This post today was inspired by a discussion I had with a colleague of mine regarding adults’ influence on the development of a child’s personality. Then it so happened that the next chapter in Bertrand Russell’s book which I am currently reading, The Conquest of Happiness, was related to affection. I was simply amazed by what I was reading and decided I could not have worded it better, neither order it more clearly. And all this made me think about how adults are perpetually influenced by what they experienced during childhood.
It is not only a child’s parents that should be considered in the development of a child’s personality, but other adults who represent authority in his life as well, for example grandparents, other relatives or teachers. I was telling my colleague about something I had read in a book, but I have also discovered from my own experience that this hypothesis (let us call it that) actually proves to be true.
Children, throughout most of their life, tend to recreate and relive the models of affection they got used to during their first years. Sometimes the adults do not even realize how much they can influence the course of a life or how much damage they can do to a child who will once become an adult. Most of the times they do it unwillingly. But the truth is children cannot distinguish between genuine affection and the lack of it. They cannot make a difference between a lot of love and less love. They only have one “label” that they put on any kind of attitude of their parents’: love. The sad truth is that once they are adults, most of them will still be unable to make this distinction. Or they will start to feel the consequences of the lack of affection and will begin to look for it and try as hard as possible to find it.
But this experience from childhood will only bring negative feelings and a negative attitude towards the self, towards the others and probably even towards life in general. This only makes these people think they should seek affection everywhere and anywhere; they would even accept abusive relationships with a partner who does not give them the genuine affection they need, who neglects their feelings and their needs, who does not appreciate them, finally, who is by their side for all the wrong reasons. They will accept other people always being one step ahead of them because they think they do not deserve better. And how could someone be self-confident and think they deserve good things to happen to them, when the first people who were supposed to trust them and give them affection did not do it or did not know how to do it properly?
So what do we do with these people? Do we keep pushing them aside because their lack of self-confidence and pessimism is even annoying? That would only continue to build frustration within their minds. Of course nobody wants to be someone else’s Messiah and dedicate their whole time to fixing someone else’s personal image, but we can at least encourage them to show us their real self (these people are generally introverts and extremely precocious with whom they show their real character to) and try to show them there is a place for them too in this big world.
What should these people do with themselves and for themselves then? Stop seeing oneself as the plague of the world, first. Stop accepting being around people who actually do not care if you or someone else is by their side and who cannot appreciate who you are. Any kind of relationship that does not bring out the good in you should be avoided. People who really like you the way you are will not try to change you, to always put the blame on you and will not make you one of their last thoughts.
One of the most important things I have learned so far is that there is so much to do in this life that being depressed, constantly putting yourself down, accepting to have the crumbles of someone else’s dinner is actually a real waste of time. So get up, find something interesting to do (even if it is just a way to forget about yourself at first) and explore new sides of your personality!
Before I end this, I also wanted to share Bertrand Russell’s text as I find it simply brilliant. Do not miss the chance to read the whole book if you ever get one.
“One of the chief causes of lack of zest is the feeling that one is unloved, whereas conversely the feeling of being loved promotes zest more than anything else does. A man may have the feeling of being unloved for a variety of reasons. He may consider himself such a dreadful person that no one could possibly love him; he may in childhood have had to accustom himself to receiving less love than fell to the share of other children; or he may in fact be a person whom nobody loves. But in this latter event the cause probably lies in a lack of self-confidence due to early misfortune. The man who feels himself unloved may take various attitudes as a result. He may make desperate efforts to win affection, probably by means of exceptional acts of kindness. In this, however, he is very likely to be unsuccessful, since the motive of the kindnesses is easily perceived by their beneficiaries, and human nature is so constructed that it gives affection most readily to those who seem least to demand it. The man, therefore, who endeavours to purchase affection by benevolent actions becomes disillusioned by experience of human ingratitude. It never occurs to him that the affection which he is trying to buy is of far more value than the material benefits which he offers as its price, and yet the feeling that this is so is at the basis of his actions. Another man, observing that he is unloved, may seek revenge upon the world, either by stirring up wars and revolutions, or by a pen dipped in gall, like Dean Swift. This is an heroic reaction to misfortune, requiring a force of character sufficient to enable a man to pit himself against the rest of the world. Few men are able to reach such heights; the great majority, both of men and women, if they feel themselves unloved, sink into a timid despair relieved only by occasional gleams of envy and malice. As a rule, the lives of such people become extremely self-centred, and the absence of affection gives them a sense of insecurity from which they instinctively seek to escape by allowing habit to dominate their lives utterly and completely. For those who make themselves the slaves of unvarying routine are generally actuated by fear of a cold outer world, and by the feeling that they will not bump into it if they walk along the same paths that they have walked along on previous days.
General self-confidence towards life comes more than anything else from being accustomed to receive as much of the right sort of affection as one has need for. And it is this habit of mind considered as a source of zest that I wish to speak about in the present chapter.
It is affection received, not affection given, that causes this sense of security, though it arises most of all from affection which is reciprocal. Strictly speaking, it is not only affection but also admiration that has this effect.
The child whose parents are fond of him accepts their affection as a law of nature. He does not think very much about it, although it is of great importance to his happiness. He thinks about the world, about the adventures that come his way and the more marvelous adventures that will come his way when he is grown up. But behind all these external interests there is the feeling that he will be protected from disaster by parental affection. The child from whom for any reason parental affection is withdrawn is likely to become timid and unadventurous, filled with fears and self-pity, and no longer able to meet the world in a mood of gay exploration. Such a child may set to work at a surprisingly early age to meditate on life and death and human destiny. He becomes an introvert, melancholy at first, but seeking ultimately the unreal consolations of some system of philosophy or theology. The world is a higgledy-piggledy place, containing things pleasant and things unpleasant in haphazard sequence. And the desire to make an intelligible system or pattern out of it is at bottom an outcome of fear, in fact a kind of agoraphobia or dread of open spaces. Within the four walls of his library the timid student feels safe. If he can persuade himself that the universe is equally tidy, he can feel almost equally safe when he has to venture forth into the streets. Such a man, if he had received more affection, would have feared the real world less, and would not have had to invent an ideal world to take its place in his beliefs”.