Did you ever find yourself saying or doing something you promised yourself as a kid that you would never say or do when you grew up because you did not like what you heard or saw? You are not alone. Most everyone I meet admits to it. People often find themselves out of the character they hoped to become—a loving person. Why is this so? The answer is both psychological and biological.
When we were children we did not have strong boundaries. Those developed only gradually and in the meantime we absorbed words and actions into our psyche which of course is housed in a body that is filled with memories and impressions. If your role-model dealt with stress by having another drink or striking out in anger that is the nonverbal ‘how to’ lying quietly, and unconsciously I might add, in your psyche. Thus, in a similar situation you are apt to do what was modeled.
Here is an example. Rachel, at heart a loving person, came into therapy with depression. She disliked how she reacted to her husband and children with criticism and anger when she was under stress. Then, laden with guilt, she would use alcohol to self medicate. When I asked her how her dad would handle the same problem she answered with “He did have the same problem and he became an alcoholic and lashed out at his kids and wife.” When I asked her how her mother might solve the problem if she had it, she answered: “She would get critical, withdraw and get depressed.” It was not a coincidence that Rachel was spinning her wheels in her relationships and gravitating towards addiction and a deeper depression. An ‘aha’ moment came to her. “I get it. I took myself as far as I could go. I did what I saw and heard. I am in therapy to learn healthier solutions to deal with life and relationship stress.”
Here are things a person can do.
1. Think of a relationship problem that keeps you stuck or frustrated.
2. Answer honestly:a. If your mother had this same problem how might she solve it?
b. If your father had this same problem how might he solve it.
c. Are their solutions healthy?
d. If unhealthy, did you follow in their footsteps?
4. If you followed in someone’s unhealthy footsteps, forgive yourself as it is what you knew.
5. Find healthier role models or create your own.