No matter how much we love our parents or how far we’ve run from them, they provided our basic building blocks. And, though we all at some point in our lives giggle (or choke) at how we’re inevitably turning into or sounding like our parents, do we really understand the magnitude of it?
Answer: Way less than even the most self-aware of us are aware.
I promise you, most of us have never fully dealt with how deep the emotional, not just physical, DNA goes. In some way, shape, or form, who you are today, even if it’s the polar opposite of who your parents are or were, is still a reaction to them. Is still not wholly and freely designed by you. If we are subconsciously, or even consciously, busy being better than our parents, sticking it to them in some way, and/or improving on our unresolved childhood experiences, is that even a self-creation? Or is it simply a reaction?
You see, when you were born, you were handed a goody bag of sorts, similar to the kind you received as a kid at the end of a birthday party. Except this particular goody bag didn’t have any Pop Rocks, Fun Dip, or dollar-store toys in it. It included your physical DNA (molecules, genes, etc.) and your emotional DNA (personality traits, inner dialogue, issues, beliefs, theories). In it was everything you witnessed, learned, mimicked, made up, and endured growing up—from your parents’ marriage to society at large. Your bag is influenced by everything from your race to your sex to your pecking order to the schools you attended to the towns in which you were raised. And we all, without meaning to, built our personality from that very bag we got handed.
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Had any of us known we were making our own personality, let alone our marriages (or avoidance of them), from that very bag, we would have tried to consciously design it a bit differently, right?
But what can you expect; you were ten at the time!
In some areas, you know exactly what you did with your goody bag. You did great things with it. In reaction to your father never having a great career, you worked toward one you love. You grew up with an addicted parent and chose to stay sober. You saw what didn’t work in your parents and, without an ounce of venom in it, you upgraded yourself.
You, without question, did better.
However, most of us have not built our personality as a source of pride and pleasure, with zero resentment, with zero reaction, and from a place of pure design, forgiveness, and in honor of our parents. And it is that very reason that you and I are doubling back and getting you conscious of how unconsciously you were built. You can either deny it or dig in and deal with it.
Allow me to show you some of what’s in my bag.
THE BIG C
Sure, hundreds of blogs later, you’re probably pretty darn clear that I come with a side of shallow (hi, mom) but what you might not know, if you don’t know me personally, is how much I also differ from my mother.
You see, my mom has a trait that my sisters and I have come to call “the Big C.” Thankfully, it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with cancer.
What my mom does have, however, is “couch.” She likes her things. And, not just any things. The best of things.
We call this trait, her love of things (particularly, fine furnishings), couch.
From Park Avenue to the East River to Beekman Place, the label matters to Mom. Even during a period of time when my folks’ finances plummeted and they had to downsize, I secretly wondered whether my mom would dump my dad for the French Empire daybed if she couldn’t fit the two into the smaller space.
And here we are. Four kids. Three girls. One boy. With that very trait in all of our respective goody bags. My reaction to it, you wonder? Sure. I love a good couch. But guess what? I married a man that couldn’t give two shits about material things.
My house is an adorable 1700s a-bit-worse-for-the-wear antique farmhouse. My closet, miniscule. Do I care? I have spurts. But, for the most part, not really. I’ve grown enamored of my love of not caring and unexpected not-my-mom-ness.
Sure, the Big C was in all four of our goody bags. But it wasn’t until I could see my version of it or, better yet, my aversion to it, that I could laugh at it, name it, and design it differently. Of course I want a nice home. So does my husband, David. It’s coming. He’s building it. But, not because I need it or because any of our possessions could replace what I love most. They can’t.
One time, David and I even tried to buy twelve antique chairs that he found online. Did we buy them? Nope. We left without the chairs, but came home with the phone number of two new friends, the chair owners.
Seems, in response to my mother’s couch, her preference for things above all, I don’t collect things. I collect people.
UPGRADING YOUR MODEL
The more open-eyed you get about the goody bag you’ve been given, the more you can create who you actually want to be. If you can figure out your parents’ blueprint first, you can connect the dots and have a say in the design of yours. It is revolutionary to not only know that you have your parents’ issues, but that you can intervene on your own behalf and change them. You can have more fun with, and a sense of humor about, your goody bag. You can have a romantic accountability toward what you were given and heal it.
Here are the six steps you’ll need to follow in order to leash a negative trait:
1. Pinpoint it.
Pick the negative trait you want to eliminate that is getting in the way of your dream. For example, if you’re looking for love, you will have to deal with some of the traits that are in your LOVE dream’s way, e.g., shy, shallow, cold, and/or pessimistic.
2. Observe it.
You’re going to start observing your trait in action. So let’s say you are an angry, easily annoyed grumbler. For about a week or two, see how the trait shows up all day long. Watch it. Catch it. See what triggers it.
3. Name it.
Give it a name. And, make it something funny. So catching it becomes not only wise of you, but also entertaining to you. Catching your nicknamed trait on purpose with a sense of humor is key to developing your higher self.
4. Leash it.
You are now going to leash your trait, which means that you’re going to put in rules and regulations about the trait to stop it in its tracks. Once you understand what you’re doing and how it deeply affects others, the impetus to change the crappy behavior and find the right promise and consequence to stop it, is there.
5. Replace it.
Design the trait that you want to replace the negative one with. So, for example, if you’re a relative of mine and wanted to deal with, let’s say, your shallowness, you’d replace that trait with depth, with caring to your core.
6. Implement it.
No surprise here, in order to change something, you have to put promises in place to cause that very change. You have to, uh, keep those promises (or pay up).
If you forgive the fact that I just called US our parents, you can see that I am arming you here with the ability to truly design your life. To make sure your dreams are exactly that—yours! So that when it comes to your dream about your marriage or your dream about your relationship to yourself, it doesn’t have to be a mere reaction to your parents. You can, instead, be able to dial in and dial out of the traits you want to cultivate.
I swear, at some point we ALL figured out how to change a habit that didn’t work for us. Think about how you learned not to drink till you puke. Right? Fourth drink, lo and behold, the bed spins. Stick to three. Voila. You changed. It’s a miracle.
It’s your turn to go cause the miraculous (cough, cough) again.
P.S. The key to happiness, in my book? Facing up to, owning, and changing the patterns that are repeating and holding us back. I’ll be talking all this and more next week on a Facebook Live with Jessica Ortner, host of the Adventures in Happiness podcast. Join us and send in your questions!