by Dr. Mel Whittington
“Do you remember how dumb I was? Well, I’m better now!”
This quote from an old Laurel and Hardy movie has significance for me. It reminds me of myself. In the film, Stan allows Ollie to carry him in his arms from the grounds of the Old Soldiers Home where Ollie had found him. This was their first reunion after the war. When Ollie saw Stan sitting in sitting in a wheelchair it appeared that Stan only had one leg, when actually, the missing leg was beneath him. Ollie concluded that Stan had lost that leg in the war. Having pity on Stan for his loss of a limb, Ollie invited Stan to come home with him for dinner. With great concern for Stan’s condition, Ollie decided to carry Stan to his car. Even though the “missing leg” was plainly visible to both of them while Ollie was carrying Stan to his car, neither one of them seemed to recognize that Stan actually had two legs.
In the midst of this, Stan delivers this line—”Do you remember how dumb I was? Well, I’m better now!” How often could we catch ourselves acting out old patterns while smugly believing “we are better, now?” I wonder why we blindly keep doing things we really don’t want to do. Many of us continue to do and say things that are harmful. We persist in behaviors that we’d really be better off to omit. Especially those behaviors that lead to unwanted and undesirable results.
I believe the answer to these questions about our present behaviors and feelings may actually lie in the past. These fruits visible today often stem from roots in our past. Some people find it more and more difficult to deal with the stresses of life. Normal coping skills just don’t seem to be working. They are stuck!
What makes us get stuck? What increases the likelihood that we will have difficulty with the stresses of life? My experience in helping people get “un-stuck” tells me that most of our non-adaptive thinking and habit patterns have their origin in our past. Sometimes our efforts to make sense of difficult or distressing experiences in childhood produce mindsets or filters through which we our interpret reality. As children, we seldom have the tools or abilities to process these events accurately.
Once these damaged thought patterns are formed, they quickly become habits that rarely get re-evaluated later in life. They may lead us to make illogical reactions and respond with emotions that do not fit the situation. These patterns, left unchecked can smolder, ready to flare without warning throughout our lives. They can cause pain and turmoil in our own lives and, too often, in the lives of others; resulting in damaged emotions.
One tragedy of damaged emotions is how it interferes with personal wholeness. Without healing, a person with damaged emotions is robbed of reaching his or her full potential. As a child, you were not responsible what others said or did to you. You are only responsible for how you will respond to it now. Healing is available. But, deep healing includes forgiveness. Both forgiving yourself and others who were involved in any damaging events in your past. Forgiveness makes room for healing to begin. It does not mean you are condoning the wrong behaviors toward you.
Here are some environmental factors from childhood and adolescence that I believe increase the chances for damaged emotions affecting us later in life:
- Divorce– children are always adversely affected by divorce.
- Over coercion– constant supervision of child instead of teaching the child independence.
- Ambivalence and mixed messages– confusing messages intended to build the child’s self-esteem yet are negated when combined with criticism.
- Blocked communication in the home– no deep, significant feelings are allowed to be expressed in the home.
- Competition in the home– anything that builds envy or jealousy between family members.
- Homes without joy or humor– monotony leads to no expectations
- No anger allowed– can lead to depression
- Parental or sibling rejection– undermines self-worth; creates resentments
- Rigid demand for certain behavior– builds resentments; undermines self-worth, etc.
- Homes without affection– alienation; deprives development of relationship skills.
- Ridicule of child’s fears– teaches the child that adults are not to be trusted; they don’t understand or care.
Once you have identified a possible link between past environmental factors and current behavior patterns you exhibit, what’s next?
If any of these factors resonate with you or with a loved one, contact a minister at First United Methodist Church to take the first step toward change. 918.592.3862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Whittington is recognized as one of the 500 best therapists in the United States. Dr. Whittington focuses on getting to the “root” problems rather than treating symptoms. This includes most clinical disorders and victims of ritualistic and cultic abuse. He empowers people to find “Freedom From The Past” and the “stinkin’ thinking” derived from it.