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Mentoring Article Series #4

“Personal Background”

In my previous three articles on causes that generate pain in our life, both Blind Spots and Unrealistic Expectations are categorized as psychological related factors, which means it has something to do with our mind. The factor in this article is different where it comes naturally with us since the first day we were born.

“What is the meaning of Personal Background?”
For the purpose of this article, I have labeled these factors as things in which each and everyone of us get since the first day we were born, and continue to be influenced by it until we are able to make any changes to it. Every human being comes with a background. For example, we have no choice but to live our life with (but some people are without) our father and mother and our siblings (again, some people are without them), whether we like it or not. In other words, we have very little to zero chance of choosing them. While some factors may never be changed (such as our parents, siblings), while others may be changed only at very much later stage in our life (such as our living environment).

“How many Background factors influence our life?”
There are many of them. Here I have listed down a summary of most, if not all of them and some of the factors are covered in the Developmental Psychology:

1. Personal – which includes the personality of the person, intelligence, gender, temperament, etc. We are born with certain tendencies and we may change over the years but it has a deep root in us.

2. People – the social aspect which includes family such as parents, brothers and sisters, relatives. And it also includes friends, classmates (pre school), neighbors, etc. These are the people that have huge impact in our life, from the day we were born and possibly until the day we leave this world.

3. Biological Inheritance – our genetic inheritance, body structure and look, health, physical traits such as hair color, eyes color, skin color, tendencies in getting certain illnesses, etc. This part has huge impact on our life, for example, imagine the life of a deaf and mute person, naturally born with the disability. How would the person live, and how the person feels about his/her life.

4. Upbringing – the way we were taught by our parents, the way we were cared for when we were young, the values, culture, norms imparted into our thinking system, etc. A young child growing up in a poor family learn from his father to steal and get food will continue to live that way until he chooses to change when he is matured later.

5. Environment – living surroundings including physical aspects such as the availability of natural resources, air, food, water, plants, earth, geographical landscape or terrain, weather, animals, government, economy, technology, etc. All these elements affect our health, quality of life (due to scarce resources), body adaptation under certain environment (exposure to cold weather, or under hot sun), lifestyle, and even our mind on the world view.

6. Language – the language we are exposed to and able to use. It has been well-known that language is one of the most powerful factor that shapes the way we think and influences our behavior. One of the main reason is many languages carry with them certain embedded cultural values specifically from a region or ethnic group, and the way it is structured and used influences our mind. You may understand this point better by closely observing how a person from USA (using English) expresses as compare to someone from China (uses Chinese language), or comparing a Pali language from India’s ancient scriptures with our modern language.

7. Learning – the form of learning which are available to every individual. Someone in South Africa learn different skills and knowledge when we compare them to someone living in Brazil or Japan or Mongolia or Germany. This learning process through different form of education system (includes both official such as school and unofficial such as at home) and environment makes people distinctively different in terms of perception, personal abilities, soft skills, etc.

8. Religion – the religious belief that a person is exposed to since young. It is another powerful aspect of human that may potentially determine how a person view the world and the manner he/she decides in living his/her life. For example, Mother Teresa, or Confucius.

“What is the reason for such painful effects?”
The most devastating effects from these factors are the thoughts of “I have no choice”, and the most painful reality of “I can’t escape from it, or stop it, or ignore it”. It renders the person to be helpless and sometimes, hopeless and despair, and some even to the extend of developing major depression or suicidal. Of course, it has a lot to do with how we think, how we look at the problem we face and how do we react from it. It is all in our mind, in our attitude, in our character and in our decision that will affect the outcome and how we eventually feel about it.

“What is the impact of these elements in our life?”
All these factors have significant impact on our life in many ways, which is also the reason why I have dedicated an article solely on it. Too often, during the many counseling sessions I had with different people, they have one thing in common: they wish to change certain things in their life which I call the Personal Background, because they find it too painful to live with it.

For example, a teenager wishes to runaway from home, far away from her abusive drunkard father. A young man hopes that he has a lot of money, feeling low in self-esteem coming from a poor family. A distraught mother felt helpless with her son who suffered from Polio (or a disease called Poliomyelitis) and she had to take care of him for the rest of her life. A young boy feeling the lost of his mother when he was still an infant and wish that she is still at his side. A refugee who lives in a war-torn country hopes to escape to another country for a safer living environment. A man who is blind who always blame his parents for his unfortunate condition. A girl hates herself for being different, because she likes other girls, not boys. And many more.

