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Ask a Therapist: How Do I Overcome Bad Habits Learned From My Unstable Childhood?

Hi! I had a pretty unstable childhood growing up and worked really hard to accept the life I had and move on as well as love the life I have now. The problem I struggle with is habits from my parents that I have adopted myself. I struggle with a temper problem when I feel things are getting out of control and it is becoming a huge problem for me. I want to not get so upset over little things and have prayed really hard for help. I know that my parents acted that way but I want to be different. So I guess my question is how can I overcome the way I was taught to act and be the person I know I can be? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

A: How wonderful that you recognize the need to better manage your temper and move beyond the negative patterns you absorbed from your parents. I’ve worked with many clients who’ve had similar struggles and a strong desire to act in a more patient and kind way than their parents. Have you considered doing some counseling to work through some of the emotional pain, abandonment, and loss of your early experiences? If not, I’d like to suggest that you consider it. is a great resource to find an LDS counselor in your area.

In my clinical experience, temper problems and other troubling behaviors usually stem from a “younger” part of your self, a part that holds unresolved pain, and can be seen as a signal that there is some earlier emotion or experience that needs attention. Here an example to illustrate this process. Say you have a sick child who is whining and needing extra attention for several days in a row. If, in your own childhood, you had to deal with your own pain, emotional or physical, alone or without adequate comfort from parents, feelings of resentment may arise in response to your child’s needs. It may feel unjust that he has someone to take care of him and you didn’t. That resentment may manifest itself as an angry outburst that seems to come out of nowhere.

In addition to counseling, start noticing the smaller physical cues that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and that things “are getting out of control”. These cues may be tense shoulders, racing heart, confusion, feeling like you need to escape, to name a few. My guess is that you are still in the process of learning to recognize and attend to subtle emotional cues so the small signals build up until you have an outburst that requires your attention.

Take good care of yourself!


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Self & relationship expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is wife of 22 years and mother of 4, a licensed therapist, a popular media contributor on KSL TV’s Studio 5, and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Listen to Julie’s podcast You and Yours , on B98.7 radio as the Bee’s Family Counselor, and read her national advice columns on Psych Central and Latter-day Woman Magazine.

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