Why Do We Turn Into Our Parents?

Like it or hate it, your family’s imprint on your identity and character is indisputable. To a degree, you are them.

Surely you can see it, even if their influence rears its head in minor elements of your character.

Without doubt, I can see elements of my parents in myself – both ideal, not so ideal, and some just plain odd.

If I look to Dad, I inherited an extreme case of sore loser syndrome from him. Seriously, beat me in something and I’m insufferable. I’ll hold an intense (but fleeting) grudge. Monopoly and Mario Party’s innate ability to destroy relationships is multiplied tenfold in my case. Aside from that, I also luckily inherited his work ethic and drive, and his natural confidence with people.

From Mum, I received the tendency to over-worry and double check everything (and yet, my car is always locked every time I go back and pull on the door handle to check if it is). Also, like she used to, I sleep walk and talk.

I’ve been known to have entire conversations with people in person, on the phone and via text while asleep. I’ve also dressed head to toe in my school uniform and dragged my guitar against the floor to the front door. At 3 am. For a lesson I was convinced I had.

I promise I did get other things from her except a tendency to worry and the occasional demonic possession. I did get her wonderful way of thinking and life outlook. Pretty good trade-off for only needing a few exorcisms.

It’s funny though. The extent of my parent’s influence has manifested itself even in the smallest and weirdest of ways. Classic example, my family has a tendency to sneeze at an alarming decibel level. I’m convinced my grandfather’s tinnitus can be significantly attributed to his deafening bellow of a sneeze. My dad’s sneeze similarly shakes the house (and eardrum). I hate it. I do it too.

But these kinds of things are only the surface of trait inheritance.  An individual’s emotional learning is arguably the most impacted. Developmentally, a human’s learning is guided by their formative attachment patterns. The learning is guided and nurtured by your family, progressively forming your emotional identity. It structures the way you are able to connect with others – be it positive or negative.

The book A General Theory of Love, by psychologists Lewis, Amini and Lannon, provides us with the proper explanation.

In infancy, our ‘emotional scaffold’ is malleable and extremely receptive, forming our temperament and enabling core abilities like the ability to understand facial expressions. When we interact with our family at this age, our pluriopotential structure moulds to create a template for our emotional interactions; our emotional identity.

As a result, even though we may often try and dissociate ourselves from our family or their traits – to change ourselves through new relationships and experiences, we are unable to ever completely separate ourselves from the identity that was created through our infancy affections.

It’s both beautiful, peculiar and potentially tragic – an ‘inescapable dance between the family and the self.’ It is a wonderfully mysterious thread that keeps you, in some way, the same as your childhood self – and therefore the same as your family in many respects.

In this sense, I’m sure you can look at yourself and consider how you connect to others, and see, at least to a degree, how that is influenced by your childhood.

I’m blessed to have had affectionate parents who heavily prioritised their kids’ needs and interests, and encouraged self-reflection and introspection. On one hand, I can see how I’ve developed an ease to connect to people at face value. On the other, I can see how my emotional independence (and hesitance in opening up to new people) has developed.

The idea that someone would think and connect differently seems pretty obvious, but we tend to forget it. Or, you know, neglect it. It’s something that can be hard to fathom and understand when you’re getting to know someone else. You know, beyond awkward small talk in a bar or in class or something.

When you really get to know someone. Pillow talk kind of getting to know someone. 3 am conversations with your mates while sitting at some non-descript backyard table. That kind.

Its weird – I mean, everyone’s childhood and upbringing is so unique. You can’t expect someone to connect the same, think the same and react emotionally, if at all, to the same things.

But you can talk to them about it. You can get to know them by understanding the influences that make them, them. It’s something that, even to this day, I’ve only truly understood in a few people.

And that, I think, is truly the absolute power of family. There isn’t really a word I can think of to describe it. The fact that the inextricable link to your family is inescapable. Their presence or lack thereof, their nurturing or neglect, their openness or coldness, every facet of the attachment you’ve had to them, has impacted you. It’s a powerful paradox of beauty and tragedy depending on circumstance. Above all, it’s an eye opening thing to reflect on.

A redeeming and beautiful aspect that Lewis, Amini and Lannon propose relates to our gradual neural transformation over time. Although maintaining its core template, our emotional identity may change, synapse by synapse. And amazingly, this drift can be fast and far enough that we can find a stranger’s heart where we hold or once held another’s – family, friend or partner.

It’s cool – and I guess why many of us tend to drift towards friends or lovers that remind us of our loved ones. We can’t escape them!

Take care guys,

Dan

You can check out my insta here: https://www.instagram.com/dan_kwar/

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