Most human beings avoid that which is noxious, painful or distasteful. That’s not crazy. It makes sense. The ways we do that are primarily two-fold; through fight or flight. If something’s out there that’s painful, difficult to accept or to swallow, you kill it or you run away from it. Now, “fight” doesn’t literally mean killing something. It might be, symbolically speaking, expelling with great force, a bitter pill whose taste is abhorrent to you. Similarly, “running” doesn’t necessarily involve moving your body. You can run by blocking things out, by denial, avoidance or desensitizing yourself to whatever you perceive as painful or threatening.
That probably explains why, time and time again, I’ve seen people in therapy who said, “I know what I did was wrong and impulsive, but why do we have to analyze it? Everything you do today doesn’t come from some mysterious sequence of events that occurred in your childhood, does it?”
My answer, is, yes, it does. There are sequences of events that occur in childhood that affect, on a daily basis, the way we later live our lives. It isn’t that our parents deliberately wanted to hurt, reject, abandon, denigrate or depreciate us. Quite the contrary. I believe that with very few exceptions, every parent wants to help their child to live a healthier, happier life than they, themselves experienced. The problem is that they can only behave in ways they are familiar with, i.e.; in accordance with what they learned as children, from the role models they grew up with. The argument might be made that, if our parents had had the insight, sensitivity and training that’s available to us today, they would have behaved differently. I would hope so, but the way we parent is contingent on many diverse factors. For example, think of some of the seemingly positive rules you heard during your childhood, such as, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Although I wouldn’t advocate that everyone venture out into the world finding fault, judging, criticizing and demeaning other human beings, just for the sake of so-called honesty, I certainly wouldn’t say, “Keep your negative feelings to yourself. Don’t say what you really feel.” How many people do you know who live that way and who, by virtue of it, grow up being individuals who say very little, or are so saccharine that it’s hard to be with them? The truth be known, they’re afraid to express their feelings and reluctant to be honest. Thus, they accept behavior from their spouse, family members and friends that shouldn’t be tolerated. They keep everything inside and wind up with ulcers due to resentments that poison them on the inside. Their outer appearance may be one of tranquility, acceptance and graciousness but, internally, they are churning cauldrons filled with heated emotions that will either erupt or implode and destroy them from the inside out.
I might add that nowhere is that effect more prevalent than in marriage, where real feelings, both negative and positive, are rarely expressed but, instead, make themselves apparent through passive-aggressive behavior or overt anger. As a result, too many people live together in relationships that lack the warmth, nurturance and love each of them desire.
Think about it. How many marriages are you personally aware of where you question how in the world the individuals stay together? Why he/she is willing to take the abuse, hostility, criticisms and put-downs they periodically receive? That’s not to mention how many other marriages there are that are filled with resentments that are hidden beneath the surface and only expressed subtly, but are equally destructive. Note: that’s just one example of the effect of erroneous lessons learned in childhood that undermine your adjustment later in life.
I believe, however, that if you are willing to introspectively look at and identify your non-constructive patterns of behavior, you could learn new, healthier ways of living with yourself and interacting with those you love.
For a moment, visualize a hypothetical interaction between you and me. We’re in my kitchen. I have a large, 64-ounce professional blender on the counter, which I fill with slices of fresh peaches and mangos, shaved ice, some cointreau and some simple syrup. I blend it into a beautiful golden liquid whose pleasant odors waft through the room. Then I fill a glass with additional shaved ice, put a lime slice on the edge of the glass and, for one last touch, I put a quarter of a teaspoon of dog feces into the blender and let it revolve several more times. How many of you would want to partake of that cocktail? I venture to say that every one of you would perceive it as noxious and distasteful.
Now, visualize another hypothetical situation. You’re in the desert. You’ve been lost for four days and without water for two days. Just when you feel that the end of your life is in sight, you see an oasis in the distance. You’re filled with renewed strength and you crawl, creep and drag yourself toward that distant sight. When you arrive, you encounter a ring of palm trees surrounding a small pond filled with water from an underground stream. But the pool is filled with camel dung. Do you drink it? Down to the last person reading this, the answer has to be yes. You would take the good with the bad and save your life. You see, the circumstances that you’ve experienced in the past do dictate how much waste product, abuse, fear and distasteful behavior you will swallow in the present. That’s exactly why you have to look at your childhood. It will help you to understand why you drive or punish yourself, where your anger and resentments stem from and aid you to forgive your past behaviors. All of which will enable you to learn to behave in spite of early programmed, knee-jerk reactions, not because of them.
There you have it. In almost every instance, your past dictates your present, unless you look at it and learn from it. The lesson to be learned is that most of you are trapped by your past, but knowledge of it can be the key to your freedom in the future. Socrates said it best. “The unexamined life is not worth living”.