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  • One of the things that makes human beings great

  • is our astonishing capacity to learn.

  • We're always picking up new things and correcting earlier errors.

  • But there is one area where it seems so hard to acquire new knowledge and change:

  • emotional life.

  • It's when we're very small children, between our first day and around our eighth year, that our emotional hard drives are encoded.

  • It's in this period that we learn whether we can trust, whether we like ourselves, whether we can be open,

  • where blame belongs, what to do when the world hurts us, how much we can tell others of what distresses us, what degree of directness can be tolerated,

  • and how much of our naughtiness - and excitement - can be witnessed and forgiven.

  • Unfortunately for humankind, a catastrophic amount can go wrong here.

  • Despite all the improvements in early infant care that's taken place in the last century,

  • without anyone really meaning for this to happen,

  • it remains pretty easy to pick up some really unhelpful lessons in these early years

  • way before we really understand what's going on.

  • We may acquire a lack of trust,

  • an excessive fear of humiliation,

  • a deep shame about our bodies,

  • very indirect patterns of communicating,

  • and an inability either to be close to someone or tolerate a measure of distance from them.

  • We might assume that these failures can simply get corrected

  • just like an early error when doing quadratic equations.

  • And yet, we're likely to realize, especially the older we get, how stubbornly encoded the faults in the hard drive really are.

  • This can feel absurd and humiliating.

  • There's an understandably impatient view that one should, of course, get over one's childhood.

  • We're liable to get impatient with people who are maybe close to 50 and still talking in wounded terms

  • about their parents, now long dead, who said something a little humiliating to them decades ago.

  • But this is impatient brustness with the patterns laid down in childhood is no good.

  • It may simply be wisest to accept that there will at points be a furious, unhinged inner five year old

  • who's gonna take charge of us, refuse to see the controls and attempt to cause mayhem.

  • We should know that we can be enduringly and deeply wounded by the past

  • and should therefore, when we can manage it, find words to warn those we care about

  • what living with us is actually going to mean.

  • The great learning of twentieth century psychology, which has still been only patchily assimilated

  • is that those early years are, emotionally speaking, simply everything.

  • It would be so much easier if it weren't like this

  • but a die is cast then that can almost never be reshaped.

  • We are more or less the life-long prisoners of dynamics that may have been set in motion half a century ago

  • by parents who weren't even mean just under inner pressure.

  • It's a sobering situation that calls for humility, forgiveness, constant vigilance over one's own conduct,

  • polite warnings to others and a very black sense of humour.

One of the things that makes human beings great

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B1 US impatient humiliating early encoded wounded acquire

Overcoming Childhood

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    羅志林 posted on 2017/02/26
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