Roots & Dysfunctional Tendencies

A trending song on my current iPod hit list is Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”. My favorite line is, “You know you came from it, and someday you will return to it”.

The current season of my life, interestingly enough, has revolved around going back to my roots, the foundations of my childhood, and exploring how those things shaped me to be the person I am today (I think it’s the English major in me, and the need to make meaning out of every event). Part of this has been re-connecting with relatives–my grandpa’s siblings, my grandma’s sister, my family out in Iowa, and their very mid-western ideals. Part of this has been remembering things that happened when I was growing up–the time I left my sister, running to the bus and she fractured her ankle, the time I made ‘secret cupcakes’ for everyone (this probably started my tiff with cooking), the fights we used to get in over dial-up internet. Part of it has been re-connecting with my high school dance team friends and reminiscing about how slutty those mermaid costumes were, the very moving sailing state performance, the vivacious coach who raised us and taught us to be the women we are today.

I read this book one time (well, I actually donated it before I even finished reading it because I didn’t think it deserved merit to be on my bookshelf) that talked about pathology and how we inherit certain dysfunctional patterns from our parents’ DNA’s that we are almost unable to curve. So, her aggressive tendencies and low self esteem were due to some kind of genetic makeup that generations and generations of her family expressed. I am not sure I buy this theory, but I do believe that the experiences we encounter significantly shape who we are as people.

I also believe that, as 20-somethings, it’s important for us to go back and dissect how some of these things influence our lives today, especially if we plan to have healthy marriages later on. We have this saying, “You are just like your mother”, because, as humans, we have a natural tendency to revert back to whatever is comfortable. My greatest fear when my long-term boyfriend and I broke up was that I would end up in a similar relationship, because that is what I knew. So, I started going back in my memories and trying to pinpoint, not only moments in our relationship that were dysfunctional, but also dysfunctional tendencies I learned from my parents growing up, and then I started devising solutions to re-route those dysfunctional behaviors.

For example, I grew up in a family that believed in “taking”. If it’s free, we should take ten of them. If someone offers a free service, we should take advantage of that. If the government creates a loan program that we qualify for, we should sign up for it. When we took family grocery trips, my mom made sure to bring ALL of her coupons and competitor’s ads, max out all of the free stuff, and put up a stink with the minimum wage clerk when a price was 50 cents off. In her eyes, the world owes her a favor and she should take whatever options available to make her life easier. I was at CostCo one day and realized I was savagely pushing people out of the way to try their free samples of Kombucha. I don’t even like Kombucha, but I carried this mentality that, if it’s free, then I need to have it all. That is Step One: Becoming Aware of the Dysfunctional Tendency.

Step Two: Recognizing It’s Influence: I started going back and thinking about times that I unknowingly exhibited this “taker” attitude, which of course, infiltrated many parts of my life. When we were pigging out on Peachy-O’s on someone else’s Campus Cash in college, I made sure to eat as many as possible since it wasn’t my meal cash to waste and when I used my own Campus Cash, I never offered to share my Peachy O’s with anyone. Whenever I went to a parade and they threw out candy, I would plow over the little kids in the streets to gather up as much as I could. But, more seriously, I remembered a teammate in high school who used to pick me up and take me home. Since she offered me the ride, I never thought too much about it, but now realize that, since I grew up in an environment of ‘takers’, I never would have picked up on the social custom of giving someone gas money.

Step Three: Curve the Tendency: For me, curving the tendency starts with an apology. As attacking as it can be on my ego, I know that best way to start changing my dysfunctional tendencies is to admit to someone else my convictions, and then I can start ‘the road to recovery’. If you have ever read “The Secret”, there is this philosophy that things happen once you send them out into The Universe (my favorite, if you want to get married, wear a faux wedding ring?). I am infamous for sending out mysterious apology letters/cards/e-mails/text messages/voicemails/interpretative dances, because I want “The Universe” to accept my apology; I don’t want to live with the guilt I uncovered. In the previously mentioned case, I sent my high school chauffeur a very long overdue thank you card, along with a gift certificate. Then, I began finding ways to curve this dysfunctional tendency: when I drove my friends places, I never expected gas money. When I go to the farmer’s market, I only take the samples of things I genuinely want to try (usually the peaches and free wine samples). If someone does something nice for me, I try to find a way to do something nice back. Of course, it’s always an on-going thing, and I will never be able to curve all of the dysfunctional tendencies, because no one is ever perfect, but I feel empowered by just making small shifts; I now know I will never allow myself to default back to “what is comfortable”.

Society is very critical of the Millennials, saying that we are lazy, disinterested, and too casual; we participate in casual dating, because we are too afraid of our ego’s being rejected; we Tinder Date, because that means I don’t have to put myself out there; we “hang out” instead of “go on a date” because a rejected hang out is way less demeaning to our self-esteem. I think this is partially due to the fact that we grew up in a “white glove, blue ribbon, everyone wins, bullies are bad” society, and that 50% of us grew up in divorced families, so we are trying everything necessary to prevent ourselves from experiencing those same painful fates we watched our parents go through. However, I am not sure “casually dating”, “Tinder Dating”, and “hanging out” are the answers, because those arenas do not really confront the issue at hand. The issue is that we, in fact, grew up in dysfunctional families that taught us dysfunctional tendencies. Perhaps your tendencies are lack of commitment, need to manipulate, proclivity towards playing “the victim card”. For me, I tend to give ultimatums, I shun you from my life if you do something that makes me angry, I blame everything on everyone else. While we cannot control the environments in which our roots are designed from, we can control that ways in which they influence our adult lives.

5 Responses

  1. […] “Crappy childhood” is no longer an excuse: To an extent, we all experienced a crappy childhood. When you are in high school, and sometimes college, you are still tied and dependent upon your family that crappy childhood type things can kind of impact your day to day life. Like, if your parents kept you up late, arguing, and you go to school tired, that will probably impact how you do on your test. If your sister is wild and out of control, and your parents have to use your college fund to pay for her rehab, then that might impact your financial stress levels. But, by the time you are 25, you are perfectly capable of moving out of your house, setting boundaries with your family members, and going to counseling to break those dysfunctional tendencies. […]

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