Our childhood affects who we are as adults

As children, we come to realise - consciously or unconsciously - that certain behaviours, attitudes and ways of speaking are unacceptable to our parents/caregivers, so we start to shut down parts of ourselves. To use a technical term, we split off - or repress - parts of ourselves. It's as if we tell ourselves: ‘If my parents don't like this bit of me, I'll pretend it doesn't exist!'

And so, a learning process begins: the child is discovering what they can and can't do, say, think and feel. And all of this shapes our personality - our way of being in the world - and it underpins the sort of person we are as adults.

It can be interesting to recall our early life experiences. For example, when we were children, were we allowed to express our feelings and desires or were we shut down - were we told things like: ‘Boys don't cry' or ‘Girls don't climb trees'.

Did we receive the message that being upset or angry or excited wasn't acceptable: ‘There are plenty of people worse off than you', ‘Don't raise your voice with me!', ‘What are you so excited about? Calm down!'

Or maybe we were criticised so often that we ended up feeling we could never get anything right, so we gave up trying.

Another scenario is when children feel ignored or not listened to. In frustration, they might respond by being naughty or getting angry: at least when they do this they might get noticed for a change - being told off is better than being ignored!

Or perhaps a child only gets attention when they do something right - like getting good marks at school - so they become a swot or a perfectionist, imposing high standards on themselves and those around them.

And we can imagine many more scenarios like these.

Fortunately, as adults, we can look back and try to make sense of how we became who we are - and we can decide whether and how we might want to change.

Therapy can help us to understand who we are and why we struggle to express certain feelings or take certain actions. It can help us to understand why certain attitudes or topics of conversation push our buttons - it is often because these things remind us unconsciously of something we are repressing in ourselves

In therapy, we can investigate our life story. Therapists are trained to listen and be curious without judgment. Usually, the therapist has been through therapy themselves, so they understand it can be challenging to delve into our past. The therapist will listen to our childhood experiences so we can feel heard and begin to understand and live with those parts of ourselves that we repressed.

By Mike Brooks, psychotherapist