Have you ever thought about how your upbringing affected you? Did you come from a healthy and stable home? Most people don’t reflect deeply on the way they’ve been affected by what I call the 18-year factor.
Your 18-year factor is a way of referring to your upbringing — the first 18 years of life. These are the most formative years of our lives. They shape the way we view ourselves. These years also affect the way we relate to those around us.
Homes where children grow up under the loving nurture and guidance of good parents quickly are becoming exceptions. Families with significantly dysfunctional characteristics are a new norm, and these dysfunctional homes are not limited to any particular culture or group of people.
Perhaps circumstances played a big role in your 18-year factor. Our family moved a lot and we struggled with unrelenting financial difficulties. Circumstances like these affected my sense of identity, security and how I related to others.
Sometimes a physical characteristic deeply affects a person’s 18-year factor. When a physical trait or limitation makes you feel different from others and becomes a source for ridicule, it likely will have lasting effects on your sense of identity, security and future relationships.
A close boyhood friend of mine had a father who repeatedly degraded him. His favorite label for his son was “dummy.” In fact, I never heard his dad use his proper name without attaching the label “dummy.” We laughed it off and even mimicked his dad’s label. But years later I realized that there was nothing funny about his father’s verbal abuse.
Think about what it does to a boy when his dad (perhaps the most important person in his life) continually degrades him. Should we expect it to profoundly alter his life? When a boy is raised without his father’s affirmation and approval, should he be able to move on without carrying damage into his adult life?
Perhaps we should tell him to let the past be the past.
What should he do when he battles thoughts and feelings associated with his father’s mistreatment? What do those who are close to him do when he seems to be a bottomless pit of need for affirmation?
This father not only deprived his son of the vital affirmation a boy needs, he also beat him down with cruel words. Should we expect such abuse to damage a boy’s identity, security and future relationships? Maybe he will spend years trying to prove to everyone that he is no dummy. This father’s verbal abuse sent his son on a life-mission to prove to the world that he was no dummy.
How different would my friend’s life be if his father had been a strong and loving person who raised his son with healthy discipline and affirmation?
Is it really worth it to look back on the effects of your upbringing? Rehearsing old experiences and hurts seems like a sure way to feed feelings of resentment and bitterness. Doesn’t it make more sense to just let the past be the past? Since you can’t change what happened, just forget it and move on, right? If only it were always that easy.
While it might sound sensible to just forget the past, for many people, the past has caused too much damage to just forget it. Suppressing and denying only lead to more problems. The effects of a bad 18-year factor can continuously reappear in a person’s thoughts, feelings and relationships. Looking back is essential to a healthy future.
Yet we need to be cautious about the way we talk about the past. It’s easy (and might even feel good) to just vent and lament. While it is helpful to talk about the influences that shaped our lives during our 18-year factor, revisiting the past without guidance can easily becomes an occasion for emotional drugs of choice. These are emotions that we choose as reactions to the mistreatment or neglect of others.
Emotions like anger, resentment, self-pity and hatred feel good and even justifiable, but they only give extended life to the damage and pain of our past. They also become the most common means for spreading the damage to others.
Our 18-year factor sets much of the course for how we do life; how we see the world and how we relate to others. Our 18-year factor shapes the overall person we’ve become. Although this might seem obvious, I am amazed by the number of people who don’t connect their current behavior, attitudes and emotions with their past.
Sometimes we need to look back to move ahead. So I am inviting you to be honest about the influences that have shaped your life. Remember that the only thing we can change about the past is how we let it affect our future. Thank God that we can change this with his help.