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Which Childhood Feelings Are You Haunted By?


It’s long past Halloween but many of us are haunted by childhood feelings. They may not visit us every day or even every week, but we may sense them lurking behind the scenes ready to jump out and unnerve us at any moment. Here are emotions I’ve found commonly distressing in my practice and from my years of living on the planet.

Vulnerability/fear. If you grew up, say, in a military type of household, you might not have been able to show fear or vulnerability without being shamed or reprimanded. Yet, these are every day, normal emotions all humans have. Maybe Dad made fun of you when you got scared going out in a canoe for the first time or Mom yelled at you when you shared with your first-grade class that you didn’t like to be alone in the house. What you learned from the tiny sampling of your family was that vulnerable feelings were unacceptable and you’d be wise to keep them strictly to yourself.

Pleasure, joy and pride. If, in your family, work was valued over play or pleasure, you likely learned to feel guilty when you weren’t doing something productive or simply had nothing to do. Because of this, you may have tried to look busy when you weren’t and play down enjoyment when you were having fun. Moreover, if you were proud of an achievement, you might have learned to shrug it off or to silently, secretly feel good, or to feel shame for feeling proud and discomfort when others gave you a pat on the back. 

Helpless or confused. In some families, certainty and feeling powerful were considered the only way to live. If your parents always seemed sure of themselves and covered their weaknesses and vulnerability, you may have come to believe that there’s something wrong with feeling unsure or simply helpless. Again, these are normal human feelings, but only seem so if you grew up seeing them modeled or were validated when you felt them. If not, every time you can’t make up your mind or don’t know exactly how to move forward, you may feel terrified and ashamed.

If any of the above strikes a chord, take time to figure out how you learned to feel what you’re experiencing today. Look as objectively as you can at your memories and let emotions come up as they may. Perhaps you feel sad for the small child you were who received so little care and comfort but from whom so much was expected. Or maybe you feel rage at your parents for not giving you the effective, common life skills you need to flourish. For the moment, simply understand why you may feel triggered (seemingly out of the blue) when you experience certain feelings. Connect the dots and recognize that it is now time to disconnect them and learn to value all your emotions.