Our childhood experiences of our caregivers shape the way we perceive ourselves and others, often for the rest of our lives. A child who consistently experiences stable, loving interactions with his or her caregivers will typically grow into an adult who has a well-developed sense of self, a feeling of self-esteem and the ability to form emotionally intimate relationships with others. However, when the love and care a child receives is inconsistent, or when something such as divorce disrupts the child’s life, then as an adult they may experience self-doubt, low self-esteem and difficulty making intimate emotional connections with others. Adverse childhood experiences do not necessarily curtail a person’s ability to be materially successful, but they often limit one’s sense of worthiness.
A compounding feature of adverse childhood experiences is the fact that they feel normal because the child has no external point of reference. For example, a child raised in family where relationships between family members were fractured is unlikely to identify the family’s problems because their family seems normal from their perspective. And when they grow up and realise how dysfunctional their childhood was, they may continue to act out the same patterns of dysfunction which have become so familiar as to be unnoticeable because the family’s dysfunction has become an integral part of the person’s sense of self. They may then go on to make a family of their own in which they act out the dysfunction again and history repeats itself.
Most people have the ability to take care of themselves, to a greater or lesser degree. I use the name internal caregiver to refer to the part of self that responsible for self-care. The nature of a person’s internal care-giver often reflects the kind of care they received as child, or its opposite by way of reaction against an adverse childhood experience. For example, someone who was subjected to harsh discipline is likely to be harsh with themselves and their own children, or overly permissive, and sometimes an incongruous mixture of strict and permissive.
If you feel that you are experiencing problems that seem to stem from your childhood, then counselling may help you make understand how your past is being replayed in the present. I believe that increased self-understanding may help improve the quality of one’s internal caregiver. Counselling for adverse childhood experiences may help you reconstruct the way you view yourself, learn new skills of self-care, and improve the quality of your relationships with others.