So let me ask you: If you as an adult were facing a difficult situation or some type of danger, would you really seek out a seven year old for guidance on how to handle it? Your personal survival strategies are formed in childhood, but aren’t necessarily very useful in adulthood.

The strategy I chose was the passive/aggressive strategy (which is a common choice for children in verbally or physically abusive situations). I came to understand that when I agreed with my parents – “Yes, sir!” “Yes, ma’am!” – I was safe. No broom. So I made sure to appear to agree, to acquiesce, to obey. But the rebellious, independent side of me couldn’t quite leave it at that. So though I appeared to agree with my parents’ demands and wishes, behind their backs I did whatever I damn well pleased!

As a young child, this was an okay strategy. I got to do what I wanted yet didn’t inspire the wrath of my father. But take this same strategy into adult relationships and you can see how dysfunctional it could get. My passive/aggressive strategy popped up with every authority figure: “You think you’re such a big shot?”

Sure, I’ll pretend to go along with you but then watch me take you down a peg or two!” It was there within my marriage: “You don’t want me to do that? Fine, I won’t – at least not until you’re not looking!” When I would actually acquiesce to others’ desires, for example when I accepted the first job offered to me when I got out of the military, it wouldn’t take long for the aggressive side of the coin to rear its head and become an almost unmanageable rage!

I even had some vague sense that my personal survival strategy (though I didn’t recognize it as such) was not working for me. But it was so ingrained into my neurology that I honestly didn’t see my reactions as optional. I would encounter a perceived threat and my entire system would instantly power up into passive/aggressive mode. Much of the time, I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it. But like most of us, when I was aware of what I was doing, I convinced myself that my reactions were justified.

We all, without exception, have developed a survival strategy to cope with life as children. And the vast majority of us have carried that strategy forward as adults. Perhaps your childhood strategy does not have a hugely negative impact on your adult life, but it undoubtedly restricts you in some form.

Check out my book on how to deal with the potential roadblocks that the passive/aggressive behavior that may be causing: