious emotional and physical patterns (e.g., eating disorders, bedwetting, nightmares, lashing out, anger, hiding, cheating, depression, not wanting to work or engage with others). Some may have deep fears and anxiety or have attempted suicide or self-harm. Others jump from relationship to relationship using and abusing themselves and others.
The long-term effects are usually significant. When there has been abuse, it can cause us to feel unlovable and to withdraw, not wanting to risk letting others get too close. Being intimate and honest can be a real problem. Unhealthy sexual relationships can become a mask or way of coping with feeling unaccepted or not worthy.
I’ve seen and experienced how damaging and hurtful abuse can be—not only to the one who has been abused, but to the people in their lives. Some wind up being a rescuer, some an abuser or user, running from the fear of being honest or not knowing what to do. We all want to be loved and to love, yet how we go about it can make all the difference.
Love, Choice, and Believing, are our three greatest gifts as men and women. What we choose to focus on and believe, plus live out in our actions, is key to our well-being. How we treat each other and live our relationships are vital to our mental and physical health. There is hope for more joy, peace, fulfillment, and love. But it will take a daily choice to put forth the believing, learning, and practicing.
The good news is that you have the ability to switch from the unhealthy to the healthy, from the fear to the courageous, from the self-seeking to the self-giving (loving). When we realize that the motive of our hearts affects our head (mindset), which affects our habits. Then we can start to make changes towards a life filled with more peace, joy, and love in our life. The key is to change our “want” and follow through with our “do”. First my want, then my do. We do what we believe. Conversely, we don’t do what we don’t believe.
From the trials and heartbreaks of the past, I understand—and my prayers go out to you. You are worthy, you are loved, you are beautiful, just the way you are, and God loves you more than you could ever imagine! I work with men and women, personally, and in their relationship, to help them make the changes from unhealthy patterns to healthy patterns. To help them love one another and bring unity to their marriages, families, and friendships. To help them have more personal joy, peace, and fulfillment.