Time to Put Your Childhood Demons Behind You?

Maybe it’s time to grow up and let go of the past.

Posted Oct 15, 2017

luxorphoto/Shutterstock
Source: luxorphoto/Shutterstock

We all move through life with baggage from our past. Childhood wounds, traumatic events, the gap between the internal image we hold of ourselves and the one we show to others. To become fully adult, to feel that we are truly our own person, to not be haunted by the past or be stuck inside it, requires active steps to put those old demons to rest.

Generally, they arise from 3 interrelated sources.

1. Emotional wounds

This is your Achilles heel; everyone has one, and this is likely what entangles your relationships. Emotional wounds are what you are most sensitive to. The top contenders are criticism, control, not being heard, not being appreciated, not getting enough attention, and feeling abandoned. You can have one or a couple, but not 30.

When these spring up in everyday life — your boss dismisses your request for a raise, your partner doesn’t notice that you cleaned the apartment, your friend doesn’t respond to your text for six hours, your mother tells you why your outfit doesn’t look good on you, your colleague is condescending as she tells you how to fill out a work form — these wounds get ignited, and you generally respond with withdrawal, accommodation, or anger. However you respond, it still leaves you feeling little and hurt.

2. Lack of closure

Here we are talking about grudges, guilt, and grief — not letting go and getting easily, or constantly, drawn back into the past in your mind. It’s hard to shake, you relive it all too frequently in the present, and it interferes with your ability to see, appreciate, and change what is happening right now.

3. Shoulds and rules

You are stuck in the past, because you live with the rules that were imposed on you, rather than defining your own. Again, your little-kid brain is constantly struggling to do the right thing, but the right thing isn’t your thing, and you feel constantly guilty, and are constantly striving to get it right.

Putting those childhood demons to rest

Emotional wounds

Time to upgrade the old software of what you learned to do. Healing these wounds requires that you become more flexible and do what you couldn’t as a child. Whatever you couldn’t say to your parents, say it now to those around you in an adult way. Instead of withdrawing or accommodating, speak up. Instead of getting angry, use your anger as information to let others know what you need. Move against your grain and do the opposite of what you instinctively tend to do.

The starting point is recognizing your own wounds and your response, then taking deliberate behavioral steps to change it. Start anywhere, wherever and whenever you can tell you are stepping into that old emotional pothole, but start. It is not about the situation or the other guy, but about you breaking old patterns, not going on autopilot.

Closure

You need to separate the past and the present. Try this exercise: Whatever the situation or the person from the past that is haunting you, get closure by writing. You need to actually write three letters:

  • The first is addressed to the person you want to get closure with — the school bully, your deceased dad, that young and bad boyfriend. Say what you would want them most to hear if you had one hour to see them. Write it on paper, stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t worry about grammar; this is about venting, getting things off your chest.
  • For the second letter, write about what would they say back to you, based on what you know of them and their personality (e.g., I understand; it’s your fault; you never appreciated what I did for you, etc.). 
  • In the third letter, write what you ideally need to hear most – I’m sorry; I miss you; I'm proud of you; you don’t understand how troubled I was back then, etc.

The goal here is to say what you could not, to hear what you most need to hear, and to mentally and emotionally begin to separate your past from your present.

Shoulds

It's time to decide who you want to be as an adult, and stop trying to be the good copy of what your parents told you you needed to be. This is about giving up the rules and replacing them with values — the values you as an adult believe.

Write down 10 (or fewer) values that you hold dear, that can make you proud of your life, that you can build your life around. Go for the gut, not the head, to make sure they represent you and your vision of a life well lived.

What all of these actions have in common is separating past from present, shedding worn-out rules and ways that no longer fit, stepping back, and actively, consciously deciding how you want to live, what is important, and who you want to be. Do it now.