Most people recall their childhood with assorted incomplete memories. Many recollections are happy, most quite ordinary, but unfortunately some are very painful. In ideal circumstances, a child’s life moves smoothly through various stages of growth, resulting in memories that highlight family and school experiences, and other normal events and interactions with others. One typically recalls times of ordinary daily activities woven in with highlighted moments of especially happy, but even the occasional sad or frightening events.
Despite what we would wish for an ideal childhood, many people have an overabundance of unpleasant memories. Nature has programmed us to remember negative things more powerfully than positive for our own safety. But sometimes there have been so many painful real life circumstances that a child--later an adult--becomes overwhelmed by events.
They could stem from a variety of circumstances. Some are the result of on-going incidents a child witnesses or experiences such as an unhappy, even violent, home life, unexpected loss, traumas or chaotic circumstances, serious illnesses, or from such things as being bullied in school or chronically misunderstood by significant others.
Although some people appear to believe that things experienced in childhood will not make “lasting impressions”, that is not accurate. It is true that sometimes certain unpleasant, frightening, or painful events from childhood do not remain in conscious memory, but they can often leave their mark in many other ways.
Very young children lack the ability to sooth and comfort themselves. This is why it is so important to have a compassionate, consistently available caretaker for them. If children are subjected to circumstances that evoke fear, dismay, pain, or anything that leaves them anxious or scared without someone to help them through the situation, their developing sense of self might form an idea of the world as an often dangerous place. You will say, of course: “well, the world often IS a dangerous place!” You’d be correct, but this is information that we best assimilate gradually, while learning to protect ourselves in appropriate ways though interactions with caring others.
Children who have not had enough comfort, soothing, or caring attention when frightened, anxious or in pain, may not be able to see their own world—later—as a “sometimes” dangerous place. They may, as a result of their own experiences, conclude that the world—or at least the people who inhabit their own world—are often dangerous or unpredictable, and that it is difficult, even futile, to try to rely on others for help. This may become a chronic expectation about others that will affect how they interact with people in later relationships—in forming love and friend attachments, workplace relationships, or even just in everyday events. It may result in chronic suspicion of others, a tendency to connect with people who will hurt them, difficulty with intimacy, or unnamed fears that may hold them back from meeting their full potential, without ever understanding why this occurs.
Psychotherapy can be helpful in seeing how past events have influenced a person’s perspective on the world, kept him or her from having a full and satisfying life. It helps people find ways to live in a more satisfying way by focusing on the present and discovering that they now can freely choose how to respond to circumstances and not be caught in old patterns.
Copyright © 2005 by Kathi Whitten – All Rights Reserved