How this affects our current behavior and reactions
What happens to us as children affects how we behave as adults. Patterns that we learn very early get wired in our brains, and we tend to reinforce existing patterns and behaviors, unless we’ve done specific work to change those behaviors.
When we learn as infants or young children that we have to suppress our own pain or needs to survive, we’ll have a hard time as adults asking for those things. Or perhaps we grew up in a situation where it was dangerous to be noticed, such as having someone in the household who is violent or unable to control anger. In these situations we often become submissive. Maybe we learn to please everyone. Or maybe we shrink down and become invisible.
Maybe we learned that the only way we could get our needs met was by drawing attention to ourselves. So maybe we become super needy. Or we get angry and pick fights. Any sort of connection, even if people are angry, is better than no connection at all, because at least we’re being seen. Or we create drama.
These are only a few examples. As children, our hard wired instinct for connection may have played out in many different adaptive behaviors. The important thing to remember is that these behaviors likely kept us alive. They were effective in the moment. And whether we are now parents, or whether we are the children of parents who experienced these things, how we behave today is strongly influenced by the strategies we learned in order to survive as children.
So when we are in a setting where we’re reminded of something in our childhood – even if we don’t consciously remember it – our brains may still be responding like we did in childhood. We might feel fear when there’s really nothing to fear in the present. Or we might shrink down. Or get angry. Or try to please. So our “adult” brain stops responding, and our “child’s” brain takes over. The problem is that most of us don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.
The things that happen to us in childhood also teach us other messages: Maybe that that the world isn’t safe. Or that we must always be on guard. Or that we have to look out for ourselves, because no one else will. Maybe we have to do whatever (lie, cheat, steal) in order to survive.
If nothing happens that helps us ‘rewrite’ the story, we’ll carry that message into adulthood. And then, our beliefs about the world attract people and situations that reinforce the belief, until we take the steps to rewrite the story and change the beliefs.