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December 2017
Mental Health,  Motherhood,  Self Care

How Understanding Your Past Can Make You A Better Mom

I think it is absolutely critical for personal growth and happiness to understand your own psychological makeup. People usually do this type of deep self-reflecting in a therapist’s office, but if you haven’t been able to see a therapist, you can supplement with reading self-help material and understanding your own psychology, personality, and your past. It wasn’t until I was studying for my Bachelor’s in Psychology that I realized how my past shaped who I was as an adult. I knew I was different from many others, I came from a broken home, was exposed to many traumatic situations, my mother was a severe alcoholic (and still struggles to this day), and I was left alone quite often. Once I connected the pieces of my past with my current behaviors, things started to click. After I acknowledged how my past shaped my behavior, it was then and only then that I could break free from the programming of my past.

For example, I require a lot of personal space. Not a convenient need to have when you are a wife and mother because we all know that personal space is essentially out the window until the kids get a lot older. Not only that, I am definitely guilty of always trying to mother other people (husband included) and this stems from taking the role of the mother at a very young age. I had to be the one to establish order, manage time, plan ahead, and ensure everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Instead of carelessly playing and being an average child, I was always trying to mother everyone because someone had to do it. Additionally, my father was on the extreme-authoritative side, so I went from one extreme to another; it is safe to say I had a double life growing up because when I was at my mom’s house it was a complete free for all with no structure whereas at my dad’s house, it was polar opposite. His strong authoritative personality made me develop an equal disdain for authority and this is why I am independent to a fault; nobody is going to tell me what to do!  I don’t take criticism well and get extremely defensive when I am in a situation where I am ‘answering to somebody’. Not healthy. Not appropriate. Not mature. Not cool! This is something that I have to consciously battle every single day if I ever want to completely get rid of this ‘program’ as it does me much more harm than good. 

After gaining an understanding of psychology, personality theory, and self-awareness, I was able to connect the dots. I required so much personal space because like I mentioned before, I was left alone quite often as a child and being alone felt pretty normal to me. I was never kissed on, hugged on, and never had a deep emotional bond with my parents. One of the biggest complaints of my husband is that I am still that way to a degree (it’s called emotional intimacy issues). I don’t love to snuggle, I don’t like to hug people or be touched, and I certainly don’t like having ‘mushy-gushy’ conversations.It was only in understanding that I was running on a program from my past that I could begin to change it. Once I had my own children, I had to make a daily conscious effort to break that programming. I also acknowledged that my upbringing was abnormal and I was the one who was different. Hugging, showing affection, having a balance between authority and fun, and having emotional connections was something I did not experience growing up so again- I have to make daily conscious efforts to change that. 

Although I had an extremely challenging childhood that I am still recovering from as an adult, all adults run on some sort of ‘programming’ from their childhood. Psychology 101 states that personality is shaped from the ages of 4-6 years old. Think about what your home life was when you were that age? Were your parents stable and loving? What behaviors did you pick up from your parents that you display today? How about your self-esteem- did your parents help cultivate a positive self-image or inner-dialogue within yourself?

Let me make another point before we move on, this is not a parental blame game, this is simply an excavation of your learned behaviors & programs that you picked up on from your parents and how your childhood shaped your perspective on the world and your personality. To be clear, I had a pretty messed up childhood and I still love my parents because they didn’t know better– these learned behaviors have been repeating themselves for generations and it is YOUR job to break that cycle for your children because you know better. My parents didn’t really know better, their parents didn’t know better, and so on…. 

In order to be the best you, you have to do some dirty work and part of that dirty work is taking a hard look into the mirror and facing your negative behaviors. I’ll go first… One of the behavior patterns that I still to this day struggle with is yelling. My mom was and still is a massive yeller and stress bomb. I grew up around someone who would audibly freak out over the slightest inconvenience which made my brain release cortisol every time I would be slightly inconvenienced which then placed my brain in fight or flight mode consistently. Over years of this repetitive behavior, it is no wonder that I, too, began repeating this same behavior pattern. I still struggle daily with this because my brain is still so programmed from my past that I am just so used to getting that cortisol release that triggers anxiety/stress over the smallest problems. It is embarrassing, it sucks, it is usually irrational, and I always, always feel guilty about yelling and do my very best to work through that stress when it happens instead of reverting back to old ways and going to level 10.

How do I work through this stress? First thing is to become aware of it. Second thing is to wait until the moment happens and pay attention to what is happening to your body and brain in that exact moment. When I start to sense stress and want to yell, I can feel my heart pounding, my thoughts start to race, and I just feel like screaming. It is only in that exact moment that I can tell myself to get control, take long and steady breaths, and rationalize the situation.

What are some of your negative behavior patterns? How do you deal with stress? What would you say is your biggest personality flaw? These types of questions are hard to answer truthfully so thank goodness we can hide behind a keyboard and be brutally honest with ourselves. Working on yourself is honestly life changing. It can have profound positive impacts on your relationships, emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, work productivity, self-confidence & self-esteem, and can help you lead a more positive and rewarding life.

I think it is extremely important to understand some basic psychology if you are trying to better understand yourself and get rid of your emotional blocks. Psychology is essentially the study of human behavior and mental processes that helps us understand motivations, reactions, improve relationships, improve self-esteem and so much more. Understanding our psychological makeup can help us understand why we think, behave, and react the way we do to various situations and if there is an area of your life that you wish to change, you can do it by understanding, acknowledging, and letting go of old belief systems.

I personally think that understanding your personality and psychological makeup is absolutely critical if you want to make any real changes in your life. One of my favorite personality-discovery tools was taking the Myers-Briggs test. This test was actually created during WWII to assist women with finding careers that best suited them based on their personality type. There are 16 different personality types according to Myers-Briggs and no, this isn’t even close to one of those ‘personality quizzes’ you see on Facebook. The first spectrum of this test is the Introvert/Extrovert category which basically places you in one or another based on your outgoingness, emotional reactivity, and where you generate energy from (from external stimulus or from within?). This test has been criticized by some and absolutely praised by some and personally, I found this test incredibly insightful and useful for understanding myself as well as the people around me (yes I made my husband take this test too).  I used to be an INFJ (Introverted, Intuition, Feeling, Judging), however, I recently took this test again (I took my first test back in 2011) and low and behold- I am now an ENFP which is 100% accurate as to who I am today (Extroverted, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving)! It is crazy how we can change over the years! You can take a free MBTI test HERE.

Let me know what your results are and if you found this test helpful or not!

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