Excerpt from Healing Relationships is an Inside Job:
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The Eight Things That Influence How We Become Who We Are
If the relationship that most bothers you is estrangement from your child, you may blame yourself. If you have a lot of difficulties with your parents, you may blame your parents. If you have problems navigating through life, you may blame society, poverty, or lack of opportunity for your troubles today.
Who is to blame when relationships don’t turn out the way we’d like them to, and when we aren’t the people we’d like to be?
A few years ago, I cut out a cartoon called “Non Sequitur,” by Wiley, whose comics have an off-beat but right-on analysis of life. In this strip there are four cars lined up at an establishment called McDoc’s, where a sign points to “Drive Thru Analysis.” A poster on the window says, “FAST answers to complicated questions!” As one car drives up to the window, a man inside says to the driver, “It’s your parents’ fault . . . NEXT!”
Is there even any point in assigning blame? Let me suggest an exercise that can put blame and responsibility into perspective. Take out a piece of paper. Fold it into half, thus dividing it into two sections. Fold it into half again, creating four sections. Fold it one more time to create a total of eight sections. Write these headings in each of the eight sections.
There is no doubt that your mother had a significant role in how you turned out. If you are a mother, you have a significant role in how your child turns out. But notice that we have seven more sections to fill in.
As with the female parent, fathers have a great influence on the child. Even if there is no father in the home, the fact that there is not a male presence means “something” is missing. In saying that, I do not mean to imply that single parents cannot do a heroic job of parenting. It is just that, although she may be the best possible mother on earth, a mother cannot share a male perspective with her children.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS AND GENETIC MAKEUP
A person’s height, which is not something over which we have much control, tends to give an advantage to one person over another in sports, in the classroom, and even in politics (taller candidates tend to win). Genetics is a given you can’t “think” yourself out of. Who you are—as well as who the other person with whom you have problems is—is partly influenced by DNA.
Inborn temperament traits, as we have seen, set the stage for how a person responds to life, how we respond to others, and how they respond to us. And as much as we would like to view equality between the sexes, the fact remains that physically there are gender differences that definitely do influence who we are.
Here is where an individual has responsibility for how things have turned out until now. To the extent that we continue to make choices every day, the quality of our relationships rests in large part on our shoulders. The choices you make each time you meet a person with whom you have difficulty makes a significant difference in whether the situation is likely to get worse or better.
No one would doubt that the type and level of schooling you received has helped make you who you are today. A one-room schoolhouse and a large campus can shape very different kinds of people. Also, difficulty in learning because of undiagnosed dyslexia may have contributed to how you or the other person sees life today.
FRIENDS AND EXTENDED FAMILY
When you were a child and left the shelter of your house, the people around you were able to persuade and manipulate you as your personality was being developed. Even today, we are shaped by the opinions of pundits, political parties, celebrities, TV personalities, religious leaders, neighbors, co-workers, and bloggers.
CULTURE AND SOCIETY
There is no doubt that the world in which I grew up was a very different place than the world of my children and grandchildren. Drugs were not available at all to the extent they are today. Their easy access made it possible for my son to obtain drugs and alcohol and there were not the facilities and programs to deal with teenage addition as there are today.
FATE, LUCK, GOD AND CIRCUMSTANCES
A child whose parents divorced or died when she was four will have a different experience than if her parents divorced or died when she was fourteen. Tragedies happen to the best of people and there are simply some things that don’t seem to be under anyone’s control. As I said earlier, recognizing this fact can make life much easier to accept.
You have the power to change some things about who you are today; you don’t have the power to change everything, including other people. Keep the reality of choice in perspective and you will discover that the path to healing a relationship is much easier.