It’s no secret we all have experiences as a child which fundamentally shape the way we emotionally approach life as adults. If you think about most inner healing ministries, there seems to be a sole emphasis on identifying the moment a lie was born, or what caused a certain belief system we have. In my opinion, this is only part of the equation. What seems to be less talked about is how our environment shapes our internal reality as adults too.
The environment can be just as important, if not more so at times than the experiences. A lie is not always formed from a particular experience, it can slowly creep into your heart because of what you’re regularly exposed to. It’s like having white noise in the background, except this white noise is instilling fear or belief that you created in response to it.
How Our Environment Plays A Role
It’s the unspoken looks, the expectations, and potential consequences that can create a certain standard for us growing up. Even if it’s a destructive, unsafe, and chaotic normal. If the normal for a girl is to see her mom have a new boyfriend every six months, she will start to adopt certain beliefs around what she’s regularly exposed to.
Children adapt to survive, feel safe, or avoid pain. The environment we have lays a foundation because it’s natural to respond in a way that helps create safety of any kind. The only problem is the security we feel from a reaction is a false one. It often keeps us safe in environments but is the very thing which creates problems for us when we grow up.
Here are some examples of what this can look like:
For a woman: I didn’t have any emotional connection with my dad as a child. It wasn’t that he abused me. He just didn’t validate any of my emotions, and I never felt understood. As an adult, I get that need met by flirting with boys. When I flirt, I get attention, which makes me feel seen (which I didn’t get from dad) Even if the attention they give is for the wrong reasons. At any cost, I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to keep their attention. It won’t matter if it violates my core values as long as I find what I didn’t get growing up.
For men or women: I was wasn’t included when my siblings played games and rejected as a child, so I expect rejection. As an adult, I become co-dependant out of a fear of being rejected. I become clingy and over needy because I don’t want feel left out of anything they are doing. This eventually ruins the relationship and validates that I’m not lovable and deserve being rejected.
These are just a few examples of how consistent and unspoken messages cause a lot of damage down the road. We find experiences which validate a lie we started to believe in response to our surroundings. It creates a compound effect that further solidifies and affirms what you believe to be true about yourself or other people.
Ways To Identify Unhealthy Childhood Environments
This is actually something that can be good to do with a close friend. I’ll explain in the following steps why.
Write out what expectations you grew up with – Everyone is different. It could be something as simple as, you were expected to make your bed, take out the trash, and do your homework. OR It could be something more in line with the expectation to help your alcoholic parent get up in time for their job, or you were the one who had to essentially raise your siblings because you had a single parent and it was your “role” in the family. The goal here is to flush out what your normal was.
Talk to a trusted friend – Once you’ve written them out, take them to a friend you know and trust. This is where it would be good to have your friend do the same thing. When they do, you’re able to see what was normal to you was probably very different from someone else.
Identify the lies – Once you have flushed out what your environment looked like, ask Holy Spirit, a close friend, or yourself what lies you created from being exposed to that normal. This is just my opinion, but I’d go with Holy Spirit. He’s much better at identifying the real root then you or a friend. 😉
Break partnership with the lie – Call it out! You have power in your declarations. Once you have found the lie that is holding you back, take authority and declare it no longer gets to have any equity in your life.
Side note for this point – Once you break partnership with a lie, you still have to walk out a different reality. It may feel like you are still struggling, but in reality, you’re walking away from an unhealthy belief… Once you’ve believed a lie for a long time. It takes time to make the truth a new normal.
Declare and Share – What is the truth??! Again, ask Holy Spirit what the truth is that counters the lie. When you identify the truth, it’s time to own it. How do you do that? The best way (and often scariest) is to share your new truth with at least 2-3 people. They can join you in walking out that truth, and it forces you to bring the lie out of hiding.
I’m all for going after particular moments that shape our lives, but I think it’s an injustice to dismiss the role our environment plays. It’s important you look at how environments form the way you emotionally respond to people in your life.
The Challenge: Do the exercise above, even if you don’t feel this has much validity. You may be surprised at what you discover. Be sure to walk through the steps with a friend or two. It will require vulnerability, but you’ll find out what areas of your heart have been affected by the norms you were exposed to as a child.
Disclaimer: The goal of this post is to spark a conversation. Together, both the environment and distinct memories play a part in what becomes our inner dialogue. When it comes to inner healing I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg.