Let me start off by saying that we are all responsible for our own actions. When it comes time to make a big decision in life, or even when making all the little ones that eventually contribute to the development of your personality, it can be harder for some to take the right path, but there is still a choice.
I’m not trying to be mean to anyone or turn a blind eye to the fact that we are far from being all equal, and that some people are just dealt a better hand of genetic cards, grow up in better conditions, and so on. However, the fact that there are always different choices to be made, no matter how hard and gruelling the best choices might be for some, is incredibly important, and you’ll soon see why.
You see, the old nature-versus-nurture debate gets even more complicated when we throw in things like personal choices, and you have your genetics teaming up with your childhood demons and insecurities to try and push you in certain directions.
Most people know that there are many different ways to go about any situation, but it’s that deep-seated emotional baggage that tells them that they don’t have options, that they can’t make it, that it’s someone else’s fault, and so on.
The ACE Study and Questionnaire
A study of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE’s for short, has been going on for years now, looking at childhood experiences of thousands of patients and comparing them to their medical histories in adulthood. They have a nifty little questionnaire you can check out to gauge just how heavy of an emotional load you are carrying on your shoulders. However, we should bear in mind that things are not black and white – it’s a scale with “loving, supportive family and fairly nice childhood” on one end of the spectrum, and “a completely dysfunctional, violent and abusive family and troubled childhood” on the other end. You could fall anywhere between the two extremes.
Bad childhood experiences are not always big traumatic events
Don’t think I’m just talking about survivors of major traumatic events like the death of a parent, sexual or physical abuse here – even those with seemingly “normal” childhoods have to deal with tons of stress and may have had experiences that stick with them well into their adult life and cause them to form bad habits that make them unhappy. Lack of support, being denied physical and verbal affection from close family, parents who constantly criticise and mock you, growing up in an emotionally unstable family where shouting outburst are the norm – these things can also have a huge effect on your life. Plenty of seemingly well-off kids from “good families” crave the support, respect, and love they never got as a child, and this causes them to turn to self-destructive behaviours as adults.
The mental side-effects of living with stress and anxiety are reversible
There is a strange masochistic tendency to give in to the pain when you’ve got unresolved issues, but the problem is that a true masochist is submissive by nature, and we can’t get anywhere while we are in that vulnerable, fragile, frightful, and dependent state. Luckily, scientists agree that the negative effects that childhood stress has on us can be eradicated.
There are a lot of ways in which our old issues can affect the way we live our lives, which you might not even be aware of. I will list the most common ones below and try to give you an efficient and actionable strategy for overcoming these problems.
It takes a strong survival instinct to let the past stay in the past
Here’s a little test. Did you notice how I said “survivors” and not “victims” a little while ago? Go back and check, I’ll wait. Having the right mindset and a strong will are the only two things that can help you overcome adversity and build a better life for yourself, no matter where you came from and what you had to endure.
These are the things that will allow you to see the different choices available to you and give you the strength to stick with positive changes. In other words, you need to envision yourself as a survivor – bad things happened, you lived through them, and now that you’ve got your life in your own hands, you have to try and make the best of it.
You feel trapped, unfulfilled, surrounded by people that don’t get you or make you happy
This is the most common problem that people start to experience as they get a little older. You start to see that those friends you had in high school and at college didn’t really have all that much in common with you, aside from the fact that that you went to the same school and liked to party and hang out at the same places. Another thing people tend to realize is that they feel more comfortable doing something different than what they initially thought would be a good career choice for them, what they may have gone school for.
When you are a kid, it’s much easier not to think about things too much, take other’s advice blindly and just do what you are “supposed to do.” Study, go to a school that will afford you better job prospects, dress appropriately, and just generally follow the rules. When you realize that following the rules can make you as depressed and lonely as making stupid choices can, you begin to resent the world around you.
If your entire environment feels boring and bleak, and you aren’t satisfied with the type of person you are becoming, a good solution is to make a big change and start over. Like restarting a computer when it gets a bit buggy, simply box everything up, move to another city and start over with a fresh slate – it can really fix a lot of problems. There are lots of little things you can do to make yourself feel more at home in a new environment, but you’ll also have the freedom to change anything you want.
The new people you meet won’t have a predetermined image of you, nor will they know every little mistake and embarrassing secret from your past, so you can reinvent yourself. Most importantly, you get to choose who you want to allow to come close to you. Sometimes, it’s best to cut all ties with people and places that drag you back into a dark state of mind.
