What we remember from childhood we remember forever — permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.

– Cynthia Ozick

You can’t deny it. There is not one of us who escapes from our families without some form of emotional baggage. The question is not whether you have baggage. It’s, “How heavy are your bags?”

As children, we learn how to communicate and relate to others. These early family experiences significantly affect how we perceive our adult partners and relationships. This is more than theory. Science discovered a biological basis for this.

Neuroimaging studies have shown that significant life events are remembered by the brain in a different way than other memories, whether it is a traumatic car accident or the excitement of your first love. The brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, interacts with memory regions of the brain that create indelible emotional memories.

Studies found stronger, more consistent activity between the emotion-related and memory-related brain regions during a significant event, than when a neutral memory is forming. Brain scans reveal that emotional images are more strongly encoded than neutral ones.

In childhood, our memories are recorded in the conscious and unconscious parts of our brains. As vulnerable infants and toddlers, we learn whether someone comes when we cry, our only way of calling for help.

If your parents were mostly responsive, you learn the world is safe and your needs will be met. You also learn to bond and create a “healthy attachment.”

If parents were mostly unresponsive, and you are left alone to cry for long periods of time without food or a diaper change, you learn the world is scary and dangerous. The message is you cannot depend on the most significant people in your life, the one’s you depend on for survival. This affects your ability to form healthy bonds.

Other childhood lessons relate directly to our emotions. In your family, was expressing your feelings of pain, fear, anxiety and sadness encouraged or were you told to stop crying and hold it in? Were you allowed to express anger in a constructive way or did you have to swallow it?

Whatever you learned in your family of origin is carried into your adult, romantic relationships. For example, if you learned to swallow feelings, you may become uncomfortable when your partner cries. You may think they are “crazy” or too emotional. They may perceive you as cold and unempathetic.

Another example relates to the way we were treated. If you were the golden child, you may be highly offended when your partner criticizes you. The good child or the pleaser, may not speak up when there’s a disagreement with their spouse.

Another example relates to the way we were treated. If you were the golden child, you may be highly offended when your partner criticizes you. The good child or the pleaser, may not speak up when there’s a disagreement with their spouse.

One of my psychologist friends said, “If you want to have an interesting evening, sit around with your therapist friends and ask them if they went into this field to save themselves or to save someone in their family.”

A very true statement. As therapists, we heal ourselves and pay it forward to help others do the same.


Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.

Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, info@relationshipswork.com.


Photo credit Dominika Roseclay