I just completed one of the most challenging tasks of my life. A little background. I’ve been speaking for the past 20 years on what I call the 18-Year factor – a way of referring to the most formative time of life, the first 18 years.
Most people recall positive and negative experiences from their upbringing. If you had an overall healthy 18-year factor, you are part of a rapidly diminishing number of people. But even if you fall in that category, it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from looking more closely at the influences that shaped the way you see yourself and relate to others.
Working with married couples and those preparing for marriage convinced me of the value of looking more closely at our upbringing — no matter what kind of home we experienced. The 18-year factor forms a sort of template for the way we think, how we feel, and how we act — especially in adult relationships. The way we communicate, resolve conflict, process anger and many other essential parts of life arise from our 18-year factor.
After many years, I finally wrote a book on this critical subject. What made it a difficult task was my decision to write it without “Christianese” and with only two Bible verses at the end of the book. The book is titled, The 18-Year Factor: How Our Upbringing Affects Our Lives and Relationships. The book concludes with a focus on the spiritual dimension. This is where I am particular about my understanding of spirituality.
The well-known research project ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences), conducted by the American health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now plays a significant role in education, medicine, and other fields.
According to Dr. Robert Block, the former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”
My contribution to the subject was challenging partly because my strength is in the knowledge of Scripture. Yet I’ve always read widely on many areas of study including this one. I became convinced, therefore, that I should write the book for as wide an audience as possible. Many people quickly dismiss a book if they detect that it’s a “religious” book. This is unfortunate because there is much to be gained from merging the wisdom of Scripture with the findings of other disciplines.
My mentor was known for saying that the discipline of psychology is helpful when it comes to analysis but comes up short on solution. Humans are multidimensional beings. Restoration efforts must involve focus on our whole person applying remedies that respect an integration of the physical, social, psychological, and spiritual parts of life with respect to the three primary expressions of personhood, intellect: our minds (thoughts, imagination); emotion: our feelings (affections), and will: our choices (decision-making).
Unexpected (but needed) conversations
I’ve been fascinated by the way the title of my book has led to many unexpected conversations. The mere mention of The 18-Year Factor: How Our Upbringing Affects Our Lives and Relationships immediately prompted complete strangers to talk with me about deeply personal issues from their past.
During a writing retreat at a beautiful resort in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I located what I thought was a quiet corner of a large foyer to write. I soon discovered, however, that my spot wasn’t as private as I had imagined. Throughout the week many people approached me to ask what I was doing. When I told them that I was writing a book, they all responded by asking what the book was about and I answered each person by stating the title. I consistently heard the same one-word response, always expressed with dismay. “Wow!”
Then the unexpected part came as most of them began to talk openly with me about their 18-year factor. Some of these people caught themselves midway into their story. “Wait! I think I’ve told you more about myself than I’ve ever told anyone and I don’t even know you!” One man asked to sign his wife up for a counseling session with me. “I’ve been paying for years for what her father did to her!”
Looking back to move ahead
My book (available on Amazon) offers an invitation to look back and understand how your upbringing affects your life and relationships. The captivating real-life stories throughout the book will help readers think more deeply and talk more openly about their own stories.
35 years of experience as a counselor gave me a deep passion for encouraging healthy relationships. My book is offered in the hope that it will help many in understanding, processing and resolving adverse effects from a painful past, with a distinctive focus on integrating the four dimensions of life to restore the whole person. I also hope it will equip people for helping others and give parents insight on how to provide a healthy 18-year factor for their children.
There are thirteen chapters, and each one concludes with evaluation and discussion questions to encourage personal reflection and group discussion. I am currently working on a supplemental resource for churches that choose to use the book for small groups. It will be available soon for a purchase of one copy and the right to freely reproduce as many as needed.