Recognizing Unwanted Behaviors: How our Childhood Experience Affects our Adult Life

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Learn to change unhealthy patterns

Over the holidays, I was sitting with my 3-year-old nephew on my lap, reading him a book.

After reading the story, he proceeded to get off my lap, grab another book, and sit across from me. He flipped rapidly through the pages, mumbling phrases and words as if he was reading the book, and then turning the book around to show the pages with pictures.

As I watched him present each page, I began to think about how frequently he watches a teacher sit in front of the class, read a page, and then share the picture-pages with the class.

My guess is he has seen this one-to-two times per day, five days per week, for the past eight months.

If we use my nephew as an example, we see he absorbed the teacher’s behavior after watching for only eight months. Now, take the overall experience of a child. Children see their parents when they get upset, feel anger or sadness, and how they communicate with others. After a childhood of learning, they replicate those behaviors.

We also learned from watching our parental figures daily. We watched for many hours a day and for seven days a week our entire childhoods. We watched our parents communicate, express anger, cope with stress, and more.

We absorbed behaviors similar to our parent’s behaviors and as a result, the things we saw as children influence our reactions today in our current relationships.

recognize unwanted behaviorsTake a look at the behaviors you took on from your parents.

Do you shut down like your father when you get upset? Do you drink alcohol to calm your nerves, just like mom did? Do you avoid conflict at all costs, the way dad avoided conflict? Do you leave, just like your father left you?

Think about the behaviors that you are mimicking from your own parents. If you notice yourself about to shut down, take a drink for the wrong reason, or walk out during a conflict, stop and take a deep breath. If you can consciously recognize unwanted behaviors, you are more likely to change the pattern to a healthy one. Just because you witnessed a certain type of reaction or method of communication as a child doesn’t mean you have to repeat that behavior yourself.


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Jennine Estes

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA.