By David Joel Miller.
You grew up – your problems didn’t.
Most adult problems are lessons you learned between 8 and 18 that you learned incorrectly or are no longer true.
If you got it wrong back then and are still holding on to those unhelpful beliefs about yourself and others, you are headed for a painful adulthood.
I think of this process as like trying to memorize the blueprints for a house and then, thinking you have them committed to memory, you toss those blueprints away. A year goes by, then more years, and now you start trying to build that house. What happens if you forgot a line or two? What if you build something where it shouldn’t be and leave something else out?
A very large number of adult problems, the kind of serious, painful things that bring people to therapy, are the result of things that you learned in childhood which are no longer true or helpful.
Some of those things are painful experiences that left scars, but a whole lot of other things are beliefs that you stored away in your brain, the result of those life experiences. You have been carrying around those beliefs about how life worked since you were small and you keep trying to make your adult life work using those rules you learned back then.
If you grew up in a negative hostile environment you may find it hard to relax and feel safe even when as an adult you have moved to a very safe location. If you came to believe that an adult’s bad moods were your fault you may be spending all your adult life trying to “make” people feel good.
Teased or Bullied?
If you were teased as a child, you may have come to believe the things others said to you. People called you fat and you have been worried about your weight ever since. You may even have stopped caring for your health because you formed this image of yourself that you were a “fat person.” As a result of this image you, somewhere along the line, stopped trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
Plenty of adults believe that they are “stupid” or incompetent because they were told they were slow so much that they adopted that as part of their persona. You may be used to thinking of yourself as the unpopular one that no one likes, long after the popular crowd from school has disappeared into the pages of old yearbooks.
You may have had problems and found that drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling helped you feel better about yourself, at least temporarily. As a result of using negative coping tools, you came to believe that you could not do things without those harmful tools. You went from leaning on a crutch to believing you could not walk without that prop.
Part of recovery, from whatever challenge you are struggling with, is to take a fresh look at yourself and decide if all those lessons you learned back when you were small are still true today. Plenty of adult learners have discovered that they were a lot smarter and more capable than they thought.
A very large part of learning is interest. If you like something you can learn it. If you become discouraged and believe that you will never “get” a particular subject you make it so. Having been told you were not “good” at something you may have lost interest and given up before you ever learned how to do that skill.
Making friends, paying attention and having self-confidence, those are all skills people have to learn. If you concluded you had no aptitude for something or could never do something your belief learned as a child has created that situation.
The good thing about having learned things as a child is – if those beliefs or behaviors are no longer working for you, if your head is full of unhelpful beliefs, you can change those beliefs. What you learned back as a child you can unlearn. Those unhelpful beliefs about yourself can be modified.
Whenever you find yourself having unhealthy thoughts, ask yourself where those thoughts came from? Is this something you are sure about or could you have learned this part of your happy life blueprint incorrectly and by learning a new skill could you change the way things are now in your present?
You might want to take a look at a past post: Why can’t we forget the painful past?
Coming up soon is a post on how to close the door on your past and stop those old experiences from continuing to govern you present and future.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.