Letting go of our childhoods
In the first ten years of our lives, we are like sponges – taking in all of the information from our surroundings without the ability to decipher what is useful or helpful to us. We don’t yet have the emotional or cognitive development to be able to know what is hurtful to us, so we just take it all in. A few years ago, I trained for one year with the wonderful Diane Benoit, a child psychologist who specializes in trauma work, and she taught me about child development and the impact that those first ten years have on us.
In my psychotherapy practice, I work mostly with clients who are struggling with emotional distress stemming from their childhoods – anger toward their primary caregivers, abusive histories, feelings of neglect, low self-esteem, etc… It is amazing how most of the patterns we see in our adults lives began as a result of those crucial first ten years of our lives.
Our parents/caregivers play an essential role in our early formation as human beings. We learn about intimate relationships from viewing the relationship between our parents, we learn about love from the affection we receive from our caregivers, we learn about self-esteem from the validation we receive from our caregivers, and we learn our morals and values based on those of our caregivers. Most of these are imposed on us, as we do not yet – when we are young – have the reasoning , emotional or cognitive ability to question what we observe and experience. Of course, our caregivers are human and – like all of us – are bound to make mistakes here and there. I don’t personally believe there is any usefulness in “parent/caregiver- blaming “ – Instead, when harm has been done, I encourage clients to acknowledge the “humanity” and vulnerability in their caregivers and the reasons for which their caregivers were not able to provide them with their emotional/physical needs. Blame creates anger and resentment, which only eats away at our potential for growth- not really useful in the long run.
Abuse also plays a large role in our social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. For one, peer bullying is a larger issue in schools than we would often like to admit. Mark Dombeck, PhD, wrote an article “The Long-Term Effects of Bullying”, where he stated that bullying IS abuse, and explained that bullying can affect us in our adult years, limiting our ability to function in relationships, at work, and to have a positive sense of self-worth. All forms of abuse, be it emotional, physical, sexual or abuse through neglect, affect a child’s ability to develop healthy relationships and a healthy self-image. Most of us will experience some form of abuse in our lives, granted to varying degrees; however, even what one might consider the “mildest” abuse can severely impact an individual’s overall health.
For many of us, we reach a certain point in our lives where we “awaken” to the fact that life as we know it isn’t quite working for us. So, my question is simple: At what point do we learn to let go of some of what we have learned and experienced, and start to pave our own path?
I have a few people in my life who I admire so much, not only because they are AWESOME, but because they have taken the risk in paving their own path. For one, Joanna Morrison gave me the permission to share her empowering story. She is the founder of Sangha of Hope, and is a survivor of abuse who made a decision to make effective changes to better her life. As a social worker and yoga teacher, she has established an organization where she brings yoga to survivors of sexual abuse and street workers. Joanna recognized that she needed to pave her own path, and so she embarked on her journey. She has worked to use her own personal experiences to help others. As a result, Joanna has been such a positive influence on others in her life, both her loved ones and those she teaches. She is an inspiration to me, and I am so honored to know her.
Similarly, I was given the “heads up” by Cezary Rataj to share his story. He is someone very dear to me who continues to teach me every day – he awoke in his early 20s to the reality that he was unhappy, angry and resentful. Cezary was suffering, and made the ultimate choice to pave his own path and to move from his home in Australia to Canada to start a new life. In a matter of a few years, he has built a community here in Toronto, where he has become an active member and leader in a self-development group. Cezary sees the amazing opportunity to work every day to better himself – for his own benefit and for the benefit of those he loves. A true inspiration and someone I love and admire very much.
Michael Decorte, a dear friend of mine and the founder of Jock Yoga, is another inspiration to us all. He gave me permission to share his very personal story – as he is very open about his early years of being overweight, battling depression, and turning to drugs in his twenties as a coping strategy. Somehow something clicked for him and he recognized that he was longing for connection with others in a much more meaningful way than being the “outrageous party kid” (as he refers to it). In fighting his addiction and finding sobriety, he turned to fitness and spirituality, eventually leading him to yoga in 2002. It takes a lot of inner strength to change your lifestyle, the way you think, and how you react – to recognize that you have been deeply affected by your childhood and your life experiences, and then taking action to better your life. Michael is a great example of someone who has paved his own path… He has founded a brand of yoga that is true to him, and is living his life – as I see it – through inner strength and empowerment. Who says life can’t begin in your 30s?
I think that so many of us have – or have potential for – amazing stories of growth, empowerment, and strength. Essentially, we hold on to the memories, the emotional struggles, and the effects of our early experiences – As a result, our growth is limited. It is very difficult for us to awaken to the fact that we do NOT have to be the product of our childhoods, as we have the power to take a different fork in the road. We are generally so afraid to confront our emotions (of hurt, anger, resentment, etc…) head on in order to deal with them so that we can begin to pave our own paths. I am on a journey of paving my own path, and whether you recognize it yet or not, so are you! Thanks to all the incredibly inspirational people in my life who continue to teach me about self-empowerment and inner strength every day. My thoughts for the day, have a great one.