The room fell silent. My comment hit a nerve. The discussion was so heated that we could barely hear what any of us was saying, but the truth that comment bore hit home. Over the years, I have wondered why people choose to live in oblivion, evading the obvious that is reality. We learn. We live and we learn. Whoever came up with this phrase must have truly understood the concept of life. From birth to death, every moment is a learning process.
Social scientists base human beings’ acquisition of knowledge on empiricism and rationalism.
Now, empiricists — what I partly consider myself to be — believe that when a child is born, their brain is just but a blank slate, what they call tabula rasa (Locke 1690). That whatever we do from birth is learned. Rationalists, on the other hand, believe that humans have the innate ability to be who they are. We are biologically defined and predisposed to act and behave the way we do. (Markie & Peter 2017).
The founding fathers of psychology and whose intensive work has been borrowed by other disciplines eons on end, believed that human behavior is learned and one can be taught behavior through reinforcement, conditioning and repetition. So before I lose you in all this factual mumbo jumbo, I would want you to pick a side, build your argument as we proceed.
I agree with Rationalists when it comes to matters physiological, the pleasure principle if you may. Feeling of hunger, how to eat, when to use the restroom, all these are things that we cannot learn. However, how we feel, what we choose to react to, how we view the world is biased and most often than not rooted in our past experiences, childhood experiences carrying the lions share.
Most counselors and therapists base client issues on childhood experiences because extensive research has shown that our personality is to a large extent determined by our childhood. (Adler 1938). Whatever we perceived and stored in our minds as children has a huge impact on who we turn out to be. Most violent and abusive people act so because they were introduced to violence at a very early age. The opposite is also true. Children raised in a calm, loving environment, often grow up to be adults who choose to see the good in the world. They settle for less violent ways in solving problems and are often in control of their reactions.
It is hard to unlearn a behavior after you consider it a norm. Be it good or bad. How we build relationships, our work ethic, how we self motivate, our driving force and passion, all these, I believe, are determined by our childhood. It is important to introspect, to sit and think about behaviors and things you might have carried with you from your childhood. Unwarranted hatred for all men/women, fear of failure that leads to stagnation, feelings of worthlessness that were gradually implanted in you by your family: narcissism and extreme grandiosity. These are elements that we were not born with, but, that stuck onto us as we moved through life.
We learned. Continuous exposure to bulks of negative stimuli can result in mental illness when one becomes an adult. Failure to deal with mal adaptive behaviors as they slowly develop makes us more susceptible to mental health issues. Self awareness can be a stepping stone. Question yourself more, challenge your thought process. It is hard to unlearn a behavior; nonetheless, it is not impossible. Treat whatever you feed your mind as priority and filter out what needs not be there ; and remember that it is okay to ask for help.