As humans, we’re the sum of our experiences. Whether it’s from our culture, education, or past traumas, we store experiences that influence us in inexplicable ways. We file moments of discomfort deep in our minds and use them to protect us should something similar happen again.
Our past impacts our identity, mindset, and behaviors in more ways than we could ever imagine. But by increasing our awareness, staying curious, and exploring what makes us tick as human beings, we can shift this dynamic.
We can put ourselves in the driver’s seat and take back control of our mindsets, forging the futures we’ve always wanted.
Our core, human needs
No matter who you are, what you do, or your life experiences to date, there are three core needs constantly influencing your mindset and sense of self. These are:
- Am I safe?
- Am I loved?
- Am I enough?
Without even realizing it, these three core needs are driving your behaviors. And any time you feel triggered, it will come back to one of these. In a sense, you’ll be reacting to feeling unworthy, unloved, or unsafe in some way.
Humans are social beings, and a sense of belonging is crucial to us. It’s part of our survival strategy. Being part of a tribe affords us a sense of identity—whether our tribe is our family, social circle, relationship, or whatever groups we belong to. Our worst fear is being thrown out of the tribe.
As a result, we’ll strive to fit in. Some will go so far as to sell out on who they really are. They may sacrifice their authentic self by going along with what everyone else is doing or by not speaking out when something they don’t agree with is being said or done. And it’s all a trade we are prepared to make to keep the safety that being in the tribe provides us.
Coping strategies from childhood
We develop a whole host of coping strategies as we grow up—ways to fit in and stay safe, loved, and enough. Whenever we dealt with something new and uncomfortable, a strategy for survival was made. We developed awareness to avoid certain behaviors or experiences to prevent the discomfort, embarrassment, or fear associated with the past experience.
The problem is, as children, we don’t have fully formed brains yet. We’re not fully able to make sense of situations. It’s all about instincts—fight, flight, or freeze. The reasoning part of our brains doesn’t develop until much later. Our younger selves couldn’t process uncomfortable experiences with the logic, understanding, and context we have in later life. A traumatic experience was just that. It remains a fuzzy ball of unpleasant memories and emotions.
Let’s take the example of playing sports at school. A child makes a clumsy mistake—lets in a goal or drops a ball—and their friends tease them about it. The next day, they’re picked last in gym class. This will then be stored as an uncomfortable experience and something to be avoided in the future. Twenty years later, they may find themselves telling friends that they hated sports in school. And they’ll have no idea that this whole perspective was framed by some fleeting experience that had a lasting impact.
This is where staying curious about what drives you, exploring your mindset, and increasing your awareness can help. It enables you to move past an experience that’s tainted and has framed your behaviors, giving you access to a new way of being.
The key to taking back control is to learn to catch yourself. If you feel yourself reacting to something—maybe it’s a negative comment from a friend or family member—question which of your core needs is being triggered and what past experience you might be reacting from.
With time and practice, you can unlearn these patterns and habits. You’ll learn to separate yourself from your past and to just be yourself in the present moment. No more reacting from the position of the self-conscious little child who felt insecure in gym class.
This process will show you how to take ownership of your mindset and sever the hold your past has on you. This will calm the scared child who’s been running the show and open up a more positive, successful, and fulfilling future for you.