My husband and I had friends over one weekend, and we got into a discussion about how the way we grew up impacted who we are and how we act in certain situations today.
Both men were raised in families where they got to be kids, weren’t exposed to grown up challenges, and just knew they would always be taken care of. They always felt safe.
The adults they both are today reflects their upbringing. On one side, they are super laid back, and they don’t expect the worst. Really chill people to be around and they always make you feel good. They are confident, they still feel safe today, and are very trusting.
On the flip side of that, they have a difficult time understanding why other people are not the same, so their expectations can sometimes be too much to meet because they were always cared for. They always felt safe so they struggle to understand people who didn’t grow up that way, especially when their behaviour reflects that as adults.
My friend and I had different upbringings. We talked about how we both had to be “adults” even as small children. We were exposed to grown up challenges, things we weren’t developed enough to cope with, didn’t feel like we would always be taken care of and grew up really fast. We didn’t always feel safe.
The adults that we are today reflects our upbringing. One way is that we both fall into playing the protector role. When bad things happen, we go right into problem solving mode. If there is a zombie apocalypse, you want us on your team.
On the flip side to that, we often find ourselves in future-tripping mode, planning for things to go wrong before they even go wrong. When you spend your childhood being a peacekeeper, trying not to rock the family boat, or you didn’t feel safe, it might be difficult for you to relax today because you are so used to being in fight or flight. As my girlfriend put so perfectly, “you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.” You may also find yourself being a people pleaser to prevent the shoe from dropping.
This was such an important conversation, for so many reasons.
Us sharing our experiences with our spouses helped them to understand us better, so they know that when we go into a situation where we don’t feel safe, we may become irritable, (fear or worry can often mask itself as anger), or needing an exit strategy to help us to relax our nervous system before we go into it.
This conversation was also a great reminder that no matter what your experience was growing up, it does inform who you are today. Good or bad, it made you, YOU. You are not doing anything wrong.
I also feel like it helped all of us to understand that the way we reacted as children was perfectly normal. I hope it does for you as well. We went into those roles to protect ourselves. Even as children we naturally knew how to protect ourselves. But that may not be serving us as adults.
If you are like my girlfriend and I, it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions before you go into problem solving, protector, or people pleaser mode if this is also your default.
Am I the one who needs to be solving this problem?
Does this situation, or event require me to plan for a worst-case scenario, or can I just relax and enjoy myself?
Do I need to be the protector in this situation?
Is it the adult me that is needing to people please, or have I just reverted back to a childhood behaviour?
If this situation, or event, or person isn’t making me feel safe, what can I do to plan ahead so that I have a way to exit it without needing to go into these patterns and can actually enjoy myself?
I’ll share an experience of mine as an example. My husband and I have friends that have the most epic parties. They invite everyone and anyone which often makes it a very eclectic group of personalities. Get a few drinks into people, and sometimes things have happened at the parties that can make a protector personality step into problem solving mode.
Me being the protector, I have found myself not enjoying the parties because I have stepped in to solve the problem. So later, when we would get invited, my guard would be up before we even arrived. I just couldn’t enjoy myself because I didn’t feel safe. See how a childhood pattern can show up in adulthood?
One day I said to my husband, “this is ridiculous, I need to stop doing this. I am not the mother of these 80 people.”
So the next time I went to one of their epic parties, I prepared myself. I asked myself those questions above, went into it with my guard down and decided that if at anytime I didn’t feel safe, or it was getting out of control, I would just remove myself from the situation. I could also just leave the party. I’m now able to relax and have fun because I don’t need to protect anyone, especially not adults in their 40’s and 50’s who are quite capable of taking care of themselves.
Talking about childhood patterns is a big topic, more than I can go into here, so let’s baby step it. Here’s “the work” if this resonates with you. I do go deeper into this in my digital workshop Unleash Your Limiting Beliefs if this is something you want to explore deeper. If this isn’t you, hopefully this share will help you to understand other people better.
What do you do today that is from an old childhood pattern? It kept you safe then, it would be good in a certain situation, but you don’t need it all the time.
How can you communicate this to your loved ones so they know why you behave, think or act the way you do in similar situations? I have found this so important. Them knowing me…ALL OF ME, makes me feel safe, seen and understood. Something I think most of us want.
What can you do to embrace who you are, What makes you, YOU, but change the pattern that doesn’t serve you in every situation? I don’t want to rid myself of my natural protection mode personality because it can serve me. It makes me a great problem solver, and I’m really good in difficult situations. But I don’t need it turned on for every single experience. And I don’t need to solve everyone’s problems.
This is a practice. You won’t get it perfect all the time. You’re not meant to. We work at changing the behaviours that don’t serve us in the moments they don’t support our mental and emotional health. We become aware of them, and do our best – that’s all we can do.