The idea of a “difficult childhood” is perceived by people as something terrible. Most psychologists pay attention only to negative consequences of a difficult childhood such as psychological traumas, a lack of self-confidence, as well as other unpleasant things. However, a group of scientists decided to look at this topic from a different angle and the result of their research showed that people who had difficult times when growing up had a number of advantages over those who grew up in a good environment.
At Bright Side, we carefully studied the conclusions these scientists found and would like to cheer up those who think their childhood was difficult because it’s actually not that bad. If you are aware of your advantages and know how to use them, you can live your life as a successful person and not as an eternal victim.
We all know stories about people that used to have difficult childhoods and managed to become famous thanks to their artistic skills. Scientists from California decided to learn more about this correlation. They surveyed 234 people in artistic professions such as musicians, dancers, actors, designers, and singers about their childhoods and then divided those surveyed into 3 groups depending on how tough their childhoods were. Turned out, that people from the third group who called their childhood very difficult were more prone to anxiety and shame. But at the same time, they were able to give themselves to art completely, plunging headfirst into their creative processes. Art was giving them the strength to change their lives for the better.
A rich fantasy can help people think up things that other people aren’t able to. Psychologist Ian Morgan Cron says, “People who haven’t suffered are as interesting as shrubbery.” He thinks that one can’t learn anything valuable from communicating with people who never had a negative experience.
According to the observations of scientists, people who have experienced significant upheavals at an early age often live on “quick strategy”. It means that they choose immediate benefits or profits that are available right here and now without even thinking that waiting for some time would give them even more benefits.
There is a popular experiment that proves this and it’s called “The Stanford marshmallow experiment”. In this experiment, one marshmallow is placed in front of a kid. They are told that if they wait for 15 minutes and don’t eat the marshmallow, they’ll get one more; if they eat it now, they won’t get anything. A normal child growing up in a stable and pleasant environment is ready to wait because they see it as a wise decision. But from the point of view of a child growing in unpredictable conditions, it’s better to eat the marshmallow right away as long as adults haven’t changed their mind, or until someone else takes it, or some other unpredictable unpleasantness happens. And they are right as well.
The “quick strategy” often prompts teenagers to start their sexual life early, they usually become parents earlier and their future seems more anxiety-ridden than the future of kids who come from rich families. And very often it’s this “quick strategy” that helps them to not get confused and step back into hardship.
When a child grows up in adverse conditions, their psyche starts to adapt to stress quickly. As a result, they get skills thanks to which they can easily adjust to changes and can find a way out of any situation. The professor of psychology named Bruce Ellis (The University of Utah) pointed out the presence of cognitive flexibility — the ability to differentiate important things from not important ones as well as the ability to concentrate only on important things in such people.
Jean Marie Bianchi, a colleague of Dr.Ellis, thinks that people who have grown up in unpredictable conditions have well-developed associative thinking — they can easily see the correlation between different objects and events and always consider various courses of events.
Here is an example: 2 gamers got the wrong instructions to a computer game. The first one who grew up in good conditions kept acting according to the instructions and became more and more puzzled because they were used to thinking that rules were always right. The second one, who has grown up in an unstable environment, wasn’t afraid to take risks and tried to find new solutions. They are well aware that rules can change depending on a situation.
Norepinephrine is a hormone that helps us identify danger. It is produced when we encounter something unexpected or frightening. According to the research of a clinical psychologist and neurobiologist, Ian Robertson, norepinephrine affects the brain positively in moderate doses — it improves the memory and the ability to learn. People that have had difficult childhoods can recognize danger faster than others and instantly start finding ways to avoid it.
Therefore, a medium (but not high) level of stress can be useful for the body. Moreover, teenage girls mature faster thanks to stress — that’s a conclusion a group of scientist from Stanford University came to. Surprisingly, this correlation hasn’t been spotted in boys.
Chiraag Mittal, a scientist from Texas University, came to the following conclusion: kids that have grown up in difficult environments have better memories. This updates very quickly — useful and old information easily gets forgotten and is replaced with new and useful information. However, these kinds of kids remember mostly negative events and people who have treated them badly. It helps them to protect themselves in the future.
Also, most people that endured a difficult childhood have highly developed empathy and are able to read and understand the feelings and emotions of others. They make good psychologists and can understand what’s happening inside another person with just one look.
“We are nothing but stories we tell about ourselves ”.
We can’t change our past but we can look at it from a different angle. One of the dangers that appears with those who’ve had difficult childhoods is the tendency to always expect something bad and to not believe in better. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and blaming psychological traumas from childhood for your failures, it’s better to try to focus on something positive. And an exercise created by the psychotherapist Ian Morgan Cron can help greatly.
Once he asked one of the patients during group therapy to tell the story of their life within 5 minutes so that everyone would understand that they were a victim. After finishing the conversation, Cron asked them to tell the same story so that the listeners understood that they were a hero. The patient didn’t believe it at first and said, “Is that possible?” Cron answered, “Sure!”
Therefore, you can focus your mind on the bright sides of your life without neglecting previous experiences.
How has your childhood affected you? Please tell us about it in the comments!
Illustrated by Alena Tsarkova for BrightSide.me