We all have unresolved issues from our past, some conscious and some that we are not fully aware of. These issues, if not dealt with can have a huge effect on our relationships with others and especially with our own children. Subsequently, this moves the issue from one generation to the next.
There are many cases of parents who in normal everyday interaction with their children are triggered back to their own past, affecting their judgement and behavior. By leaving these issues unresolved, parents are not only missing the chance to become better parents, stopping the issues from affecting their children but also developing themselves. It is our ultimate responsibility as parents to create a loving environment for children to grow in. That means if, as a parent, issues are present, fix them, simple. Though some of these issues would be part of our automatic conditioning and from a less than functional background, we must make sure we are not the reason our children are dysfunctional in turn.
When we become parents, we bring emotional baggage into the relationship with our child. This baggage comes from our early significant experiences that formed the way we see and look at the world. A good example would be if a mother left the house without announcement when she is overwhelmed due to her child crying, a feeling of loss, insecurity and a loss of trust could occur in the child. This would be consolidated by the child`s fruitless search for the mother leading to a sense of abandonment. As an adult, this child could have abandonment issues that would prevent a healthy relationship with his or her own offspring or indeed with other adults.
One may rightly ask how our past affects our present in such a way, leaving us with these unresolved issues. Here the answer lies in the study of memory and how our brain`s functions and structure affect our mind and consequently shapes who we are. From early on, the connection among neurons, the basic building blocks of the brain are altering, seen as a key process in remembering experiences. This process goes on to affect the structure of the brain, brain structure affects brain function, goes a long way to creating the mind and how we see the world. Although genetics play a role, it is thought that experience from the environment we grow up in more directly alters our brain structure. Memory is the way that the brain holds these experiences and plays a role in forming our mind. This is done in two ways: implicit memory creates connections that develop before our second birthday, responsible for feelings, non-verbal behavior, behavioral and instinctive responses and bodily sensations. Implicit memory takes the form of the formation of mental models which create generalizations. For example, if a mother comforts a baby every time it cries, it will come to generalize that security can be found around its mother and vice versa. It allows us later to remember the words of a song or how to perform a task over and over again. We are generally not aware of what we are absorbing at this time and even though, these feelings are often recalled in the present, we have no knowledge of their source. Things that we don’t purposely try to remember are stored in implicit memory. This kind of memory is both unconscious and unintentional. Implicit memory is also sometimes referred to as nondeclarative memory since you are not able to consciously bring it into awareness. It often leads us to giving automatic responses to events that trigger us back to these times and especially with our own children.
The second form of memory, explicit, develops usually after the age of two and includes our autobiographical recollections including a sense of time and self.
There are two major types of explicit memory:
This is generally the time when children are starting to realise that they are individuals. At this time, our pre frontal cortex is being formed which regulates self-awareness, judgement, flexibility, mindfulness and the regulation of emotions.
This development is hugely affected by attachment and interpersonal interaction making the early experiences we have critical in forming our mind. When issues from our early childhood are left unresolved, it can lead to what is known as parental ambivalence. This means that situations that we find ourselves in with our children become overwhelming due to our internal noises being extremely loud. We then tend to look at our children through our own autobiography and it becomes more about us as a parent than the child. Often we feel controlled by these automatic thoughts and responses and have no clue where they come from. We try to control our children`s behavior, not realizing that it down to our own internal experiences. We seem to forfeit our own self direction and allow situations to drift on, not aware that our behavior is affecting our children. If we pay attention to our own internal sensations when we are upset with our children, we can start to develop an awareness of how these are interfering with the loving relationship we wish to have with our young ones.
One way to do this is to keep a journal of feelings and emotions felt when interacting with the children and then trying to expand this by thinking of how this behavior could have been developed via implicit and explicit memory. Are there elements of your past that could be contributing? Can you remember a time when a time when you experienced the same feelings? This calls for much self-exploration but surely our children are worth it.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals, couples, groups and companies with a speciality in CBT techniques. Apart from seeing clients face-to-face, Dr. Jenner also runs a thriving online therapy business bringing help to those who find taking therapy online as convenient and tailored for their needs. More Details HERE