STRESS From The Inside

By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

Our experiences of ourselves and the world around us are entirely subjective events. These personally biased perceptions, conscious and unconscious, guide us throughout the course of our lives.

From this perspective and using an extreme example, imagine a man hallucinating that voices from within the television are talking to him in threatening and demoralizing ways. He cowers within his home acting as if the world outside is far too threatening a place to enter. As he holds to his beliefs he lives with the internal stress that his life is threatened by all that is outside him. Yet others move about the world without this sort of suspicion and behavior and without any apparent feelings of danger. Our fictitious patient, while in this state, experiences so much internal stress that he is essentially immobilized. In less severe examples of this sort of phenomenon, an individual who appears "normal" may be incapable of developing and maintaining healthy intimate relationships. Why? Often it can be explained by looking at internal stress related to the individual's own history of relationships. For example, expectations developed from repeated destructive experiences during childhood manifest themselves in potentially intimate adult relationships. Parent-child relationships stressed by covert or overt emotional or physical abuse effect how the developing child learns to relate to others. Hence, a child may develop learning that close relationships are threatening rather than rewarding. This is particularly true in intimate relationships. The closer the relationship the more likely such internal stress will be transferred onto and impact the relationship negatively.

From this view, we can see that an adult who has experienced chronic or even periodic abandonment or rejection as a child, will develop relationships in which similar treatment is expected from an intimate or potentially intimate other. In addition, we would likely see that the individual expecting the abuse will respond internally, if not overtly, as if some sort of social or personal insult were actually present. Ultimately and over the long run, the development of such an expectational system of interaction will result in behavior from the intimate other that fulfills the expectation.

Fortunately, we are creatures that have the capacity to learn throughout the entire course of our lives. Recognizing that childhood experiences impact our current life and may interfere with our current relationships, we have the power to confront and repair the problems. By asking for the help we need we can gain new understandings, develop a new ongoing history of our own choosing (day by day) and create new and more productive intimate relationships. If we attend to our lives using this view we can see that although we had little or no control over how we were treated by our parents when we were children, we do have the power to develop much more satisfying relationships as adults.