I am a believer in the power of our thoughts. I am a believer in changing our life experience by changing our thoughts. But, I am just not sure about the simplistic way in which these concepts tend to be banded about. People tell you to ‘just think more positively’. Whilst I believe our thoughts are powerful, if changing and controlling them was that easy, we’d all be doing it.
“First you make your beliefs, and then your beliefs make you.” – Marisa Peer
Everyone gets caught up in the latter part of that great quote – that what we think makes who we are and our life experience. BUT, the bit that rarely gets talked about which I think is actually incredibly important is the first bit – ‘first you make your beliefs’. Or, more accurately, we should say ‘first the environment makes your beliefs’.
For the most part, our deepest, biologically and sub consciously ingrained adult patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour were programmed into us in the earliest years of our lives. Through no choice of our own.
We had no conscious control over our brain development
Because my work involves helping people who’ve experienced childhood abuse, I’ve had to look much more closely at child brain development and understand its complex and personal nature. You see, most of our brain development happened outside of the womb and in response to external stimuli – i.e. the environment. (Although, in utero brain development is also affected by the environment).
In our formative years, not only were our beliefs being shaped by what was going on around us, but our actual brain circuitry was being wired in. The hormonal circuits which drive the way we experience and regulate emotions and our ability to form healthy attachment bonds, are programmed by our childhood environment. As such, a child who was neglected will likely have different behavioural patterns and biological circuitry than one who was not. Into adulthood, they may form unhealthy relationships, not through conscious choice but, sub conscious patterns.
Our perceptions of self, others and the wider world were being set in our youngest years, so a child who was heavily criticised will start with very different perceptions than one who was supported. A child who experienced abuse may have impaired impulse regulation because the brain structures that govern the fight/ flight response would have been getting abnormally high activity in their childhood.
This, and much more was being shaped for us by whatever was going on in our early lives, even things we think of as ‘normal’ such as parental divorce have an impact. And, because everyone’s lives are so unique and personal, we’re all starting with different baseline conditioning. Once the baselines are set, the brain repeats these patterns over and over as we get older, strengthening the neurological pathways it has built. And then after 30, 45, 60 years someone comes to you and says ‘you just need to change your thoughts and your life will change’.
For some people, this may be akin to asking an adult who was born blind to ‘just see’.
This isn’t an excuse not to re-develop your mind
When it comes to thought patterns, emotional regulation and so on, we know that the brain is not hard wired and it is possible for us to consciously direct our neurological development, to create new patterns. But, to think it is that simple, easy or the same for everyone is a dangerous misconception. Such a misconception can lead people to blame themselves when they struggle to break their patterns because they might not understand that they are operating from a different baseline. A baseline that they didn’t choose.
It’s called PERSONAL development, because it’s personal. Whilst we can learn from others and take advice about how to grow and improve our happiness and wellbeing, first take time to understand yourself. From a place of utmost compassion, investigate your own baselines and see how the environment shaped you. Don’t blame it, just understand it. Don’t compare it, just accept it. And then you can carve out a personal journey of growth that is tailored for you.
About the author: To find out more about Pinky Jangra, please click here.