Though Sigmund Freud's star has fallen quite a bit over the decades, his studies of the mentally ill laid the groundwork for modern psychotherapy. In his deep discussions with patients, Freud uncovered a correlation between childhood traumas and emotional difficulties in adulthood.
The fact that our childhood experiences can scar us for life seems obvious to us today, now that the field of psychology is well grounded and respected as an academic subject, but back then, Freud's work was groundbreaking.
The Human Spirit
One of his notable contemporaries was a young medical doctor and educational theorist named Maria Montessori. As a scientist, Montessori felt compelled to take his assumptions about the nature of the human spirit and challenge them.
Her conclusion -- Freud's studies, however significant, gave a skewed view of humanity. (Another great example of how Montessori was a person ahead of her time).
In The Secret of Childhood, she insists that in order to understand the true human spirit, we need more than to study mentally ill adults. We need to study the normal child in as natural a setting as possible, so we can understand what makes a healthy adult as well.
Everything that happens in childhood (including the pre-natal genetic coding) affects the adult personality. If you could look back in your past and see your childhood hopes, dreams, interests (what Montessori calls "the child's soul"), you would see a mirror of your adult self "grasping the realities of human life." In some sense, we are today who we were then.
But do not despair in your "fixed" faults and anxieties. Recent discoveries, such as neuroplasticity, show that adults are able to grow new neural pathways in the brain and even generate new neurons themselves. In other words, we can overcome even strong tendencies toward certain personality traits. It takes effort, but it can be done. And it starts by preparing for a life of continued growth while in childhood.
Freud was right. Our early experiences matter. But there is more to us than the scars of childhood. Children are incredible beings -- revolutionary, powerful, and possessed with the potential to transform our world. To help them reach their potential requires strength, sacrifice, self love, and a reverence for their ability to never stop growing.