How our past experiences shape our behaviour and personality

By Hanan Parvez

Our beliefs and needs are the strongest factors that govern our behavior. Ultimately, it all comes down to beliefs because a need is also a belief- a belief that we lack something. When we were born, we were almost clean slate- ready to collect information from our environment and form beliefs based on that information.

If you've carefully observed a child grow then you know what I’m talking about. A child absorbs information from its environment so fast and at such a high rate that by age 6, thousands of beliefs are already formed in its mind- beliefs that will help the kid interact with the world.

The core beliefs

The beliefs we form in our childhood and early teens form our core beliefs. They are the strongest factors that influence our personality. But that does not mean that we are stuck with them. They are hard to change but not impossible. The beliefs that we form later on in life are comparatively less rigid and can be changed without much effort.

inner child
Your inner child is still affecting your behaviour much more powerfully than you think!

Changing the beliefs

So how do we go about changing our beliefs? The first step is to become conscious of the beliefs that are shaping your personality. Once you've identified them, then you need to dig into your past and understand why you formed these beliefs. This is the hard part. The process of formation of beliefs happens unconsciously and that's why we feel powerless before them. But once we make the unconscious conscious, we start gaining real power.

Identifying the beliefs that you want to change and understanding how you formed them is enough for you to break free from their clutch and not let them control your behavior. Awareness is like a fire which melts away everything.

Try understanding it this way. Suppose your job performance was very bad this month and your boss is disappointed in you. He wants you to make amends in the coming month. But he doesn't give you any performance report and doesn't point out in any way what needs to be fixed. Will you be able to fix anything if you don't know what went wrong?

Absolutely not! You need to know what went wrong in order to fix it. In addition to that, you need to know how and why it went wrong. Same is the case with human behaviour. Unless you don't understand the underlying mechanism of your behaviour, you won't be able to change it.

Some examples

In order to illustrate how our past experiences (especially childhood) result in the formation of beliefs that strongly affect our behaviour, let me give you a few examples…

A child who was abused forms a belief that he is less worthy than others because of the way he was treated. So he is very likely to have a low self-esteem and live with shame for the rest of his life. He may therefore become a shy person.

The youngest child in a family receives a lot of attention from everyone around him and so he develops a need to always be in the center of attention. As an adult, he may become a very showy, successful or a famous person just to remain in the center of attention! (birth order and personality)

A girl whose father abandoned her and her mother may form a belief that men cannot be trusted. So, as an adult, she might find it very hard to trust any man and may have problems forming an intimate relationship with a guy. She might end up sabotaging every relationship she gets into without knowing why.

A boy who always felt financially insecure as a child because his parents always worried about money may develop a strong need to become rich. He may become very ambitious and competitive. If he fails to meet his financial goals, he may become severely depressed.

A kid who was bullied in school may develop a need to become strong and therefore he might become very interested in martial arts or bodybuilding. If you interviewed gym addicts, you’ll find that most of them were either bullied as kids or were involved in a physical fight before. Very few do it just to improve their body-image. 

Because of the experiences that people go through in life, they develop certain deep-seated beliefs, needs and ways of thinking. In order to fulfill their needs, they develop certain personality traits. They might not be aware why they have certain personality traits, but their mind is working in the background continually seeking ways to satisfy its needs.

Contrary to popular belief, we can train ourselves to develop any kind of personality that we want. You might like some of the personality traits that your past has bestowed upon you but you can always change the ones you don't like by changing the beliefs that are associated with those traits.

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