THE THERAPY ROOM: Are we destined to become our parents?

Posted on 20 March 2019 by LeslieM

A patient’s story

Nancy, a fictitious name I am using for confidentiality purposes, arrived at her scheduled psychotherapy session emotionally distraught and explained that she just saw her reflection in a mirror and realized that she has the same quirky facial expression that her mother has. Nancy’s uncle recently told her at a family gathering that she looks just like her mother. Prior to the psychotherapy session, Nancy had an argument with her husband and used harsh words, actually the same harsh words that her mother used when she argued with her father. Nancy began to cry and asked me, “Am I insane? Can I be turning into my mother? How do I stop this from happening?”

It’s partly due to our DNA

I informed Nancy that awareness is the initial step she is beginning to take to determine if she is expressing similar traits to her mother. I explained that we all have two biological parents, so there are going to be physical similarities, but we are not clones of our parents, and it would be ideal if during early childhood we could choose personality traits and physical expressions that do not imitate our parents. Nancy and I needed to focus on the many role models she grew up with, including siblings, other family members, friends, teachers, etc. in order to examine the numerous role model variations that are part of her identity.

Neuropathways

When a person is stressed, it is very difficult to be conscious of the fact that they are reenacting patterns such as using the same harsh words in an argument that a parent used. It is necessary to work on reducing the stress level and, at the same time, realizing that it is not necessary to snap and be nasty to others like a parent demonstrated. Choosing to do things differently than our parents and then repeating our new way of doing things again and again allows our brain to create new pathways and, therefore, we do not repeat parental learned patterns.

Nancy asked me to explain what I meant by saying that the brain creates new pathways. I explained that neuroscience and neuropathways shed light on how we become like our parents and how the brain develops. When we are stressed, we tend to access the neuropathways that were formed when we were a child. We were taught these patterns by our parents. When you create new pathways that reflect who you want to be, even how you want to react to certain situations versus accessing an old pathway or pattern you learned as a child, you will not think or feel like you are your parents.

Benefits of Psychotherapy

Nancy is not destined to be her mother as she fears and is working to recognize and understand the negative parental patterns and behaviors she learned as a child. Nancy also said that she appreciates many positive patterns she learned from her mother and father, and wants to discuss them further in therapy. Nancy is learning more about who she is and who she wants to be. I continue to encourage and support Nancy (and you) by saying, “Change is always possible.”

Dr. Julia Breur is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton. For more information, visit www.drjuliabreur.com.

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