Our personality types determine in part how we process the world, and most human beings assume – incorrectly – that others are processing the world exactly as they process it.

If you look at the members of most families, it’s almost like a session of the United Nations where everyone speaks a different language and needs a translator! It’s pretty clear that children are often different types than their parents. Some parents respect this and do their best to translate into their children’s language. But parents who are unaware of how different types operate or who subscribe to the “blank slate” theory, often wrongly assume that their child is (or should be) their same personality type and that child does (or should) process the world as they do and does (or should) speak the same language.

Along with our personality type, we also enter life with our own unique set of talents and interests. Even as babies and toddlers before they have had much exposure to the world, children can show a strong connection to music or to building things or to nature. They might be fascinated and good at sports or love to read and learn. Some parents recognize and nurture these unique gifts and interests in their children. Sadly, other parents are blind to their child’s gifts and interests – or they do not value them. If a budding classical violinist born into a family of jocks is not valued, her self-esteem will take a big hit as she struggles to find her place in the family, as will the young athlete who is not valued in a family of artists.

Childhood Survival Strategies

Young children are completely dependent on their parents for food, shelter, and emotional support. The family is the child’s first environment, the first place where she needs to figure out how to survive and get those things she needs. So she may become passive and compliant to avoid her father’s ire or rebellious to counteract her mother’s smothering. He may choose to be passive/aggressive to avoid his mother’s condemnation or shut himself off emotionally to cope with his father’s lack of attention.

One of the most basic survival instincts is to “fit in” with the tribe or family unit to find protection from threats outside. To do this, a child develops survival strategies to keep himself safely within the unit. Unless the father values the way his son processes life, he’ll most likely see the child as flakey and unreliable. A child will somehow find a strategy to stay within the pack. He might keep silent about his unconventional ideas, pretend not to be as bright as he is, or struggle to be more organized in a way his father can appreciate.

And what about the child whose gifts and interests aren’t appreciated by her parents? If she doesn’t share the intrinsic talents of the rest of the family, she will likely feel that something is wrong or lacking in herself. Odds are that she will deny her own gifts or interests to fit in, and by the time she’s an adult, she may have forgotten about them completely. To survive, she may even try to follow in her parents’ footsteps, only to feel dissatisfied and lost as an adult.

The good news is that life offers us plenty of other opportunities for growth and self-awareness. The bad news is that the more we resist these lessons, the more painful they may become. Those cosmic two by fours are not fun! They only appear to provide the learning we requested.