About 15 years ago I read a book called Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves, by Dr David Stoop. It was at a time when I was trying to understand and forgive my parents for all the things they didn’t do to protect me. I was still looking to blame and find out how much I could hold my parents to ransom for what they’d done. What I’d discovered whilst reading the book, an epiphany perhaps, was the idea of ‘choice’. That ultimately no matter what’s happened to me, or who’d hurt me that I still had a choice with what I could do from here on in.
What was most important and one I still recall about the entire book, a point that pretty much changed my attitude from there on in, was the point the author made when he said, ‘by the time you reach 21 you can no longer blame your parents for the choices you make.’ He said that at that point, it is 30% upbringing and the 70% is up to you. He went on to say that as we get older that the percentage related to our upbringing (30%) is reduced even further.
The point Dr David Stoop’s was making was that once we become an adult, it is up to ourselves what we become, what behaviours and beliefs we carry and what choices we make. That we cannot keep blaming our parents for what they did or didn’t do.
So from the time we can independently make choices about what school we’ll go to, the friends we have, the job we take, the choices we make on how we spend our money, who we share our time with, where we’ll live, once we can make these choices independent of our parent/s we then have the same choices on what beliefs we hold onto, what behaviours we choose, what habits we create and how we perceive our world.
But so many of us go through our entire lives blaming our parents, our upbringing, for the way things are in our present. So often people use the story of their upbringing to excuse their behaviours and to uphold faulty beliefs. They speak as though their beliefs and behaviours are fixed in stone; unchangeable, out of their control to change; a part of their biology.
Have you ever heard someone counter an argument or respond with, “that’s the way I was raised?” Whether it’s a good or bad behaviour they’ve learned? Particularly if its a negative behaviour, it’s often an automatic response.
How often do we step aside from this response and really look at it objectively? I mean really look at it? What makes human beings incredible, is that we can modify our behaviours and unlearn what we have learned and learn new ways of being, responding, behaving and thinking. Yet most of us run on auto pilot and simply run the same patterns that we’ve been taught, without so much as a a thought that what we’re doing is repeating the patterns of our upbringing.
Many people I speak to, when we’re talking about specific problems they’re having and why they’re struggling so much, the majority of the responses I get is that it was something they learned growing up, or, that’s the way it’s always been. What fascinates me is that most of these people don’t recognise the choices they have within themselves to change this. It’s not even on their radar to question it, to challenge these beliefs or behaviours they were taught. Even when these beliefs or behaviours are detrimental to their lives and no longer serving them.
Let me draw you to a very simple example. When I met my husband in our early 20’s he absolutely hated cauliflower; couldn’t stand it. Consequently he never bought it. I on the other hand loved it. But for arguments sake I never bought it. After 12 years of not having cauliflower, I decided I would introduce it to our children who had never had it. My husband quickly responded that he had always hated it growing up and so wouldn’t be having any. He could recall with much contempt, when his parents made it and what they did to it, even the smell (or stench as he recalled)in the air as it was cooking. I then said to my husband, “How about you give it a try, you’re not at home anymore and you might feel differently?” As reluctant as he was and convinced that he would never like it, he tried the cauliflower and alas, discovered that it wasn’t that bad at all and it is now appears quite regularly at the dinner table.
Now whilst that’s a very simple example, it shows that the beliefs we hold, no matter how strong they may seem, can be changed, if we’re willing to challenge them and see if they still hold true in our lives now.
Whether we like it or not, our parents did the best job with the knowledge, skills and beliefs, they had at the time and the very likely possibility that they were simply repeating the beliefs, and behaviours they were taught. We can’t change what happened in the past, but as adults we have the ability to change what our future looks like. Our future does not have to be a repeat of our past, if we’re willing to look honestly and openly at the beliefs we hold now and the behaviours we exhibit.
So take an open and honest look at what beliefs or behaviours you’re holding onto. Question where they come from. Do you like these behaviours? Do you need to hold on to them? Is it serving you now? What behaviour or belief would you prefer to have? Can you let go of these behaviours and beliefs that no longer serve you? Can you change them to reflect the kind of person you want to be?
Regardless of your past, what you were taught, or what you have been through, you have the power within yourself to change the beliefs, behaviours and habits that do not serve you, that do not portray the person you wish to be.
“Never look back. The past is done. The future is a blank canvas. Work on creating a masterpiece. Only you have the power to make your painting beautiful.”
– Suzy Kassem