More and more, I am coming to believe that people are inevitably influenced by their experiences.
My study of psychology at university (that makes me sound important, doesn’t it?) is one of the main reasons I think this. If nothing else, psychology has taught me to examine and study the motivations of people, not least of all my own personal motivations. Psychology has also awakened me to the idea that everyone behaves the way they do for a reason – I highly doubt that anyone’s behavior is completely and utterly spontaneous. Somewhere, perhaps deep within people or their past, is a reason for their thoughts and actions. As I study the history of modern psychology, I see that many of the pioneers of the field created their own branch of psychology by generalizing their own ideas and experiences to the lives of others. Freud was “obsessed” with sex (or perhaps frustrated by his own difficulties with it), and his system ended up having sex as one of the main points. B. F. Skinner seemed a scientist from an early age, and his behaviorism exhibits this. Alfred Adler felt intensely inferior to his siblings and schoolmates, worked extremely hard to excel, and developed a psychology in which social forces are prominent, inferiority feelings motivate behavior, and an individual can shape his or her own personality. Abraham Maslow was deeply affected by the negative behavior of his parents, and driven to improve himself. These ideas seem to directly relate to his hierarchy of needs, the utmost one being self-actualization. There are plenty of other examples, I’m sure, but none come to mind at the moment. I also see that my ideas and perceptions of myself and of others are shaped and defined by my past experiences. I observe this phenomena in my friends as well.
I think that people can break free of this way of defining their current experience…it just takes a lot of work, a lot of analysis, and a lot of help from other people to examine your experiences in a new light, from a different perspective. That is why community is so important–by surrounding yourself with other people and allowing them to help you interpret your life experiences, you are not stuck inside one frame of reference, your own head. You can expand your mind…and your heart.