Why do we react the way we do? SOME people seem to be able to take in their stride!
We are a composite of all the things that have ever happened to us as well as our genetic input This is obvious in some situations, as we have already discussed in previous blogs, such as in the way our reactions to situations often reflect or echo reactions to events from earlier stages of our lives.
As we become aware of these reactions as patterns, we begin to realise just how much of our lives consist of similar patterns of behaviour. Research has shown that somewhere within us we carry the memory of absolutely everything that has ever happened to us. This means that we carry the memory of each event, the way we experienced it at the time. So unless we ‘process’ what happened in any given event, and by this we mean unless we take our experience of what happened, and change it by perhaps replaying it in our hearts and minds, or in some other way re-organising the way it caused us to feel or react, we store the memory of the event exactly as we understood it at the time, somewhere within ourselves.
So if we think back to our childhood now, we can ask ‘Was it a happy childhood?’ ‘Did I feel loved and honoured and respected?’ If we can answer ‘Yes’ to these questions, we probably have a good chance of being able to live our lives in a creative and constructive way. If our early childhood contained these qualities, even if we are not happy at the moment, we probably possess the tools to change our circumstances in a way that brings us closer to what we want out of life. And if we did not have the benefit of this type of care and support in our childhood, we can call on our resources as adults to change the way our memories are stored, and go back and re-resource the small hurting child that we were.
Even in the happiest childhood, there were moments that weren’t happy, and these too, are stored uncritically in our own personal storage system. As adults, our storage system is quite complex, and normally a great deal of processing takes place before events or experiences are laid down as memories.
Take the following example:
The telephone rings at work, and it’s your boss. Before you can say anything, s/he hurls insults at you, leaving you speechless by accusing you of something you didn’t do, and threatens you with the loss of your job. You can’t get a word in edgeways, and you have a less than clear idea about what the problem is. All you can follow is something about incomplete paperwork, and the consequence that month end figures are grossly distorted, reflecting badly on you, your department, and your very angry superior.
What happens inside when we are attacked like this? It is an awful experience, especially if we are unaware of any failure on our part. If our self-concept is bad to start off with, chances are, we will ‘take on’ a number of the insults aimed at us, and think in terms of what we did wrong, and what is going to happen to us as a consequence. We will internalise a significant portion of the tirade, because it will reinforce the way we experience ourselves anyway. As a good employee, we will probably make it our personal responsibility to correct the error, even if the fault turns out to lie far from our door.
A second possible response could be that we are so shocked by the event, that we immediately block significant portions of what transpired from our awareness. Later we may well remember that s/he said certain things to us, but we will no longer be at all upset, or perhaps we will even change our memory of the incident slightly, to reflect less blame on ourselves. We may still ‘take on’ many of the insults, and they will be stored as corroborating evidence of how useless we are anyway, or they may be totally hidden in our awareness, stored under ‘those experiences that are so awful, I choose to forget them’.
Alternatively we may well and truly ‘laugh it off’, because we know deep down that none of the things said could possibly apply to us. Our response or reaction would be that our boss is having a bad time, and wants to know about something-or other to do with incorrect figures. In our storage system and memory, the event becomes ‘the day the boss went ballistic about a mistake someone made.’
Yet another possibility is that we hear the insults and carefully consider them, matching them against the way we have come to know ourselves. We may choose to look critically at ourselves in case something in the way we project ourselves needs to be modified or altered. As we can see, as adults we take our experiences and process them in some way before storing them as memories. Of course, our method of processing depends on the memories we have already laid down, and on the state of our self-concept, or how we feel about ourselves. As young children we didn’t have the benefit of many memories, or even much of a constructed self-concept to guide us. Thus many of the memories we have are laid down much as we lived them at the time, without the benefit of processing them in any way. If something rotten happened to us as a small child, like we fell and hurt ourselves, and we were feeling a little shaky to start off with, or the people around us were busy, and were unaware of our distress, the memory may be stored as ‘nobody loves me.’ Even if later our life experience proves to us that there are many people who care deeply about us, and we have subsequently come to know ourselves as a ‘loved’ person, that childhood memory is not taken out and re-classified as ‘unfortunate accident’. It remains under ‘I’m unloved’. Because the child sees itself as being at the centre of its own particular universe, it takes responsibility and the ‘unlovedness’, in its own mind, becomes ‘unlovable’. Part of the difficulty is that at the time of the incident, the feeling is too much for us to deal with, and therefore to protect us from ourselves, the unconscious mind shuts it down, and makes the emotion(s) related to the event “frozen in time”. The feelings lie, dormant, and when a similar feeling or feelings arise at a later date (and remember, we have already said that the unconscious mind stores by association) then the feelings connected with the original events as well as the current ones can be activated.
How many times have we thought that either another or ourselves have over-reacted? This is the reason for that process. Because the feelings from the earlier time were so raw, so un-processed, since we had not the ability to rationalise at the time of the incident, those same feelings spill out at the later date in their raw and often child-like strength. We may be convinced that this is the unconscious mind saying, “I’m now going to incapacitate you” – but in fact this is far from the case. The opposite is true. The unconscious mind is actually trying to help by allowing trapped feelings out!
It is therefore in quite a literal sense that we have within us the small child that we were, and as we journey towards full integration of ourselves, and set about optimising the way we live our lives, we need to pay some attention to this child within. Although we refer to stored memories when we speak of the child within, our memories are much more comprehensive than mere records on file. They include input from all our senses, and most certainly include the emotional content as well. So if we access a particular memory, we will recall not only the event as we experienced it, but how we felt about it at the time. We remember as the little child we were, and our adult response to this in the here and now must be to supply what the small child needed at the time if we want to re-process and re-classify the event.
This is why writers on this subject speak of the Child Within, and recommend that we treat that part of ourselves in the same way as we would treat a physically small child outside of ourselves. This may feel strange at first, especially to those of us who have learned to become terribly grown up about our lives. Remember that there is no need for anyone else to know what we are doing – that’s the beauty of working with the child within – we can do it privately. But we do need to be aware that the strict or very mature adult we have become may well be that way (i.e. very strict and mature) in order to control or suppress the huge pain which is threatening to overwhelm our child within. By making our child happy, we release great amounts of the creative energy that was holding things together internally. Imagine being able to apply this energy to living our adult lives!
There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”. Download chapter 1 free now!