“There are strong indications that adult mental health problems are developmental in nature; three quarters can be traced back to mental health difficulties in childhood, and 50% arise before the age 14 years” (Kim-Cohen et al.,2003 Archives in General Psychiatry)
With the exception of extreme circumstances like war, poverty or mental illness, more than anything else, the family we’re born into gives shape to the people we become.
If our mother or primary caregiver was good enough and if there was sufficient emotional and psychological support within the family, chances are we turned out okay.
At a young age, and with the right support, we learn to face challenges when they happen, and if we can’t there are people nearby who can help. As a result, we grow up feeling comfortable seeking help from others, and it feels good when we get it.
Asking for help also sends a message to ourselves that says I am worthy of being helped. It builds trust and self-esteem.
Having our emotional and psychological needs met in childhood makes us feel secure. We need to feel secure to feel happy.
What happens if childhood wasn’t ideal?
If our mother or primary caregiver was negligent, depressed, addicted or constantly distracted, their ability to meet our needs was severely impacted.
As children, and all through life, we need people to care for us.
If the people in charge of our care were unable to meet our basic needs, we suffered. And as children, we didn’t have the skills or ability to alleviate the suffering.
Instead of feeling nourished, soothed, secure and fulfilled, not having proper care can make us feel anxious, alone, helpless, frightened and unloved. We become needy. We seek attention. A feeling of emptiness grows in us and we desperately try to fill it.
If our mother or primary caregiver was physically or emotionally abusive, overbearing, or didn’t provide the secure space we needed to grow, their behaviour made it difficult to develop a strong connection to our inner voice; the one responsible for making good decisions and thinking positively.
For example: you try a new activity, and when something happens unexpectedly, instead of being patient and gentle with yourself, you immediately label yourself an idiot, stupid, or worse. Your inner voice doesn’t soothe you as it should, possibly because it never learned how to. Soothing is a quality that initially comes from a parent. Soothing ourselves and others is a skill we learn as we grow.
Abuse or trauma endured in childhood, if not treated properly or left untreated, has consequences that get carried into later stages in life; making genuine happiness or fulfilment difficult to experience.
A good upbringing increases our chances of developing strong and healthy attachments to others and to ourselves. We need strong attachments to feel happy.
If we had a difficult childhood, the parts of ourselves that were negatively impacted need to be attended to so that we can grow and gain a sense of balance.