Childhood Conditioning - Trading Authenticity for Attachment
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Carl Jung
In Module 1, you learned about childhood conditioning and the "Life Script" you subconsciously created to make sense of the people and world around you, and your place in it.
As part of this process, you learned to shut down parts of yourself in order to be accepted within your family. But these are valuable parts that we need in order to be whole.
We make the unconscious choice as a young child to disown them, and many people never rediscover or reclaim them. In fact, we often unconsciously judge others who have these same traits.
When we work to integrate all aspects of ourselves, we experience increased self-acceptance and a sense of wholeness + well-being.
Your Life Script becomes set when what you believe has been proven enough times, and in enough ways, that it is accepted by your mind as "fact".
You might believe, based on your lived experiences:
- that people will disappoint and let you down
- that you really aren't "good enough"
- that expressing your emotions causes problems; or
- that if you're not perfect, people won't love you
In our earliest years, we made adaptations in order to fit in and be accepted by those who took care of us. We adapted by playing a role or acting in ways that helped us to get our needs met and maintain attachment with our caregivers.
We adapted in an attempt to get the love, affection, and attention every child craves. We did it to protect that vital bond with our parents or caregivers.
It's important to keep in mind that it was never a conscious choice, it happened automatically as an evolutionary survival mechanism.
Remember the example of the two-year old who wanted the cookie before dinner? Her young mind, seeing that her anger was powerful enough to jeopardize her connection with her parent, decided (with all the insight of her two years of life) that she wouldn't get angry...ever. That is an adaptation.
The nervous system would trigger the body into fight, flight, or freeze mode. As children, we are powerless. We quickly learn that it doesn’t help to fight back (even on an emotional level).
If we can't fight back or leave the situation the option that is left is to "freeze". This can look like zoning out, dissociating, or distracting by focusing on something else.
Examples of an Adaptation
Situation: Dad is a single parent. He's stressed. He's dealing with his own stuff. He is doing the best he can. He loves his child and works to take care of them. That is what is objectively happening. But, subjectively, what experience may that child's young mind have?
Child-mind interpretation: "Dad's too busy for me. I don't matter. I'm a bother. I'm unwanted."
Adaptation: Maybe to adapt to your belief that you were an inconvenience, you developed a sense of independence and a conviction that you should do everything on your own.
As you got older, you likely accepted being “independent” as part of the “True You”, without realizing that it was actually an adaptation that was based on faulty information.
A core belief is a belief that was created in the subconscious mind, typically being firmly rooted in place by the age of seven. Regardless of whether or not these beliefs are actually true, they are accepted by the mind as "truth".
When we are not conscious of our core beliefs, but they are there, beneath the surface, running the show.
It's only by raising your level of self-awareness and uncovering these core beliefs that you can make conscious, present-moment choices in life.
We take on beliefs very easily in childhood (just consider how impressionable our minds are!) "I don't fit in my family", "I feel like an outsider", or "there's something wrong with me; I'm not good enough".
Children come to these conclusions based on how they interpret what's going on around them, as it relates to them.
"What does this mean for + about me? How have I caused or contributed to this? Am I responsible?"
We change ourselves bit by bit (and sometimes in significant ways) in order to keep ourselves from feeling emotional pain.
There is a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It’s located in the brain stem and acts as a filter, only allowing certain things to reach us on a conscious level.
The aspects of life it lets in are the ones that fit and reaffirm our core beliefs. In psychology, it is called confirmation bias.
On a constant basis, our mind subconsciously seeks out information that confirms what we believe, while discarding information that goes against what we believe to be true.
A "schema" is a map of reality in the mind that is created in childhood to help us know how to react or respond to what's happening.
Step 1: Something happens (we receive sensory input of some kind)
Step 2: We have an automatic expectation of what will happen next (based on lived experience)
Step 3: a habitual (unconscious) reaction unfolds (based on the wiring of the subconscious mind)
The fact that the brain makes automatic connections and patterns is, overall, helpful. Being able to efficiently predict and prepare to navigate complex aspects of life means that we conserve energy.
We automatically know what to expect and how to react. It is a vital system when we are in danger or feel threatened and need to shift into autopilot in order to protect ourselves.