You try too hard to please others and fit in
This point is somewhat related to the previous one, but you there is a notable difference – you may feel great about your environment, work, and even most of your friends, but you feel like you are losing yourself bit by bit because you change and adapt to best suit the temperament, tastes, and lifestyles of those around you. When trying to please everyone all the time, mistakenly thinking that this is how you build rapport and show that you care, it’s easy to forget who you really are and what makes you happy. Too many people try desperately to appease their parents and look for a group to be a part of when they can’t find the understanding and affection they are lacking at home.
The main thing to remember here is that it’s impossible to please everyone, and that you don’t have to try and “please” anyone. Being nice, friendly, compassionate, and considerate is not the same as liking all the same things as somebody, agreeing with everything they say, doing whatever they want to do, and never stating your own opinion or asking others to do what you want to do for fear of being rude or too demanding.
It would be foolish for me to suggest that you just stop doing these things all of a sudden, but I can ask you to take some time off from everyone else and do some soul-searching. It’s not that difficult, actually – take a few days off from work or, if you can’t manage that, wait for the weekend, turn off your phone, tell everyone that you’re ill, and get some quality alone time. Listen to the music that really speaks to you and moves you, watch a few movies that you find exciting, look at clothes and gadgets online that you think look good and forget about what others might say.
You should also think about the type of partner that you prefer – what are the physical and mental attributes that really turn you on, and what really makes you care for someone – as well as what you expect from a good friend. It’s like one of those goofy questionnaires kids make or something that you’d find on an online personality test, but instead of using it to put yourself in a neat little box and put a label on who you are, you should use these questions to help you learn more about yourself. From then on out, it’s a slow and steady journey of focusing on what you enjoy and trying to make yourself feel good for a change, even if that gets you a few disapproving looks or an arrogant sneer from others.
You are an emotional eater and have neglected your body
Some people deal with problems by resorting to drugs or alcohol. For others, it is a somewhat lesser evil, but a destructive and deadly one nonetheless. Emotional eating can wreak chaos on your body, as it is incredibly easy to become obese when you’re already low on energy and don’t feel like leaving the house, and then you reach for something sweet in a desperate effort to fill the void in your chest.
Body image and confidence issues aside, obesity is linked to a number of serious medical conditions that can considerably shorten your lifespan and reduce the quality of your life. Accepting who you are and feeling good in your own skin is great, but once your lifestyle and level of fitness start negatively impacting your health, it’s time for a change. We develop bad eating habits early on during childhood and they become so ingrained that it’s incredibly hard to shake them off.
The problem is that a lot of self-appointed fitness “gurus” just don’t understand the gravity of the underlying psychological issues. It’s not about being lazy or not having the “warrior mentality” – and quite frankly, unless you are a professional soldier, you do not have any such thing, no matter how many burpees you can do in 5 minutes – it’s about having this huge beast made up of fear, sadness, pain, and some more fear pushing down on your chest every time you try get off the couch and make a change.
The way out is difficult, but if you pace yourself and focus on long-term results, you can ease into a weight-loss regime that you are comfortable with. Keep in mind that you will have to make a big shift in your diet, focusing on nutritious foods as well as your overall activity levels. Building both strength and endurance is how you get your body to shed weight quickly, and all that extra exercise, coupled with stretching, has also been shown to positively affect your mood.
You have a strong inner voice of self-doubt that won’t shut up
We all have that critical voice or those pessimistic thoughts that often get mistaken for being realistic with yourself. Some people have these in spades — constantly present, guiding every decision that they make, and causing them a great deal of anxiety. Every little thing that you did as child seems like a bad decision and the things you didn’t do because you were afraid are now huge regrets that eat away at you. It’s hard to come back from such a deep and dark place where vivid images of your past mistakes, wrongdoings, failures, disappointments, and humiliations keep haunting you.
Once again, it’s not a matter of “stop this” or “do that,” but rather a matter of understanding that there is a way to loosen the hold they have on you, and that it involves proving the voice of self-doubt wrong and letting the images fade away into the deep memory compartments of your mind, replaced by positive new experiences. I’m not going to lie to you, a lot of people need help to jumpstart the healing process.
Consulting a therapist is the first step, and drugs can actually help get you through that initial phase. For those worried about prescription pills, good old medicinal marijuana has been shown to be effective at fighting depression, so you will have something to help you stay calm until you can get back on your own two feet and develop better coping mechanisms. Exercise and meditation can help a lot as well, and hobbies that involve plenty of repetitive work are also great at allowing your mind to relax.
When it comes to breaking free of the past and making a huge lifestyle shift, there is no easy way of doing things, particularly if you have issues from your childhood that keep eating away at you. Just know that it can be done, and that people with some fairly horrific pasts have turned their lives around and found success and happiness. You have to make that first step and shift mental gears before you can create any sort of coherent self-improvement strategy. It might be the hardest thing you will ever have to do, but it will pay off.