Week One / Day Five – How our childhood beliefs effect us in adulthood

 

Click here for the audio version of the lesson

I once worked with a client who was trying to understand the depression she had had as a teenager. For the purposes of privacy, I will call her Michelle.

We were doing some exploring into Michelle’s childhood and in her questionnaire (which you will do at the end of the week), she was asked if there was a major event that had occurred in childhood that still affected her today.

She responded that although this particular event didn’t affect her anymore, she did remember a time when she was about 7/8 years old when she was getting out of the shower.  She recalled yelling out and whingeing at her mother about something, but couldn’t remember exactly what it was about.

What she did recall, however, was her mother storming into the bathroom, scolding her and saying something to the effect of  “No one is ever going to love you if you behave like that.”

This young girl quickly tried to reaffirm that this event doesn’t upset her now, it was just something that she remembered from childhood when asked this particular question.

However, I knew different. The brain links events and beliefs together very cleverly and there is always a valid reason why her brain accessed that particular memory when asked that particular question.

I could see in that moment that we had just uncovered one of her major beliefs that were responsible for her depression as a teenager. Just because she didn’t feel emotion about that event, doesn’t mean that the belief that came from the event wasn’t still active and being triggered in other areas of her life.

Michelle’s biggest issue at that time was that she never felt like she deserved to be loved.  Whatever she did in life, she only felt she was worthy of being loved when someone approved of what she was doing.

Now the fact that the brain recalled that particular event and that particular comment from her mother, when we had the intention of finding the core belief of her depression, is no accident.

From Michelle’s childhood and that specific event, she learnt that she would only be loved when she was approved of, otherwise ‘no one will ever love you’.

With an adult’s mind you can see how irrational that may be, however as a child, we are naive to the truths about life and can very easily adopt incorrect beliefs about our self-worth that are taken with us through life.  As you saw in the videos from this week’s lessons so far, as a child you have connections in the brain that are being strengthened and pruned all of the time.

In Michelle’s case, what could have happened was that when her mother made the statement that ‘no one would ever love her’,  through Michelle’s naive child mind she accepted it as true and began to search for evidence of this belief being true in other areas of her life.

This statement becomes like glasses over her eyes where she only sees life through this viewpoint. As she starts to experience disapproval in other aspects of her environment, the belief that ‘no one will ever love you’ unless they approve of you, becomes a strengthened belief.  Over time this belief becomes the unconscious habitual way of thinking. It becomes who ‘I AM’.  She doesn’t even remember why she thinks this way. She only feels the pain of feeling like no one loves her if she’s not approved of.

She experiences that it is painful to be disapproved of and to feel like nobody loves you, so she begins to try and control the reactions of those around her (anxiety – control and prevent) by only doing things that they will approve of, thereby protecting her self-worth.  Furthermore, when she was unable to get someone to approve of her (which is notorious through the teenage years among peers) she feels like she is a failure, which is where the depression kicked in.

So you can see from this example, just how easily we can form incorrect beliefs about life and self-worth. We literally lack the maturity to be able to determine what the truth about life is and can easily adopt beliefs that cause us pain.

I chose this story because it illustrates that you don’t have to come from a dysfunctional, violent, abusive or destructive home environment to have depression or to feel stressed.

I have worked with numerous people who have come from very loving homes, but have still adopted incorrect beliefs about life and self-worth.

One dad I worked with had a wonderful upbringing.  He was raised in a very loving family, grew up on a farm and pretty much had a drama free life.  However, the beliefs that he adopted were that this happy, loving, perfect life was the right path that life had to travel on. So when his marriage ended in divorce, he went into depression, feeling like a failure for not living up to the life he felt he ‘should’ have had.

He believed that life would only be 100% worthy (or valuable) when he was in a happy and loving environment, however as we will continue to learn, this is neither reality all the time, nor is it the only way to have a valuable life.

These two examples are the reason why depression is not specific to any particular demographic or particular groups in society. It doesn’t matter how you live your life today, it’s about what beliefs have been formed through childhood and how they are influencing your perception of life now. This is what causes depression.

There is just one more thing that I want to clear up, so you don’t go into anxiety over your own child’s belief systems and what you believe you may be doing to influence them:

“We cannot control how our children perceive the events in their life!”

Knowing how beliefs are formed, you may start to worry about things that you’ve said or done in the past around your kids. You may worry that you could already have caused them to hold depressive or anxiety prone beliefs.

Firstly, you may not know that to be true. We aren’t inside our child’s mind, so we cannot possibly guess how they have perceived the events they’ve experienced, nor can we predict the level of understanding they had during these times (due to maturity or brain development).

Secondly, remember if they have already adopted worth-less beliefs or a narrow-minded view of life, then this can be changed. The great thing about kids is that they learn really quickly and don’t have years of baggage to unload as they learn this new information.

The only thing you can do is keep listening to their choice of words during conversations and help them to learn a different way of viewing life.

This is why it becomes even more important for you to take the time to work on yourself. If you are working on understanding and changing your limiting thinking, then you will know firsthand how to help them to change their thinking.

This is why I’m so passionate about teaching parents to work their way out of PND.  I know that I personally parent in a completely different way, having learnt all this information and I know that you will too.

From our two examples you can start to see how unconsciously we can view life through our immature belief systems.  It is common that these past belief systems which were adopted with a naive, immature mind are no longer even relevant to life’s current circumstances.  As a child we are not able to distinguish between what is true and logical because we don’t know any different. We form these beliefs when we were ignorant to the knowledge that we have today as an adult.

This is why logically we may see that some of the thoughts we have are irrational and it may be confusing to you as to why these irrational thoughts keep coming up all the time.  But now you know. You think this way because it is a physical neural pathway; a physical habit that has grown in your brain. Your job now, as an adult, with a different level of understanding and knowledge about life is to retrain your brain to think differently.

As we move into the next two days of this week’s lesson – understanding your postnatal depression and anxiety, we will be starting to get more of an understanding of the unique beliefs you have that are causing your depression.

For some of you, you have been battling depression, stress or anxiety your whole life, but for others, this is your first experience of it.

Perhaps you may be thinking to yourself, “If what you are saying about beliefs causing depression is true and if I have been carrying these beliefs around with me since childhood, why all of a sudden are they causing me to have depression now when they haven’t before?” Or if you have suffered from depression periodically before now, you may be wondering why you keep doing this.  “If it is beliefs causing my depression, then why don’t they cause me continual depression?” These are both very good questions.

As we explained in our videos you hold these beliefs on how life’s meant to be in order for you to be worthy. You believe that only when you can get your life right can you feel good about yourself, feel valuable or feel successful.

If you’ve periodically suffered from depression, it’s possible that the only reason you came out of it was because you managed to get life to go to plan again. Perhaps something happened or you put something in place that made you feel valuable again.

An example of this was a case I read where a mum was on a forum telling another person about her experience of PND.  She stated that she used to feel like a bad mum because her son always wanted daddy and not her and every time she picked him up he would scream. She went on to explain that now she no longer suffered from PND now that her son gives her lots of cuddles and kisses and they get to play more together.

This example illustrates my point perfectly. I could hear in the way that this mum explained how she felt when her son wanted her husband over her, there were all sorts of self-worth, rejection, non-acceptance beliefs rising to the surface.  This was ultimately what was causing her PND. However, as her son grew older he became more affectionate and loving to her so she then started to feel worthy again.

Her PND didn’t go away by addressing her beliefs it went away because her situation changed. If she has her self-worth pinned on getting affection from her son (or from others) what will happen when her son grows up and becomes a typical teenager who doesn’t want much to do with his ‘daggy’ parents or when someone else doesn’t show her the affection or love she pins her worth onto?  She is likely to go straight back into depression again, because those same beliefs are being triggered that caused her to feel worth-less and do depression in the first place.

This is very commonly what happens with periodical depression sufferers. Situations keep arising that keep triggering those same worth-less beliefs set up in childhood. What needs to happen in order to get rid of the depression permanently is to change the self-worth beliefs by retraining the brain with new beliefs about worth (which we will do in this program).  Otherwise she will only feel good about herself when life is going to plan (that is, she is receiving love and affection from the people she believes are supposed to give it to her).

If you have never had depression until now, the event of becoming a parent can trigger all the beliefs you have about parenting and the expectations you have, and because you aren’t (for whatever reason) able to get life to match those expectations, those childhood self-worth beliefs kick in and you start to see yourself as a failure.

This can be common with PND being your first experience of depression, because before becoming a parent, it was often easier to change things so they do go ‘right’ again, or find ways to distract yourself and find pleasure in other activities.

This is not always possible when you first become a parent, because you are dealing with another human being whose behaviour you can’t control.  Also there is less time for distractions so it can be easier for these worth-less beliefs to speak louder in your mind.  They become stronger as you repeat them to yourself.

Of course this then leads to you finding more evidence of these worth-less beliefs being true, because that’s the lens (the glasses) that you are looking through.  Until finally these thoughts spiral into the conclusion that you are a failure and there you have your depression kicking in.

So here we are again at the end of our day’s reading. Please remember that this week is all about understanding your PND. After this week we are going to spend the rest of the program giving you answers and tools for changing your thinking.  It’s possible that you are feeling a little impatient right now; desperately wanting the answers to stop how you are feeling, but I ask you to hang in there.

This week is a very important part of moving out of your PND.  Understanding how it was set up helps you to realise that it couldn’t have been any other way and helps you to see how much sense it makes that you could fall into depression. Understanding helps lessen confusion over why you do PND and also helps you to detach from the intensity of the PND, because you start to see the possibilities that you can change.

Understanding that the way you think causes you stress also helps you become more objective about your thoughts rather than so consumed by them. Knowing the four lenses and the specific thinking underlying psychological stress, depression and anxiety, as you become aware of those thoughts in your internal conversations you make the shift to viewing them rather than being defined by them. That alone decreases the intensity of the emotions felt as a result of your stressful thinking.

After this week, we don’t spend any more time on how your PND was set up, because I believe you probably have already flogged this horse with counsellors or therapists, or are still doing so. This is fine, don’t stop therapy if you are, just know that other answers are on their way too.

I aim to spend more time on retraining your brain to think differently, because although, as I say, it is insightful to know how your beliefs have been set up, it is much more important to know how to replace those beliefs.

In tomorrow’s readings, we are going to explore how a child learns to survive and be loved and safe.  We learn how you may have been taught to hold incorrect self-worth beliefs.

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