Understanding Maladaptive Behavior
As we grow into adulthood, we often carry deep-seated memories connected to strong emotions that originated in childhood. These recollections, many of them subconscious, control our present behavior and reinforce patterns that either give us a balanced approach to dealing with our problems or reiterate maladaptive behavior (responding poorly to a situation) that interferes with our ability to form intimate relationships. How can we tap into these memories is the question that continually arises as we struggle to find the answers that help us understand why we react the way we do in certain circumstances.
Psychoanalysis often takes years to uncover what our psyche has taken a lifetime to bury because these memories are often painful and more often than not relate to our relationship with our parents. However, with psychoanalysis, it can take years to identify those important occurences that have left the puppet strings intact, sometimes decades after our parents are no longer here.
Our present behavior is defined by what I call the Primal Perception. It’s the pre-verbal sense of the world we form when we are infants based on how we are brought up by our parents in the first few weeks of life. Even with parents who treat us with love and unconditional acceptance we still learn, over time, that the world is not a safe place. But, it is one we are willing to take risks and learn from any mistakes and gain a strong sense of how to evaluate our surroundings. Then we can see our environment realistically. Both are important and determine how we learn to trust our own judgements about the choices we are faced with. It also teaches us when it’s ok to ask for help from our parents without compromising our need for independence.
Loving and caring parents understand the need for their children to be independent and recognize that guiding them in that direction is the responsible way to teach them to discover their motivation in life and strive for their own dreams. However, finding the right balance to accomplish this is not set it stone. It’s largely dependent on individual circumstances and also by the pressures the parents face in dealing with their own situation. This relationship changes as children grow and develop, so there is no generic formula that can be elucidated as a guideline for parents to follow. As long as the lines of communication between them remain open and honest, the only caveat is to take into consideration what their child can comprehend based on their emotional capabilities even if it causes momentary conflict. Appropriate discipline needs to be part of the equation. If one knows their child and how they react, that can guide them to the most effective use of discipline to help them learn to control their behavior, such as anger, in a more constructive manner.
When asked, most parents will confess that if things are not right with their children, no amount of success in their own lives will have any meaning. They know in their heart that the greatest gift they can leave their progeny is the ability to reach a state of independence where they can find their own place with conviction and confidence and have all the tools they need to survive without them. This is a noble goal and the greatest legacy for any parent to leave their child. Perhaps this can be one valid guideline for parents to keep in mind when faced with complicated and emotional turmoil as situations arise during family relationships.
On the other hand, when there is a lack of parental guidance in the first few weeks of life, children retain the pre-verbal feeling that the world is not a trust-able place. Then, this first perception will affect all subsequent impressions as the child develops, enters school, and encounters difficulty forming friendships because the mistrust they absorbed from infancy impacts their ability to socialize as it creates a lack of trust and suspiciousness of the world they find themselves trapped in. As they grow into adulthood it infects all areas of their lives.They perceive that the only way to survive is by hiding from others who they are and triggers defense mechanisms that drain energy from living life to its fullest.
This dilemma is part of growing up. It’s unreasonable to expect that uncovering these deep-seated emotions and think that all the perceptions that grew from them, the Primal Perception, will be identified or even understood. To expect much of the maladaptive behavior to somehow resolve itself and leave us with a healthy view of our world that will allow us to be happy is an illusion. This is why psychoanalysis, although helpful, is not enough to form a realistic view of the world. Perhaps it requires a spiritual element of forgiveness and understanding that can lead to the recognition that although we can’t go back and change our primal personality, it can empower us to think outside the box and maybe experiment with new behavior that was previously blind sided. If one can change the way one thinks about the world, that can in itself lead to a changed life.