Even though you’re an adult, your childhood will always affect you. Many people mistakenly assume that when you become an adult, you are fully in control of your emotions and your decisions. The truth is, that your childhood creates filters through which you interpret the world around you. When you are born, you are a blank slate. You have no idea whether the world is good, bad or indifferent. It is only through the experiences that you go through, that you learn whether the world supports your needs or not.
For instance, children who develop a mental filter that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. Another example, if your parents consistently met your needs – they picked you up when you were distressed, fed you when you were hungry and played with you when you needed attention, you will most likely feel that the world meets your needs. The way you relate to others will be healthier and you will have a positive expectancy of others and assume they are well-meaning.
If however your parents were neglectful or abusive and didn’t always meet your needs, you will feel less safe in the world and your filters about the world will be different. A child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships. Your brain is constantly making links and associations between experiences and what they mean to you personally. It is our interpretation of the world around us that creates our reality.
Let’s say that your schema/filter – your particular issue or vulnerability – is related to achievement. Things can be going well for you at work, but then you have a setback that activates/triggers your schema about achievement – your issue about needing to be very successful so that you will not see yourself as a failure. The setback at work might lead to the schema about being a failure being activated (being seen as a failure) and then you get anxious or depressed.
The relationship you had with your parents will affect your adult relationships. This is based on Attachment theory by John Bowlby and it is backed up by research. If you were abandoned as a child, you will be more aware of signs of possible abandonment as an adult whereas someone who never felt abandoned as a child might react more rationally to any perceived signs of abandonment.
Common filters or schemas from childhood
Common filters that I have witnessed in my therapy work are:
- Fear of being abandoned – a constant fear exists that people you care about will somehow leave you even when there is no evidence to suggest this. You will most likely catastrophise neutral situations and see danger where there isn’t any – that in itself can cause problems.
- Perfectionism – the need to keep striving as self-worth is strongly linked to achievement. This might have come into being if you had parents who gave you conditional love when you achieved something or withdrew approval if you didn’t do well at school for example.
- A general mistrust of others – if the people who were meant to love and cherish you treated you badly, you might be inclined to believe that others will also treat you badly.
- A feeling of loneliness and emotional neediness – emotional deprivation as a child leaves an individual feeling unable to self-regulate and self-soothe. They don’t know how to calm themselves and often need others to help them feel safe, happy and loved. They struggle to love themselves.
- Feeling inferior/not good enough – is a major issue for many adults who have experienced trauma. When you don’t feel good enough, you might avoid situations that might make you feel unworthy or where you might get rejected. Self-limiting beliefs hinder opportunities and influence what people are willing to try. Of course, not feeling good enough isn’t restricted to childhood trauma survivors – in fact, I have found that a very high percentage of clients that I offer therapy to, as well as people in general, experience feelings of inferiority at times in their lives. Some are just better at hiding it than others.
- Thinking rigidly about the world – black and white thinking – as a child, it’s not always possible to reason as an adult would. A child’s limited perceptions of the world mean they often categorize things into two categories: good or bad, nice or nasty, mean or kind, and so on. It’s a defence mechanism because a child quickly has to decide whether an abusive parent is good or bad today. If they are “bad”, the child will do their best to stay out of the way of their parent. On a good day, it’s safe to be seen. The tendency to use black and white (also known as “all or nothing”) thinking often leads to increased anxiety as the world is rarely back and white. Individuals will use rigid definitions to make sense of their world. Their core beliefs might be something like this: I am a failure or a success. They may also see others as competent or incompetent, good or bad etc and make decisions based on childlike perceptions. People who drop friends the moment they do something wrong might also be an example of an adult with rigid thinking. Someone isn’t the sum total of their bad behaviour – the behaviour should be seen as separate from the overall context of that person in many different situations.
- Always putting others first or assuming others are more important than you – At the core of this filter is the belief that you must please others. ( A happy parent means abuse or anger from them is less likely). Constantly meeting the needs of others can be exhausting. It deprives you of freedom because the choices you make are dictated by their effects on other people. Your focus is not on yourself. Subjugation (self-sacrifice) robs you of a clear sense of what you want and need – of who you are. Don’t be passive, don’t let life happen to you. Is gaining approval your primary motivation? Do you really need the approval of others? Ultimately, as long as you approve and feel morally justified then you do not need approval from others. The give-get ratio is out of balance, this will lead to anger and resentment. This in turn can lead to unhealthy ways of coping (eg. Compulsive behaviours ie. Over-eating, drinking too much alcohol, gambling etc). You may hold the irrational belief that it is wrong to get angry with others, so you deny and suppress your feelings. Internalising your needs/wants will result in maladaptive coping strategies. You may end up magnifying problems or blow up over minor issues. Pent up anger has to go somewhere.
- A lack of self-discipline – if your parents let you get up to whatever you wanted and there was a lack of interest, supervision and/or care…it can lead to an adult who has no self-discipline. If it wasn’t taught as a child, it might be lacking as an adult. Parents who gently encourage their children to help around the house (age-appropriate tasks) do their homework etc help instil a sense of discipline in their children that will hopefully continue into adulthood. An effective method for developing and improving these abilities is to perform certain actions or activities, which you would rather avoid doing due to laziness, procrastination, weakness, shyness, etc. Doing things that you usually do not like to do. or feel too lazy to do, you overcome your subconscious resistance, train your mind to obey you, strengthen your inner powers and gain inner strength. Muscles get stronger by resisting the power of the barbells. Inner strength is attained by overcoming inner resistance.
- Finding it difficult to talk about feelings – emotional inhibition is a learned behaviour that occurs when children observe their parents being stoic and unexpressive. Many clients I see will relate that they find it hard to talk about their feelings if this was something that wasn’t done in their home as a child. Affection applies too – no affection as a child from parents can lead to an adult who isn’t naturally affectionate. Some people, make an effort to be different to their parents and learn the lessons from their childhood but sadly, many parents repeat the same mistakes their parents made.
It’s definitely worth exploring core beliefs you may possess. You might still be perceiving the world in a childlike way without realising it. Now you are an adult you have more control and the ability to speak up and defend yourself. You can’t change the past but you can update your beliefs about the past and it can be the most freeing thing you can do.
If you would like to know more about the filters you might have from your childhood, I’ll create a report for you (between 4-8 pages) once you have answered a questionnaire. The cost for the childhood beliefs/filter report is £45.00
Please email for further info: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Childhood beliefs report.
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