The late American screenwriter Frank Howard Clark once said, “Habit is something you can do without thinking, which is why most of us have so many of them.” And where are most of these habits developed? In our families of origin. Many patterns of behavior learned in the home thrive for generations simply because no one in the family realizes there is any other way to do things.
Often, these patterns are harmless and may even be well-worth passing down. Some, however, may be destructive and damaging to individuals. Others may simply be less than effective. Consider this somewhat funny example of the latter: One day a newly married woman was getting ready to put a ham in the oven for her first Sunday dinner at home with her new husband and his family.
Her husband watched with questioning eyes as she pulled the ham out of the refrigerator to prepare it and immediately cut off two inches from both ends. She seasoned the ham, plopped it in the pan, moved it to the oven, and then unceremoniously threw away the ends of the ham! It took a little courage to question his new wife as she readied the rest of the meal, but he finally spurted out, “Why on earth did you throw away those perfectly good ends of the ham?”
Baffled, the wife responded, “Well, isn’t that the way you’re supposed to cook a ham?” After some discussion with her husband, the wife decided to call her mother to get proof that this, indeed, was the proper way to cook a ham. “Mom,” she said, as she handed her husband the phone in exasperation, “will you please explain to Joe why it’s important to cut off the ends of the ham.” Her mom somewhat sheepishly replied that she didn’t actually know the reason; she’d just watched her own mother do it for years.
This prompted a call to Grandma . . . and a few good laughs a few weeks later after the proverbial smoke of the argument had cleared.
Grandma’s response? “Well, I only had this tiny pan. The hams your grandfather brought home from the butcher never fit, so I just cut off the ends. Maybe I should have bought a bigger pan.”
Take a moment and think about the story of the ham. The consequences of following precedent without question were small here. But what if the precedent isn’t in how you cook a ham but how you react to a child who shatters a plate or a spouse who doesn’t do exactly what you ask.
If you’re the first in a family line to want to break an ineffective or unhealthy pattern, changing may seem more impossible than moving a mountain. But it’s not. It takes time, work, and more time. But it is possible. And worth it.
All families pass along traditions. Some traditions promote success, encourage love, and serve and heal those who choose to participate. Others can be both negative and positive. Some family traditions come without any good.
Families who pass along dark abuse and hate pass along traditions that must be eliminated in order for a family to heal and experience long-term joy, peace, and love. Most families don’t intend to pass down destructive messages to their descendants. In fact, most parents want more for their children than they had for themselves.
Why should any of us take the time to identify our family beliefs or traditions? The reason is twofold. Doing so helps us better understand and love others, including ourselves. It also clearly focuses our energies on achieving our goals.
Family traditions are limiting or false when they hinder one’s ability to love, understand, and succeed. Transcending any limiting aspects of your family’s heritage increases your capacity to achieve your potential. When you are unable to love yourself, you are unable to love others.
Because low self-worth sits at the core of a variety of dysfunctional behavior (e.g., drug abuse, alcoholism, physical and sexual abuse, and other addictions), it is crucial to expose any limiting family teachings that may destroy your sense of worthiness.
People who love and honor their ancestors often struggle to look objectively at their family patterns. Loving children and grandchildren often fear uncovering something negative about their relatives. They may assume that doing so will make their family appear bad, when in fact their family is good. Discovering limiting family patterns doesn’t mean you’ve established an agenda to criticize your heritage. Rather, it is a process to improve upon it.
Pay close attention to your family’s attitudes, to the non-verbal messages that are sent when a child behaves a certain way. Are you passing down biases and prejudices? Or are you passing down love and acceptance? How do your actions influence your children’s behaviors? And how are your behaviors influenced by your own parents’ actions?
Spend some time writing down the answers to these questions.
Discuss them with open-minded siblings, a spouse, or a friend. Simply pinpointing what behaviors and attitudes come from your family’s history may be an eye-opening experience and a catalyst for change.
In fact, it can be a very positive beginning to healing and cultivating the self-love that allows individuals to thrive and succeed.
Essential Oil Tip
The following is great recipe to try as you begin your journey to self-love and work to break negative family patterns:
Combine 4 drops each fennel, rosemary, basil, bergamot, white ﬁr, and lemon in a 10 mL roller bottle. Top off with your favorite carrier oil.
Roll the blend on the left shoulder and move from front to back; apply two to three times a day and whenever a destructive pattern emerges.
Repeat this affirmation out loud after applying the blend: “I am safe. I create a safe and loving world. I am loved. I love and accept myself. I am comfortable changing my perceptions. I am free to be me.”