Last week, we met Kaleen. Even with a Master’s degree in Business Administration, as well as company experience, she couldn’t break through into management. Her coworker Cory called her psycho, and her boyfriend was growing distant. She wasn’t psychotic, but she had some neurotic tendencies that pushed opportunity away every time. Click here if you missed the beginning of Kaleen’s story.
How do we become neurotic? For some people, it starts in infancy. A study led by Dr. Janina Galler of Harvard Medical School discovered that hunger can cause neuroticism. Her team studied children who were hospitalized for malnutrition at an average age of 7 months. They enrolled the babies in a hunger treatment program and they never experienced starvation again. By adolescence, they were charting with their peers physically, but even into their 40s they were 5 times more likely to exhibit a negative, suspicious, easily frustrated and even hostile personality. Two weeks ago, we discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Click here to read that article. Hunger is a primary need that must be met for a person to reach self-actualization. Even though each phase of life puts us through the hierarchy to some extent, our early life experiences have a lasting impact that may not seem logical at first glance.
If there was one thing Kaleen’s mom could do, it was feed her kids. She worked two jobs, sometimes three, to put food on the table where she sat stressing over bills at least once a month. Life had hardened her. She didn’t have time or patience for childish nonsense. Her kids were expected to work as hard as she did, and she was proud when Kaleen went to university on a full scholarship. Mom felt her extra jobs had paid off. Kaleen wouldn’t have gotten that scholarship if Mom hadn’t moved them to a neighborhood in the good school district. Kaleen was grateful her mom worked so hard, but even though everyone wore uniforms she knew the other students could tell she was poor. She stayed to herself and kept her eyes on her studies. A few times, she had a “bestie,” but besties don’t respond well to bossies and Kaleen was bossy by nature.
For Kaleen, hunger wasn’t an issue, but she never felt secure, which is the second level of the Hierarchy. Her mom’s stress over the bills gave her the impression the landlord was always at the door, ready to put them on the streets. Insecurity kept the whole family working; play wasn’t respected. This made it difficult for her to treat friends like—well, playmates.
It’s 2 years later, and Tara and Kaleen are having lunch at a bistro between Tara’s office and Kaleen’s new job. “Kaleen, last night was so much fun! Your team seems to really like you. Can you believe you made VP? That must be so exciting!”
“I get pretty uncomfortable at those functions, but it is nice to feel appreciated. Thanks for going with me.”
Now that Kaleen’s a Vice President, could her colleagues be faking their appreciation? In her previous job, she was so difficult. Just because certain personality traits become embedded in us doesn’t mean we can’t change our behavior. Kaleen’s team adores her, and she treats them with respect. She even gives them opportunities to promote their own ideas.
What happened? Darius took a chance. He lovingly confronted Kaleen about her volatility and attempts to control him. They went to premarital counseling, where she learned to listen and he learned to communicate. It wasn’t easy. She broke up with him twice. But as they learned to interact on a healthy level, she gained confidence. At church, they did a study on leadership where she recognized the issues that had held her back at work. She hired a coach and began making adjustments to her project management style. It was HARD—she’s very good at thinking through the details, and it’s nerve-wracking to give control to people who might not do things the way she would. Her pastor said, “Kaleen, if God can do it, so can you. He puts His work in our hands every day.” This year, she felt she’d gone as far as she could go with her old company and got a new job. The future looks bright.
Childhood makes the deepest impression on our personalities, but we can experience lack of food, shelter, safety or belonging any time of our lives. The stress of lack can cause us future challenges. We may live with suspicion or a subtle fear that drives us to behave erratically. There’s no going back. Parents do the best they can, life happens, and we move on. Sometimes we need to examine the past in order to identify our triggers and forgive those involved in their formation.
If you aren’t where you want to be, or you have a tough time keeping friends or relationships, try this:
- Get help for the areas which challenge you. Consider seeing a coach or counselor.
- Renew your mind.
- The book of Proverbs is a jackpot of advice for mental, spiritual and physical health. My book and journal set, Wisdom – Better than Wishing, will help you incorporate healthy attitudes, develop good communication and coping skills, and feel much better about life.
- While you’re driving or cleaning house, listen to a good podcast or sermon. For tips on dealing with people, I enjoy The Look and Sound of Leadership podcast. For spiritual refreshment, check out my short 1 Minute Wiser videos or a longer Joyce Meyer broadcast.
- Help others. 1 in 3 people worldwide is malnourished, leaving close to 156 million children stunted from poor nutrition and infection. Click here to feed and mentor a little one. Say, “You are valued and loved.”