Why a lot of our flaws can be traced back to unresolved childhood issues

Couple having a disagreement at home [Courtesy]

About two months ago, I received an email from one of our readers. He, let’s call him Steve, said he was an ardent reader of Eve Magazine and wanted me to get our resident psychotherapist to help him figure out one issue that had been plaguing him.

Steve is in his mid-40s, has a good job as a mid-level manager in one of the global firms based in Nairobi and by his description, he is not the worst looking man in the city. But despite being financially sound and ‘well-cultured’ (his words, not mine), he can’t seem to keep a woman.

“And I am not what you would call stingy. I make it rain for my woman,” he wrote. Yet, somehow, the women always left him. From our email conversations, he seemed like a man who could carry on a conversation and even inject self-deprecating humour, a quality I know is attractive to many women. So, just like him, I was stumped. I asked him the next obvious question; what the most common complaint from the women was.

“I have been accused of not being affectionate. My last girlfriend said I didn’t know what it was like to love. That I am selfish. How can I be selfish when I give them all they need?”

He would then go on to reveal that his parents divorced when he was seven and had never really lived in a two-parent household.

Well, since I am no Chris Hart or any form of relationship expert, I promised that I would forward his question to the psychotherapist and wished him all the best. After forwarding the letter to the relationship expert, it all but slipped my mind until a few days ago when, in my rather eccentric choices of reading, I came across a relationship study that reminded me of Steve. The new study by Baylor University put quite a bit about Steve’s story into perspective.

The study, published last year, in summation, showed that children of divorced parents, in their adulthood, showed lower levels of oxytoxin hormone. Oxytoxin hormone is also called the ‘love hormone’. It is an integral component in bonding between two people. It is this same hormone that is released when a mother is breastfeeding her baby. It makes the two bond and triggers the letdown of milk. It is also released during sex, where it helps the sperm move. Research also shows that the more time one spends with their partner, the more oxytoxin is released. And the more oxytoxin you produce, the more you desire your partner.

Now see where the problem could lie in relationships if you produce less oxytoxin? Adults who had dealt with their parents’ divorce during their childhood were found to be less confident, more uncomfortable with closeness and were less secure in relationships -- all recipes for disastrous unions. These qualities also extended into their parenting style, which was described as less affectionate and lacking in warmth.

So while Steve was probably doing all he could in his relationships, he wasn’t accounting for the little fact that his parents might have royally and unwittingly screwed up his brain chemistry when they separated. What can Steve do now?

When I sent him the study, he would write back saying that reading through it was an ‘aha’ moment for him. That it was great to know that his flaws were not of his own doing.

“I am going to start therapy soon and work out how to rewire my brain…” he wrote.

“I don’t know if a therapist can rewire your brain,” I wrote back, hoping to dial back his expectations of therapy.

“I know,” he said. “But there may be some unresolved childhood issues there. And I am going to work on being more affectionate and caring in my relationships, now that I know they think I am a cold bastard.”

I would then ask him If I could publicly share his story, to which he responded that he was fine with it; I just needed to change his name.

Steve is many of us. One way or other, our childhoods have affected who we are. Some of us are afraid to go back to the crushing poverty that defined our childhoods, and so we hoard money and can’t stand the thought of spending it on much beyond the basics. Others will react to this same scenario by being spendthrifts. Those who were abused, physically or sexually, in their childhoods, tend to repeat the cycle on their own children. You will also meet those who have a strange relationship with food and their bodies because when they were younger, they were told that what they looked like made them worthy of love.

Like Steve, we are all walking wounded animals. And until we recognise the wounds as what they are, we can’t break out of the cycle. What we all need is just a big dose of self-awareness that lets us see the real ( wo)man in the mirror and lots of therapy.