I am convinced that most personal and relational problems have strong connections with what I call the eighteen-year factor. This refers to the time lived in your family of origin. These years have defining influence as in them we learn and experience many things that we carry with us for life.
You had an increasingly rare experience if you grew up in a functionally healthy home.
If, on the other hand, your eighteen-year factor was disrupted by a significantly negative experience, you can be sure that it affected your security, identity and approach to relationships. The loss of a parent or sibling, the divorce of your parents, sexual abuse as a child are examples of life-altering experiences in an eighteen year factor.
You must be honest about your past and the way it affected you if you hope to have a healthy future.
Families plagued with severe dysfunctions are very damaging to children. If you lived under an alcoholic parent or in an atmosphere of physical or emotional abuse, or with significant neglect of nurture and discipline, your life has been deeply affected – usually beyond what you realize.
I’ve observed how emotionally aloof fathers or parents who withhold affirmation and acceptance leave deficits in the lives of their children. It’s not uncommon for men of all ages to battle issues related to bad father-son relationships. Women are especially vulnerable to future instability when their fathers withhold affection and affirmation. Many pursue unhealthy male relationships. Some battle deep feelings of inadequacy and a continual sense that something important is missing. Others struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
Children in such homes tend to develop protective mechanisms to shield themselves from pain. When forced to deal with things that they lack the maturity to handle, they find a means to protect themselves. But they’re typically unaware of these protective instincts when they carry them into adulthood. They don’t understand how protective mechanisms no longer protect you in adult relationships.
A tendency to shut down emotionally may protect a child in an abusive home, but the same response is harmful to adult relationships. Children of alcoholic parents often become enablers and co-dependents — the need to be needed. Others find relief in anger or excessive efforts to control their lives. All of these protective responses are damaging to future relationships.
Those who carry protective mechanisms into adulthood usually don’t understand why they feel and act as they do. They remain unaware of the significance of their upbringing until they enter an intimate relationship like marriage. The walls used to shield them from hurtful experiences in childhood hinder them from enjoying meaningful and mature adult relationships.
The damages from an unhealthy eighteen-year factor must be identified for the path of healing and restoration to be effective. Although it seems easier to pretend that you have not been affected by your upbringing, denial always makes matters worse. Denial will likely assure that the next generation will experience the hurt and perpetuate the damage.
Overcoming a problem can only begin when we admit we have it and recognize what it is and how it’s affecting us and those around us.
Confront yourself with truth. Fight against the drift into an emotional state of loss, self-pity, self-hatred, anger or guilt by dealing honestly with the damage done to you. Do not hide behind superficial clichés no matter how noble or spiritual they might sound. Change is rarely an overnight accomplishment and rarely attainable alone.
Overcoming a significantly dysfunctional past usually requires assistance from a wise counselor. But first you must allow those closest to help you see the walls and defense mechanisms you’ve allowed. Usually the hardest part of this is the vulnerability it requires. Fear and a desire to be in control are typical obstacles to true freedom.
Those who have lived with neglect or abuse find it difficult to trust others and often allow their fears sadly to hold them in defensive postures. Their loss is then multiplied as they never learn the joy of intimate relationships.
One of the biggest dangers in identifying the failures and neglect of one’s parents is a temptation toward a combination of self-pity and resentment. Resist the strong temptation to wallow your pain and allow the past to ruin your future.
Remember that the only thing we can change about the past is how we let it affect us in the future.
It’s sometimes hard to recognize that when we choose anger and bitterness, we double our loss and extend the effects of the evil done against us. I’ve observed far too many people who hold cherished resentments as a means of dealing with their painful experiences.
I encourage people to recognize that resentment at least indicates a level of emotional connection with the reality of one’s past and could become a catalyst to freedom. But resentment also offers a false feeling of control through a kind of emotional retaliation. Feelings of resentment can only lead to freedom and true control if processed in God-honoring ways. But this often requires assistance from a wise counselor.
Seek help before the years of damage accumulate and spread more misery to others.