"My childhood is irrelevant. I can't remember anything before (insert age) anyway."
As a mental health professional, I hear this in one form or another often in the initial days of therapy with a client. In fact, for not more than 150 years of our human history has our childhood even been considered relevant in scientific and psychological discussions about what makes us "tick." Although delving into the psychology of what is in the past is not an absolute requirement for a healthy therapeutic experience to occur, it is often helpful to explore our past in order to understand how we think, feel, and behave today.
For many, recollecting the past can be uncomfortable and as a result avoided. It's not that we've forgotten it. General impressions from the past can be recollected.
Our past can be oversimplified and, for some, over complicated. Regardless of which, the past is commonly shrugged off as being a learned lesson, nostalgic or sentimental memory, or simply regarded as having happened and never happening again.
Although the variables in life change from year to year, it is amazing to see how much our childhood experiences tend to navigate our lifestyles choices, decision making, patterns of relationships, and self-talk as an adult.
It can be years before someone realizes, not just intellectually but emotionally, how engrained certain lessons, perspectives, values, and/or ways of reasoning have been either taught or caught through our child, adolescent, and young adult experiences.
There is a list of what cognitive therapists refer to as dysfunctional thinking, or, as I like to refer to them, thinking styles. They are, in no particular order:
• All or nothing thinking. Thinking in rigid terms of black or white, this or that, go big or go home.
• Overgeneralizing. Thinking more along the lines of "always" or "never." Applying circumstantial problems globally to later be considered in everyday tasks, relationships, and challenges.
• Negative mental filtering. Filtering out the positives in a given relationship or circumstance and focusing on only the negative. Putting too much focus on people, places and circumstances that support one's confirmation bias resulting in a negative perspective.
• Jumping to conclusions. Predicting how things will turn out or where something or someone is coming from. This comes in two forms, relatively: mind reading and forecasting/predicting.
• Magnifying or minimizing. Over-evaluating or dismissing the importance of certain information.
• Emotional reasoning. Reflecting how you feel as if it is right and/or true. Allowing emotions to determine the perception of how something or someone is.
• Shoulds. Variations of this are spoken as "should," "must," and/or "have to."
• Labeling. Assigning a judgment or preconceived notion based on a circumstance or bias.
• Personalizing. Assuming personal responsibility for unfortunate circumstances or someone else's behavior or feeling.
Most inherit or adopt thinking styles throughout child and adolescent years and then behave according to those thinking styles as adults once a person has a higher degree of control or independence as it experienced in late adolescent -- early adulthood years. Essentially this occurs in cycles as life happens and meaning is attached to what is or has happened which then produces or reinforces our thinking styles resulting in more outcomes from life's happenings.
Chronologically we may age into adulthood, but true maturity comes by recognizing and adapting the way we think. We do this in therapy by looking at why we think how we think and then finding effective, personal, ongoing revisions to our patterns of thought and world views as we meander through our life's work of finding meaning and purpose.
The world is far greater and reaches far wider than the small bubbles we attach to throughout life. The skillset of survivorship we are taught or catch while adventuring through life are but a small glimpse of how the world actually operates. We can't help but to identify with being "some kind of way" or "some kind of person" but that in no way is an accurate understanding of our identities.
I've often said, we are not responsible for our thoughts. We are only responsible for our actions produced by our thoughts.
Who we are is just as much comprised of how we think as it is how we are evolving our thinking process.
Cognitive therapy, commonly referred to as "talk therapy," can help a person uncover these often subconscious or indirect thinking experiences to aid in dealing with acute or chronic problems. It is quite effective in assisting one's attempt at producing better outcomes of personal, ongoing, developmental progress throughout life.
Ken Caselden, M.Ed, LPCC, LCADC, BIP is a professional counselor in private practice at Freedom Wellness Center, PLLC. He may be reached by visiting www.freedomwellness.org.