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Building strength of character in childhood

22nd Aug 2016

One thing I've realized over the years is that the the cause of many of my insecurities and lack of self-belief in certain situations stems back to my experiences as a child.

I grew up in a household run along south Indian cultural lines, in that talking back to one's elders, throwing tantrums and refusing to to as you were told were absolute no-no's. I even lived for a few years in India, and at that time teachers in school were allowed and expected to hit you with a cane or their hand if you did something naughty. And I regularly got beats, as did most other kids except the ones who were total teacher's pets.

All in all, respect for authority, respect for one's elders and doing as one was told were the mantras of the day, and I don't remember ever speaking out of turn, raising my voice at an elder or doing anything really wild and/or crazy that would get me noticed for the wrong reasons. Furthermore, I was a "good" kid. I studied hard, got good grades, stayed out of trouble and generally got on with most people.

What I didn't handle so well was confrontation. Looking back now, I can see that never being able to truly express my own voice at home - especially when what I might have said wouldn't have been what people wanted to hear - meant that I wasn't used to doing this in general. And because I was the youngest I didn't have any authority, and I never felt empowered. Thus when there were situations where somebody was bullying me or where somebody was being confrontational, I didn't have the inner self-belief to know that I could handle it.

I was scared. I wanted to avoid confrontation, especially the kind that physically threatened me. Now of course, this is a natural reaction for most people. But what bothered me was that within myself I knew I had such low self-belief to the point that if things got heated - e.g. if somebody started hitting me - I wouldn't be able to fight them off effectively. And indeed, with my cousin this is pretty much what happened. He would bully me, knowing that I wasn't physically able to fight him off. And knowing this about me only emboldened him further. Over time, as he grew a bit older things calmed down. And years later he apologized to me for those times. But for me I was always bothered by the fact that I was so weak in the first place.

For years I thought it was just naturally who I was. And yet since then I've pushed myself into doing a lot of things that I thought were not possible for me, I've experienced a sense of self-belief, power and certainty through working on aspects of myself, and I've seen the effects of these changes on the people who interact with me. So I got thinking again...was this all just who I naturally was or did I just not have the seminal experiences needed to be a stronger person when I was younger?

I'm beginning to think it's the latter. Of course, to a certain level the type of person each of us becomes is based on who our innate personality. But all humans have the ability to love, hate, hug, fight, deliberate, throw caution to the wind, etc. And our ability with each trait varies. But, we can develop our ability to express each of these traits.

Once I realized this I started to believe in myself more. Because I realized that it didn't matter whether I sucked at standing up for myself and/or handling confrontational people. With time and effort I could get better at it - which isn't a thought I'd had before.

It also made me think about the importance of developing one's inner strength during childhood. Mental problems and personality traits you develop during your younger years tend to become more ingrained as you get older and become an adult, unless you do things or experience enough situations which help to develop and maintain different thought patterns in your mind. I can work on my confidence and self-belief now and make a positive change, but it would have been even better if I'd made such a conscious effort when I was a kid. But of course, I didn't know any better then. That goes for most of us.

If I'm bringing up kids, I should take care to ensure that they get to express themselves fully, develop their own inner strength, and most importantly develop a self-belief that isn't based on being validated by the people around them. Loyalty, discipline, respect for elders - these values I was imbued with when I was growing up - are all good, but mustn't be cherished at the expense of a child's own personality, strength of character and confidence.