When understanding how people relate to each other and identifying the specific influences of their beliefs, thoughts and behaviors, the family we were born into or the “family of origin” has a major impact into how we learn to understand ourselves, others and the world around us. Let’s look at a few examples of how family, for better or worse, impacts and influences our decisions in life.
Growing up my best friend, Sarah and I would talk about boys and who we had a crush on and of course, dreamed about our wedding day. One day after school Sarah’s mom said, “By the time you’re ready to get married, all the good men will be gone.” Sarah heard her mother say on a regular basis, from the time she was an adolescent. It was a scary thought, to say the least, since she’d never envisioned a life by herself. In her daydreams, there was a man–a wonderful, handsome man–who’d express his undying love for her and carry her off into happily ever after. But Mom said he wouldn’t be there, and she said it so often and with such conviction, it must have been true. So, she figured if she ever happened upon a good man, she’d grab him, and that’s what she did.
Everyone congratulated Sarah, but not as much as she congratulated herself for reaping a harvest in the drought. Her mother praised her again and again—I’m so proud of you, so glad you found the one—and the elation continued, until she learned that a good man, is not necessarily the same thing. She had expectations he simply could not meet, things that she didn’t realize were so important, until she realized he didn’t have them. She committed to a man based on fear, and as a result, she ended up living her greatest fear of being stuck in an unsatisfying, resentment-filled marriage. Had Sarah had a healthier view of men as a whole, and who she was with or without one, she might have made a better decision and chosen a more suitable life partner, instead of the first good guy who caught her eye.
Sarah grew up in an environment that cultivated fear, and in the end, it dictated one of the most important decisions of her life. Now, this type of conditioning is not abnormal, and most people fall victim to it in some way. The field of study called, “social psychology,” explores how people influence culture and how culture influences individuals, and it helps us understand why we make the choices we make.
We live in a universe of systems. There’s the solar system, systems of government, economics, and education. Even our physical bodies operate as their own systems. If everything is working as it should—our blood is flowing freeing within our veins, our healthy cells are successfully battling any intruders—then the individual feels no pain and has the ability to move, breathe, and experience each day effortlessly. However, if the body is out of balance or is struggling to attack a threat, the person experiences negative symptoms as a sign that something is wrong. All successfully operating systems have this checks and balances structure set up, and the health of the smaller system influences the health of each one that is greater than itself, both directly and indirectly.
Outside of our own individual bodies, the first influencers we come into contact with are our family members. These people are the ones who live in closest proximity, therefore, they provide a model for the development of our skills of survival and adaptation in the world. In our youth, we are consumed with learning how the world works and how we fit into the grand scheme of things. We gain this education through experiences with family, which reinforce our own sense of self. For example, if a child happens to be a blooming artist, then a supportive family member will assign the labels of “creative” and “artistic” to that child, in an effort to nurture his inherent talents. It is through positive and negative reinforcement that we begin to see what people like about us, as well as what they dislike. These influencers begin to tell us who we are.
Not only do we learn who we are through these interactions, but we also learn about how to deal with the people around us. We watch and model how our parents speak to one another and to our siblings. We learn what behavior is acceptable and expected, as well as what behaviors will earn us undesirable consequences. A tricky truth about childhood is that humans have a tendency to believe what we see and experience first is the truth and reality of the world around us. Therefore, if we aren’t careful, we may take other people’s truths as fact, which could morph into a negative self-perception that develops into a defeatist mindset, preventing a positive evolution of who we think we are and what we think we can accomplish.
Our family unit is where we learn how to take the messages and experiences from the outside world and internalize them to help us create a deeper sense of self. If the messages we have received are dysfunctional or based on conditional love and appreciation, we will struggle to relate to others in a healthy way, later in life. Family is also where we learn to communicate and deal with emotions, both positive and negative. We all don’t all grow up with the same circumstances, but we can all reflect and pinpoint how our circumstances dictate the way we process, react and respond to others, as adults.
Now it’s time to take action
I would like you to take a few minutes and write down the positive things that you learned about yourself from your family. Then, I want you to write down the negative beliefs are expectations that you learned from your family and how it has impacted your life. Lastly, I want you to think of how you will challenge those beliefs and make small but mighty changes in your life. Feel free to share your wins and your insights.
If you have a question you would like me to answer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Until next time,
Be fair with each other.