Why Do We Talk About Childhood in Therapy?

Sometimes therapists can be viewed as prying and digging people. And they seem to have a penchant for talking about our childhoods. For those who have had not-so-great childhood experiences, it can be distressing to revisit those memories. Perhaps there are past hurts, wounds, traumas, or mistakes that we want to avoid thinking about again. We can say what happened to me as a child has nothing to do with what I’m dealing with right now!

Our brains serve multiple purposes. Our brain keeps our body functioning, helps us complete tasks, strings thoughts together to communicate with others, and stores memories. It does a lot more than that, but you get the idea. The memories part is huge in this conversation about why the therapist tends to ask us about our childhood. 

When you’re first born, you don’t realize that you are you! A couple of months after you’re born you start to discover your toes, your hands, your genitals. You reach this developmental stage when you realize that when you don’t see people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve disappeared. As we grow and develop, we realize that our world is larger than we originally thought. And then it seems the older we get, the smaller our world seems! When you are a child growing up in your home, your family is your entire world. Everything that happens in your family or origin becomes the blueprint for how the entire world operates and how you engage with that world. The memory of how your parents wield their authority in the home can influence and impact the way that you engage with authority figures later on in life. The romantic relationship that you saw between your parents becomes the script for how you may show up in future romantic relationships. The way that you related with your siblings can become the model for how you engage with peers and friends. Essentially your family model that you grew up with was a classroom for how you will interact with the world later in life.

Some of these lessons and things that we learn about relationships growing up could’ve been very effective and healthy for the family structure that we grew up in. Later on in life, however we might find out that some of these ways of interacting with others, no longer serve and we need to make changes. Other times some of these models are just flat out unhealthy from the very beginning! 

One particularly vital relationship that can be massively impacted by our family system is the relationship that we have to our self! If you have grown up in a family where your parents or your siblings had difficulty in allowing you to authentically be who you are, then it’s likely that you’ve picked up messages about who you should be how you should act and what you should do with your life.

And so when we find ourselves seeking therapy because we’re struggling with sadness, depression, anger, suicidal ideation, isolation and loneliness, or trouble in our marriage, it’s possible some of the guideposts that inform a way toward healing reside in childhood and adolescence. A therapist will ask questions about your childhood, because we understand that humans are not a system unto their own. We are greatly influenced by our surroundings, and when we are experiencing unease in our mental health, it often pays us generously to take a look at the past to figure out where some of our struggles originated.

Perhaps you’re thinking this way of looking at the world puts you in a box and dooms you based on your environment. Obviously, you didn’t have control over the family that you grew up in. That is very frustrating! And none of this means that the way that you show up today cannot be changed.

When we are able to draw the connections between our actions today and see how they connect to our past, we are able to make changes! It’s like if you have water dripping from your ceiling you figure out which pipe or which drain is causing the issue and you fix that. Our emotional distress and relational discord are all just symptoms. Part of the way of moving forward can be by taking a look back at our family of origin to identify unhealthy patterns and rewrite them today as a healthy adult.

In conclusion, while delving into our childhood experiences may initially seem daunting or irrelevant to our present struggles, it’s important to recognize the profound impact our upbringing has on shaping our adult lives. Our childhoods provide the foundation upon which we build our identities and relationships, and by examining these early experiences, we gain insight into patterns of behavior and thought that may be holding us back. Embracing this process of self-discovery and growth can lead to profound healing and transformation. If you find yourself grappling with unresolved issues or seeking support on your journey toward greater well-being, I invite you to consider booking a counseling session. Together, we can explore your past with compassion and curiosity, empowering you to rewrite your story and create a brighter future. Don’t hesitate to reach out – let’s start your journey toward healing.

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