If you have seen movies like “Silence of the lambs” you will be familiar with the thought pattern of serial killers being abused in their childhood therefore making them disturbed adults. As you became more and more familiar with this thought pattern you may have even wondered to yourself how does childhood affect adulthood more generally. What things happened in your past to turn you into the kind of adult you are today? Therapists will go through the motions with you but if you want to make any real progress in your self-examination you will need to put in the hard yards yourself. Here are a few directions you may consider taking.
The Brain does strange things and I bet you never even take notice
There has been a lot of work go into understanding the human brain. You may still think the same way we did decades ago “the human brain is a mystery and no one knows anything about it”, and you would be wrong.
The brain works records two types of long term memories; implicit memories and explicit memories.
Implicit memories are the unconscious memories that shape the way you do things and feel things. This type of memory is how you built up a mental model of the world and it doesn’t need active participation from you. Here are a few examples to better illustrate what implicit memories are
- you look up see the sky is a dark Grey color and immediately turn around to get your umbrella. (your implicit memory has kicked in and assumed there is a good chance it will rain and you need an umbrella)
- you are walking you dog and you see a bull dog coming towards you unrestrained; you immediately look for ways to protect yourself (your implicit memory may be recalling a past dog attack or something which assumes this dog is going to be dangerous)
- you are a female that wants to date a man who is taller than her (your implicit memory has drawn on something from your past and decided that you would be better off with a taller man; perhaps you want the same protection your dad used to provide you and you are associated a tall man today with the way your dad used to tower over you as a kid.)
I could keep going on forever but the key point is to pull yourself up when you automatically do something, feel something or want something and see if you can figure out what drove your implicit memory to go in that direction.
The implicit memory leads to something clinical psychologists refer to as the “illusion of truth effect”. You are more likely to think something is true if you have heard it before. This is because the brain may unconsciously recollect a familiarity with something that you have heard over and over again (but don’t actively remember ever hearing) and for some reason pays it more credibility just because it is familiar.
The advertising industry will bring me down if you tell them we are onto their scams.
Implicit memory is often referred to as procedural memory because it unconsciously dictates the way in which you do things.
Explicit memories are concrete memories of things you directly remember happening to you. A few examples are
- As you are preparing to go out in the sun you directly remember the time you on a beach holiday a few years back and getting very painfully sunburned
- As you prepare for another big night on the turps (drinking) you recall the hangover that crippled you for a whole day a few weeks back.
These memories are autobiographical. They include you, the time, the place and very much live in your conscious thought. Explicit memories are referred to as declarative memories because they are a set declaration of personal experiences or facts.
The way your brain response to your every day is extremely important when you are a child because of the way the brain develops. Here are a few key points to set the scene.
- Your memories are embedded into the brain by creating neuropathways (these are the roads that the neurons travel through). The shape of the roads and the size/strength (the neuropathways) store the content, context, complexity and relevance of each memory.
- You are born with your brain pretty much physically developed (around 80%) but it’s almost a blank canvas for you to start building your mental model on (there are certain parts of your consciousness automatically brought into life with you)
- since the brain does the bulk of it’s developing during childhood the bulk of your mental model of the world is developed during childhood.
Paradigm is a big word but it is a simple concept. Our brain works more efficiently by only remembering or focusing a very small part of everything that has ever happened. What it chooses to remember shapes the way you see the world today. Your mental model is built up from all the implicit and explicit memories from your past.
The way your apply this mental model to the world is the paradigm through which your see your life (or in other words the lens through which you see the world, it filters out all the stuff you don’t want to see and focus’s you onto something)
Our brain also has an ability to focus on painful memories or emotions and if exposed to them long enough can erase those memories all together; block them out. This is where you unconscious actions (from your implicit memories) can tie you up in knots and make a right mess of your life with out you knowing what is going on.
Example 1 Being on time for something
If your mental model of the world includes memories of your mother always being late and you feel let down by her lateness you may create a paradigm in which you much be early to all of your appointments so as to not let anyone else down.
Example 2 The Role of the Mother and the Role of the Father
Say for example your mental model from childhood has your mother placed as a full time working mother and your father as a full time working father. When you grow up and have you own children you may create a paradigm in which you feel obliged to work full time just to live up to your own standards of a mother or fathers role in life.
Example 3 Alcoholism
In this example you grow up with a father and mother who both drink bottle of wine everyday and their life revolves around making time at the end of the day to get drunk enough to sleep. As you grow up you may subconsciously associate adulthood with the ability to sit down every night and drink a bottle of wine. Your paradigm here is there you need to drink to feel more grown up.
Hopefully these few examples can show you how your brain functions, your mental model as a child and your paradigms as an adult really do shape your reality today.
Personal Growth is very achievable
Just by taking the time to read this article and think about your own existence you have already achieved the start your personal growth journey. Understanding your paradigms will make you a more whole person and a better parent.
If you make a conscious effort to turn your implicit memories to explicit memories (which can be done) a new mental model can be created, new neuropathways can be create and your paradigms can be changed.
Let me know some of the self reflections you have made and which paradigms of your own you have discovered.
Here are a few to get you started
- I need to be a successful businessman to keep my wife interested in me
- my wife wants me to be both a full time caregiver and a full time breadwinner
- Our kids need their own bedrooms each and we need spare bedrooms for guests