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U understanding

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Newsletter Number 17
August 2023
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 Childhood Experiences & Adult Behaviours 

  • Are you an adult whose behaviour is difficult or challenging for others?

  • Are relationships being influenced by the ways in which you behave and would you like to know why?

  • Do aspects of your behaviour make you feel uncomfortable in social situations?

  • Would you like to improve personal or work-based relationships that affect your behaviour?

  • Do you demonstrate anti-social characteristics that you'd like to change?

  • Have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) had an effect on your life as an adult?

  • Has a diagnosis led you to wanting to explore your behaviour, feelings or interactions with others?














To learn more, read on. I'll start with a case study.

Case Study 1: The Man-Boy in the Post Office

I was third in line in the queue and the young man [in his early 20s] at the front appeared very agitated. When he reached the counter he instantly began shouting at the woman [in her mid 50s] who was serving. He waved a handful of paper and when asked to pass them to her he attempted to open the the little perspex door to the right of the window. She told him to put them into the tray below the window instead. He banged his hands on the counter, dropping some of the papers then picked them up an shoved them into the tray. The server carefully flattened and read the papers, then told the man they weren't the sufficient documents to make the transaction he needed.


The young man began screaming at the top of his voice, his face going very red. He swore repeatedly at the woman, accusing her of being wrong, then of lying, then of deliberately making him angry. He went back to the small perspex door and banged on it several times. When having no success at forcing it open he jumped up and down, waving his arms and threatening to punch her in the face. He then tried to remove the window between them.


Initially she looked a little shocked, but she remained calm and attempted to explain the resolution to the situation. He refused to listen and began shouting at customers in the queue who were urging him to calm down. When he threatened them with physical harm, they moved away from him and one or two promptly left the building. The man stormed out of the door, exclaiming to the woman that he was going to get someone to "sort her out". A few moments later he returned, barging into the customer now at the counter and demanded the return of his papers. Again he went to the small side door, but the woman carefully placed them into a large envelope. While talking to him about what he needed to bring with him, she wrote the items on the front of the envelope and passed them into the tray. He snatched the envelope and left, saying his local councillor would "be getting her the sack".


As a regular observer of human behaviour, three things came to me in that moment:

  1. Appreciative of the security measures in the post office that protected the server from any potential physical harm [I'm sure she was too] as the man seemed intent on removing the barrier between them.

  2. How calm and measured the server remained. From the interaction it seemed that he had made at least one previous visit with the wrong documentation.

  3. If someone had taken some time in his early childhood to build his emotional intelligence, to explain to him feelings of disappointment and frustration and to demonstrate an appropriate way to regulate his emotions, the aggression of this incident would not have occurred.






Another case study.

Case Study 2: The Girl who Loses Friends

A young woman in her early thirties told me that she didn't have any friends. I asked about her childhood experiences and she relayed that her parents travelled for work and so she spent sporadic periods of time moving from school to school. She explained that her teachers were always very helpful in providing 'buddies' to help her to acclimatise to each new class, show her around and play with her at break and lunchtimes. Then when it was time for her parents to move on, she often didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye.


In her mid-teens the family settled in London. At school she felt she was largely ignored by the other children or occasionally bullied just for being new. She did, however, make friends with a couple of girls for a few weeks at a time. She wasn't able to tell me why she thought this was, but said they just "went off her". She said the same happened with fellow students at university and colleagues in her places of work. She said that a couple of times she'd left jobs that she enjoyed because "people didn't like" her. 

She then told me about her relationship. She was living with a partner of a similar age who she'd been seeing for 4 months. She said that living together had "just happened" but she didn't feel it was the right stage of the relationship to be making this commitment. She described being unsatisfied, though not knowing what else to do but continue as things were. She was in a new job in a new city which coincided with the new partner she'd met online. She considered that it might be a convenient arrangement as she didn't have the skills to manage her living situation in any other way.

The areas I'd particularly want to examine are:

  1. How much experience this woman has had of the mechanics of developing both platonic and romantic relationships, of how to approach new people, instigate conversations and build on mutual interests to move connections on.

  2. How much knowledge her childhood experiences gave her of investing emotionally in any connections she made, of what is involved in the reciprocal support that healthy friendships require.

  3. Her awareness of what it takes to keep friends, how to maintain long distance friendships and a restorative approach to repairing friendships when they began to break down - or when to walk away from dysfunctional relationships.














Now a third case study.

Case Study 3: The Woman with the ADHD Diagnosis

A woman in her mid-fifties contacted me as she had received a diagnosis of ADHD a few months earlier. She said it answered some questions for her about how her life had been, but also left her with a lot of other questions. The process of getting a referral, the assessment and the diagnosis had been a long slow process, and while it brought some relief, it had also been very stressful.

