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A Self-Guided Tour Of Childhood

A Self-Guided Tour of Childhood

Control patterns are unconscious communication and listening habits that are so deeply wired into our brains that they have become part of what we think of as our personalities. You can uncover your control patterns by looking at how well your needs were met in early life. To help you do this, take the following self-guided tour of childhood. This describes the needs that all children have growing up — male and female, rich and poor. Slowly read through the list, notice if anything brings up a memory from your own early years, and jot down the thoughts, feelings, and memories that come up.

If you are reading this book with a partner, do the exercise together. Read it out loud and interview each other, taking notes on the memories and feelings that are evoked. This will help you better understand each other’s buttons and insecurities.

 7 Fundamental Ways Parents Create Emotional Soundness

1.  All Children Need Protection

Did your parents stand up for you? If you felt unprotected, you may have learned to be vigilant about whether you are safe or about who to trust. You might worry about being let down, betrayed, abandoned, or having your boundaries violated. You may be sensitive to not being seen or to your voice not having any effect.

Sometimes this results in the control pattern of giving up or giving in too soon when there is a disagreement. You assume you won’t be heard, so why even try? On the other hand, some people develop patterns like being aggressive, controlling, or testing a partner’s loyalty. They fear that if they let their guard down, they will be taken advantage of. They look for any evidence they are not being cared for, protected, or respected. They may tend to provoke or even bait a partner when they feel insecure.

2.  All Children Need Loving Attention

Do you have memories of your parents looking into your eyes and expressing appreciation in some way, like, “I love you,” or “You’re such a great kid.” Did they say that for no reason, or only if you did well in school or sports? Did they spend time hanging out with you? Was their affection easily available or inconsistent?

If you did not get such attention, you might have a control pattern of looking for evidence that you are not loved, valued, or accepted the way you are. You may believe your worth depends on how much you do and how well you perform. You may fear being a failure or not being good enough. Or you might be sensitive to feeling neglected, ignored, or abandoned.

3.  All Children Need Coregulation

Do you have specific memories of running to a parent when you were upset of frightened? How did that parent respond? Do you remember getting held, touched supportively, and being reassured in a soft, loving tone? How consistently did each parent offer this when you were upset, crying, or just in need of some attention?

Was there one parent you didn’t or wouldn’t run to? Did you ever end up feeling you had to handle your feelings on your own? If you lack specific memories of such things, or if you do not remember being touched or held, this suggest that you probably received little coregulation when you were distressed. Today, as an adult, you will probably have a control pattern of hiding your vulnerable core needs behind a sword or a shield.

4.  All Children Need Help Expressing Their Feelings

Can you recall a parent regularly asking how you felt? Did you receive help putting your feelings into words? Parents help us develop an emotional vocabulary by asking us questions like, “How are you feeling? Are you feeling a little sad today because Tommy is away? Do you miss playing with him?” They also help us see what is under our reactions: “Are you mad at Joey? Did it hurt when he called you a sissy?” This helps the child feel okay to be vulnerable and to talk about feelings.

As children, many of us receive little or no help identifying or expressing feelings, so we end up with limited emotional vocabularies. We may especially avoid showing our softer, more vulnerable feelings.

5.  All Children Need Help Understanding Others

Similar to helping children express their own feelings, well-functioning parents help children understand the feelings of others. They ask questions that help children put themselves in the shoes of another person, perhaps to understand the impact we have on other. “Why did Sue call you selfish yesterday? Did she get mad when you took your doll back? Do you think maybe that hurt her feelings?” Questions like these help us understand and accept the emotions of others.

Do you recall having such discussions with your parents? Did they help you see what was going on with your siblings or friends? If you did not learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you may tend to overlook other peoples’ needs and feelings. You may get defensive if someone is unhappy with you. You may get puzzled when others see you as self-centered or insensitive.

6.  All Children Need Guidance and Encouragement

Do you recall going to a parent to help you do your homework or learn a new skill (like throwing a ball)? Did they patiently help and encourage you? Do you recall a parent saying anything like, “You have a special talent for science,” or “You don’t have to be the best. You can make mistakes, and I’ll still be proud of you for trying.”

Or were you generally left on your own to discover your unique abilities or to learn basic life skills? This can be frustrating, and it can lead to a control pattern of trying to remain invisible.   You may have a fear of failure or a fear of being exposed.   You may get triggered when someone expects too much of you. On the other hand, you may have become quite independent –not expecting anything from anybody, perhaps thinking nobody can do it as well as you can.   In this case, acting self-sufficient and not asking for help would be your control patterns.

7.  All Children Need Helpful Feedback

Many parents expect too much, and the feedback they give is unrealistic and often harsh. Children end up feeling they’re not performing well enough. Later in life this can lead to a control pattern of perfectionism or of defensiveness in the face of critical feedback –even constructive advice. Unrealistically high parental expectations can produce a core fear of not being good enough.

Other parents don’t give much attention or feedback at all. Their children don’t get much information about the effectiveness of their efforts or about the fact that they do have an impact on others.   In this case, you might have a button about being neglected or about someone not being there for you.

Excerpt from “5 Minute Relationship Repair”. See Susan’s interview with the author here <== Click Here

3 Responses

  1. If we do not get these needs met, it’s true that our adult personalities will have unconscious “control patterns,” such as those listed above, which could interfere with our ability to feel safe and be intimate in our adult relationships. But all is not lost! Watch the video interview between Susan Bratton and me [link is above], and you’ll see how we can use our adult relationships for healing the gaps in our early development.

  2. Thank you for this.

    I’m a much better parent now as /i look for these cues when dealing with my children.



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