Values learned in childhood may need to be relearned as an adult

Some right and wrong or good and bad exist in most situations. Decisions usually are made from a variety of choices that each contain a mix of some good and bad aspects. The expected outcome from a decision can’t be known ahead of time; expected results can only be estimated based on results from previous situations that were similar or by making guesses. Focusing on what is good or bad or right or wrong about the choices is helpful but that more realistically becomes a question of right for who and wrong for who? and how right or how wrong for those individuals or groups of people?.

Internal values provide guidance for the choices we make. Understanding how our values developed from childhood and how those internalized values can affect our daily actions is discussed in the book Integrity:  Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason (2007). Ideas are included to help improve recognition of why some behavior habits seem harder to change then others and ideas for tackling those tougher choices are provided. Internalized values learned as a child may not match society’s expectations of morality. What was accepted as ‘good’ behavior in the childhood environment often remains the typical pattern of behavior later in life even if the early childhood habits are no longer helpful.

A child that suffers from emotional or physical neglect or abuse in their family home may learn to hate themselves and love their family members because their physical and emotional survival depends on their family. In a way the child is trying to make sense out of their world and are trying to be in agreement with the people in their lives. Victims or prisoners in an abusive or captive situation have also been known to develop a strong emotional bond with their captors. The condition became known as Stockholm Syndrome since 1973 when the behavior pattern was seen after a hostage situation. The victim’s survival may seem to depend on the good or bad mood of the person in control. Anticipating and pleasing the controlling person may seem self protective for the victim.

Children who grew up in emotionally neglectful or abusive situations may not have learned more typical, healthy ways to behave or communicate with others. Severe illness during early childhood also may affect behavior patterns later in life. Dissociation or detaching the mind from feelings is a natural reaction to pain that can become a more frequent reaction for some people. The child from a dysfunctional upbringing may not realize that their sense of normal doesn’t match the average person’s definition of normal. Two children from similar dysfunctional backgrounds might understand each other as adults better than they understand other people. They may help provide emotional support for each other that they hadn’t received as young children. As a team, the grown up children may be emotionally stronger together than they are as separate individuals. The idea of breaking up such a team before they are each individually ready might feel like it would be neglectful or dangerous to the safety of the individuals, (in a way that has nothing to do with the Stockholm Syndrome that has been seen in hostage situations, instead the children learned the behavior patterns of someone with Stockholm Syndrome from what they experienced while growing up in their own childhood home).

Skills and abilities are not handed out in evenly balanced amounts. Working with others or within a team helps provide a variety of skills from the whole group which can help balance gaps in individual ability or knowledge. Communication with others is important for revealing where improvement might be needed within oneself or within a team’s set of skills. Sharing can help with growth of skills. We don’t know what we don’t know or what skills might be missing until after we’ve learned about the lack through experience or from a more experienced guide.

Skills and abilities are a gift from birth and from education.

Advocating for the mental health rights of children and survivors of childhood abuse could help save money and empower lives. Medications and talk therapy may not treat or reveal the underlying problems with communication learned in childhood. Screening questions for problems associated with dysfunctional behavior exist but may be infrequently used. For some conditions like depersonalization disorder, a problem seen in survivors of child abuse and in workaholics, education about the condition typically helps more than medications, but screening and accurate diagnosis are needed first.

A few other books are listed below which may be helpful for recognizing and recovering from mental health and behavioral issues:

  1. Steinberg, M., and Schnall M., The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation-The Hidden Epidemic, (Quill, 2003, New York, NY) [Amazon}
  2. Sanderson, C., Counselling Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, Third Ed., (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006, London, UK) [Amazon]  *This book is written for counselors about counseling and is not intended as a self help book.
  3. Williams, D., Exposure Anxiety-The Invisible Cage; An Exploration of Self-Protection Responses in the Autism Spectrum and Beyond, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003, London, UK) [] *The author has professional and personal experience with avoidance behaviors seen in people with autism and discusses a variety of coping skills for caregivers and ideas are included for use in educational group settings. Excerpt: “The friendly person caught up in involuntary avoidance responses appears uninterested, cold, and unfriendly. The person capable of intense interest and focus who gets caught up in diversion responses can seem like a clown who never takes anything seriously. The accepting, empathic person caught up in retaliation responses can appear insensitive and selfish.” (p180)
  4. Butler G., and Hope T., Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide, (Oxford University Press, 1995, Oxford or New York) [2007 edition, Amazon]

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.