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What the ability to embrace change has to do with early childhood development

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Why is change difficult?

When we talk about change, it usually means leaving our comfort zone. Often, fear or insecurity prevents us from changing things. We prefer to stay in our familiar so-called comfort zone. After all, we have created this comfort zone over many years with resources that we know and are aware of. It is the area in which we feel safe because we know what we are doing and what results we are achieving through repeated repetition of activities or behaviors. We have acquired ways of acting that provide a predictable result and thus give us security.

Schlüssel, frühkindliche Entwicklung

Change vs. security

Leaving our comfort zone often means that we don't know if we can achieve the new or our desired goal with the help of our existing resources. Sometimes we also think we have no resources at all to tackle our problem or goal. Or we don't know what results our actions and efforts will bring ("Who will I be when this or that occurs?").

Behind all our fears and anxieties is a basic human need: the need for security! It is a biological imperative.

One of our deepest fears is the fear of the unknown - much like the fear of dying. Our ego doesn't know what's going to happen, and that scares it. So we do almost all things in life ultimately purely out of a fear (unconsciously) and with the goal of creating security.

When we feel safe, everything works out easier

Already as a child, we gain confidence through practice. We repeat certain movements or activities so often that they become second nature. This is how we learn to sit, crawl, stand, walk, talk, etc. Practice makes perfect. Because it creates security. As children, we are much more open to this, we dare to fall down and get up again and again. Until we can walk or ride a bike safely. As adults, we have often forgotten how to do that.

Our self-confidence - that is, our awareness of our own self - has a lot to do with whether we master things or not. If we are aware of our self, we know how we feel when we do something. We gain this knowledge by having experiences, by experiencing.

In this learning process of "feeling safe in the body", the integration of the Primitive Reflexes plays an essential role (I will publish another detailed blog series on this to explain the connection between body safety and psychological safety).

The fear of the unknown (connection with the primitive reflexes in early childhood development)

We already build up our ability to deal with fears in early childhood development, when sensory perception is learned in conjunction with body movement (e.g. crawling). It is precisely in this developmental phase that the first deficits that can cause fears arise. This means: not, as is claimed in the many social media posts, that everything has to do only with family origins and psychological development, but also (and to a much greater extent than we can imagine) with the development of our physical abilities.

In the first years of life, the so-called primitive reflexes that we have from birth are integrated. The complete integration of these reflexes is crucial, because it is precisely in this phase that initial deficits can cause later anxiety.

In addition to the poor integration of the Primitive Reflexes or physical development, there is the psychological or behavioral development. These two are closely "intertwined." When we learn at this age that our environment is not giving us what we need (and no one will be able to give that 100%) our body switches to "survival mode". We learn to compensate. We may then start walking before we have even learned and practiced crawling. When our body realizes that it is not getting what it needs, our psyche also kicks in: we then become afraid of not getting enough and begin to take matters into our own hands, such as skipping the crawling developmental stage and thus maturing certain skills too quickly.

However, the crawling stage is incredibly important for muscle development, proper spinal alignment, and to develop bilateral coordination, etc. The consequence of skipping this phase at the body level: we have coordination difficulties, postural weaknesses or the like (e.g. scoliosis).

For example, it is then possible that whenever we tilt our head backwards, we feel insecure and uncomfortable. This is then due to the poorly integrated Moro reflex. Our own posture does not give us sufficient security.

Many people know this: when driving a car, we turn our head to the side to talk to the passenger, and then tend to steer the car in exactly that direction. In this case, we are not able to steer the car straight. This may be due to a poorly integrated asymmetric tonic neck reflex (ATNR).

Excursus: our deepest fears

At various stages of development, our deepest fears emerge, which also drive our behavior. These are: the fear of living, the fear of rejection, the fear of abandonment, the fear of not having enough, and the fear of not being enough. These various fears shape parts of our behavior. For example, if we always put the needs of others above our own and do everything for others without looking out for ourselves, there is often a deep-seated fear or insecurity that there is not enough for ourselves. Or: if we feel a constant urge for "more" and are constantly driven to do new things or more, our belief set is often "I am not enough".

Unconscious and physical processes during change

Many factors play a role in phases of change. From a neurobiological perspective, for example, it is a matter of building and linking new neuronal pathways. We achieve this through changes in behavior and also with the help of movement. Since imitation of early childhood movements is a subcortical process, movement does not have to happen cortically (i.e. sequence of movements), but in a subcortical way or through play! In this way, we can create new neuronal trails that, with the help of repetition and practice, become highways and eventually freeways, so that eventually what was initially new becomes a fully automatic action again.

Last but not least

The decision to do something different and engage in something new is often a conscious process. But there are also the unconscious changes. For example, when a feeling is just so strong that the conscious mind doesn't make a decision because our unconscious mind has been involved for a long time. We all know this when we fall in love.

Of course, many changes are initially cognitive decision processes. But we can overcome our fears with the help of our body in the form of embodiment exercises and gain a sense of security even in uncertain times (e.g. with the SSP).

And here's an appeal to the parents among you: The best way to prepare your kids for future challenges is through exercise. So, get out in the woods, on the playground, etc.!

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