By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Referenced from ‘How We Love’ by Milan & Kay Yerkovich
Welcome to an article about that old cliché of counselors asking you about your childhood and blaming your parents for all your current problems. Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s book How We Love explores how lessons taught and reinforced during childhood predispose people to approach marriage in certain ways. “The goal isn’t to find fault with our parents. The goal is to acknowledge the truth of our childhood so we have a road map for growth and change.” (89)
Grilled chicken looks nothing like the rubbery, pink slabs you pull out of the shrink-wrapped package. It’s off-white, almost yellow, and has dark, inset lines marking where it laid on the grill. The grill has “imprinted” the chicken, changing almost everything about it. Growing-up has a similar effect on people. The Yerkovichs use the term “imprinting” to refer to the lessons we’re taught during childhood regarding comfort, listening, and resolving problems with other people. The examples our parents set for us determine how we will approach these social skills throughout out life.
It’s because of everyone’s unique imprints that so many couples eventually hit a wall in their marriage. The expiration date runs out for the system of just tackling the surface issues of their marriage and they have no choice but to go deeper if they want meaningful change and growth.
Comfort During Childhood
The authors often begin their counseling journeys with couples by asking them one question, “Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress?” They’re not necessarily looking for scandalous, trauma-ridden answers. They are looking for a time when you were distraught and one of your parents tried to make you feel better. (13) Did they ever console you after you lost a big game? Or maybe the first time your junior high crush broke your heart?
They often follow this question with, “How was conflict handled in your family?” Did your parents sit down at the table and calmly hash things out? Or did they follow each other down the halls screeching accusations? The answers to these questions sketch how your childhood and adolescence molded your approach toward emotions and relationships.
“If your parents touched you, listened to you, helped you express what was going on in your souls (we call them ‘soul words’), accepted your feelings, and resolved problems well, you’ll have a healthy view of relationships.” (18) But not everyone’s parents rushed to hold them every time they scraped their knee or came home crying because of a fight with their friends.
How Childhood Affects Adulthood
Noelle and Travis were stuck in such bad gridlock they decided the only options they had left were marriage counseling or divorce.
“Travis just goes along with everything I say. Which sounds nice in theory, but I feel like all the pressure is on me to decide anything. I’m the only one who disciplines the kids. It’s exhausting doing everything alone,” Noelle said.
The counselor didn’t sense genuine animosity from Noelle. But it was obvious she was frustrated with juggling the lion’s share of household responsibility. He turned to Travis and asked, “What was it like when you approached your parents for help growing up?”
He thought for a minute, “I didn’t ask my parents for help much. My mom made all the decisions about my schedule. She was pretty anxious, so I didn’t do much outside school and baseball. My dad was always really busy so I got told, “Let me finish this first,” a lot.
The counselor gave him a minute to finish and asked, “What was it like when your parents fought?”
“Oh, they never fought. Dad’s word was pretty much law.”
After hearing Travis talk about how conflict was handled during his childhood, it was easier to understand why he let Noelle take the reins. Growing up, he got used to hearing “no” almost every time he asked about something. “No, you can’t sleep over at a friend’s house.” “I’ll help you later (which he understood to mean ‘no’).” And after spending almost two decades in a house with a totalitarian authority figure, he learned there wasn’t much point in arguing. It’s a small wonder that he lets Noelle go ahead and handle everything– it’s not exactly like his formative years prepared him for being an adult. “Many of the traits in our spouses that we might find especially irritating had their origins in the difficulties they experienced as children.” (35) Remember what Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” While this verse was intended as an admonition toward good parenting, it makes it clear that how you are “trained” for the first two decades of your life has an almost permanent effect on how you approach the remainder of your life.
Gridlocked marriages such as Travis and Noelle’s are only natural after upbringings such as Travis’. Your imprinting provides you with the tools for navigating relationships. But when your toolbox only has a few things in it, like Travis’ did, it doesn’t take long for you and your spouse to become gridlocked.
Changing Your Imprints
“Our early experiences are so deeply woven into the fabric of our being that they determine how we respond in all our future relationships. And until we’re willing to go back and hear those old songs for what they are, we remain locked in our familiar but unhealthy, unproductive dances.” (36) The Yerkovichs argue that you cannot change your flawed relationships interactions until you understand why you’re doing what you do. Just as with weeding a garden, you have to attack your problems at the root to get the best results.
It helps if you are familiar with your imprint. Below you’ll find a description of the various imprints discussed in “How We Love.” Take a minute to see which imprint describes you best.
In the coming weeks, we will publish articles offering more details about each imprint, followed by practical articles featuring steps from “How We Love” that will help you alter your imprint into a better way of relating to others. If you’d rather to talk to someone now about your imprint, rather than wait for the articles, contact a professional Christian counselor. A counselor can work with you to change core behaviors you’ve had for a lifetime.
The next article coming in this series will discuss the “Avoider” imprint.
Christian Counseling for Personality Imprints
This article is the first in a series about understanding why different people behave the way they do, and helping everyone learn to interact with others in healthier, more loving ways. Each week there will be an article detailing a specific imprint, followed by an article with a list of exercises to help you become more aware of how you behave based on your imprint, and how to change that. The first article will focus on the “avoider” imprint.
Changing intrinsic behavior is one of the most difficult challenges of learning how to relate to other people. Our personality dictates how we behave. Learning to be more self-aware of where it steers us wrong is almost impossible to do on our own. They’ll apply therapeutic techniques and biblical wisdom to help you develop a more Christlike way of approaching others.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com -“Mother And Baby” by phanlop88
“Separated Couple On Sofa” by Ambro
“Playtime” by photostock
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