It’s never easy to carry the burden of your childhood, your somewhat dysfunctional connection to the imperfect people we grew up with, and finally come to the realization as an adult that it has affected our whole life. We are not just talking here about the more obvious trauma that neglect and abuse can bring. Children are very sensitive and will react to sometimes, just feeling abandoned or neglected. Many of my clients carry the scars of that trauma and are still connected to their parents in some never ending quest for connection.
As we saw in my last post, we all carry, what Freud called, a template into our adulthood. Our view of the world is formed by this template as it is the world view our parents gave us. It is full of the experiences, interaction, learning, protective measures and dysfunction that we soaked up in our childhood. In many cases, we are frozen emotionally in a specific developmental phase which adds to the issue. We have no reason to disbelieve this or to determine whether it is good or bad. As children, we just believe and accept and we don’t question until it is too late. We just don’t have the cognitive ability to do so. When this template contains many unresolved issues and questions, we play it over and over again with different people and relationships looking for our what and why. We involve ourselves with people who either fit our template or are the exact opposite. We often reject those who might be compatible with us because they are unfamiliar. Codependency is a good example where children are often trying to “chase” an aloof parent or one that emotionally distances themselves.
It has been well known in many psychology methods that we need to change the way we see the world to move towards what Carl Rogers called a “fully functioning adult”, where we are making adult decisions and choices for our life rather than being stuck in old thinking patterns. Freud also thought so but his method of changing the template would not be possible today. He recognized that awareness of our template brought us insight and he knew that insight wasn’t enough as it didn‘t change behaviour. Freud thought that frequent exposure to something other than our template would do the trick and sometimes it worked. However, stubborn behaviour patterns persisted and in addition, Freud saw patients many times a week for years, something that would not be possible today. Freud also discovered that just knowing about our issues would not bring change and a process of “working through” would need to happen. In Freud’s case, this was done through working with transference. Other schools of thought have developed this to encompass positive aspects of the client/therapist relationship in the change process. This is indeed important.
Freud was fully convinced that to effectively analyse a patient, they needed to remember their childhood and then he could make them see through transference that the way they saw the world was a distortion that could be corrected through his relationship with them.
One thing is for sure, it was clear to Freud as with many therapists who followed him, that awareness must be followed by a concrete, manageable action plan.
It is my firm belief that we do not really need to remember our childhood in its entirety. We need to understand how our template affects us today and we need to know what is in our template and why. We need to understand how the interaction with our parents caused us to form certain thinking patterns such as the way we criticize ourselves, avoid and self-medicate, shame ourselves and feel guilty for thinking of ourselves and moving forward. We need to understand why we react the way we do and why we get angry or shut down. And we need to understand why we love the people we do and why we involve ourselves in certain relationships. This was all taught to us as we developed in our families and understanding these voices or thinking parts and find a way to reparent them is essential in our quest for a new template.
Practical action is also often badly needed and especially with codependents. Once awareness of the issue is there, it may call for direct action such as no contact with a self-centered ex or increasing self-care elements such as better sleep, diet, relaxation or exercise. Problem solving or effective decision-making might also be needed along with self-esteem work.
Whatever method we choose the combination of insight and action is one that will truly change our template for ever.