In last week’s blog, we made a reminder note and started to look at the first insights from our questionnaire – ‘From Childhood to Life Happiness’. After dedicating some thought to certain interesting demographics, we talked about how people tend to perceive and remember their childhoods, what makes childhood a favourable or rather a more sad experience overall, as well as which specific events or periods of time seem to weigh most heavily in the long-term. This week, we are following on that thought, asking ourselves what links do people identify between their childhoods and current selves, between their past and present.
To begin with, all but one of the respondents identified a clear connection between their childhoods and the main current themes of their lives. The picture seems clear and powerful. Loneliness and a lack of connection in childhood seems to be linked to a burning desire of belonging and integrating into the surrounding social circle. Constant insecurity and lack of safety seems to lead to a persistent feeling of doubting one’s actions, immature reactions to daily stressors and seeking safety in the presence of others. Sometimes, people become painfully aware that their childhood trauma somehow leads them to recreating around their children the exact same sense of insecurity that was so difficult for themselves. A lack of recognition and space to show themselves might lead people to feel a lower state of energy in life, and a sense of ‘being too much’ around others, hence a tendency to close inside more often than not.
Consistently, these themes are reflected in the daily life difficulties that people find themselves in. What our respondents mentioned with regard to this, is: not having faith in oneself or others and finding it hard to let go of people; experiencing fear of failure, insecurity and trouble in setting one’s boundaries in relation to others; having a generalized lack of confidence and not feeling good enough; or feeling a sense of depression. Sometimes, such difficulties either turn into or are accompanied by their first-grade cousins: bad habits. So far, it seems that bad habits can be put into two categories: socio-emotional habits; and substance-related habits. From the first category, people tend to ‘draw a wall around’ them and ‘play nice weather’, avoid hard situations in the workplace by quitting and fleeing ‘out of the blue’, panic easily, act too defensively, or are not able to handle critical feedback well. From the second category, ‘same old, same old’ – a lot of smoking, alcohol or drugs, used either recreationally or abusively, often starting at a young age and later on falling back into old patterns. A common thread across all of these? A reminiscent echo of insecure attachment.
Still, as we move towards the end of our questionnaire, the air in the room seems to change a bit. It becomes more fresh, more light, more positive; it brings hope to the table. It reminds us of a central pillar across all of our work and other ACE-related work: resilience. People often find unexpected sources of strength to survive, and hope is hard to beat. Despite the difficulties and life stories described in a nutshell above and last week, people generally report a state of ‘okay’ health, some better, some worse. It is true that chronic illness seems to have often settled in (once again strengthening the reported link between ACEs and chronic conditions), and feeling ‘ok’ is not really an ideal scenario of how we would hope someone to rate their health. Even so, people find sources of happiness and meaning, whether it is one’s children and grandchildren, dogs and other pets, the process of creation, being in nature, reading, enjoying music, cooking, volunteering or other forms of helping others and sharing one’s knowledge, connecting with people and sharing their stories, or the realisation that one has the power to break a ‘destructive family chain’. People go through (often long, complex and difficult) processes of healing. In one form or another, whether it involves therapy of any sort or not, people learn to develop strategies to live with chronic conditions. They find peace of mind somehow, and use their abilities to reach a fulfilling life. It does not always work and the road is tough, but these stories brighten our day and mind greatly.
As one of our respondents put it, by managing to “break the cycle of trauma (and go through) a lot of work on myself, I am finally being able to understand my past and accept it”. Understanding, accepting, healing – not a bad way to put it.
Let us end on that note, with the awareness that we can all facilitate our fellow humans going through these stages if need be, by nurturing connection, by showing compassion, and by building the courage to listen to those life stories, as hard to hear as they may be. Noone is ‘beyond repair’, beyond any degree of healing. Our sincere, non-judgmental curiosity and understanding can create exactly that space for personal authenticity that people felt was lacking in their childhoods. If, through connecting with compassionate others, they can finally reconnect to themselves, if we can stimulate people’s perception that they do belong, they can finally grow towards feeling that deep sense of belonging in their own lives.