Most of us understand that an upsetting childhood can affect our adult lives. Depending on the nature of the trauma and the resilience of the individual, resulting consequences can sometimes lead to misery, which often manifests itself through extended depression and anxiety. This is especially the case if no professional help is sought.
We all know people who have acted in a certain way due to unhappiness in their formative years. Perhaps they were a child who had to deal with an alcoholic parent, or maybe they were in the middle of a destructive divorce. Dysfunctional family dynamics are a large contributory factor to depression in adults which arise due to unresolved childhood trauma.
However, there are also individuals who have been hurt and influenced by previous experiences in their adult life (including myself). For example, a person consistently cheated on by previous partners will likely result in a loss of hope for ever finding true love. It is highly plausible that physical and emotional abuse from an unfaithful partner could be the direct causative factor which drives their emotional isolation. From this, it would be incredibly difficult for them to see that not everyone is out to destroy their self-esteem.
So what can we do? Does past unhappiness have to result in a negative outlook in the present? Of course not! With a few different techniques, which will likely involve some soul-searching, we can all overcome our previous hurts and change some aspects of our thinking process to hopefully help us adapt to the present, and transform our future for the better.
The end goal is to incorporate happiness and stability into our lives. Thus, here are some general tips that I have used previously to help myself become a stronger, happier adult.
The Art of “Self-Talk”
We all have an inner voice – you know, the one that provides us with a running monologue? Yeah, that one. You’re not crazy… we all have one! Whether cheerful and supportive or negative and self-defeating, this internal noise is often referred to as “self-talk”. Our self-talk combines our conscious thoughts with our unconscious beliefs and biases. Unfortunately, because of human nature, this usually results in us making sweeping assertions. Does “I can’t do anything right!” sound familiar to you?
We know that this negativity can be unrealistic and harmful, but we sometimes focus on it anyway. However, the good news is that we can challenge this negative self-talk. Think your thoughts through before jumping to conclusions. Some questions that should come into play when you’re being self-critical include:
- Am I overreacting?
- Am I overgeneralising?
- Am I labelling myself too harshly?
- How truthful and accurate is this thought?
It is time to banish our inner critic. Learning how to have productive, positive inner conversations has no downside. Yes, some people may find it easier than others to adopt positive self-talk. But regardless of how difficult it may be for you,it isn’t impossible. I am overly self-critical. Here is a small list of negative self-talk assumptions I have made about myself:
- I’m not good enough to finish my PhD
- I’m overweight, and it’s not going to change
- Failed relationships are always my fault
These are all biased negatives. We focus on negativity far more easily than positivity. When faced with self-talk criticism, think it over using the four points above. When I do this, my assumptions are quickly squashed:
- If I wasn’t good enough to complete a PhD, my supervisory team would have suggested for me to finish after three years with the lesser MPhil qualification
- I have a different body type to my friends. If I want to lose weight, stricter diets are important
- Someone cheating is not a reflection of me, but of them. No two people are the same, so do not let a previous failure destroy a new chance before it has the ability to begin
Come out of the Darkness
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Revisiting traumatic experiences from the past can shroud our lives in darkness. We will never be able to escape this inevitability until we accept and understand that we ourselves are the only ones who can successfully replace the darkness with light.
Work on your relationship with yourself. It is important to decide who you are aside from the pain of previous anguish. Take a life inventory. Is there anything that you no longer need? Perhaps something that is holding you back? If so, remove it. Are there individuals within your circle that make things unnecessarily difficult? If so, talk to them about it and see if they are willing to change and adapt to support you. If not, consider removing them (even if temporarily) too.
Please remember that your past does not, and will never define you and your future. You are your own individual, and you are responsible for your well-being, which includes you being happy. We all get to choose how we let happiness into our lives. Now it’s your turn to decipher what that might mean for you.