How your upbringing affects your life

A teaser from my soon-to-be-released book –

“The 18-year Factor -How your upbringing affects your life”


The 18-year Factor is a way of referring to the first 18 years of life. These are the most impressionable years of our lives. Our upringing (during this time) forms a kind of template for the way we think, how we feel, and how we act when we are adults. It especially shapes the way we approach adult relationships.

We can all benefit from looking more closely at our 18-year factor – no matter what kind of home we experienced.

Have you given much thought to how your upbringing continues to affect you and your relationships?

Perhaps you ask,

  • “What good will it do to look back?”
  • “If we can’t go back and change it, why bother thinking about it?”
  • “Why get stuck in the past?”
  • “Isn’t it better to forget it and move on?”

These questions are far too often used as deflective clichés for denying the ongoing effects of a painful past.

Consider some key lines from this book.

  • Attachments to a painful past make it difficult to do well in the present.
  • The narrow lens of yesterday’s loss doesn’t have to control your future.
  • Don’t let the diagnosis define your destiny.
  • Where you’ve been doesn’t have to define who you become.
  • Include the past in who you become but don’t let it define who you are.
  • Overcoming a problem involves understanding where and how it originated.
  • The only thing you can change about the past is how it affects the future.
  • The only person you can change is you. Get started!

The 18-Year Factor is an invitation to understand how our upbringing affects our lives. A guided look at this time of our lives will help us understand the influences that shaped the way think, feel and act as adults. It will especially benefit those who are trying to put an end to damaging connections between their past and their present.

The captivating real-life stories throughout this book will show how important it is to understand how the past affects the present and extends to the future. Each chapter concludes with questions for personal evaluation and group discussion.

One of the stories from my book  is a painful account of what it was like for a girl to live under a quiet domineering father. She tells her story with the kind of courage and transparency that I hope others will use when they speak of their past. Lisa (not her actual name) hopes that recounting her past will help others think more deeply and talk more openly about the effects of their own 18-year factors.

A quiet domineering father (Lisa’s story)

“I had a father who was very domineering in a quiet, controlled sort of way,” Lisa recalled. “He never hit us, and very rarely yelled, but he would sit us down for lectures for hours during which we weren’t allowed to speak, cry, or move a muscle. I learned early on how to turn myself off and just wait it out because there wasn’t any chance of changing anything. A lot of times he would have it wrong, or what he thought happened really didn’t, but it didn’t matter, we could never defend or explain, just sit and listen.”

“It was also well known that you never disagreed with him about anything – even a simple opinion. If he thought someone was mean, you darn well better agree, because if you said you didn’t think they were that bad, you were in trouble. He was often quiet but just a look or a gesture conveyed so much danger to me. I was constantly afraid of setting him off – even though he never hit us or anything like that. This is something that’s really hard to describe to people so that they understand how someone can rule with fear without actually doing anything. But I lived in fear of him.”

“My mother always deferred to his way. She never had her own opinion about anything – she’d learned not to. Dad’s word was absolute law. And I pretty much always felt on the wrong side of the law, even though I was the ‘good child.’”

“I was the oldest, so I took the role of doing whatever I can to make dad happy. This meant being hyper-vigilant. I would carefully examine his body language, the feeling in the room, everything, and choose my every word and gesture and facial tic so that Dad would like what I said. If I chose the wrong word, I’d hear about it for the next several hours. I got really good at this. I knew the topics that could be brought up that he liked, and what tone of voice to use and everything.”

“My sister went with a different approach. She gave up. She rebelled and did everything consciously opposite to what was expected (I guess she partly did this because I’d already claimed the ‘good girl’ role of the family). She is still doing this well into her adult life and has no idea why.”

“The problem for me came in that I had no idea at the time that this wasn’t normal. I really thought this was in the scope of normal family relations, and never once thought of it as dysfunctional. So that made it harder for me to fix. (which is my sister’s problem now. She doesn’t remember it as damaging.) I got married, and when we’d have a disagreement I’d immediately shut down and ‘wait it out’ like I always did with Dad. It was a physical thing. I could not make myself talk to him, sort out a disagreement in a calm way.”

“In my experience, you didn’t disagree: you kept it inside and waited until it was over. For the first year of marriage disagreements – and I mean disagreements: they were over very small things – were long drawn-out affairs in which my husband tried for hours to get me to talk.”

“Fortunately for me, I have a husband who loves me dearly and can’t stand to be in a disagreement with me, so he wouldn’t let me retreat. He’d keep at it until it was solved, and finally, I realized that I was really hurting him by doing what I was doing, and made conscious moves to stop. It was really hard. I had to physically make myself look at him, say something – anything – at first.”

“Eleven years later we’re really good at arguing. One of us will say what’s bothering us, and we’ll talk about it like normal people. No more five-hour long standoffs – but I had to choose it. I could have easily let it ruin a wonderful relationship.”

“The other legacy from my childhood is my tendency to…”

The book will tell the rest of the story.

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in 18 Year factor, Counseling, personal, personal update, Psychology, Social work, sociology, Wisdom and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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