(For Podcast version of this blog, click here.)
Sometimes a family member can exhibit behaviours you recognise, but do we inherit these? or are we mimicking? or do we subconsciously want to be like them and we 'see' similarities which are not really there?
I can say that almost invariably, at some point in a conversation with my clients around their personality and characteristics, there is a likening to a family member, and it is usually along the lines of "Oh, I am just like my father/mother/grandfather/grandmother (delete where applicable)" (and no they don't often say "delete where applicable").
We all will have said it at one time or other, and oftentimes it is a valid opinion.
BUT. Characteristics and personality are mostly formed from our earliest experiences of those nurturing us (the wider discussion around 'nurture vs nature' and trans-generational trauma is not a blog post but a much longer discussion). My studies into the psychology of criminal behaviour and the interviews of criminals around their thought patterns and processes has brought out no obvious direct causal links, but indicators exist of very likely patterns within the socio-economic experiences of peer pressure and financial struggles in their lives.
For this blog though, I am going to focus on the use of negative familial traits to disassociate ourselves with, or distance ourselves from, the responsibility and accountability for actions or behaviours which are destructive or antisocial. Positive actions or behaviours which we associate with some family member or trait are typically indicating a pride in that member or trait and an underlying pride in ourselves, and is typically seen as a positive psychological alignment, albeit showing a modesty in our own achievements.
There are a few reasons why we would want to distance ourselves from personal responsibility for actions or behaviours and typically for my clients it is part of a process of dealing with fear or self-loathing, often enmeshed in their struggle with some element of psychological challenges they are going through. It is a form of 'excuse' that they can't help being the way they are because it is "in the family".
Whilst as I mentioned, there is an aspect of accuracy in this, especially when it comes to a propensity to commit acts of crime, if you have been brought up in that type of environment, it is often a fear of facing up to not the actions and their consequences, but the changes and effort it will require to make the necessary cognitive re-alignments to alter these behaviours in the future. To change the way we react to events.
I know from personal experience, that when you 'return' from an episode of either the mania or the depression of a bipolar (or manic depressive) incident, there are hugely challenging emotions which arise from simply seeing the pain and fear on the faces of our loved ones who, let's face it, are on the journey with us but who are often equally as powerless to prevent them as we are. Those around us have to watch as we struggle, not knowing if or how to help without making the situation worse. They are often the unsung heroes who ultimately help us to get through things, or are left with lifelong pain and anguish, and even a misplaced sense of guilt, for those who don't make it.
When faced with the reality of these impacts on others, the accountability for this, rather than any responsibility (as it is usually outside our control) can be a trigger into other episodes unless we can disassociate ourselves from it, often by blaming it on a 'family trait', and beyond our ability to have reacted or behaved any differently. We think of ourselves as slaves to the family genetics.
Whilst I became very interested in the research into the genetic associations with psychological characteristics (we already know of the physical genetic carry-through), I have always been passionate about the ability to affect changes in the way we react to events through cognitive re-alignment, having not only done this with my own behaviours, but have had huge success with many of my clients. Breaking down habits and what have become 'natural' reactions, to form new ones, is the mainstay of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Re-Alignment, and has proven to be extremely effective under the right conditions. More seriously disturbed psychologies require additional help from the fields of psychology and psychiatry and carefully planned medication strategies, handled by extremely qualified mental health professionals.
For the majority who don't require such additional help, with the right support and coaching, ideally from someone who has actually experienced their issues first hand, it is absolutely possible to break such neural habits and tendencies and form new ones. Sure it is a hard and sometimes emotionally painful journey, but so worth while, which I know only too well.
Next time you find yourself thinking you are acting 'just like your mother or father', ask yourself if it is because you have done something to be proud of and exhibiting a form of gratitude for the way they brought you up, or because you don't like who you are or what you have done and are looking to pass accountability on to them for 'making you the way you are'? If it is the latter, it might be time to think about engaging a good personally experienced life coach and cognitive therapist to help you make the changes in your reactions and behaviours you need to make.
Next week I will touch on some insights into behaviours that reading non-verbal communication, such as body language and micro-expressions, can bring and what they can't tell you.
Stay safe, and live life don't watch life!