Our family and close relatives are often times one of the strongest factors in shaping who we are and what we become later in life.
You can’t fully understand yourself if you haven’t first looked at the patterns that run through your family. This is true for both genes and environment, both of which interact together from generation to generation.
One of the first key factors that influence our family patterns are learned behaviors. These are the habits and routines that our grandparents taught our parents, and our parents taught us, and we teach our own kids.
Some of these learned patterns can be traced back to past generations that you probably haven’t even met or don’t even know exist. And other learned patterns may be something that was just started from your parent’s generation.
The second key factor that influences your family patterns are your biology and genes. You’ll probably notice that you share many physical features and personality traits with other relatives. It’s also true that there may be certain health risks and illnesses that run through your family.
We are just beginning to understand the complex ways past generations influence who we are. For example, very interesting and recent research has found that your grandma’s experiences can leave a mark on your genes.
Most of us already understand how our experiences can influence our gene expression through epigenetics, but to see this effect carry over to future generations is really remarkable and shows us just how dynamic the relationship is between our genes, environment, and family patterns.
For better or worse, these factors come together to help create who you are.
However, how these patterns emerge isn’t as important as understanding what these patterns are. The more you can identify the patterns and tendencies that run through your family, the better prepared you will be to reinforce the positive patterns and offset the negative patterns.
First, we have to look at the many domains of life where family patterns can have an influence.
Family patterns can influence your:
- Beliefs about the world and personal values
- Relationships and how you socialize with people
- Eating habits and diet
- Fitness and how often you’re physically active
- Career, education, and job choices
- Hobbies and how you spend your free time
- Religion, culture, and social traditions
- Where you choose to live
Now take one moment to go through each of these categories and think of the ways your family patterns have influenced you.
Ask yourself, “What are common patterns I find among two or more family members? How have those patterns made an impact on my own life?”
Get to know your family. Ask them questions about their lives. Ask them about other family members they knew well. Try to identify the similarities they have with your own life.
It is very likely that you will find each of these categories are in some way influenced by your family patterns, even if you don’t happen to follow them exactly.
You’re also going to find some of these patterns influence you in a positive way, while others influence you in a negative way.
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Which of these patterns have benefited my life? Which of these patterns have hurt my life?” and give yourself an honest answer.
As you become more aware of your family patterns, think of ways you can build on the positive ones, and find alternatives for the negative ones.
You’re not going to be able to detach from your family patterns completely – nor do you probably want to – but you can take some responsibility for your life too, and not just attribute it all to your circumstances.
Remember at the end of the day, the power you have over your own life should triumph over any other factor.
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