Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Sigmund Freud are three of the most revered geniuses in human history. They changed the artistic landscape, changed the way we see the universe and even changed the way we see ourselves. However, the one thing that they have in common is they all had terrible childhoods.
A bad start to life can be a grave setback for anyone. As a child, you are often a product of your environment, helpless to any physical and emotional abuse that you are subjected to. Da Vinci, Newton, and Freud are an example to anyone that faced a difficult beginning that it doesn’t have to define you.
It is a challenge that I have faced myself. Growing up in a home with a frequently absent and near silent father as a result of PTSD after serving in the army and a manic depressive mother, neither myself or my two brothers had a particularly settled existence – although I was lucky to have two loving, albeit flawed parents. In comparison with many people, I had a harmonious childhood.
In spite of the more severe struggles that you may have faced during your upbringing, it is crucial to learn from your experiences and not let them negatively affect the rest of your life. It is a struggle that millions of people around the world contend with every day.
However, there are ways to ensure that the painful experiences that you faced shape you into a better, more empathetic person.
1. Reframe your narrative
Looking back on a miserable or abusive childhood puts you in the position of a helpless victim. It can make you feel unloved and unwanted. This feeling drags you into a cycle of mental self-abuse. However, by placing yourself in your own memory, you can empower yourself.
Instead of feeling helpless, think back to the time when you were a child, then consider how you pushed yourself out of that situation to become the person you are today. The child in your memory ceases to be a victim and becomes a powerful symbol of just how far you’ve come. As Dr. Harold Bloomfield, psychiatrist and author, says ‘you can find value in past adversity, you can neutralize its harmful effects and foster healing.’
2. Reject shame and blame
Shame is a spiral that can be the most difficult of all to recover from. It affects you like no other emotion because it attacks who you are as a human being. Bloomfield describes it as the ‘cancer of the spirit’ as it gives you the feeling that you are undeserving of joy or love.
The shame that exists as a result of a bad childhood leads you to assume that your parents (or guardians) treated you poorly because of who you are, rather than through a fault in them. To counteract the feeling accept that the fault does not lie at your feet.
When you shift the shame from yourself, do not transfer the feelings into blame. Accept the mistakes of your parents. Blame can poison your mind and make you focus on anger, in the same way that shame poisons your spirit. Allowing blame to take over is giving yourself a get out of jail free card because the mistakes you make can be attributed to someone else. Remember that now you’re an adult you’re the master of your destiny!