We are shaped in many ways by our childhood experiences because we interpret them from a child’s perspective – they were a big deal to our Little Self. Once we interpret the experience, we often establish a belief around it that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Not all of those beliefs serve us in adulthood.
It’s easiest to explain with an example. Let’s say that when you were young, you loved to draw, but one day someone told you that your elephant looked like a rock with a garden hose attached to it. First, it hurt your feelings. Then you internalized the event by thinking that you were not a good artist and that you couldn’t draw. We don’t like having our feelings hurt, so you decided to avoid being hurt by not drawing ever again.
Lack of drawing skill is a common childhood belief brought into adulthood, as is “I can’t dance, sing, and/or write.” It takes time to learn those skills. We know that as adults, but as kids, we just decide we are not talented after our first attempts and that it’s better not to try.
Comments made to us in childhood can also affect our self-image, for good or for bad. My mom was usually very kind about my looks, so I have a good self-image around my appearance. When she brushed my hair, she said that it looked like spun gold. Consequently, I like my hair and resist all of my hair stylist’s attempts to get me to color it. It’s great to hold on to the childhood beliefs that serve us in adulthood. If you decided back then that you were smart, handsome, creative, tenacious, determined or lovable, keep those!
However, my mom also once made a passing comment about my having big ears. My ears aren’t huge, but I was self-conscious about them for a very long time. It wasn’t until high school that someone else told me emphatically that I did not have big ears. I was close enough to adult status to take in the comment with a little maturity and realize that Mom may have been kidding or just having a bad day. I am now at peace with my ears.
The beliefs can be big or small – anything from our ability to dance to our ability to have successful relationships. Our Little Self inside still feels the emotions attached to the experience strongly, so take your Little Self by the hand, walk up to the belief, and look at it from an adult perspective. Decide that you can learn to draw and that you are not doomed to failed relationships. Analyze what happened through the lens of adult maturity. It often doesn’t look nearly as big, scary, intimidating or meaningful.
Clearing out those unhelpful childhood beliefs can be very freeing. If we think of our lives as a garden, when we are born the garden is open with lots of space. We start having some negative experiences and fence off parts of our garden and declare them off-limits. “I’m not going to draw anymore,” “I will wear my hair over my ears always,” and “I can’t dance” become things we say to ourselves over and over again. We believe them without conscious thought or question. By stepping up to the fenced-off area and peering into it as an adult, we can see the experience from a different perspective and decide not to let it limit us anymore. We take down the fence and free up that space! We can try to draw and see if we like it. We can wear our hair short and show off our ears. We can dance to our heart’s content.
The more fenced-off areas we clear, the more room we have to live and play! Facing strongly held beliefs can be daunting. If it feels like an overwhelming task, get a life coach to help you with the process. Either alone, or with a coach, grab your Little Self by the hand, clear some fences, and dance together – you’ll have lots of space.
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