To Understand Yourself, Understand Your Legacy
Most of us receive some sort of legacies from family members—a ring from Mom, Dad’s fishing pole, or Grandma or Grandpa’s car which is old but still running. These are obvious inheritances. The ones I’m talking about aren’t tangible or material. They’re the experiential legacies of the people who raised us.
One of my clients was reading an old classic I’d loaned her, Dr. Patricia Love’s The Emotional Incest Syndrome, and started thinking about her mother’s mixed bag of a life growing up. Another client brought her father into therapy to improve their relationship and sessions often consisted of her hearing for the first time about the horror of Dad’s early years in foster care. Another client discovered that her aunt was actually her sister because her grandmother didn’t want anyone to know that Mom had an “out of wedlock” child when she was only 15 years old (a shocking but not uncommon occurrence).
My point is that your mother pressuring you to lose weight or look perfect didn’t come out of thin air. She may have endured similar pressures herself or, conversely, because her parents neglected her, vowed to give you all the guidance she never received. Your Dad may be hard on you because he rationalizes that the whuppings he received as a child are what made him the success he is today. Your aunt may put you down relentlessly because she can’t have children of her own and is jealous of your mother. Your paternal grandfather may have been disappointed so many times in his hard life, that whenever you talk about your hopes and desires, he immediately dashes them, fearful that your thinking big will leave you as disillusioned as he is.
How many of you know your parents’ history with food or weight from their childhoods on? Do you know if they were raised by chemically dependently or mentally ill parents? What does it mean when Mom says her parents were very strict: Did they just scold or physical abuse her? How did Dad get to be as taciturn and unemotional as he is: Is it because neither of your grandparents ever showed any emotion so he wouldn’t have learned to be expressive. How did Mom get her wild streak: Was she was so overprotected as a child that she turned into a rebel when she was of age to do so?
The better you understand the dynamics of how your parents grew up, the better you’ll understand the legacy they gave you which you are often fighting against today. Who they were and what they did and didn’t do affects you now, playing out unconsciously in your life. The more you can be curious and compassionate about their early lives, the more you can feel these same emotions toward and better understand yourself.