Anyone who’s had therapy will know that it’s never long before the conversation turns to your childhood. No matter what issue you have, they always seem to look for answers in your childhood. Why is this? what possible connection could there be between alcohol addiction in your forties and something that happened to you decades ago? I want to talk about what’s wrong now not what happened years ago!
Put simply, your childhood holds the key to almost everything that has happened since and is happening in your life right now. The environment, behaviours and language you were exposed to as a child form the building blocks of the belief system that guides you through the rest of your life.
From the moment we are born, up to the age of around 7 or 8 years old, our minds are like sponges. They absorb every single thing they are exposed to, and since at that age there is no ability to filter or interpret anything, it’s all taken at face value and assumed to be correct. A child’s beliefs and behaviours are learned from its caregivers and, later on, its peers.
What’s more, since infants are ego-centric (i.e. everything is about them), whenever something happens the child will assume it has everything to do with them. For example, if your parents argued a lot when you were an infant then you may have formed the belief that this was normal, whilst also believing that it was in some way a result of something you had done. All of this would have happened subconsciously, without any conscious intervention or even any recollection. The resulting beliefs are then stored away to form an autonomous program to be used by your subconscious to guide you through later life. Your interactions with other people, including your personal and professional relationships, will then be based on these beliefs about how you should behave and what to expect from the other parties.
By looking at your childhood environment and the messages and behaviours you were exposed to, it’s often possible to locate the root of a belief that may be causing problems for you now. This belief can then be removed or flipped and the results can be quite dramatic.
How Childhood Shapes Your Belief System
Let’s look at an example of two children, raised in completely different environments.
Child #1 is raised in a loving, supportive and nurturing environment where his parents shower him with affection and teach him to believe that anything is possible and to follow his dreams.
Child #2 is born into a family where the father is an alcoholic, the mother is abused by the father, the child was the result of an unplanned pregnancy and she receives no affection or support at all.
Obviously there will be many other factors at play, but taking just the above into account, Child #1 has learned that life is about being kind and supportive; he feels loved, valued and validated; he also has self-esteem and confidence. Child #2, however, has learned that life is hard, relationships are even harder, people are violent and abusive, and quite possibly that a lot of what she witnessed was in some way her fault. She is likely to attract abusive partners and have very low self esteem, while Child #1 is likely to find life generally much easier and more positive.
This is a vastly over-simplified example but it illustrates the point. If you plant two seeds in a different quality of soil and look after one but not the other, you will most likely get two different plants.
Shame is at The Root of Suffering
When we look at anxiety and other disorders, we need to look at shame as the most likely cause and trace its roots back to childhood. The late John Bradshaw lectured and wrote about this extensively, in fact he was the world’s leading expert on the subject*. Behavioural traits such as jealousy, insecurity, blame, self-abuse, anger and many others are all rooted in shame, specifically toxic shame as Bradshaw called it. Toxic shame is the deep-rooted belief that you are in some way inferior to others, that you are not worthy, that you are not enough. Bradshaw believed that toxic shame lies at the root of ALL addictions. Pause for a moment to consider how significant that is. Louise Hay wrote* that if she could name one belief that was at the root of almost all human suffering it would be “I am not enough.”
By default we operate on autopilot, our subconscious repeatedly running these program that it learned when you were an child. Unless we intervene and change these beliefs, then nothing will ever change. If you have the belief that someone from your background can only earn a certain amount, then that’s what your future holds. If you do manage to earn more or are lucky enough to have some kind of windfall, then you will most likely find a way to get rid of it very quickly or lose it all somehow.
If your belief system is causing you to experience an abnormal level of fear then this will impact your decisions and actions. Fear can cause us to behave irrationally and impulsively, out of desperation. Some of the worst atrocities carried out by mankind have been based on decisions made from a place of fear. We tend to project our fears and insecurities onto others and do things that we deeply regret, simply because we don’t know how else to behave. Even though we know what we’re doing is wrong, or it’s not the way we want to behave, it’s often as though something else is taking over. if you’ve ever felt like that, now you know what it is that’s ‘taking over.’
It’s not set in stone that if you have a difficult childhood you will have a disasterous life, there are many examples of high achievers and very successful people who had an awful start in life. Beliefs can be formed at any stage of life, not just in childhood, in fact we are constantly adjusting our belief systems as we navigate our respective paths. The beliefs formed during our formative years, though, are the ones that are the most deep-rooted and that have the most stealth-like impact on our lives in that they can operate without our conscious awareness of them.
The good news is that all beliefs can be changed, or ‘flipped’ as we call it. A belief, for example, that money is bad can be changed quite easily into the belief that money can be used for many good purposes. A belief that life is difficult can be flipped into a belief that life can (and indeed should!) be filled with abundance.
There are many ways to do this, but working with a trained professional is advisable initially for those who are not confident working on their own. In either case, one of the most effective methods I use is EFT tapping. The efficacy of EFT tapping has been proven beyond any doubt by dozens of peer-reviewed double-blind trials, and I’ve used it myself with numerous clients wtih extremely positive outcomes.
Your childhood doesn’t need to dictate your future, but it can easily do so unless you intervene and start changing your beliefs to suit the kind of life you want to live.
* “Homecoming” and “Healing the Shame That Binds You” by John Bradshaw; “You Can Heal Your Life” and “The Power is Within You” by Louise Hay (Hay House)