Just imagine the people mention above continues to live for another 30 years without much changes in their life. The pain that these uncontrollable factors inflict on a person’s life varies according to different individuals, but it has huge potential to cause massive amount of pain and suffering to many people’s life in which the quality of life will be greatly reduced.

“What can we do to overcome it?”
There is no easy solution to this question. Some of the ways that may be helpful are:

1. Understand about this world. Don’t blame anyone, although it is the easiest way to feel better. I always believe things happen with a reason. Understanding the nature of this world and you will feel better. Eventually, you will realize, we can’t control everything in this world. You should learn to accept what comes into your life and do your best for the best outcome that you hope for. This point stresses the importance of changing our view in life.

2. Develop a strong sense of appreciation and gratitude toward life. Too often people fail to see what they already have, and instead, they focus on what they don’t have, or what they have lost. The feeling of despair immediately sets in every instance that you fail to appreciate your present condition but clinging too much on the past, or worry too much about the future. Everything may happen to be good or bad, and we can choose to look at it positively or negatively, the point is we can choose, and we should be extremely mindful in this aspect. I always believe that a rich person is more pitiful than a homeless or poor beggar when he/she fails to appreciate all the good things he/she currently has. We must stop ourselves from taking things for granted. This point emphasizes the importance of having a positive and appreciative heart.

3. Build up and develop a good and strong attitude such as being resilient, confident, courageous, assertive, adaptable to changes, hardworking, positive thinking, cheerful, emphatic, helpful to others, etc. These characteristics shall enable you to get support from the right people and in that process, makes your life easier when you strive on with more opportunities. Moreover, positive attitude give rise to hope and great motivation to move forward, especially important when life is struck with various obstacles or setbacks. This point highlights the importance of having the necessary skills combining with mindset to live a meaningful life.

4. Get supports from reliable close friends or relatives. Sometimes even neighbors are the ones who can really help us, not even our relatives who lives far away. Please don’t underestimate the power of influence from the positive morale support and other forms of care toward a person. Sometimes all a person in difficult condition needs is a listener, or someone who understands, simple as that. This point stresses the importance of people close to us and the impact of their support on us.

5. Manage your expectations appropriately. Expectations were covered in my earlier articles and you should be mindful of what you set upon yourself. For example, a young women felt dejected when she notice her younger sister who always achieve poorer results in her studies and not as attractive as her, enjoys more attention from her parents and being more popular with friends. And so, she hates her younger sister. She has directly associated good look and better academic results to success and being more popular among people, and that feeling leads to jealousy and hatred. This point talks about the importance of how we view our past, present and future, and how we mentally associate things together.

6. Accept a proper religion (that teaches good, not evil), though it’s not a must, and it may not work for everyone. I have seen many cases where religion really makes the difference, changing a person’s life through the way he/she sees the world or thinks. For example, the Twelve-Step Program (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-step_program) which was a successful program that was started back in 1935 uses religion as a backbone to its treatment methodology in helping patients with addiction to alcoholism. But this option is sometimes situational, because I always believe that we should never force a person to believe in any religion. This point highlights the importance of hope, faith and complete view on life.

7. Get a good and professional mentor or life coach. They can reduce the time you need to achieve your goals and helps you understand who you truly are and fulfill your greatest potential. This point emphasizes on the importance of getting professional guidance and support in life.

The final point is: there are way too many things in our life that we can’t choose in the first place, as mentioned above, and these are the roots to our existence. They made us what we are today. We should try to learn why these things happened, and by understanding the facts and reasons behind it, we will appreciate it more as well as grow as a person, we will gain valuable insight, and we will live our life more meaningfully which then leads to happiness. Having a positive mentality and attitude toward life is another crucial factor in living a happy life, because we won’t keep dwelling on the negative side of the reality world we live in, even though these too are inevitable part of human’s existence.

Long time ago, someone once said this and I think it makes sense: In a competitive card game, the goal is not to try getting the best cards into our hand, as it is beyond our control due to randomness (because this mentality will lead us to blame our life, or other people). Instead, we should make effort to fully utilize and maximize our winning chance with the cards already in our hand. To me, a meaningful and happy life is to simply make full use of all resources available to us (in a good way) and do our best with them to achieve our goal in life, with no regret.