Healthy Childhood Protections
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2015 (edited December 15, 2021)
We use protective interpretations to soften fears in dangerous environments. These protections often cling to existence long after their usefulness.
Is living frightening? At times, it is—for some more than others. Experiences are felt. The meaning of an experience doesn’t wait for a logical explanation. We feel, then explain. When we encounter life, the experience charges the body with feeling. Some feelings, biologically inherited, are programmed into genes. Normal biological responses become infused with meaning through culturally defined interpretations.
Some interpretations are necessary. They smoothly integrate experience into the larger fabric of our lives, allowing complex functioning and planning. Through the years, if we are to gain wisdom, we must challenge some of the comfortable interpretations; the simplicity of childhood explanations fail to meet the complexity of the adult world. We need more complex explanations.
Sadly, many refuse to grapple with the conflicts between their simplistic beliefs and the complex realities of experience, closing their eyes, and continuing to misperceive experience. They squander when the reality collides with ignorant constraining biases.
Subjective Interpretations: The internal schema we use to understand the world. When information is received through the senses, we interpret the information for meanings of safety, danger, and opportunity based upon our understanding of the world. Traumatized emotional learning gets stuck and often interferes with interpretations even after the danger has past.
Childhood beliefs provide meaning to feelings, relationships and fears. The childhood mind fuses experience into meaningful constructs, limited by their narrow experiences, they simplify the world. They soak in culture and family biases into their views, modifying complexity into understandable chunks for digestion by their developing minds. These beliefs, restricted by the sparse histories of a child, often fail to adequately explain the richness of complexity.
One significant difference between child and adult is that the child has limited control; they learn from those around them —not those they choose to be around. The little minds create a predictable and safe world the best they can—even if their real world is fractured and erratic.
When caregivers are dangerous, the little mind adapts to the volatility, implementing mechanisms for psychological survival. A child’s reality is distorted—for good or evil. Some children emerge into adulthood without the slightest suspicion of danger; the world they knew was safe and they take no precautionary actions. Other children face a dangerous and chaotic world; these youngsters entertain fear in adulthood even when dangers are not present.
I am amazed by the adaptations of the thinking mind to soften experience. The learned meanings programmed in the child’s mind supports survival within their inherited environments. Unfortunately, childhood distortions continue into adulthood when the learned meanings are no longer relevant—now these thought and emotional patterns contribute to dysfunction, preventing the emerging adults from living a life that they desire.
When we begin to unravel hidden meanings inherited from the past, opening up new realities, the unveiling of a broken self can ignite shame. By removing protective but distorted lenses, we discover the person underneath. The web of meaning previously protecting from vulnerabilities once it is removed leaves us naked to the realities, frightened and no longer protected. But by embracing our frightened child inside, we discover the child within is endearing—worthy of love and kindness.
Through compassion, from self and others, small moments of security begin to take hold; the nasty truths can be exposed and challenged. The synaptic connections, holding emotional learnings, open briefly for examination and challenging. Our dangerous world can be made safe. Our fractured explanations infused with reality, and our futures may flourish.
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