Sometimes we make a vow to ourselves in childhood that follows us into our adult years. Usually, the vow happens around a time in your childhood that was very painful. To avoid feeling that kind of pain again, you make a vow to yourself, such as “I’m never going to [fill in the blank]” or “I will always [fill in the blank].”
The Childhood Vow Works (At the Time)
The childhood vow is powerful because it worked at the time to protect yourself or get your needs met. Because the vow works, it is reinforced and becomes a habit. Over time, the habit gets reinforced and becomes part of your personality.
But It Doesn’t Work Anymore
The problem is when you grow up, sometimes the habit that grew out of the childhood vow doesn’t work anymore. I’ll give you an example from my own life. For some reason, when I was little, I would get really upset if I got into trouble. Even if it was a little thing, I would feel super-guilty, start crying, and basically lose it. To avoid that pain, I made a childhood vow: “I will never do anything bad.” The vow worked as a child, because I usually did the right thing and didn’t get in trouble much growing up. So, I was able to avoid feeling that pain.
But as I grew up, this childhood vow didn’t serve me very well. For one thing, I’m not perfect, so when I would mess up or do something I considered “bad,” I would get very upset and judgmental of myself, which led to me experiencing a high level of distress over relatively minor things. Also, I tended to play it safe and not take risks, because I didn’t want to get in a situation where I might get into trouble or make a mistake. In my work, I tend to shy away from conflict, even if it is something I should confront, because I don’t want to experience that old feeling of being in trouble. The childhood vow that worked for me growing up was now a problem.
Discovering the Childhood Vow
How can you discover your childhood vow? Be on the lookout for times when you find yourself doing something different than what you really want to do, or something that is different from your best interests. This might be a signal that a childhood vow is lurking under the surface. Also, if you find yourself doing something automatically, and then afterward wondering “why did I do that?,” it might be a signal that there is a childhood vow operating.
Replacing the Childhood Vow
When you have discovered one of your childhood vows, what do you do about it? Try to create a new vow that can replace the childhood vow, that would move you more in the direction of where you want to go. For example, in my life, a new vow I came up with was to “engage with courage and integrity.” When my natural tendency to shy away or retreat comes up, I remember my new vow and try to do something different.
What is one childhood vow you have made? How did that childhood vow protect you or meet your needs as a child? What is one way your childhood vow isn’t working for you anymore? What is a new vow that could replace the childhood vow?