I had a conversation today which made me reflect on the way that parental patterns have a huge influence on us even as adults. This notion has been around for a long time. In the Old Testament it was believed that the sins of the fathers are visited on their children. This was at times interpreted somewhat simplistically as a a way of explaining inherited illnesses or chance misfortune. However, in another sense it seems to accord with what can be found in modern psychology.
Some of the behaviours which we see in adult life are in response to unconscious traces left by experiences had in childhood. In general these experiences we have when little frame us into certain judgements about the world. We come to see it as either predictable, stable and nurturing or uncertain and precarious. Our parents also had their own emotional and relationship patterns and ways of dealing with anxiety, and frequently played these out in their relationship to each other, impacting upon us as children. From this we drew our conclusions as to how to deal with the world, and how to develop our own relationships. This parental wound – or the places where our parents got stuck – has a huge influence on our own inner life. The inner world we form as a child will replicate what we see in the outer world and then as an adult we can gravitate towards situations that replicate this inner world dynamic.
We tend to do this by repeating the pattern or by being determined to do the opposite. However, because the opposite behaviour is undertaken in response to the parents’ way of behaving, we are still defining ourselves by it and end up strengthening the dynamic rather than weakening it. A lot of adult neurosis or anxiety can be understood as a part of the self looking to discover its full development away from the narrow confines of the family of origin. A repeating way of doing things or a rigid personal style is a clue to the original place of lack or neglect. Our minds love habits, even when they hurt us.
It is a slow work to recognize the limited nature of the early strategies which we have incorporated into our personality and begin the work of healing by no longer acting on them.
Telling the truth of our soul to ourselves is the first task. Living that truth is the second task. And telling it to other is the third. Such truth-telling will be the supreme test of our lives.