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Have Childhood Events Influenced Your Personality?

by Adam Eason in Hypnosis Forum · · 24 Replies · View last reply Respond
Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason

WIth many of us being in therapeutic world here, I wondered if any of you shared any aspect of your therapeutic leaning (leaning not learning) with the notion that your childhood influenced and shaped your adult personality? If so, in what ways?

This is not a discussion about catharcism or regression, we'll save that for a future date as it'll need a great deal of management I suspect. Though this is not unrelated to our therapeutic work because if we think of how our past shaped us, then we may well think of certain things effecting our clients similarly.

Likewise, this thread is not just for therapists, it is for anyone who wishes to consider and explore the way our past (specifically our childhood) affected the adult that we are now.

Look forward to reading some responses.

Gareth Lee Morgan
Gareth Lee Morgan

I've been thinking about this thread the moment it was posted and I'm finding it difficult to add my own thoughts, I mean, yes I believe my past has had an impact on my current circumstances and that's because I moved away from it. I became aware of what I was doing, my surroundings, the lifestlye I had compared to the lifestlye I wanted, which I'm still working on and that I was locked away within myself,  I now accept the past and think of the present, the now and the future, this I believe has kept me moving forward , no matter how slowly it may seem at times.

Of course not everyone who comes for therapy will feel like that, I suppose in very simple terms it would be "stuck in the past" and in some occasions just accepting yourself for who you were and then focusing on who you want to be is a big step in life improvement. This of course is not the answer to all problems, that would make things far to easy. :)

Hope that makes sense, it did to me in my head but who knows what goes on in there. 

Bob Collier
Bob Collier

Choices I've made since becoming a dad in 1985 have definitely come from my childhood experiences.

Essentially, I grew up without a dad. He was in and out of my life until I was eight; then he was gone permanently (actually he was committed to a psychiatric institution). 

I was 33 when my daughter was born and, when I became her at-home parent by default after my wife wanted to continue with her career, I was determined she would grow up happy and healthy and I did whatever I needed to do to achieve that. She was nine before I returned to the workforce. Her brother was born the following year. He was two when I quit my job to be his full-time at-home parent, seven when he was removed from school to be home educated and fifteen when he moved on to college last year. The way things turned out, my primary 'occupation' was "stay-at-home dad" for a total of 21 years.

It's very clear to me from where I am now that 'being there' with or for my children and contributing to their development was more important to me than anything else while my children were growing up.

Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason
So I have always believed that some of my early life experiences - ones that stand out as highly wonderful or traumatic - have shaped me in very particular ways. In fact, I often blamed certain major people in my life for some of my own flaws. I have been on some workshops recently relating to parenthood and studied things such as attachment theory and how children are shaped by early influences - Bob, you'll know far more on this subject than me. This has been researched, big time. I think we'd all expect there to be overwhelming evidence for the problematic effects of parents divorcing, parents dying, neglect, abuse and maltreatment of various types, wouldn't we? It has been a fundamental part of modern culture and a cornerstone of psychotherapy for years. Yes, following very large scale surveys of adult mental health relating to childhood influences, not anywhere near as much evidence was apparent as we might think. Martin Seligman points out his findings from a robust analysis of research and evidence: If your mother dies before age 11, you are somewhat more depressive in adulthood, though not much more and only if you are female and only in about half the studies. A father dying had no measurable impact. If you are the firstborn, your IQ is higher that your siblings, but by less than one point, on average. If your parents divorce, there is only a slight disruptive effect on later childhood and adolescence, but the problems wane as children grow up and they may not be detectable in adulthood. The major traumsa of childhood, it was shown, may have some influence on adult personality, but the influence is barely detectable. That tends to come as a shock to some people. I'll quote the studies if anyone is interested. Seligman states that there is no justification, according to studies, for blaming adult depression, anxiety, bad marriage, drug use, sexual problems, unemployment, alcoholism or anger on what happened to you as a child. We are influenced by our childhoods, of course we are. I wondered to what extent people here felt they were and whether these kinds of studies would effect their belief in how much their childhood influenced the person they are today???
Jill Harrington Moderator
Jill Harrington

We are influenced by genetics, biology and the environment, so it is hardly suprising that we are influenced somewhat by our upbringing and childhood. I do believe that our parents have a lot to answer for around our formative years. BUT us humans also like to have someone to blame, and it can be difficult to take responsibility once we are adults for our own lives and direction.

