What happened to you?

When you are little, you require safety, stability, attention, admiration, acceptance and your physical needs to be cared for. Throw in some good modelling of behaviour, consistency, and some fun, and you are likely to grow up feeling good about yourself, excited to explore the world and displaying a basic trust in people, and the community you inhabit.

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Switch that around and say things were happening such as loss, illness, poverty, disability, instability, or addiction, and the child cannot get attention, is valued for their ability to be quiet, stay out the way, not make demands, or to care for an adult, then maybe you grow up differently. You might care more for others' needs than your own, find you cannot ask for things, and struggle to value your own thoughts, needs or desires.

You might have experienced abuse, or what is known as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) which create feelings of anxiety, low worth, flashbacks or struggle to feel real. You might find it problematic to have adult relationships, set boundaries or look after yourself well.

In therapy, some approaches aim to understand how you arrived at the place you are in. Understanding that our caregivers/parents often did what they knew how to do, which they learnt from their upbringing, allows us to investigate with curiosity and compassion. Some actions, behaviours or upbringings have been cruel, distressing and hard to forgive or understand.

Therapy is not about digging through your past for the sake of unearthing painful memories, but clarifying, and supporting you to understand yourself, to see why you might respond or behave in the ways you do. It is helpful to appreciate that you are not 'lazy', 'incompetent', or 'hopeless' because you are struggling, but are struggling because of the things that impacted you.

Carl Rogers (person-centred counselling advocate) talks of organismic growth, which uses the analogy of a person growing towards the light, always striving to develop. A plant shut in the dark might struggle but will still aim for any chinks of light, while a plant encountering a stone will try to grow around it. Children and adults are always striving to be fully grown plants and uncovering the obstacles you had to grow around might help you understand how you adapted to these.

When you are born, no matter the circumstances of birth, no matter whether you needed additional care, you were perfect. Completely, wonderfully, human. The only thing which has changed is what happened to you. Understanding how you developed the way you have, and what occurred to create the emotional patterns and processes that are your default now, can help you to develop a more compassionate approach to yourself. Compassion fosters esteem, and esteem helps us cope with adversity.

We do not choose to have difficult, uncomfortable, or unpleasant experiences or relationships. We do not choose how we grow up. We adapt, and we usually do this based on what our emotional selves feel we need to do to survive. Survival as a child often involves gaining love, attention, or approval from adults. Creating new choices about how we respond to those events and patterns, can be a task in therapy.

If you want to understand what happened to you, why not investigate therapy and see how it might help you. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Nottingham, NG5
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Written by Fiona Corbett, Accredited BACP and EMDR therapist and Clinical Supervisor
Nottingham, NG5

Fiona Corbett BACP and EMDR Association accredited therapist

I work in Nottingham with individuals. My training is in Humanistic counselling, Psychodynamic psychotherapy, and EMDR I also offer supervision. I work with a wide range of issues.

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