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Look for Answers to Today’s Problems in Yesterday


“Boy,” said a client, “this childhood stuff really can mess you up!” I couldn’t help but chuckle. In fact, we had a long, shared laugh about the validity of this statement. What’s as true is that you might not realize in which ways and to what degree your upbringing is messing with you. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn.

To do this, you must first erase blame from your brain. Your parents may have caused your problems, but they too had childhoods and parents, so it’s useless to point fingers at them. Who else is there, you might wonder, to blame, so you fault yourself for not realizing earlier in life that you’ve been barreling through it ill-equipped.

Once you get blame out of your system, you can look objectively at how “this childhood stuff” might have messed with your head and heart. Here are some questions to consider. What did you learn from your upbringing about:

  • whether people, on the whole, are trustworthy and reliable
  • life being predictable within reason or chaotic beyond your control
  • facing and managing pain and discomfort
  • how to treat other people and become effective social beings
  • the meaning and purpose of life
  • your special value and worth just for being little old imperfect you
  • the function of emotions
  • taking care of yourself and others
  • truth, honesty, integrity, and self-pride 
  • belonging to a group without losing your identity

Here’s how you might think if things went awry in any of these areas. From your handful of relatives, you might have learned and still believe that: people can’t be trusted and so you need to be on guard all the time; you have no power to tame the chaos of life; you can do an end run around pain and discomfort; other people are just pain and bother; you can live well without a purpose; you’re nothing special unless you’re perfect; emotions are to be avoided at all cost; caring for others is more important than caring for yourself; honesty isn’t worth it; and to fit in you must be exactly like other people.

Hopefully, if you see yourself in any of these descriptions you can trace back your dysfunctional thinking to what you learned in your family. Only by identifying where your erroneous ideas came from can you change them. Sure, childhood stuff can mess you up, but it need never be your destiny.