My dad was in the Royal Navy and we moved all over the UK and the world, resulting in me attending 17 different schools and I don't know how many different homes. This affected my personality in that I was a very shy little girl, due to constantly moving and not being anywhere long enough to make or keep friends. The flip side of this was I loved (and still do) travelling and exploring new places/ meeting new cultures/ trying different foods. Children are naturally curious and the travelling opened my eyes and brain to a whole new world. I can remember crying when my older brother (18mths older) went to school- I wanted to go too! Whether it was because I wanted to go school or just that he was getting something I was not, I don't know:-)

My parents divorced when I was 14 and I have been married 3x (currently 25yrs this year), so did my childhood influence my relationships? I believ it did, as my dad was always away and there were no male relatives around so I found it difficult to relate to men. There was no real model of what a good relationship was, as my dad was away for very long periods and my mum had to cope with 4 children on her own. This has influenced my independent nature and I sometimes find it hard to ask for help. However it has also helped me to trust Me and to be very resilient. It was funny then that I chose a career in the Army and the Police, both male dominated. I was always a tom-boy and loved any action stuff. And the travel appealed to me.

My curiousity went away for a while when I was going through 2 divorces and a serious car accident, but it came back with avengence and I love learning and am a "course junkie". I am sure that initially my need for qualifications was to try and prove something to my family (I was always the dumb one), but as time has gone on, I know it is for Me and I love it and I don't think we ever stop learning.

My work as a therapist brings me into contact with many clients who have had difficult childhoods, but once they realise that they can do something about it and let go of the emotions/anger they have for parents/ themselves, they can make dramatic changes to their lives and live a fulfilling life. Becoming an adult can be difficult for parents to accept and let go, as well as for children growing up and leaving their parents. Unfortunately in the current climate, we like to have someone or something to blame for our predicaments-instead of accepting responsibility for our own life and making changes. Yes our childhood affects our personality (good and bad) but it does not have to affect the rest of our life!

Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason

Thanks Jill, I enjoyed that response and thank you for your candour. 

I am not suggesting that there is no link - just that it is an integral part of common belief and philosophy in every day life and therapy. It is taken for granted often and I am wondering about it. 

A couple of the people closest to me had the exact same mental health issues I had as a teenager before I experienced them and I find that hard to put down to coincidence. My parents and gradnparents were together since the age of 17 and I strongly believe I found it hard to find relationships that measured up to those templates I had - yet surely I have twisted that to suit me and my story. Had I got married to the same person I dated when I was 17 years old (I can't imagine such!!) then that might also have been translated as being a result of my parents and grandparents influence, no? 

Perhaps we look to make meaning and make logical sense of it all? 

I do love a bit of existentialism in my own life, and with after dinner brandy with friends... 

Oh and incidentally, I have been reading about genetic predispositin recently - although there are trends, genetic predispotion is no guarantee of how things will be. Studies have shown identical twins going in opposite directions despite same genes and background. 

Jill Harrington Moderator
Jill Harrington

@ Adam,

Agree with the genetic predisposition bit-just because we have a predisposition in our genetic make up it does not mean that we will experience whatever the genetic bit is! it then needs the right environment to bring it out. In my many years working with Addictions and general counselling, I have seen many examples of this. I once worked with identical male twins and one was heavily into addictions and the other was perfectly "clean"-there was a genetic link through parents and grandparents. So how does that work? Even having the same genetics and environment, the one twin did not experience addictions?

Like most things we need to look at human conditions holistically-  it is not a simple cause and effect result. There are many variables to consider. Which is one of the reasons why I believe there is no such thing as a "One size fits all" therapy. Whatever therapy you provide, it needs to be tailored to the idiosyncratic nature of the individual client.

Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason

Agreed Jill. 


Bob Collier
Bob Collier

According to American psychologist Jay Joseph, there's less to genetics than some people would have us believe:

I know that, when I was exploring the psychiatric labels topic all those years ago, I encountered numerous people who didn't seem to understand genetics to begin with and used the idea of genetic disposition very loosely to explain all sorts of similarities between one generation and another. "I support the same football team as my dad. It's probably genetic." - that kind of thing.

I saw something recently, don't recall where, about research into how a pregnant woman's behaviour and experiences could be communicated to a foetus such that the child when born will have acquired predispositions in the development of their personality in that way.

Unfortunately, also none of us has the ability to recall the specific experiences of our pre-verbal years, which I think pretty much opens up the whole business to conjecture. The first memory I can consciously recall I was able to date as May 1954. I was two and a half by then. Up to that time, there would have been zillions of bits of sensory data pouring into my brain from which it would have been constructing an understanding of the world I was alive in and my place in it and only the sensory imprints themselves knew what they were. What effect did they actually have on the development of my personality? I've no idea. So I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot of guesswork and storytelling going on when it comes to explaining why people are as they are.

I tend also to agree with Martin Seligman's findings. If I remember correctly (not always a given I know), growing up without a dad was only painful for me while I was growing up without a dad. When it was my actual lifestyle, so to speak. After I entered the workforce at 16 and especially after I left home at 20, my childhood was in the past and became part of my life story. I was encountering new environments, meeting new people from where I was as an adult and where they were and who would know how I got to where I was unless I recounted the story? Yes I did use it as an explanation for the negative aspects of my adult life experience. Up until my discovery of 'creative visualisation' when I was in my late 20s, which gave me a new perception of reality.

