What is your very first memory? Who does it involve? What is the emotion you feel when thinking of it? Is there a message you internalized from this memory? Chances are that you can answer each of these questions when you sit to think about it. Our memories hold the script in which we developed our beliefs about the world we live in and ourselves. If we examine our memories closely, we can see the messages that were given, the lessons that were taught – the very things that we recreate in our own lives, every moment of every day. One problem with this for some, is that many of these messages were harmful ones, ones that can lead a person to have low self-worth, negative self-image, low confidence, and possibly engage in self destructive behaviors. In my practice I see it every day – men and woman who come into therapy with an internalized belief system that they developed from others in their life that had their own unresolved issues. Parents, teachers, friends, caregivers…any influential person or experience can help to shape our internal belief systems.
If you are a parent and you are engaging in self destructive behaviors such as alcohol or drug addiction, eating disorder, rageful outbursts, abuse to your spouse the list is endless – think about the messages you are giving your children. If you are unable to properly parent your child – what must that child learn about themselves? There are some who take on the responsibility for your neglectful behavior. They believe if they were somehow “better” then perhaps you would love them more. If they looked “better”, if they were “thin enough” or “strong enough” that you would then love them. When these attempts fail another lesson is taught to them – “you are not good enough, despite your efforts and you never will be”. This is internalized as a belief that somehow they are an internally flawed person. Ask yourself – How do people who believe they are internally flawed behave in the world? Perhaps they do not take chances, the refuse to try new things for fear of failure, the find people in their lives who will reinforce this message maybe in abusive relationship or maybe they will do as they witnessed – develop an eating disorder, turn to alcohol or drugs . This is called generational reenactment – where children simply repeat the self-destructive patterns that they were taught by their parents.
There are those who are lucky enough to get help, those who somehow do see the dysfunction and seek out guidance to make a change. This is how the cycle is broken – this is how the children of those parents form a different belief and teach themselves the lesson their parents failed to.
As parents, as caregivers, as people – be aware of what you do, how you do it and the message you are giving to those children around you. Children are more perceptive than adults can ever be. Children are trying to understand their world, themselves and they look to those who are supposed to know to teach them. Ask yourself this questions each night before you go to sleep “what did I teach my children today”.