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The One Question That Defines Us

Understanding Our Core Through Childhood

by Sam
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In the journey to understand ourselves, there’s one pivotal question that cuts to the core of our being: What did I need to do in childhood to win the support and approval of my parents? This question isn’t just a probe into our past; it’s a window into the motivations and behaviors that define us today. To delve deeper, we explore this through various lenses, asking what we needed to do—or not do—to please or avoid upsetting our parents. This exploration unveils the conditional nature of love within families, where approval often hinges on specific actions or suppressions.

The Unconditional Love Myth

Despite what may be claimed, the concept of unconditional love in families is more myth than reality. Every family, in its way, sets conditions—actions to be taken, roles to be played, and taboos to be avoided. These conditions can range from explicit expectations, like academic excellence or athletic prowess, to more subtle mandates, such as financial success or aesthetic appeal. Sometimes, the expectations are paradoxical, creating conflicting messages that leave us puzzled and striving for impossible standards.

The Micro Republics of Families

Our primary identity is shaped not by our nationality but by our family—our personal micro republic with its unique culture, laws, and norms. These family dynamics dictate our perceptions of worth, success, and happiness. They influence how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world. Even as adults, we might find ourselves bound by the invisible chains of childhood expectations, unconsciously acting out roles long after they’ve ceased to serve us.

The Enduring Influence of Childhood Expectations

The conditions set during our formative years often persist into adulthood, guiding our actions and shaping our lives in ways we might not even realize. We may find ourselves tempering our successes to avoid overshadowing a family member or constantly seeking approval from authority figures as a stand-in for parental acceptance. These ingrained patterns can lead to a life lived in the shadow of outdated laws and expectations, far removed from our true desires and potential.

Reflecting on Our Past to Shape Our Future

To break free from the invisible bonds of our upbringing, we must engage in a thoughtful audit of our childhood conditions. This involves asking ourselves two critical questions:

  1. How much of my childhood conditioning am I still adhering to?
  2. Do I agree with the values and norms I was raised with?

Answering these questions can be unsettling, revealing the extent to which we are living according to someone else’s script. It may become evident that the roles we play and the values we uphold are out of alignment with our authentic selves. Recognizing this discrepancy is the first step toward emancipation from the past.

Emigration from the Past

Understanding the origin of our behaviors and beliefs allows us to make informed decisions about which aspects of our upbringing we wish to carry forward and which we choose to leave behind. In some cases, this may mean a metaphorical emigration from the ‘country’ of our family, seeking out new territories where we can define ourselves on our own terms. This process of self-discovery and reinvention is not about discarding our past but about building a future that resonates with our true selves.


The question of what we needed to do to gain parental approval in childhood is not just about understanding our past; it’s about shaping our future. It prompts us to examine the roots of our identity, challenge long-held beliefs, and ultimately, choose who we want to be. By confronting these questions, we can start to untangle the complex web of expectations that bind us, paving the way for genuine self-discovery and fulfillment.

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