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Unique Experience and Personality

Why is it that children raised in the same family are so different from one another, even though they have had the same experiences? The point is that they have not had the same experiences; they have had social experiences which are similar in some respects and different in others. Each child enters a different family unit. One is the firstborn, and is the only child until the arrival of the second, who then has an older brother or sister to fight with. Parents change and do not treat all their children exactly alike. The children enter different peer groups, may have different teachers, and survive different incidents. Identical twins have identical. heredity and (unless separated) come much closer to having the same experiences. They enter a family together often have the same peer groups, and are treated more nearly alike by other people yet even twins do not share all incidents and experiences. Each person's experience is unique in that nobody else's perfectly duplicates it. An inventory of the daily experiences of several children in the same family will reveal many differences. So.each child (excepting identical twins) has a unique biological inheritance, exactly duplicated by no one, and a unique set of life experiences, exactly duplicated by no one.

piling one incident upon another like a brick wall. The meaning and impact of an experience depends upon other experiences which have preceded it. When a popular girl is stood up by her date, this is not the same experience for her as it is for the wallflower. Psychoanalysts claim that certain incidents in one's experience are crucial because they color one's reaction to later experience. "Psychological" movies and novels often imply that psychoanalysis consists of probing into one's unconscious and dredging up the traumatic experience which caused all the trouble. This is a gross oversimplification. No boy develops a neurosis because his father destroyed a favorite toy when he was 3 years old. But it is possible that such a traumatic episode might become the first of a series of mutual rejection experiences and thus color the meaning of a great many later experiences. This means that each person's experience is an infinitely complicated network of millions of incidents, each gaining its meaning and impact from all those which have preceded it. Small wonder that personality is complex!

Still another factor appears in the selection of roles to play within the family. Children imitate each other a great deal, but they also strive for separate identities. Younger children often reject those activities which their elder Siblings already do well and seek recognition through other activities. Parents may unwittingly aid this selection process. Mother may say, "Susie is mama's little helper, but I guess Annie is going to be a tomboy," whereupon Susie starts. clearing the table while Annie turns a few handsprings. Sometimes a child in a well-behaved family selects the "bad boy" role, and scowls impressively while his parents describe their problem to visitors. In large families a child may be hard pressed to find a role not already annexed by an older sibling. Thus, in these and many other respects each person's life experience is unique=-unique in that nobody else has had exactly this set of experiences, and unique in that nobody else has the same background of experience upon which each new incident will impinge and from which it will draw its meaning.

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