We’re all aware that who we become is shaped by the experiences that we go through in life.
For good and for bad, that means what happens in our childhood lingers well into adulthood.
In fact, difficult memories can feel like they haunt us, no matter how hard we try to shake them off or move on.
The famous neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud believed that our personality develops during early childhood as we progress through certain phases.
He thought that those experiences as children shape not only our personalities but also much of our behavior as adults.
If you recognize these 7 behaviors, Freud might say it’s down to challenges in childhood.
1) You’re always beating yourself up
Here’s a very brief crash course in psychoanalytic theory:
According to Freud personality is composed of three elements known as the id (pleasure-seeking), the ego (conscious thinking), and the superego (moral compass).
They all come together to shape who we are.
We develop them as we pass through different stages in childhood, which we’ll look at in more detail later.
Being unable to move past any particular phase results in certain psychological challenges later in life.
For example, low self-esteem.
Let’s say you have really critical parents, where nothing you say or do feels right.
In Freud’s eyes, this will lead you to develop a super strict superego that is very self-judgemental, harsh, and unforgiving.
Or perhaps during the development of your ego as a child, you didn’t get the praise and recognition you needed.
This too can lead to insecurity later in life as you never feel worthy.
2) It’s tough for you to open up
Okay, so it’s hard for all of us to open up.
Vulnerability is uncomfortable, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s also essential if we are to form intimate connections with others.
If we don’t let people in, they can’t get to know the real us.
Keeping others at arm’s length can become a defense mechanism when we feel like it is an unsafe thing to do.
If you learned in childhood that relationships are painful, this may be an unconscious habit that you learn in order to cope.
Freud thought that the quality of our relationships in our younger years goes on to shape how we form adult connections.
This especially becomes problematic if your emotional needs aren’t met as a child. You then begin to fear intimacy in later life.
3) You overeat or drink too much
According to Freud, the very first stage of development that we enter is the ‘oral stage’.
This is as babies when we are bottle feeding or breastfeeding, and it’s characterized by a fixation around the mouth.
When you think about it, babies often explore the world by chewing, nibbling, and placing things in their mouths.
During this stage, we’re ruled by what Freud refers to as our ID. It’s the instinctive and animalistic part of us that’s only interested in instant gratification.
The thinking is that if we get our needs met, then we’ll sail through this passing phase. But if we don’t, as adults we may develop some undesirable habits or addictions:
- Dependency on alcohol or smoking
- Compulsive talking
According to Freud, these oral activities help to bring comfort, and so they are what someone turns to when they feel bored, uncomfortable, or nervous.
4) You’re a control freak
Freud believed it is during the next so-called ‘anal stage’ of childhood development that we learn self-control.
It’s this phase where he believed the ego is developed. But if a child has controlling caregivers, this can create problems later.
The child learns to be rigid and can develop a fear of being out of control.
That might show up in things like:
- An obsession with neatness and tidiness (that perhaps spills over into OCD)
- An intense need for organization and order
- Being controlling of others
But growing up in a super relaxed household isn’t much better according to Freud, as we’ll see next.
5) You struggle to take any responsibility
On the other end of the spectrum is someone who was never been taught discipline during the development of their ego.
Their caregivers were lax in teaching self-control.
Perhaps there were never consequences, or the parents didn’t show any real responsibility themselves.
In this case, you might find you have an inclination towards:
- Being messy
- Struggling to stay organized
- Being irresponsible
6) You get caught up in toxic masculinity
If some of Freud’s more out there theories are new to you, then you might want to hold on to your hats for this one as it’s pretty wild.
Okay, here goes!
Freud believed that boys growing up go through a phase where they feel in direct competition with their dads.
Specifically over their mother’s love.
He names it the Oedipus complex after Greek mythology of a tragic figure who murdered his father and married his own mother.
At some point, boys supposedly learn that they won’t win, and instead opt to imitate their father rather than try to replace them.
But if they don’t learn masculinity in this way, they always feel threatened by it.
That insecurity reveals itself in toxic ideas around masculinity.
For example, becoming a man who constantly feels the need to woo women, or prove his masculinity through violence and trying to dominate other men.
7) You are a loner
It’s not all about our parents and caregivers. As we get older the outside world also impacts how we grow as children.
Between the ages of 6 and 11 years, Freud said our focus starts to shift away from our family unit towards our peers.
He called this phase the ‘latent phase’ and believed it was when we learn social skills and build our confidence.
If you are bullied or struggle to make friends this can cause you to withdraw.
As an adult, that may manifest in shyness, deep introversion, loneliness, or mistrust towards others.
We should take some of Freud’s thinking with a pinch of salt
Psychodynamic theory can offer a useful framework from which to explore human nature on a deeper level. Plenty of aspects do seem to make sense.
It’s fair to say that during his time, Freud’s ideas were groundbreaking and prompted a huge amount of research.
Freud was clearly right in his belief that our childhood (and particularly any trauma we suffer) can go on to influence us in adulthood.
But as you’ve also probably spotted by now, many of the details of some of his theories don’t hold much weight in the modern world. Particularly his rather controversial Oedipus complex!
The latest research also suggests that children are pretty resilient, and a challenging childhood certainly doesn’t have to lead to a difficult adulthood.
Either way, it is always interesting to pause and consider the reasons behind how we are. This can lead to greater self-knowledge and self-awareness.