How Parents Influence Us

“It is not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what events mean.”
                                                                                -Tony Robbins

Our parent’s influence on us is profound. Whether we want them to influence us, and no matter how close we are to them or how long we lived with then, their influence on us is profound.

There is the genetic aspect, there is a generational aspect, there is the power of their beliefs on us and our sense of belonging, the power of modeling behavior, and also the power of something that is intangible; hard to put words to. We are learning that our experience in the womb is more impactful on every aspect of us than we previously knew. 

Genetic material is developed and passed to us, unresolved traumas in our parent’s lives and their parents lives are passed to us, and we are completely connected to and with our mothers. Our mother’s feelings we feel. We are aware of every sound around us and of our mother’s connections to what is around us. If there is chaos, we feel it. If there is a lot of love, we feel it, and so on. The research that is going on about brain development teaches us that during the last trimester of our gestation and the first three years of life are the most important times to its growth and development. We develop the brain and neuronal patterns; we develop neuronal and synaptic patterns and connections to us and to our primary caretakers that can become hardwired during that time period. 

If one or more of our parents were available and loving, our brains develop in a certain way that doesn’t occur with events of abuse, trauma, unavailability, rage and anger. 

How they parent and how they react to stimuli become by default our reflexive patterns unless as we grow up we are able to open ourselves to look at us clearly, without defense and shame and blame, and make conscious choices in our own lives. Back in the 1970’s my father had finished his psychiatric and psychoanalytic training and had been in private practice for some time. At that time he began writing about and drawing about what occurs in us and our brains when we have healthy parenting and enough availability, and our experience in the womb was full of love and anticipation and calmness than anxiety, fear, and abuse. In other words, he wrote about and drew out in over five large posters, the brain development in health. Then, he drew out what happens to us and our brains when things go wrong; when there was chaos, anger, anxiety, etc. in the womb and when the first years of our lives had more difficulty. He drew approximately twenty posters showing the development of different mental illnesses when things go wrong. He always liked to say that the third trimester is so crucial to our lives and our development and he could always recognize when there was third trimester trauma through symptoms of anxiety, hyper-alertness, oversensitivity to stimuli, sadness or depression, autistic traits and such. He drew out what goes wrong in the brain with different phobias, with bi-polar difficulties, schizophrenia and more. He was way ahead of his time, and the posters are beautiful illustrations of how the connections with our parents are so vital to our well-being.

There is a woman I work with who lost her mother as a small child and then came over to America from Africa with older siblings as a young teen. Her family is very close, but the loss of their mother and then the tribal wars surrounding them forced them to split the family up. Some came to America and their father and brother stayed in Africa. Dad didn’t want to leave where his wife was and her memories, and also to lose his job and start over as an older man. He did want most of his children to live a safer life. This woman is a very sensitive, warm, intelligent woman who loves her family. She does well, even with her traumatic early life, and is now in school to become a teacher and is engaged to marry a man she loves. When you meet her, you can tell how her mother must have been; a loving, warm woman. She had a good beginning despite the tribal wars. Her parents influence is strong within her. Recently she was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Her reaction was very extreme. She was hit from behind, and it turns out there was not a lot of damage to her car. Yet, after she was rear ended, she couldn’t move as she was in so much pain. When she was driven to see me a week after her accident, she was in severe pain and could hardly move. I had never evaluated a person from a car accident with such a severe whiplash. The first two sessions, her fiancĂ© had to drive her as she couldn’t turn her head. When I examined her and worked with her, her body would physically jump with every touch and with any pressure other than light sensation. If a noise occurred she would jump. It took two weeks until I could gently massage the parts of her neck and back that were so traumatized. In the second week, through noticing how reactive she was, I began to realize that this trauma, being hit suddenly from behind and being taken by surprise, triggered her early traumas as a young child in Africa. I asked her then about her early life and what life was like for her in her village, or town. She began to tell me a little about her life and the wars. I then helped her to realize that her physical reaction to the motor vehicle accident was directly related to her early traumas. She didn’t know; she had put a lot of it behind her. We know that doesn’t work very well.

Even with a good beginning with her parents and family, those war torn chaotic years surrounded by surprising events and loud sounds affected her profoundly. She gets triggered by loud noises and by surprises. Her good parenting and their influence helps her to live as good a life as she does. And yet, those young early traumas impact her in a large way. Our parents influence in good, bad, shameful, ugly, and also wonderful ways. With their influence, it affects how we respond to life. That she does so well is a testament to the family love. But we can’t escape the effect of trauma on us and especially when we are so young and our brains and nervous system are still developing. Our path involves being open to learning and to seeing us clearly and the impact of our early caretakers on us. Next week I will talk some more about this and what happens when our early years with our caretakers are not so good. There is always the path to growth and to becoming who we truly are and to living our own healthy, vital and whole lives. 

Shift Your Story/Shift Your Life: Guided meditation or visualization

Sit down and get yourself comfortable. Make sure your feet are gently resting on the floor underneath you and settle into deep breaths. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply 2,3,4 times. Close your eyes and in your mind’s eye see your parents or caretaker. If one of them is more clearly in your mind, focus on that one. See him/her as clearly as possible. Breathe deeply. Ask her for help in understanding her. Ask her/him to show you an image of something that shaped and impacted their lives that affected their parenting you. You may or may not know the story yourself. Just let an image surface. Maybe you will just see their face differently, or maybe a story will surface in your mind. No matter how factual it is; it could very well just be a metaphor for their lives and yours, or an image that has meaning, or a look they give you, or even a color you see or a smell. Take it in and thank them. Now imagine what they want for you even if they couldn’t live it their selves, or give to you what you needed. What would they want for you in their heart of hearts? What would they have wanted for them? Now see yourself living as you want to live. Imagine any cord or chain or belief or influence that keeps you back from being and living as you want to disappear. That cord or belief is gone and see in your mind’s eye doing something you have always wanted to do or being with someone in a way you would like to be. Be with that for a few minutes and breathe it in. Take a picture of it so you can take it with you; feel it and remember the feeling. Now become aware of you on your chair and your feet on the floor beneath you. Breath in deeply 2,3, 4 times, and open your eyes.

If it helps you, write down in a few sentences, or a word what that experience was like for you. And as always, I would love to hear from you about your experience.

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