Certain elements of our personality formed during childhood develop a life of their own. Their original purpose might have served to please a parent, for example, and later in adult life evolve into qualities whose motives and purpose change even though the behavior remains the same.
Bryan was raised by a strict father in a family of three boys. No matter how hard he tried, he never felt what he did to please his father was good enough. Fast forward many years later: Bryan is a very devoted young husband and father. Despite his due diligence, however, he often feels he isn’t doing enough and whenever his wife criticizes him, even when it is justified, he takes it personally.
In therapy, Bryan learned that even though the behaviors to please his father he learned as a child had created a lot of anxiety and self-doubt, they served him well as an adult as a diligent and devoted father and husband. They had gained functional autonomy inasmuch as what once served to gain approval and secure feelings of self-worth had evolved in function to being a husband supporting a family.
Thereby the purpose of Bryan’s devoted behavior, to serve others, in this case his family, had become autonomous from its origins in childhood to obtain a sense of security and self-worth for himself. This evolution in function from its original purpose reflects Bryan’s development as a person, from childhood insecurity to responsible adult.
Gaining insight about this evolution in function from eagerness to please toward that of fostering a secure and healthy family enabled Bryan to realize how his reactions to his wife’s constructive criticism were influenced by his relationship with his father and thus less about his wife’s perceptions of him as a father and husband. This realization on Bryan’s part gave him greater confidence in himself as well as an appreciation for all he did for his family. His greater self-worth enabled him to put criticisms in more proper perspective so that they no longer created the anxiety and self-doubt they once did.
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Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
Robert Hamm Ph.D