I was reading this morning about the development of self.  At what stages of our life we begin to recognize ourselves as separate, and also how we begin to define that self, both socially and internally. The information was absolutely riveting!  In sharing, I am hopeful that, like me, you will begin to recognize just how deeply our beliefs are ingrained in us, and why it can seem so difficult to shift habitual patterns that are no longer serving us.

In reading about the development of the self-system, or how we come to determine our sense of self, I found myself completely in awe of the concept of social referencing; “the baby’s adjustment of reactions depending on the feedback provided by the caregiver – also implies recognition of the separateness of the other… Social referencing demonstrates how transactional the self-development process really is.  The child uses the caregiver’s emotions to discern meaning in events and to intuit information about the self” (Corey, 2013, p. 173).  This self-referencing is happening late in the first year of life (Corey, 2013).  Perhaps you noticed what I noticed when I was reading this quote; “the child uses the caregiver’s emotions to discern meaning…”  By the end of our first year of life, we are discerning meaning about our interactions, and we are using those meanings to help develop our sense of self!  Humor me; picture your one-year-old self.  Now, please begin to consider that the beliefs you formed, in your still developing one-year-old mind, became the etchings of your consciousness that likely still influences your beliefs and habitual patterns today.  Logically, if I ask you if you would let a one-year-old determine how you feel about yourself as an adult, I suspect all answers would be a resounding “No!”  However, what that child began to etch into their conscience about who you are has influenced how you have interacted with the world, others, and yourself to this very day.  Do you believe that you are worthy of time, attention, affection?  Do you believe that you are funny, clever, aware, capable?  The inklings of these concepts, or beliefs, started with that one-year-old.

Now, obviously, in a one-year-old’s mind, these concepts are not fully capitulated.  Rather, our interactions with the world around us are shaping who we believe ourselves to be.  A child whose smile is met with a returned smile begins to feel good about themselves; they begin to develop a sense of belonging, or ‘rightness’.A child whose caregivers are distracted may not get that return smile as consistently, and that can create a sense of worry or doubt about their ‘rightness’.  I marvel at this because even reading those two examples likely created a feeling in you about which child you were.  We have been shaping ourselves for a very long time now, and for me, the question then becomes – am I shaped into the person I choose to become, or am I still shaped into the person I thought I had to become?

So, what about emotions?  Where do they tie into all of this? I discovered that we begin to experience the emotions of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and pride by the end of our second year of life (Corey, 2015). Perhaps that idea blew your mind like it did mine!  What would a two and a half-year-old need to feel shameful about?  “Self-conscious emotions are the growth of emotions linked to violations of standards for everyday behavior” (Corey, 2015, p. 177).  If we focus on guilt and shame, and how they are different, these might bring about an awakening, as well.  A situation occurs like you spilled a glass of milk – if you feel guilty, you are thinking, “I did a bad thing.”  However, if this situation occurs and you feel shame, you are thinking, “I am a bad person.”  These are very different experiences based on the meaning we project onto them about who we are; who our self is.  Likely these were reinforced either by our caregivers or even by ourselves; looking to prove that what we ‘know’ to be true about our self actually is.  

That one-year-old that gets the consistent smile is more likely to view themselves as guilty for spilling a glass of milk, than the one-year-old who holds doubt about themselves from inconsistent responses; that child will more likely feel shame.  So, what now?  You’re a grown adult!  Well, now you have the true choice from a matured mind.  The task now is to identify which voices are louder in your head when you engage with life and to begin to recognize where there is incongruence between who you are and who you want to be.

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