Part I: Childhood Psychological Development

From the time of birth through adolescence, a child's temperament, which is genetically determined, is shaped by a number of environmental factors that contribute to the development of his or her adult personality. The factors that shape a child's developing personality include relationships with parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, as well as experiences in one's community. Early childhood relationships with parents in particular tend to have a very strong impact on a child's emotional development. Based on the nature and quality of these relationships, a child forms patterns of feeling and behaving, some of which may be outside of their conscious awareness. These personality patterns remain with the child through adulthood and affect his or her sense of self, relationship patterns, and views of the world. An individual's personality will have a large impact on all areas of his or her life: emotional strengths and weaknesses, intellectual interests, creativity, interpersonal style, behavioral patterns and habits, and physical habits (sleep, diet, exercise).

One element of a healthy parent-child relationship consists of the parent helping the child develop self-esteem and other personality strengths by being emotionally available and supportive, providing guidance, setting appropriate limits, and being a healthy role model. Other elements of a healthy parent-child relationship include relating to a child consistently over time, being trustworthy, respecting the child, accepting the child's needs and feelings, and encouraging both autonomy and dependence. When a child's upbringing is substantially supportive, he or she will likely develop high self-esteem, healthy relationships, a stable and positive mood, comfort with both dependence and independence, the ability to cope with frustration and stress, good judgment, healthy impulse control, socially responsible behavior, a sense of physical well-being, and a number of intellectual and creative pursuits.

Part II: The Development of Emotional Difficulties

Many children are exposed to a number of factors that can have a detrimental impact on their growing personalities. These factors include: the illness or death of a close family member; divorce; physical, emotional or sexual abuse; emotional neglect; or substance abuse in the family. There are other family qualities which are more subtle, but which can have an equally harmful effect on a child's growing personality such as: a lack of guidance, inadequate emotional support, or a failure to accept a child's feelings; overly high expectations, undue criticism, or rejection; a high degree of control; or reinforcement of either dependency or extreme self-sufficiency. In addition, a child's natural coping mechanisms, which protect him or her from harmful situations in childhood, may in themselves have a detrimental impact on the personality if they continue into adulthood. These defense mechanisms include: denial of painful events & associated feelings, detachment from one's feelings or from others, rationalizing emotionally painful events, and engaging in harmful addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, work, or exercise).

These childhood traumas, and the coping mechanisms which result from them, affect the personality in such a way that they can lead to the development of a wide range of emotional difficulties and disorders that continue into adulthood. While an individual may function quite well in certain areas of his or her life, he or she may suffer from internal emotional pain or may experience difficulty with functioning in other areas of his or her life. The difficulties and disorders that an individual might experience include: difficulty coping with stress; guilt, shame, fear, or anger; feelings of inadequacy; depression, anxiety, or phobias; obsessive-compulsive traits; post-traumatic stress; a tendency to develop physical symptoms such as headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, or other symptoms; sexual dysfunction; sleep disorders; eating disorders; or substance abuse. An individual might also develop relationship problems, such as unhealthy dependency, emotional detachment from others, a tendency to manipulate others, a need for constant affirmation, or social anxiety or avoidance.


Noah Oderberg, Ph.D.
5435 College Avenue, Suite #201
Oakland, California 94618
Phone: (510) 428-0111