Sunday, 9 November 2008

The child within

The older I get, the more I realise just how much of my character is directly linked to the way I was treated as a child. And I'm sure that's the same for most people.

I can see more and more clearly that both my weaknesses and my strengths reflect how my parents and teachers behaved towards me.

My nervousness about socialising goes right back to my diffident father, who seldom had visitors or visited other people. My lack of self-confidence stems from his regular disapproval of what I did and thought.

On the other hand, my wild sense of humour also comes from my father, who adored crazy comedy programmes like The Goon Show and Hancock's Half Hour. And my verbal skills owe much to my father's adeptness with words.

School bullying and a brilliant English teacher also contributed to the strange mix of self-doubt and articulacy.

However much I've tried in later life to correct the weaknesses and become more capable, I haven't got very far. Patterns laid down in childhood are remarkably durable and aren't easily changed once they've taken root.

All I can do is allow for my failings and try to ensure other people aren't upset or frustrated by them. And at the same time enjoy my strengths to the full, savouring the talents I do have and making the most of them.

I don't blame my parents or teachers for my faults. They were probably doing the best they could, limited by their own deficiencies and their own upbringings.

If I didn't have these particular faults, I would no doubt have other ones. None of us is perfect, and in any case so-called faults can sometimes be as interesting and endearing as the effortless virtues.

But that chain of cause and effect, of the early years determining the later years, seems more and more visible and far-reaching.

"Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man" said the Jesuit, Francis Xavier.


  1. Hmm, nature or nurture?!!! Thank you for making me reflect. I just hope my children are as charitable as you are when they're your/my age!

  2. Suburbia - I'm convinced it's more nurture than nature. So much of what we are is what we learn from our surroundings. I think I'm charitable because the only alternative is blame and anger, which corrodes the soul.

  3. Nurture, I agree Nick is a huge part of who we are and it is hard to relinquish the old patterns even when they are not serving us well.
    The greatest gift we can give a child is self-esteem and to make them believe they can reach for the stars. Unfortunately a lot of parents today think this is all about spoiling them with material 'stuff' when it is about inspiring them and spending supportive time with them.
    I could go on. But like you, I know I still struggle with the old, old patterns at times.

  4. www - Self-esteem is so important, it makes so many other things possible. If we don't believe in ourselves and our abilities, we constantly shy away from opportunities and our lives aren't as rich as they should be.

  5. Interesting post - made me think of my own faults and good points. I had very strict parents and sometimes still resent the strictness as it undermined my own self confidence, something I still struggle with today.

  6. Quicky - I think strictness is okay up to a point, unruly kids are a pain in the neck. But too much strictness can throttle a child's vitality and creativity.

  7. Ditto WWW "I still struggle with the old, old patterns at times".
    Like you Nick, I had to turn the negative, the pressure, the heartbreaks as a child into understanding why my father was the way he was and trying to accept what I couldn't change at the time. He had a really bad temper and it affected us so much so that we started behaving like him in ways. One day my brother and I talked about it, and that was that, we decided to work hard at it and never become our dad...
    It was a slow process but the quiet strength and peace was found: our Mum. I try to hold on to that when I feel on the brink of giving in to negative memories.

  8. GayƩ - My father had a really bad temper too, my sister and I were always terrified he was going to blow at any time and go crashing round the house. I resolved never to have my father's rage, and that was something I succeeded in.

  9. My father, who was not a Catholic, often quoted the Jesuit with enormous approval as he did his best to mold us to his liking before we were seven.

    He failed miserably with me, which dismayed him until he died, as from an early age I was more interested in escaping anyone else's mold.

  10. Heart, I admire your early sense of independence and refusal to be turned into someone you didn't want to be. Unfortunately I only started to rebel as a teenager by which time certain patterns were set. But when I did start to rebel, the rows with my father were incandescent.

  11. Reccommended reading: "They F*** You Up" by Oliver James. He makes the case for nurture as the main indicator of personality. It is a total page turner - although a bit disturbing for those of us (un)fortunate enough to be self-analytical already.

  12. FG - Yes, I've heard of that one several times but for some reason never actually bought it. I must do so. I think nurture is still greatly underestimated, especially by those who just don't want to think too much about the effects of their actions.