1. Write a list of your self-defeating behaviors. You don’t need to state every dysfunctional habitual pattern, just a few will do. You can add to this list later.
2. Write down a list of negative beliefs you have about yourself.
We take on many beliefs and behaviors from the significant adults in our childhood. Children under six possess an innate, powerful drive to believe what their elders tell them. A small child needs to assume that the adults around him can do no wrong. To trust in them absolutely, and therefore learn without question, he must idealize them.
Recent research has shown that this idealization usually lasts for life in one form or other. As adults, we emulate our early authority figures and even marry or have relationships with their surrogates (people who have similar relationship or behavioral characteristics). Thus we tend to re-create the same relationship environment in our adult life as we had when we were small. We even act out their roles, behaving like our mother with our partner, for example, and like our father with our boss.
Or we may regress to playing ourselves as a child and cast other people in the role of our parents.
The templates for all our adult relationships are created in childhood. We may have only a very few such role models compared to the hunter-gatherer child living in a band. And so we may be forced to seek out only those people who fit the molds planted in our brains. Or else we try to squeeze everyone we meet into these limited slots.
According to a 1996 American Psychological Association (APA) report, adult abusers and abuse victims almost always come from abusive homes. In our experience, people who were subjected to criticism in childhood almost always choose critics as their partners, bosses, or friends. Of course those who came from warm, supportive environments tend to re-create these as well.
Your programmers are not just your parents, though they are usually the major influences. Your older siblings, your kindergarten teacher, a relative who lived with you, your nanny, the neighbors you spent time with, your older or more dominant playmates, even television personalities, all could have had a hand in writing elements of your program. Very young children are totally vulnerable to all these adults.
We don’t just idealize “good,” supportive people; a young child is unable to distinguish between “good” and “bad.” And once the behavior or belief has been programmed into the brain, the individual continues as if on automatic pilot. Peter, for example, idealized both his parents and his uncle and adopted characteristics of each.
How were you programmed and by whom? Who installed the inner saboteur?
In the exercise Significant Adults, take a moment to identify these early authority figures. This will be the list of characters in your own drama, the possible roles that you can play, and the number of people whose surrogates you can have relationships with. Some will have been a positive influence, some negative, many both.
Later on we’ll find out who were the most significant programmers, but for now let’s cast our net wide.
And remember, you aren’t blaming anyone. Your understanding of what happened is essential to your recovery; it’s not about them.
(extracted from) Creating Optimism: A Proven, 7-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, Based on the popular Uplift program, written by Bob Murray Ph. D., and Alicia Fortinberry, published by Mcgraw-Hill