Think back to your earliest memory. How old are you? Research has shown that most people’s earliest memories date back to when they were about 3½ years old, although many adults only remember things from when they were about 6. Since we retain so few of those early memories from between the ages of three and six, the experiences we do recall probably have a profound impact on who we are as adults.
The things we remember can vary widely from person to person. They can be play activities, injuries, big transitions, or even traumatic situations. Typically, what we remember from that period is tied to strong emotions. So if many of your earliest memories are periods of play, they are most likely tied to strong positive emotions such as happiness or security. Big transitions, like moving or starting at a new school, may be associated with sadness or fear. Traumatic situations are often tied to extremely strong negative emotions.
These emotional memories have a lot of influence over your tentative identity as a teenager. Your early experiences can shape how you view your body, your skills and talents, how other people see you, and your place in society. Over time, you incorporate your experiences into your larger sense of self. The earliest ones, the things you remember most strongly from the beginning years of your childhood, really shape the way you see yourself and the world.
Of course, the things you experience between adolescence and early adulthood have a large impact on your identity and personality as an adult. Your friends, schooling, family, relationships, and choices will continue to shape your identity into your 20s. Keep in mind, however, that it’s never too late to make a change to your life or your identity, no matter how old you are.
And, if a time comes when you’re ready to make a change and break free from early life patterns that are still playing out in your life, feel welcome to reach out to a therapist who can guide you in that transformation.