The next step along our pathway to autonomy brings us to the topic of connection. Immediately you may be thinking of an emotional connection between two people but that is just the tip of the iceberg of what we are going to uncover here.
The start off today I want to discuss the separated means by which a child lives; by separated I mean the way in which they act exclusively on their own emotions and their immediate perception of the world around them. It is almost as if they live in their own little cocoon and everything else that is not them is supposed to serve them. A lot of people will put this down to them being spoilt or selfish but I think that is a bit harsh, stick with me and let me explain why.
If you have had the pleasure of raising children you will recollect that there was a time in their lives when they came to terms with the fact that the world is not so black and white and is also a lot bigger than just their immediate field of vision. This comes a lot easier to some children than it does to others. The end goal of this train of though is not to open up your mind to the existence of those outside/external influence but get you focuses on mechanisms on how you internalize them.
Childhood – The world in Black & White (Me vs the world)
I want to introduce a series of concentric diagrams into the discussion now. If you are anything like me (and a big proportion of the population) you need visual aids to really understand new topics.
You will see in the diagram at the center of our little universe is Us (the child). Early on in childhood the only interactions you have with the world are through your five senses (taste, smell, sight, sound, touch). It is the interpretation of our senses that I really want to focus in on right now. It is the interpretation that both makes our reality but eventually forms our sense of self.
Can you remember the last time you spent any extended time with a two-year-old. They seem to only have two emotions (which are both diametrically opposed to each other) which somewhat resemble either extreme comfort or extreme discomfort. They could be happy or sad, angry or playful, loving or violent but the point I am trying to make here is that their emotions are either extremely content or extremely discontent. Being a two year they don’t have a lot of skills to communicate so you will only know what is going on in their heads by the limited amount of speech they have or body language. It must be extremely frustrating to find yourself trapped in such a situation and as parents we tend to lose that insight.
Immediate Interactions with Immediate Family
Now we are going to add into our diagram a third circle which represents interactions with their parents and siblings (i.e. the immediate family). After they get a little better at communicating (or parents and siblings get a little better at interpreting them) we find that a certain amount of balance can be achieved. Our child can request comfort when needed and our family members can interpret what those needs are then decide what course of action to take to provide the required comfort for example.
The means by which this interaction takes place is speech and body language. They will continue to evolve as we develop, we may also develop some new ways to communicate.
Indirect Interactions – Memories
More than likely as children develop the first indirect means of them interacting with the world is through developing memories of what has happened to them in the past. As more and more experiences with the outside world are felt more and more memories begin to fill our little heads. What they also find as that the indirect result of gaining such memories is that patterns of perception will start to take shape. Here is one example for clarification.
Our six year old girl is an avid gymnast. She attends competitions quite regularly and Dad always attends. When she does well they celebrate with McDonalds, when she doesn’t do as well they buy a hot dog at the gym and head on home. Eventually she (indirectly and sub-consciously) associates fast food with her Dad’s approval of her performance. As the years go by and she grows old of gymnastics and gives it up but she still strives to get Dad’s approval but his words and behaviors don’t tend to affirm approval until he takes her to get some fast food.
This might be quite an extreme or quite a subtle pattern but nonetheless our adult brains and our adult perceptions of the world are built on the premise that every interaction with the world has to be bundled up into a pattern. There is just simply too much stimulation our there and too many things to remember so this is how our brain conceptualizes things.
Here is another example to concrete the concept.
A four year old boy lives in a family which has a violent uncle and an over-protective mother. Any time he expresses frustration his mother mistakes the emotion for violence and puts a stop to it, eventually he learns to compensate for the environment he is growing up in by internalising (or bottling up) his emotions associated with violence, frustration, aggression, assertiveness etc. This coping mechanism will work fine for him as he is growing up but will turn into a missing piece of his personality as he leaves the nest and is required to be a fully functioning independent human (complete with the full set of emotions). We all know some people like this who just aren’t capable of doing the things we take for granted.
Ever wondered why you remember some things but not others? Or ever wondered by certain people have buttons you can press which sets them off into a rage spiral? That is all to do with patterns of behaviors. The brains forms patterns early on in life to cope with what it has to cope with and as you grow up the patterns of behavior or built on with new (but similar) memories reinforcing the old emotional reactions.
