When you were born, your mind was like a blank piece of paper or an empty book that was ready to be filled. The pen for writing in that book was shared between you and the important people around you like parents, carers, teachers, any significant adults and, of course, other children like siblings, cousins, classmates, etc.
As you can now understand, a lot of people decided to write whatever they felt like or whatever they could in your book; they used their words and behaviour to leave their mark on your mind, which then influenced your personality.
I mentioned that you also had a pen with which to write in your own book. You used your pen to write down what you heard about yourself from others, and what you experienced in your interactions with other people and the world around you. You started to fill your book with your own interpretation of what was happening to you and your interactions with the world.
This book will be your map for life; it is imprinted on your personality and defines the way that you interact with others most of the time. It will be the first place your brain goes to when it needs to find information about how to deal with new situations, or to predict what might happen in a particular moment so that it can prepare for it.
Sometimes the conclusion that your brain comes up with is far removed from reality and this could create problems for you.
Unconsciously, you use the information that you recorded during your childhood when acting in the present. Usually, you repeat what you have learnt; you repeat old behaviours and, when trying to connect with new people, you look for people who behave like the significant others that you had around you during your childhood and those who wrote in your book. They represent your comfort zone: the place that you know and are familiar with.
Your comfort zone is not necessarily a good place to be or somewhere you feel happy, but rather a place that you know well. You know what to expect, and it is very likely that you have developed strategies and resources to survive there.
These strategies have helped you to get where you are today, and you have probably not learnt them purposefully; you saw them being used and somebody probably told you that that was how you had to behave. The other possibility is that, for some reason, you behaved in a certain way in a particular situation.
As it helped you on that occasion, your brain took note of that and is very willing to repeat it whenever it is needed. Remember that your brain will do everything possible to keep you safe and to survive.
Repeated behaviours and patterns in relationships are not always obvious. Sometimes they are very difficult to identify because they are so subtle. For example, a person who grew up in an aggressive environment and was being abused (let’s call her Suzanne) could repeat that pattern by having friends who are very needy and constantly demanding.
As Suzanne is used to being abused and having demands made on her, this feels normal to her. It is within her comfort zone, and she does not realise that these friendships are very unhealthy and that she is constantly having to put her own needs to one side to meet the needs of her friends. Therefore, Suzanne reacts by neglecting herself, which she does unconsciously.
About your childhood
By now, it is probably clearer for you why psychologists ask about your childhood, your early experiences and your relationships. In therapy, it is important to draw your map so we can understand what is familiar to your brain, and this helps with understanding why it makes you repeat the same things.
Sometimes, the brain is not very good at identifying if a particular experience or strategy works in the present or if it is the healthiest option. Remember that your brain’s attention is focussed on keeping you alive, not necessarily on keeping you happy.
Once you and your therapist understand your map and the way that you have learnt to relate to other people and situations, you can start to add new information to that map and build new roads, bridges, roundabouts and exits that will take you to different places and give you different results.
If you feel that you are trapped and that you are repeating the same patterns in your life, it is probably a good time to see a psychologist to explore the reasons why this is happening and plan your escape route. If you are not sure whether this could be beneficial, you can contact me by clicking here to book a free 15 minute telephone consultation so we can discuss this further. Alternatively, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, click on the WhatsApp symbol to drop me a message or call me on 01223 655306.