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How Our Past Shapes Us

Many forces shape us from a very young age. Obviously, our parents are key contributors to shaping us. I remember being about 12 years old and my father proclaiming that he taught me everything he could. Now it’s time for me to put that into action and show him I understood. A process he lovingly referred to as giving me enough rope to hang myself. I never believed he would actually allow me to make such a mistake that it would “hang me”, but I believe he would allow me to make mistakes that would shape me and drive home the life lessons he taught me.

From our upbringing, we gain an understanding of social behaviours or expected behaviours. They teach us right from wrong from their point of view, realizing now, of course, that not everyone uses the same perception of those terms. Through this process, we shape our own unique personal point of view on right versus wrong and our interpretation of social norms and expected behaviours. As we grow, these are always subject to change and evolution, but they are solely our own.

We learn social interaction through observing and interacting with others. One of the life-shaping books I ever read was Dale Carnegie's, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Those lessons are still with me today, and I attribute them to my ability to network with others. I start slow at first and build momentum the more I network with the same group of folks.

Why start slow to learn group dynamics and interaction behaviours unique to that group. Let me explain this through an analogue.

Imagine being at a party and seeing a group you want to interact with who are actively engaged in a discussion you are not currently part of. You walk over to them and introduce yourself; they make room for you to join the group conversation. You then proceed without context, talking about your topic of interest that has nothing to do with the topic they were actively discussing. You eventually find that the group breaks away from you because you didn’t understand their dynamics and interaction behaviours.

The fastest way to get disconnected is not understanding group dynamics and interaction behaviours. You may be perceived as a wallflower as you stand back and observe initially. Still, when you interact, you do so in an appropriate way that the invite to the group discussion is not short-lived, but you become part of the group if you choose to stay engaged with them.

Tip – I don’t consider myself a great small talk person, but one of the lessons I learned is that when struggling with small talk, ask the folks about themselves. At the right moment in the discussion, if you think of a topic that you want to talk about, ask others about their own perspective on that topic. When you do ask, remember to listen to their answers to learn about them and the additional ways you share commonalities. This becomes further discussion topics to build your relationship upon that initial introduction.

Tip – I have learnt and understand that relationships don’t just happen out of thin air; they develop. They develop at different paces for each person we meet, but the cycle repeats itself repeatedly. Being aware of that cycle will help you understand where you may be at with another person and ensure you don’t go from zero to one hundred when the other person may still be at fifty. You wonder why this developing relationship becomes disconnected. Here are the phases as I remember them;

Meet – The first time you meet someone.

Recognition – You meet someone again recognizing you have met before.

Acquaintance – You have met more than once; each time you learn casual details about each other, you can go back to build upon getting to know each other.

Friend – Your relationship evolves so that you consider yourselves friends.

Intimate – Not in a romantic sense, but in an intuitive sense where you can complete each other’s thoughts.

From an early age, we learn to judge ourselves and others based upon our experiences and these interactions. Factual judgements can be calculated and anticipated as to the outcome if they are logical judgements. What if they are emotional, psychological, or spiritual or belief-based judgements based solely upon one’s reaction to their own past experiences or teachings. These are, of course, less fact-based, yet I would suggest more profound on us because they are based upon the trust of the person who taught us these lessons, regardless if they are right or wrong by anyone’s definition. Trust of others, especially cares givers, can shape us as foundational building blocks that get created deep in our minds, especially from a young age.

From my own deep work on myself, I have found that a lot of my foundational emotions, beliefs, and behaviours stem from the age of 4 years and older. We learn very early what others teach us as right or wrong; we adopt social behaviours and norms from these folks that shape us early in our lives, typically parents or caregivers, but not always. We also learn from negative experiences such as what we don’t like, whether emotional, psychological, or physical.

When we consider all the various elements that caregivers introduce to us in our social conditioning, we must realize that we have no manual for caring for and raising a human being. The 101 of raising a “good” human being. I put good in quotes for the simple fact as “Good” based upon the definition? If you come from a strong religious background, your judgements will be based upon what you are taught the bible says, not that you interrupted the original manuscripts to arrive at your own understanding, you accept the interpretation of others as the word that defines “Good”. Perhaps you come from a non-religious background, in which case you may have had a scientific or humanist-based upbringing that argues that you can accept what you can retest and prove to be true. If you have an upbringing of universalist, you may consider yourself to be more spiritual than religious. You may well accept judgements that define folks based upon societal roles, social status, or economic status, to name but a few different ways.

Regardless of our upbringing experiences, we can agree that they shape us and create these judgments. Sometimes we refer to that as our baggage we carry from childhood.

In the first step of acceptance, we need to recognise these self-shaping foundational building blocks into our consciousness and be prepared to re-challenge those definitions we have carried with us since childhood potentially. You may well arrive at the same conclusion you started with; you may also arrive at a different outcome based upon your own unique point of view.

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