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Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Conversation About Identifying Family Patterns

Lately, my writing has been teetering off the edge of being horrible and I hate it. I feel it strongly myself so please bear with me as I continue to pull things out from head-to-journal without giving the elegant fluidity of the language much thought. I shall endeavour to try and write better.

Last week before heading out to my hometown, I went to see my psychiatrist. On top of the medication he prescribes for every visit, he counsels me now and each time, it does help me identify certain issues and things about myself that have been deeply embedded.

For example this week, he and I got to talking about my tendencies of being overly harsh and critical of myself in an unhealthy way. I have a habit of blaming myself when something doesn't go right, and I judge myself in a down-right negative way. He mentioned that it's okay to be critical of oneself, but as long as it's not self-destructive, and in my case, it could do more damage than it will aid my healing.

"You know what's weird about it? Is that I don't, know where it comes from. I don't know how, or when, or wha... I don't know how it sank into my system. Because I'm sure that with issues like this, it has got to come from somewhere right? Like your upbringing, your background, an event in your life or whatever."

"Yes. And I'm sensing that your parents might have been strict or critical in their way. Or perhaps you probably grew up in an environment where people must have been critical of you, and not necessarily in a good way."

"Was there a lot of affirmation in your life? Do you get reaffirmed, for being who you are?"

Me: [long pause...]

"I guess there was no affirmation from my father because he's emotionally unavailable. But with my mother, I'd say yes. There were many times where I get affirmation for my choices and for doing what I wanted to do."

"But I think you know... because I am too sensitive, and my mother was so practical in her own way, and strict too in how things should turn out that the constant comparison with other people, criticism and pointing-out of problems or issues might have just dissolved whatever affirmation there was and became the thing I focus on. But speaking of this, why do you think it happens?"

"Well it can be a lot of things but I mostly think it's the culture that we live in. The society. I too personally struggled with affirmation when I was your age and found my way out of it later on on my own in my adulthood."

After talking to him that day, my strong beliefs in a particular life coach's theory about people inheriting the patterns and pathologies of their families sky-rocketed. Particularly if you grew up in a family unit that already has a certain kind of mental or behavioural practice that partially led to you being who you are.

That very same afternoon, my close friend and I were on our way to spending some time in my historical hometown. During the long drive, I started to tell her a bit about my conversation with the psychiatrist that morning. Then, something struck me and I started to ask her.

"You know, there's actually something that I noticed about you ever since we were friends. I mean it didn't even really hit me until I started opening my mouth a while ago."

"What is it? Tell me!"

"As we all know, I am a very emotionally expressive person. I express myself verbally, physically, emotionally and also in every other possible form. Which is why I hug, I kiss, I touch and I tell people I love them or I like them. I've always made an effort in letting important people know genuinely how I feel about them."

"And I think 'that' was a gift to me from my mother because she hugs, kisses, touches and playfully caresses us since we were kids. She tells us she loves us and she expresses her love through maternal touch. I realised that because I grew up being okay and comfortable with that, I used that on the people around me too and sometimes, they get weird about it because it's not them or their style."

"So I was wondering if your parents do that to you? You know... touch you, hug you and kiss you often. Or maybe constantly tell you all the time that they love you to your face?"

"I see your point. This is good, so go on. And I think I know what you're getting at. "

"Because I realised that you're not very good at 'receiving' those gestures. I mean I've constantly told you I love you, I like you, I hold you in deep regard. I've even given you kisses, hugged you tight and held your hand, but each time, you always seem a little stiff, awkward or uncomfortable."

"It's like you have no idea how to respond and I end up thinking that it was me. But actually, now I realised that it's not me, but rather your lack of ability to you know... "

"Yes M. I think you hit a very important point there. One that I didn't even realise until you finished that last sentence! And yeah, I think maybe it's because I didn't grew up with that and my parents have never expressed their love so openly and affectionately like your Mom does. They don't say 'I love you' or 'I'm proud of you'. I know deep down as parents, they do feel those things, but they don't express it out.

Me: [laughs]
"No wonder. Bingo! Eureka moment for you!"

"But listening to you talk about family patterns and pathologies, I'm now starting to worry if my children will grow up and inherit this lack of ability to receive affectionate gestures too. The hugs, the touch, the kisses, the verbal expressions... How can I change it?"

"I don't know... I'm no expert. But at least I'm happy to have helped you identify this issue. And maybe you need to start figuring out for yourself on how to embrace the things I talked about? Don't worry, we'll figure it out as we go along. We'll help each other out in our ways."


  1. Sometimes we seek out friends who can fill something in us that we did not know we lacked. Maybe your journey with your friend is to enable her to show demonstrative affection and to bring her out of her upbringing and into the person she really is. Just a thought.