I believe that childhood and adolescence is when our brains are making permanent formations and connections. Which means things like mental and emotional survival tactics, defense mechanisms, behavior, and beliefs are subconsciously being hardwired while we are living through these experiences. Others who grow up in more favorable lives will not have these skills hardwired and engrained.
There’s no easy way to put it. I grew up in a poor, blue collar family. I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if I lived in a town where everyone else was also poor and blue collar. Unfortunately for me, I grew up in the Silicon Valley. One of the richest areas on the planet, which meant the stark contrast of everyone’s wealth compared to my meager life was right there in my face on a daily basis. This alone was enough to create a rain cloud over any self conscious child growing up.
To further solidify that rain cloud, I also had parents who would fight constantly, a sometimes suicidal mother, and an older brother in and out of prison my whole life. Needless to say, there were hardships I had to endure in my childhood and I grew up with a rain cloud I could never seem to escape. While my particular set of circumstance may have been unique to me, I know there are other people out there with their own unique hardships and their own rain clouds from childhood.
While we are living through it, we don’t realize that it will have long term lasting effects on our mind and behavior. What I eventually discovered is that rain clouds like mine often have a silver lining. The key here is that result of these experiences can be negative OR positive, depending on your mental attitude. For example, you can give in to the victim mindset and let your life consume you or you can use your hardships to work for you and motivate you. They say you are the sum of all of your life experiences to this point and you wouldn’t be who you are without them. I couldn’t agree more.
To give you a personal example for me, when I was growing up my parents would have very bad (often alcohol induced and violent) fights. I learned from a young age to be able to pick up on very subtle changes in behavior. I became hyper aware and receptive of the cues and indicators of not only verbal and nonverbal communication, but also the general feeling or mood of the room. As an adult, I am very sensitive to other people’s emotions and empathy for me is natural and easy.
I am sensitive to subtle changes in people’s verbiage, tone of voice, body language, and mannerisms. This is because I subconsciously developed this skill as a survival tactic. Walking into my childhood home on any given day or time, I needed to be able to immediately sense everyone’s feelings and make a judgment if it was safe to stay or if I needed to leave. My childhood and adolescent brain had hardwired itself for protection.
However, I didn’t realize this until later in life. It took me a few years into my career in the tech industry before I discovered that my colleagues, who were highly educated, very intelligent, and often ivy league graduates, didn’t notice these types of things like I did. I had a natural skill engrained in my brain that could never be taught, even in top universities.
The hardships I endured when I was a child were now giving me an edge in my career. The rain cloud had a silver lining all along but only now was I able to recognize it for the first time. So the next time you are thinking negatively and feeling depressed about a current situation you are living through or something you have endured in your past, I encourage you to think about what skills or benefits you may have gained and look at them in a different light. You should now look at these as one of your strengths and figure out how to use these skills to your advantage.