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Changing Negative Habits Formed During Childhood

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Hard times bring up old memories; unpleasant or discouraging flashbacks from our youth.

There may have been traumatic times earlier in your adult life. Presumptions about who you believed you could become have been shaken. You might hear your parent admonishing you for not getting better grades or fighting with your siblings, unfair comparisons with a sister or brother or scolding for disobeying.

At such moments, we question ourselves.

Am I really that incompetent?

What if I can only be a troublemaker and can’t ever do anything right?

What if, what if, what if.

How can I be sure I won’t screw up so badly that I will never be able to recover?

Those old messages can erode any confidence you are gaining.

Life is an ongoing process of growth.

Abilities are honed over time. Our identities are defined as we live from period to period.

Discovering the source of unhelpful habits can be intimidating, especially if they originated in our childhood.

Why did that behavior or way of thinking become a habit?

What benefits am I getting from keeping it?

There is a reason why our behaviors become and remain habits.

Raw and intense emotions associated with our past often remain barricaded behind protective walls we build in our memories. When triggered in the present, we experience the same feelings of anger, protest, defiance, and resistance again, even when actual events are blurred or incomplete.

We can rewrite difficult stories from our past, enabling a new way to look at ourselves and our world.

Just remember that children are children and do childish things that get us into trouble. It is when we continue as a grown adult to believe we are that incompetent kid that we will feel insecure and end up with a habit or belief that is counterproductive.

Habits of thinking formed early in life continue to influence how we react to the world today until examined and challenged.

When we remain focused on the negative, we dismiss the qualities of possibilities, resilience, and determination.

When we understand that we can change non-productive, negative habits, we will develop the faith to step out and try again.

  • We can change thinking habits just as we can change behavior habits
  • We can replace destructive, devaluing words with positive, constructive ones
  • We can believe in ourselves
  • The past cannot keep us locked in negative thinking unless we allow it

child crying in kitchen

During this next week, think about the multitude of messages you heard as a kid. Write them down.

  • Which were instructional, focusing on teaching appropriate behavior such as good manners, stop running in the house, respecting others, etc.?
  • Which focused on how bad you were?
  • What labels were given to you, such as stupid, lazy, worthless, etc.?
  • How were you encouraged and supported to do your best?
  • What words were used that made you feel good about yourself?

Writing them down helps you remember the context in which they were given and how your reactions became habits of thinking and responding over time.

Our mind wants to dwell on the negative, in part so problems can be resolved. We need to be tenacious and persistent about bringing forward the positive and encouraging qualities that may have been dismissed or overlooked.

We can learn resilience and determination.

You can turn negatives into positive learning tools. You do not need to keep repeating old, biased, negative messages about who you are or who you can become. Challenge them.

Remind yourself of your resilience and tenacity to become a person you can respect – the person you want to be – one who accepts the good and bad of you. In that acceptance, you can begin to build on the positives and use them to construct new positive habits of thinking and believing and acting.

It is important to remember that processing old woundings may require the help of a trained and licensed mental health counselor. It takes courage to reach out and ask for the help we need.

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