I think the emotional damage that carried over into my adult life from my childhood came not so much from the specific experiences of my childhood but from growing up in a culture of acquiescence to those experiences. I had believed as everybody else I knew believed that "that's the way things are and there's nothing I can do about it" until I came to understand that I could improve myself and my circumstances if I wanted to, but 'overturning the conviction' that the effects of my childhood experiences were set in stone was very hard work in the beginning.

Conditioned responses are naturally self-perpetuating according to Edward de Bono in his 1970 book "The Mechanism of Mind" and I think for somebody who is not aware of our ability to reinterpret the past and to create a future that isn't a logical progression from the past, it would make sense that our negative childhood experiences are the cause of our negative adult experiences. It would certainly be a plausible explanation.

Looking back, I feel quite appalled that I was in my late 20s before I started to discover what are actually fundamental truths about human capabilities that too many people still seem to know nothing or very little about.

Thoughts that popped up. I hope they're not too muddled.



Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason
Thanks Bob, that was a very enjoyable and stimulating read indeed :-)
Jill Harrington Moderator
Jill Harrington

Saw this on FB and thought it would be a wonderful question to stimulate conversation and motivation.

What would the child you once were, think of the adult you have become?!/photo.php?fbid=293544600749968&set=a.266786920092403.48567.253298948107867&type=1



Steve Baxter Moderator
Steve Baxter

Great stuff. If the evidence is that our childhood experiences don't overly affect our adult feelings and behavious - perhaps it is the belief that they should that is the issue?

A slight aside to the above. On my recent honeymoon we were checking into our hotel in and there was an American (from her accent) lady, probably aged in her early 60s, getting irate because she was expected to take her own bags to her room.

She exclaimed 'I'm sorry I can't, I just wasn't brought up that way'

I could understand her reluctance - she had a number of large suitcases - but thought her choice of justification interesting given her age.

Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason

Jill, I saw this and thought it a good question. 

I think the child I once was would be thinking "yeah nice one, I run marathons in the future!!" 

Steve, very interesting comment that one. I also think it is a completely bizarre thing to say. I have often heard parents say to older children behaving badly "you were not raised that way" - as if the child was somehow a poor reflection on them, and I often joke when peopl come into our home and offer to take their shoes off "oh you were brought up properly." 


Lucy Hyde
Lucy Hyde

Hi Adam, could you give references for those studies? Sounds like interesting reading

Adam Eason Administrator
Adam Eason

Lucy, haven't you got diploma work to do... Or are you lining up more reading for when you have qualified?

Ok, here are some of the studies pertinent to my earlier post in this thread:

On the subject of the impact of divorce on children:

R. Forehand, (1992) Parental Divorce and Adolescent Maladjustment: Scientific Enquiry vs Public Information. Behaviour Research and Therapy 30, 319-328

The review as Seligman says "is a good corrective to the alarmist popular literature on divorce. It seems to be conflict, not divorce per se, that does the harm."

On parental death:

G. Brown & T. Harris (1978) Social Origins of Depression

On birth order:

R. Galbraith (1982) Sibling Spacing and Intellectual Development: A Closer Look at the Confluence Models. Developmental Psychology 18; 151-173

On the topic of childhood adversity in general:

A. Clarke & A. D. Clarke (1976) Early Experience: Myth and Evidence

M. Rutter (1980) The Long-Term Effects of Early Experience. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 22: 800-815

Additionally, when researchers investigate, rather than people just assuming we are products of our childhood, the lack of any real continuity becomes very evident. This is the current big theme of developmental psychology. As we mature, we undoubtedly change - there is not anywhere near as much continuity as people suspect. The evidence shows that the past is not really as much of an indicator for the future as popular psychology would have you believe - the type espoused by Oprah and the International Association of Psychoanalytical Hypnotherapists. There is a LOT of material to support this:

M. Rutter (1987) Continuities and Discontinuities from Infancy. In J. Osofsky (ed) Handbook of Infant Development.

H. Moss & E. Sussman (1980) Longitudinal Study of Personality Development. in O. Brim (ed) Constancy and Change in Human Development.

G. Parker, E. Barrett & I, Hickie (1992) From Nurture to Network: Examining Links Between Perceptions of Parenting Received in Childhood and Social Bonds in Adulthood. American Journal of Psychiatry 149: 877-885

R. Plomin, H, Chipuer and J, Loehlin (1990) Behavior Genetics & pErsonality. In L Pervin (ed) Handbook of Personality Theory and Research.

There is more, but I do not have more time…  

Lucy Hyde
Lucy Hyde

Lol yes Adam, I'll hop to it... thanks for taking the time to dig these out! I did have an ulterior motive - I'm hoping to be able to glean a way of educating clients and facilitating change when they're shackled by the idea that they are a product of their past and therefore powerless. Although it wouldn't be helpful to just spew facts at them contradicting their beliefs, I think a bit of evidence based empowerment and seeding of ideas would have the potential to work wonders.

...see, it was HPD related after all ;)