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My Childhood Was Not the Best but It Made Me Who I Am Today

by Fatihah Hashim. |

In every person, there’s an inner child who shaped us as an adult. This essence comes from our childhood experiences. I think it is fair to say that childhood trauma is one of the greatest challenges for us to overcome. This is because it is in the early stages of our cognitive development when we are still figuring out how to socialise and build a sense of self.

I still remember the agony I felt when a boy in my Standard 1 class slapped my bottom as a joke and on another occasion of the embarrassment, I felt walking to the principal’s office for not finishing my homework. Although they were just minor incidents, those experiences made me who I am today.

My childhood was not the easiest stage of my life. Being in one of the best primary schools means compliments did not come easy from teachers and parents. It was hard to feel accomplished when there were always other students who could do things ten times better than you could. Even friendships were built on what you could provide in climbing up the social ladder. In contrast to most people, my childhood was a time of constant battle to find my own worth. There were a few things I had struggled with during that time:

1. Education

Academic pressure is something most Asians can relate to. We were brought up to think that education is everything--thus, young and impressionable children were indoctrinated to view grades as a reflection of their self-worth and the quality of their future. I was not an exception to that experience. I remember how some of the teachers and parents in my school were so obsessed with our grades to the point that some of them tried to obtain leaked UPSR questions from their ‘networks’ for us. Sadly, seeing schools and even tuition centres do this for important examinations was not something foreign in my experience.

However, I realise that due to this high pressure, I have developed habits of working really hard to achieve my goals as well as mental resilience in handling difficult tasks. I am usually ready to do a high amount of work when tackling a task and I am not dependent on other people’s validation as a source of motivation because it was ingrained in my system to think like that since childhood.

2. Self-esteem

Children develop their confidence based on their ability to conquer challenges handed to them as well as moral support from the people around them. However, when they fail to meet certain expectations, it is important for adults to highlight their strengths on top of giving constructive criticism. I was not given the privilege of those moral boosts at that time. This made me believe that I was lesser than my peers for a huge chunk of my childhood. However, as I grew up and learned to value my self-worth, I now see this past wound as a blessing in disguise.

Since I am pursuing a career in education, I now understand what I can do to help struggling students to build their self-esteem. On top of that, I believe an unshakable sense of self-worth is usually developed through our ability to overcome failure and not through praises or recognition. You should never let your self-worth be determined by anyone other than yourself.

3. Friendship

When you’re placed in a very competitive school that compares your performance with your peers, it affects the way you look at friendship. Not all children are mature enough to clap for their friends’ successes when it is also essentially used by adults around them to reflect their own weaknesses. I was that immature kid, all of my childhood friends were that kid.

As I grew older, I realised two things: one; I was a bad friend and two; it is important for adults to enlighten children that the pursuit of knowledge is an individual journey and not a competition. If the focus is shifted towards cultivating an interest in knowledge instead, I believe children will be able to build better friendships with their peers in school and become better collaborators in learning.

4. Familial Support

Contrary to my school environment, I am grateful that my parents were not totally engrossed in my academic achievement. However, I didn't really have strong moral support for the overall development of a child. Simple words of encouragement can go a long way in giving your kids motivation during hard times. However, I understand that they did the best that they could have done given their circumstances. In my opinion, a lot of baby boomers, as a result of a post-war era, tend to focus on survival skills and are less in touch with the psychological development of a person. Thus, that is what they emphasised on when raising children.

So if your parents were anything like mine, their way of showing love is by ensuring that you are provided with the essentials that you need to survive. If you had food to eat, a roof on top of your head and clothes on your back, best believe that they have communicated their love to you. Now what we can do as adults is to honour the form of love our parents had given us and learn the love languages we should use which suit our children’s generation.

I would love to point out that this article is not of a list of issues to dwell on, but instead, I hope we can all learn to deal with our inner child wounds and grow as adults. I believe all of us have gone through some sort of challenging phase in life. It is tempting to put the blame on others, but what would help you to move forward as a better person is to forgive your past and own up to the situation. Taking full accountability for the unfortunate situations in your life will help you discover new sets of strengths that you never thought existed in you.

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