So, what we learn depends partly on the answers we got to the
questions we asked. In those early years, we learned how to
label many different things, including abstract things like
our emotions. Some of which we have never redefined. That is
pretty amazing. I mean, now, as an adult, would you trust a
Psychology has described how we learn by connecting things
together. As a result of our individual experiences, particular
thoughts, emotions and behaviours become associated with one
another; from these associations we form the mental maps, emotional
links and behavioural response patterns that determine our reactions
to both familiar and new experiences. We tend to repeat these
cycles until we do something to break them.
It is only by exploring and releasing emotions, challenging
and modifying thoughts and beliefs, or substituting alternative
behaviours, that we can interrupt maladaptive cycles and update
outmoded or no longer appropriate learned responses.
The psychoanalytical model agrees with this and describes how
our template or blueprint for action, feeling and response in
relationships was probably set in the first few years of life,
so by tracing current emotions and behaviour back to past experiences
and events we can reveal the origin of particular habits and
responses. What we learned has stuck, so we simply keep repeating
it. It is very unlikely to change unless we see the connection.
And we do not just learn via words.
Six-year-old Tom’s mother keeps telling him that she
loves him, but when he puts his face forwards for a kiss, she
This is an example of what Gregory Bateson in the 1950s described
as the double bind, where verbal communication is contradicted
by non-verbal communication. People say things their bodies
do not believe; the words mean one thing, but the tone, facial
expression or body language tells another story. Each communication
apparently negates the other. We have all seen how people say
one thing, but do another. For example, your mum says you must
tell the truth, but then when you tell one of her friends he
is fat, you are told off - even though it is true.
It is not surprising that we get all muddled up in our minds.
Words will always have a vaguely hollow ring if they do not
match what the body says. The problem is you cannot choose which
to believe. The whole point of a double bind is that it is not
either/or; it is both. Mixed messages become inextricably linked.
Tom’s mother says she loves him, but gives non-verbal
messages of rejection.
Thirty years later, Tom wonders why he feels anxious whenever
his girlfriend tries to get close to him, and why he does not
trust her when she says she loves him.
Knowing how those messages got mixed; it is understandable
that little Tom learned to associate the word love with being
rejected physically and feeling hurt.
The problem is that the adult Tom does not know any of that—
not consciously anyway. Until he can recognise some of those
connections, by accessing memories from his unconscious mind,
he is not going to know how his vision of the world was formed
or what certain words, emotions and sensations actually mean
We do not consciously remember how we learned things. We cannot
even necessarily put words to what we learned, or we might have
made connections before we had words to name them— such
as that love means constantly being rejected, or that approval
depends on doing what others want you to do.