Sins of the father

Monday, December 3, 2012 Permalink

I inherited some great traits from my parents. Both were/are considerate and caring and I think I am as well. My mother loves reading, as do I. My father was athletic which I also am – in a relative sense (albeit unfit!).

But… quite understandably I inherited some habits and traits which aren’t quite so positive.

I had yet another coaching session with Karen Anderson last week. My skype ‘self-acceptance’ sessions with her are challenging and confronting. But also rewarding. We’d had a bit of a break (forced upon us by my IT troubles and a pesky hurricane at her end) so had some catching up to do.

As evidenced by my recent posts I’ve been struggling a bit to find a sense of direction in my not-working life. But, recognising how much my identity had been defined by what I did for a living, and having time to consider my writing, blogging and money-making options have been useful. In fact, I think I’m beginning to get more of a sense of what I’d like to be doing next.

I shared with Karen the meltdown I had the previous week (yet again related to my internet and communication issues). I have an entire self-soothing post half-written as I realised that I AM NOT GOOD AT CALMING MYSELF DOWN. Or self-soothing. My go-to position involves food. I was gonna eat and eat and eat. Just cos.

What I do in my sessions with Karen is break stuff like that down. And it’s probably obvious that my frustrations and anger were less about the fact that my landline had disappeared and the Telco had lost my broadband order, as it was about the fact that the whole experience had left me feeling very disempowered. I felt like a victim. Poor me. And naturally I respond(ed) to these feelings by getting angry and binge eating. Regular readers will know that when I talk about  bingeing it’s often accompanied by anger. I’m seriously STUFFING that food down.

Dad& Deb Oct 68

I won’t go into a lot of detail here (because it’s personal and not really my story to tell) but somehow the conversation moved to my dad. I told Karen about some aspects of his behaviour which annoyed the crap out of me. Even now I find myself getting upset as I realise that, the same things that frustrated me about his behaviour… I do. Sort of.

We all know that not only do we inherit traits from our parents, it’s not uncommon for us to model our behaviour on those who influenced us as children. This can be a good and a bad thing: I talked about being considerate and my love of reading; but SOMETIMES children who’ve been exposed to abuse as children grow up to become abusers or partners of abusers. Even when we don’t mean to, in times of stress, we fall back on old habits.

Now – fortunately – I’m not talking about anything that extreme.

Until his heart transplant and dementia, my father was a HUGE character. Larger than life. He had a big personality. A strong personality. He was generous to a fault and overly solicitous to others. But… I told Karen, he struggled with his self-worth.

As do I.

I’m sure many of us can look at others’ behaviour (even those we love) far more dispassionately than we can look at our own. It’s quite shocking really to think that we demonstrate those traits we dislike(d) or even hate(d) in others.

By talking through the one incident with Karen, we delved deeply into behaviour I hadn’t realised I’d ‘inherited’ from my father. Don’t get me wrong. My dad was a wonderful father, husband, friend and person. Like everyone he had his strengths and weaknesses.

As an adult I can look at certain aspects of our behaviour and understand ‘why’. The strangest thing, however, is that even though (I think) I’m pretty self-aware, I hadn’t equated some of my behaviour, thoughts and feelings with my father’s.

I’m more conscious of the futility of my reactions now – because that’s how I viewed dad’s in similar situations. I just have to hope that – sometime down the track – it also translates to how I deal with my thoughts, feelings and responses and breaks that ‘go-to’ binge-eating habit.

Are you sometimes surprised at what behaviour or beliefs you’ve inherited from your parents or others from your childhood?



  • Char
    December 3, 2012

    I’ve inherited my meekness and lack of self-esteem from my Mother. I hate the trait in her and I hate it in me. It’s weird that we can see it so clearly in our parents and yet we still go along the same path – probably because of all the training we got in that trait before we were aware of how destructive it is.

    • Debbish
      December 3, 2012

      Very true Char – lots of years of indoctrination.

      I think I inherited more positive habits than negative but the one in question I hadn’t really thought of as being something that dad exhibited – or rather I didn’t put the pieces together. I could see he did this or that, but didn’t think too much about the ‘why’. Whereas with me, I think a bit about the why – but not the result.

      If that makes sense…. (this has allowed me to step back and see the big picture).

  • Jess
    December 3, 2012

    Interesting Post. I’m not so good at/ self aware enough to realize most of the personality traits I have inherited from my parents. Although I can definitely think of one major negative. But when I’m with my husband and in laws I can see all kinds of things he has inherited. It is almost spooky at times!

    • Debbish
      December 3, 2012

      I can imagine! I was surprised to realise the root of a behaviour of mine was the same as that as my dad’s… (and I DO think I’m pretty self-aware. Although maybe I’m kidding myself!).


  • Miz
    December 3, 2012

    it’s sooo trite but many days I think to myself as I say something to my child:

    • Debbish
      December 4, 2012

      Yes… Friends of mine who are parents cringe when they find themselves saying the same things to their kids that their parents said to them. Despite vowing they wouldn’t do it. I think it’s always worse in times of stress – we fall back on what we know / what’s comfortable!

  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    December 4, 2012

    Awesome post Deb…I love where you took this! And yes, I’ve had to work on the very same things in regards to my mother.

    • Debbish
      December 4, 2012

      Thanks karen. Am also working on the homework which is challenging but helpful.

  • Liz@LastChanceTraining
    December 4, 2012

    Yes and yes, and I seem to have picked up their worst traits not their best ones, so it’s a bit confounding and disappointing!

    • Debbish
      December 5, 2012

      Awwww…. perhaps you have some of the positives and you’re just not aware of them!

  • Marion
    December 5, 2012

    Hi Deb! I really x 10 understand this post. The problem isn’t really the overeating, it is that underlying thing that causes it.

    I had a *very!!!* dysfunctional childhood. For many years, I didn’t ever realize how dysfunctional it was because it was “normal” to me. As soon as I went to a therapist and told him everything I went through, I immediately felt relief and started to lose weight. I learned to make life changes that made me more empowered. It is a LOT of stress on a person to have excess unresolved anxiousness from childhood. I used to be far more anxious every single day (which was very exhausting), than I am now.

    Regarding fathers: I really loved my Dad, who was a good person in certain ways. However, when I met a guy gym friend who was so very much like my dad, I realized that I had been scared of my dad (and also of this friend, such that the friendship did not last)! When we are young, we make heroes out of family members to rationalize some of their behaviors that would freak us out, to the extent that we wouldn’t function. I think part of our minds, even when we were young, knew the truth but did whatever we needed to live through it.

    You’re delving into the right things, Deb. Because facing the worst aspects of your past is eventually what makes life easier and more joyful to live.

    🙂 Marion

    • Debbish
      December 5, 2012

      I think I was pretty lucky with my childhood Marion – I can’t imagine the difficulty that those who were abused etc have as they get older. It’s funny isn’t it, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle… I know why I do certain things, I know (now) why dad did too (mostly about how he coped with anger – internalised it etc), but looking at ‘our’ behaviour from the outside I can see how fruitless it is to play the victim etc. If it makes sense, before I felt I was achieving something from that behaviour (well, it made me feel better and I assumed / hoped EVERYONE else would realise how hard done by I was!!!?!?). But watching my father act in a similar way was just really frustrating.

      I don’t get angry ‘at’ people. I rage at the wrong things. And I keep it inside (and eat it!).


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