Does it matter where we come from? Where we’re going? Who we are?
Honestly, we can’t deny that we’re all keenly interested in creating and maintaining our own identity.
While there are certainly many things in our lives that we can do to develop our identity more fully, we don’t always have everything under control.
That is especially true when it comes to how our past is connected to our identity.
The Past Shapes Our Core Beliefs
Our past is where we come from. It shapes us in childhood and adolescence when we form our core beliefs. Core beliefs about ourselves—who we are and what we are worth—form our identity.
When we are very young we absorb ideas from parents, friends, teachers, family members, and experts. Our core beliefs come from repetition of these ideas and constant exposure to them.
Here are some examples of how where we come from shapes us:
A girl is abandoned by her father as a child. She finds it hard to trust men. As an adult, she may have a hard time forming an intimate relationship. Her childhood core belief about trust and men has shaped her adult life.
A boy who was bullied in school becomes interested in martial arts. He works out regularly in a gym as an adult. His childhood experience has given him the goal to be strong.
An abused child grows up feeling unworthy. As an adult, they live with shame and perhaps depression. Childhood experience and core beliefs about self-worth have led to mental illness as an adult.
The Past Shapes Our Personalities
What we learned about ourselves in childhood—our identity—affects our adult personalities. Where we come from is who we are.
For example, youngest children often get lots of attention. Because they expect and like attention, they are likely to grow up to enjoy the spotlight. They may become stand-up comedians, business leaders, or politicians.
Birth order, the age at which you started school, life events like the death of a loved one or a parent’s change of career, diet, appearance, even your name can affect your personality as you grow up. Hence, all these indications of where we come from affect our identity.
The Past Shapes Our Behavior
A study published in Child Development found that a child’s emotional support during the first three-and-a-half years affects their education, social life, and relationships twenty or thirty years later.
Between adolescence and adulthood, we refine the identities we absorbed as children. Where we come from shapes our ideas about how our bodies look and perform, about our abilities, our place in society, and the way others see us. Where we come from also affects how we see our options and our roles in life.
For that reason, childhood experiences may limit your adult choices.
Being picked on, bullied, made fun of, or taken advantage of as a child can isolate you and result in feelings of worthlessness when you’re grown to adulthood. Not being protected from hurtful experiences as a child can result in an adult who feels they don’t deserve protection. Being made responsible for jobs you’re too young for can result in shame and feelings if incompetence when you’re an adult.
The Past Shapes Our Present
Daughters of working mothers are more likely to stay in school, end up with a supervisory job, and earn more money. Sons of working mothers are more likely to do household chores and childcare.
If your parents didn’t let you make decisions, you might seek out relationships with controlling people. When your parents have high expectations for you, you’re more likely to succeed. And being close to your dad as a child, means you’re more likely to have good relationships as an adult.
The past has shaped your current feelings, personality, and behavior. It is affecting your present and will continue to affect your future unless you are aware of how your identity is connected to your past.
Yes, our memories of the past—our life stories—shape us. These self-defining memories, pleasant and not-so-pleasant—affect how we see ourselves.
We Are Where We Come from – But We Control Where We’re Going
The good news is that once you are aware of how childhood experiences affect us, you can re-interpret them. You can examine the beliefs that underlie your perception of yourself and your behavior.
Training yourself to change the personality traits you don’t like and the behavior that is holding you back means changing the beliefs you’ve learned in the past. Creating new, positive experiences can alter the way your identity is connected to the past.
“We are where we come from.”
Clearly, your identity is connected to your past. How you use this information is up to you.
If you were adopted and are curious about exploring how adoption impacted your childhood, feel free to reach out today to discuss adoption counseling.