I have sometimes thought of kids as gumballs
Specifically, sticky gumballs in a pocket full of lint. Children tend to pick up a lot of lint and grit and fuzz and things that really don’t intrinsically belong to them, but instead, are more characteristic of their environment.
Unfortunately, some of us grew up in homes where alcoholism, violence, chronic anxiety and tension, mental illness, or inconsistent nurture prevailed. Child-like carefreeness, vital to healthy development, was compromised. Growing up in such environments not only affect our emotional constitution, but even what parts of our brain develop in response to that environment, creating patterns out of which future relationships will depend.
When children traverse that confusing expanse called the identity formation stage, their gumballs are especially pliable and particularly gooey. A comment by a teacher, the actions of a coach, a rejection by a friend, the breakup of a family – all take on exaggerated importance in shaping our identity during these developmental years.
Part of becoming our own healthy adult involves sorting out where some of our “fuzzy stuff” comes from: spoken or unspoken family rules, attitudes, perceptions, roles, and those important environmental factors that sculpt, or perhaps, disfigure our personalities.
And grit that doesn’t belong to us.
In childhood we lack a stable sense of self able to distinguish between who we are and the environment in which we live. Our natural, childhood ego-centric tendencies, which help us figure out how we relate to the world and vice versa, becomes a source of confusion.
It is not uncommon in therapy to explore one’s past. This does not have to take the shape of chronically blaming people of our past, or, helplessly concluding we are perpetually damaged
We can, however, begin the cleansing process of plucking off the fuzz and washing away the grit that may have belonged to another person, at another time, in another place during our lives.
© 2015 Dr. Daniel L. Baney