She has a great personality and is a very social person, with a supportive family and circle of friends. She had struggled at times to understand some of the events throughout her life and experienced significant anxiety at times. She was seeking answers about who she was, who ADHD determined that she was and how to manage the daily challenges she faced in life.

In this case it would be be beneficial to explore:

  1. The elements of this woman's behaviours that are just about her being ... her. As she has passed through life it would be interesting to note any specific behaviour patterns that are repetitive and intentional, rather than coincidental.

  2. What ADHD brings to her uniqueness, in what ways it enhances her life, experiences, relationships and self-image. 

  3. How the traits of ADHD can be understood, how they may appear to be challenging for others and how she can continue life without self-blame, guilt or shame.















My job as a Behaviour Strategist beings me into contact with adults in a range of situations as well as children. Being avidly curious about human behaviour, my radar is often on alert to explore how and why humans behave in the way they do. There are many parallels with children and young people and, for most of us, our life experiences in childhood in some way reflect on the way we are as adults. When it comes to child development, it’s been said that the most crucial milestones in a child’s life occur by the age of 7. This is the age that is described as a critical period for language acquisition, brain development and cognitive ability. 


As a child is growing and developing, they look to significant adults to learn how to interact with others. If those adults behave in dysfunctional or unhealthy ways, the chances are high that children will mimic these unhealthy behaviours, even if unintended. The ways in which their role models interact with them, as well as each other, shape their view of the world and those around them. It's useful to think about the role that you played in your family growing up and any label you may have been assigned: the 'naughty' one, the clever one, the rebellious one, the clown, the quiet one. Then to reflect on whether you have you lived up to this expectation, or have left it behind you.

Early childhood is a time when children's personalities are developing rapidly with them using familiar adults and older children as role models. Characteristics such as funny, shy and moody can often be attributed to a child's nature and be a recognisable trait in someone they know. This will, in turn, affect three fundamental structures: our sense of self, the way we communicate and how we form relationships.














Emotional well-being is just as important as physical health. Good mental health helps us develop the resilience cope with whatever life throws at us. Children who are optimistic and resilient, who have some control over their lives and feel like they belong are more likely to have good mental well-being. However, certain risk factors can make some children more likely to experience mental ill-health than others. These factors include having a long-term physical illness, a parent who has had mental health issues or problems with alcohol, or the death of someone close to them.

Behaviour in childhood can predict future partnering prospects. Children who are extremely anxious or inattentive are considered less likely to form relationships where they share equal responsibilities with a partner. Children presenting as aggressive or oppositional may find maintaining relationships difficult and are more likely to separate from and return to partners over a period of time. Sociable children who are considered to be kind, helpful and considerate tend to show earlier and more sustained partnerships in adulthood.


Children who experienced trauma sometimes struggle to learn the same boundaries and behaviours that others take for granted. Many people with childhood trauma later question their relationship patterns. Going back to childhood and adolescence usually sheds some light on adult behaviour, specifically unhealthy patterns. Relationships where the effects of abuse manifest in dysfunctional interpersonal contact may be the result of attachment disruptions at pivotal points in their childhood development. Unless we do the work to develop more self-awareness of our behaviours, we will usually repeat these same patterns into adulthood.














Knowing where issues with our behaviour start is the key to addressing, modifying and endeavouring to make positive steps to eliminating negative behaviours. Where physiological, psychological, neurological or emotional factors are present, understanding the origin is of great value in accepting and affecting permanent change.

An extremely useful tool for understanding the origins of behaviours is Transactional AnalysisEric Berne, who was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in the 1950s, developed Transactional Analysis to explain the way people grow. He discovered that it is possible to witness a consistent pattern of behaviour, feelings and thinking between humans. It explores the relationships between children, parents, adults in a variety of situations and includes aspects of communication that have a relationship to each other. Relational behaviour can be examined and supported to improve interactions with others.

The following video illustrates how attachments that are made in childhood can impact on the lives of adults.

















Specialist training in Forensic Psychology facilitates the opportunity to apply this expertise to observable patterns and trends in behaviour. It's possible to anticipate how behaviours can become problematic and to significantly alter the trajectory of negative behaviours, affecting positive and permanent change. If you're considering finding information and/or support in adulthood to affect behavioural change contact me to see how I can help:

Your details will be kept confidentially and fully compliant with GDPR regulations.

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Behaviour is at the end of the story. Unresolved problems and lagging skills are at the beginning of the story. Work on the beginning to change the end.
- Dr Ross Greene
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