Imagine everyone walking around with a backpack on their shoulders just like the ones we see school children wearing. As a family consultant, I don’t see school books inside the packs. I envision those backpacks filled with a child’s family patterns, rules of behavior, common traditions, family secrets, lots of how to’s, parental expectations and styles of emotional interaction.
Stop for a minute! Have you ever considered the importance and weight of the “family matters” that you carry around on your back every day? Your whole life is determined by what is in your backpack – known and unknown – and how you manage it. How many of us have taken the time to look inside and see the inner workings of why we behave and interact the way we do?
Unfortunately, our backpacks, on day one, are already pre-loaded with the history of both of our parents’ family histories. That history can be good or bad; we have no choice. At birth, how responsible are we for being born into poverty, for being born into a loving, well-adjusted family, for being a healthy or unhealthy child, for having a family history of substance abuse, for good looks, athletic ability, inadequate schools and on and on? There are many more to list. But my point is that it is really a “crap shoot” as to what assets and liabilities are going into your backpack as you start out at birth. You have to take what you’re given.
Some of us will grow up in a mine field, being frightened and uneasy most of the time because of the adults around us. Two siblings, going through the same experience will have different end results. Some of us our better survivors. John is withdrawn, shy and seemingly voiceless while his sister, Charlotte, is outgoing and resilient. Hard to figure and understand.
We have little to no choice in picking our inheritance in our early years. And, many of us have an inadequate awareness as to the dynamics that are interacting and playing out as a result of what’s in our backpacks. Does Sam have any idea that when he is pulled into the principal’s office for bullying Mike that he is probably mirroring the behavior of someone, most likely a family member, he has seen treat him or others in a similar way? Most of the behaviors of school children are mirror images of what they have seen the significant adults in their lives demonstrate.
By our mid-twenties, we need to be making a healthy choice to be whom we want to be. We now become totally responsible for what is in our backpacks. Can’t be blaming others. What’s in the backpack is ours to deal with even though we might not have put it in there. The better we know what is in there the better we can handle it. Open up the backpack and do an inventory. It may be a little unsettling; but change always is.
I believe it is in everybody’s best interest to take the time and examine the items in their backpack. Age doesn’t matter. Start wherever you are. You will be carrying these issues – both positive and negative – for a very long time. They will determine how you conduct your life. Some of those issues will drive your life choices and decisions so you better understand what they are. That backpack is a driving force. It helps to have it unpacked and explored. Choose the family patterns and behaviors that work for you, and begin putting aside what you absorbed, assimilated and inherited that isn’t working for you. You may want a consultant to help you take that inventory.
Make a list of the patterns, customs, habits, traditions, ways of interacting that you are aware of inheriting from your family and write them down. The writing is important as it enables you to see them in black and white. You will see positive and negative stuff. Acknowledge what is working well; be grateful. Unfortunately, you might find a few questions or concerns that are lurking there like:
how come I am so silent in groups, why do I worry about meeting new people, how come I seldom assert myself when I know I want to, where did my low self-esteem come from, how come I tense up every time I go to visit my father, why am I feeling so stuck, why am I not living a life filled with more passion and purpose?
Put a check mark next to the concern that you might be willing to consider investigating. We are not ready to change anything yet. It will take time; it has probably been there for some time for a reason. It serves a purpose; if you remove one thing, something else will probably change as well. Next week I will begin looking at how to develop a plan when you want to change things that are not working in your life. Let’s talk more about this article in the comments below.