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How I stopped being all I hated about my parents

How I stopped being all I hated about my parents

“The beautiful thing about life is that you always change, grow, and get better. You aren’t defined by your past. You aren’t your mistakes.” ~Unknown

When I was fourteen years old, I was angsty and screaming at my parents to stop me from doing so. I aspired to be like them. That’s what I meant.

My father was an avid workaholic and was rarely at home. When he was at home, he was emotionally unavailable, arguing with my mother, or he’d escape the stress of our house by going to the betting shop to gamble.

My mother, who had unpredictable mood swings, didn’t allow me to set age-appropriate boundaries and would often talk to me about the lack in intimacy between my father, and my mother. These were, unfortunately for me, not role models.

As I entered my twenties I began to believe that my life would be a different one. I was determined to not become my parents. For many years, I proudly believed that I hadn’t become my parents.

Then, one day, I opened my mouth and heard my mother’s voice come out. I can’t even remember what I said, but I recall the feeling of utter despair. Despite all my wishful thinking, I had finally become my parents. This prompted me to reflect on my life so far, and I realized that I had repeated many of my parents’ patterns.

I had become a workaholic to avoid feeling my emotions, was in an abusive relationship but didn’t realize this until well after it had ended, and I struggled to know how to develop healthy friendships due to difficulties setting boundaries.

Shit. Damn. Bugger it.

I’d accidentally become my parents! I was unable to stop it from happening despite all my wishful thinking over the years. I thought I had more control of my life than this.

My own self-discovery journey revealed that there are many reasons we keep repeating the same family patterns. They can be changed, I learned.

Humans learn from watching and copying other people’s behavior, and children are sponges that soak up everything in their environment.

When I was young, my dad ordered a dinner at a restaurant. The vegetables on his plate were frozen. Instead of complaining about the terrible restaurant, he ate the cold meal and sent the food back. I felt angry and resentful as an adult because I found it difficult to assert myself in similar situations.

Learning behavior isn’t a one-time event. It is passed from generation to generation.

My paternal grandparents, for example, lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s before I was born.

They taught my father that food was a precious resource. This belief he carried with him into adulthood, and it was passed on to me.

Because the dysfunctional family dynamics are carried on into new generations, this is known as intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma generally refers to events that profoundly affect people such as child abuse or parental incarceration.

Sometimes, we aren’t even aware that our family dynamics are unhealthy, or we might be aware but are too scared to change. This is often because people want to belong and be accepted. This is actually vital to our survival.

Some people find that repeating these family dynamics is a way to stay a part the family unit.

From a young age, I was often labelled as the ‘black sheep’ of the family, because I voiced the unspoken, toxic family rules. I found it easier to separate myself from my family than to remain in a negative family environment for my mental health and well being.

We have good news. can change our patterns so that we don’t become (or continue to be) our parents.

The first step is to be aware of the unhelpful patterns that you’re carrying with you. We cannot change without awareness.

To begin, I asked myself what emotions I experience most often and if they seem out of context or disproportionate to the situation.

The one emotion that I struggled with most was jealousy. Whenever a friend would share something positive about their life—if they got a new car, got a promotion at work, or won a competition—my go-to emotion was jealousy.

This negatively impacted my friendships as I was constantly comparing and driving away my friends by trying to make my own life better. This resulted in perfectionism in everything I did. It was exhausting. I couldn’t maintain this lifestyle, and I felt like I was drowning.

After my breakup, I was at a low point and sought therapy. Therapy taught me that my belief about myself was the reason I compared myself so much to other people. I didn’t feel like I was good enough as I was. This was clear when we looked at the relationship that I had with my parents.

They compared me to other children and only praised me when I did better than them. As an adult, I felt jealousy towards others. Jealousy meant I was always trying to prove my worth to others, rather than living my own life.

Then I looked at my beliefs and emotions about the situation/emotion, and tried to figure out how and when they came about. Identifying the patterns behind my behavior was a positive first step in my inner healing journey, because you can’t heal what you don’t know.

Because I wasn’t taught what emotions were or how to understand my emotions as a kid, I needed to learn how to do this as an adult.

My therapist helped me understand the reasons behind my emotions and developed new strategies to deal with them.

Insecurity and fear are the reasons for my jealousy. I was able to learn to identify my thoughts, and when I realized that I wasn’t actually unworthy but rather that was the story I had learned from my parents, I was able to choose different behaviors instead of continuing to follow the same old patterns as before.

Perfectionism was a way I worked too hard, so I learned how to slow down with mindfulness and yoga. When I learned to recognize my emotions and not react to them unconsciously, I was able make better decisions about how to respond.

I found that it was easier to understand my emotions and move away from comparing myself to others. I was then able to enter the entrepreneurial space and start a business that I love. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t done the inner work to change and not become my parents.

I learned this was why my wishful thinking didn’t work. I knew I didn’t want to be like my parents, but without additional support from a therapist, I didn’t know what to do instead! Therapy taught me how to change old patterns.

The rest was about practice. These patterns and habits have been around for many years. These habits and patterns would not change overnight. With perseverance, practice and persistence, I was able make significant changes in my own life. I found it helpful to keep a journal to record my progress so that I didn’t forget how far I’d come.

It was also important to me that I remember my parents were human. In addition to recognizing the unhelpful habits they taught me, I found it useful to remember some of the positive traits or experiences I’ve gained.

My dad was a workaholic but instilled in me a strong work ethic which helped me in starting my own business. My mother loved to travel and passed that passion on to me.

Reminding myself of these things allows me to acknowledge my parents’ humanness, especially in moments where I find it hard to offer them grace. I find it helps me to remember the positives and to show compassion for myself.

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About Eloise Tomkins

Eloise Tomkins, a psychologist by training, has entered the Executive Coaching field. She is passionately committed to helping entrepreneurial women lead from within. This will allow them to grow to be 7-figure leaders and increase their impact in the world. You can find out more by visiting her website at www.eloisetomkins.com or on Insta @eloisetomkins_

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