Those of you who have spent much time in therapy will be familiar with the adage of looking back into your childhood to solve emotional problems of adulthood.
Indirect Interactions – Technology
As we develop from child into adult we are also going to have to interact with things like technology. Depending on when you grew up these devices will take on different forms but the internalization process of the experience is still a very human one. Here is another example to try to crystallize it.
Six year old Joseph receives his first BMX bike for his birthday which is just before summer holidays luckily enough. He enjoys every minute of the holidays riding his new bike around the neighborhood and around the nearby park with his friends. For the first time he can get from one place to another quickly without needing his parents to escort him. He experiences his first true feeling of freedom and gets to play at the park with his friends a lot more than he could last year. Indirectly he will start associating having that bike with his new freedom (in reality his bike sits on the ground as he plays in the park). It could be a bike or a scooter or motorbike the material thing is not important. Secondly he is also going to associate having that bike with a new sense of authority and responsibility imparted onto him that his younger siblings don’t have. He might not realize what is going on and what these patterns are that are forming until the bike gets a flat tyre and he loses access to it. All of a sudden he can’t ride the streets away from his sibling and he can’t meet his friends down the park. With his world crashign down on him the resultant patterns will actually be strengthened.
Nowadays the same might be said for a tablet and face time with friends or online gaming with friends but the patterns are still the same.
External Patterns & Internal Patterns
In the figure to your right you may have noticed some additional parts have appeared. External Patterns and Internal Patterns are both built up but have very different implications to your development into adulthood.
So what do I mean by external patterns?
In the scenario where technology overlaps memories (and sticking with the story of Joseph and his BMX bike) early on he may associate his BMX bike with freedom but as he meets more and more kids and even teenagers he will see that some of them have even better bikes or ,heaven forbid, motorbikes that will challenge his notion of freedom. Obviously kids with faster bikes or more capable bikes will expand his patterns of thought into wanting more.
In my blog I tend to refer to these external patterns more as paradigms or belief systems but essentially they are the assumptions you made around the outside world based on all the external influences in your world so far. Here are a few more examples
- expensive cars make you appear more successful
- swearing in front of the wrong people will get you punished
- breaking the law will get you arrested
- copying other peoples behavior makes you more likeable
- shooting at someone will mean they will shoot back
- money should be carried in a wallet.
That is about all the time I want to spend on the external patterns because it is the internal ones that really needs to be understood and mastered on our road to autonomy.
By internal patterns I really mean automated emotions that we develop over time in response to your perception of the outside world. See a few examples below
- gunshots will make you fear for your life (pretty obvious and pretty reasonable)
- loud voices will make you want to protect yourself from violence (if it is direct response to experiences in your past it may be reasonable but also not common)
- the smell of tomato soup may invoke memories of winter or a loving mother who helped you hand pick the tomatoes giving you a strong sense of belonging and contribution
- someone lies to you may automatically bring on a sense of rage or violent tendencies (patterns of behavior from your past which were once use for defense have now become aggressive in a different context)
Habits and learned behaviors that cloud your world
The key takeaway message that I really want you to take away from this article is that as you grow through your teens and early adulthood our memories and experiences from the past shape our emotions of today. A disastrous past means that you have had to build emotional and behavioral coping mechanisms that stick with you and form part of who you are for the rest of your life. When situations change these particular adaptations to your personality stick with you and can actually work against you.
The Orange Belt lesson is going to deep dive into the mechanisms by which this happens but here is a quick sneak peek.
- History introduces myths you confuse with the truth
- Culture creates conventions you are bound to abide by
- Religion give you rituals to perform
- Society pins you into social groups which shape your identify
- Governments encourage conformity by threat of punishment
- Science breeds conceptualizations
Hi there, My friends call me Remy. I am a middle aged divorcee that has decided not to walk the path other people decided to set down for me. I have gained the most strength in my life from my failures. Resilience is a very powerful attribute if you can manage it, I am still building mine up but stick with me and we can forge ahead together.