Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

Growing Up as an Adult

Buzz, Love

Most people tend to think of family legacies in terms of handed-down furniture, mementos, and money.

“Miracles do happen,” wrote Chaim Weizman , the first President of Israel “but one has to work very hard for them.”

To grow up and out of a painful, dysfunctional past and all its leftovers—feelings, memories, pain, confusion, anger, fear, and persistent dysfunctional relationship patterns— may seem like a miracle, too wonderful to be possible. But it can be done, if you have the right tools and support. The purpose of It Ends With You is to lead you from the problems of the past into a satisfying, joyful, and successful future.

Most people tend to think of family legacies in terms of handed-down furniture, mementos, and money. But most of us actually get far larger inheritances of habits, attitudes, beliefs, and patterns. These old, learned ways of thinking and acting can create chaos in your life that resembles the upheaval of the past.

In nearly 40 years of psychotherapy practice, I have watched with awe as clients come to understand the power of childhood experience—how it can affect their lives without their knowledge. As they begin to understand and challenge their early learning, they gain the confidence and understanding they need to face the lessons of life on their own terms. Once they have unlocked their inner secrets, they are able to handle whatever surprises and challenges life holds and still see the humor, the beauty, and the joy of being alive. With the information and techniques in It Ends with You, you too can change your early programming and take charge of your life.

Whether your life feels good, just tolerable, overwhelming, or even miserable, until you explore the early learning that holds you back, a substantial amount of your personal energy can be tied up inside you. This bound energy has been unavailable to you for so long, you may not even realize it’s missing, but your capacity to fully experience the joy of life, and a lot of your potential vitality, suffers.

Do you remember this old nursery rhyme?

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good
She was very, very good
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

Most of us know we either can be “very, very good” or “horrid,” but seldom can we figure out why we act the way we do or the timing of either behavior.

• If you can’t trust yourself, whom can you trust?
• When you don’t feel in control of your own reactions and emotions, how can you feel secure and competent?
• When a friend disappoints or betrays you or life hands you a difficult situation, such as illness, and you feel emotionally upset or out of control, what can you do about it?

We all have a need to feel in control and competent; our survival depends on it. We are naturally afraid of what we don’t understand, what we feel we cannot control. When what feels uncontrollable is within ourselves, it becomes all the more threatening. Yet, most of us have at least some feelings or beliefs that seem too repulsive, primitive, dangerous, puzzling, unacceptable, embarrassing, and/or out of control to be safe.

But change, even for the better, can be frightening, too. Even as my clients agonize over how out of control they feel, and how remorseful they are about their history, they can fear and reject all suggestions and attempts to help them become more familiar with their hidden self and resist learning to manage their impulses and reactions more effectively.

Many people seek hard and long for a way to avoid suppressed pain, shame, and guilt, to make it go away, to make everything “nice.” Taken to an extreme, this avoidance is often the motivation and rationale behind drug use (from herbal remedies and Prozac to illegal street drugs), compulsions (if I get busy, obsessed, or overworked enough, I won’t feel bad), and a desperate, panicky feeling of being out of control. It’s very painful to feel hopeless and helpless about functioning well in life and in relationships.

In the early years of my counseling practice it soon became obvious that a large proportion of the problems adults have with life and relationships are a consequence of having grown up in a family with problems: divorce, alcoholism, rage, emotionally absent parents, or mental illness.
Poor coping skills and inadequate decision-making are a natural consequence of growing up in such an environment, because most of what young children learn comes from observation and imitation.

What you learned before you were able to think abstractly, reason, and evaluate becomes embedded in your mind, but hidden out of your awareness. This creates mystery—you find yourself acting and thinking in ways that don’t make sense to you. It’s a frightening, out-of-control feeling, and many people panic and do destructive things to avoid being aware of it.

Often, this panicky behavior replicates the dysfunctional behavior of ancestors. So, people who, as children, said, “I will never act like that,” wind up behaving just like the person who troubled them most in childhood. Others simply feel inadequate, as though someone else is in charge, or should be. Adults who have not examined the roots of their beliefs and behavior often find themselves acting in ways that do not produce good results in their grown-up lives and relationships. People who have not learned to sufficiently understand and manage their behavior feel frustrated, mystified, and to a large degree out of control of themselves and their lives.

There is good news and bad news about fixing these problems in life. The good news is that early dysfunction can be healed, and therapy does work; there’s even new research that says therapy can change brain chemistry. So what’s the bad news? It’s not easy, and it takes courage to do the work necessary.

Changing Your Beliefs and Behavior

Growing up in an imperfect family can block you from realizing and using some of your finest natural gifts. In It Ends with You you can learn, through exercises and information, how to open up, confront, and understand what has been hidden in you. The work I do with clients in therapy is replicated in the book. You will come to understand the unique gifts you were born with, how they are blocked, how that blockage affects you today, and how unblocking these gifts will improve all your interactions—in business, friendship, and family.

The proven processes in It Ends with You will help you examine not just the statistics that show that children of divorce can’t keep their own marriages together, or children of alcoholics gravitate to dysfunctional partners, but why people have these problems, how they come to be, and, most important, what you can do to fix them.

In reading it, you’ll learn:
What dysfunction is
How your family experiences shape you.
Why you often feel out of control, or don’t understand your own reactions.
How to change your habits and belief systems to get the results you want.

Whatever your early family experience, whether the problems were mild or severe, you are not stuck with the result. Yes, your personality, beliefs, and habits were shaped in early childhood, before you knew what was influencing you. However, the good news is, you can change every bit of early “programming” that you wish to change and take control of your own life. In my counseling practice, I help clients do it every day. It Ends with You will take you through the same information, exercises, and guidelines I use with my clients. When you’re done, you will know what you need to make your life your own.

This article was originally published at Tina B. Tessina. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Author
Expert

Explore YourTango