Monday, May 9, 2011
Modeling On Our Parents
The older I get, the more I realize that I am just like my parents. There was a time when I would have rejected this notion bitterly: I am NOT like my parents. I've spent my whole life trying NOT to be like my parents.
It's mostly unconscious and completely out of my control. The behaviors that I witnessed as a toddler formed the template for my future life. It is possible to alter this template but I don't think it can ever be overcome.
Jung said that it's not our parents that wound us; it's our fantasy of our parents that wounds us. I think that's an important concept. How much time do we spend going over our grievances? How much anger do we have towards dad's indifference or mom's suffocating micro-management? Were they really as atrocious as our memories indicate? Or are we just spinning a narrative that's convenient to our self-image? Somewhere in this skein of memory lies the truth. It's almost impossible to find the truth after coloring in all the spaces with our interpretations. I'm not even sure the truth is so important. It isn't about what our parents did to us; it's about who our parents WERE.
I'll be very specific. My mother had no self control at all. She ate herself into obesity. She spent money that nearly ruined the family. She drugged herself into both stupor and frenzy. There was no brake on her temper. She blamed everyone for her troubles. She was cruel.
My father had too much self control. He had no spontaneity. His emotions were bottled up. He seemed to secretly enjoy being at the center of crisis, so he arranged his life to provide him with ample crisis. He married a woman who could provide continual drama.
A toddler observes his or her parents and models on them. This modeling is so powerful that it will dominate a lifetime of behavior.
After ten years of therapy I got to know my parents pretty well. But I missed some fundamental things. I have only sketchy memory of the little stuff, the daily habits, the body language. I forgot the way my mother stuffed herself full of candy and cookies every night before she went to sleep. And what do you know? Here I am, a middle aged man, stuffing myself full of candy and cookies. My bedside table looks like a Seven Eleven counter.
I talked to my dad about it. He admitted to doing the same thing. It's a family trait, eating junk in bed while we watch TV. When my sister and I were very little, we slept in a crib next to our parents while they watched Jack Paar and consumed Oreos with milk or ate Snickers bars.
Here I am dealing with the same behavior now, and it's compulsive. I can't get a handle on it. I've been doing it all my life. I need to stop this and it's really hard. I substitute. I get raisins instead of candy. Sooner or later, I slip back into candy or dunking oatmeal cookies into milk. Or both. I know better. I practice Yoga, I know about nutrition, I know the do's and dont's of our modern system of self maintenance for health and vanity.
This line of thought arose after a visit to the doctor and a shocking weight gain of seven pounds. I'm a big guy but I hold steady at my weight, I've held steady for decades. I noticed that I was doing a lot of junky night time eating and I could feel the pounds coming on. I know it's all about frustration, it's comfort eating at a time of discouragement and sorrow.
The Flame raisins at Whole Foods are really really good. Maybe I can try graham crackers instead of oatmeal cookies.
It's food for thought.
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