“They fuck you up, your mum and dad…”
Philip Larkin, we know exactly where you’re coming from.
You know those niggling habits your parents have that really, really annoy you? Whatever it is, however insignificant, it’s irritating and enough to make you protest that you never want to be like them. Like when your dad makes weird noises when he eats and tends to speak really loudly, and how your mum clicks her tongue when she concentrates, and pats people on the back in the middle of a hug.
Next thing you know you’re the one getting told off for being way too loud , or you find yourself patting people on the back just like your mother. And you’ve never been more horrified.
You may not have given it much thought, but the reason we adopt our parents’ most annoying habits is based on the way we were brought up, according to Sydney family counsellor Nivean Ismail.
“It comes back to nature versus nurture,” Mrs Ismail told The Newsroom. “A child’s mind is like a sponge. Whatever we saw our parents doing, whatever we saw our siblings doing, we absorbed it. Even if we didn’t like that habit we still absorbed it. We all had to have learned from somewhere. It’s just natural that we’re going to learn things from our parents – whether you look at it in a scientific way, or in a spiritual way,” she said.
As we grow older, what we’ve learnt or picked up from our parents becomes increasingly embedded in our brains, she said, becoming our natural behaviour.
“A lot of the time we may not want to, but it’s a subconscious thing. It’s embedded in the back of your head,” Mrs Ismail said.
Now that we know the root of it all is the environment we grew up in, is it bad that we eventually pick up the habits of our parents? “It all comes back down to the habit… that’s why parents have to be very careful about how they [act] around their kids the first five to 10 years,” she said. “Everything a parent does is going to mould that child’s future.”
Jane Mara, founder and CEO of the Intuitive Intelligence Institute, explained: “The brain is filled with many hundreds of millions of neurons or nerve cells. Those nerve cells are formed over time, and they behave in a certain way as you respond to familiar realities.
“Nerve cells form what’s called a neural pathway. So just like a well-worn road, over time the more that you take a certain action, that neural pathway becomes increasingly embedded in the brain. Nerve cells that fire together, wire together a principle called Hebbs Law in neuroscience, this response becomes hard-wired.”
Jane Mara explained, with habits, we can actually become addicted to our own reactions. “Each cell in the brain – those neurons – have what’s called receptor sites,” she said. “Those receptor sites process and receive information in a continuing flow. This linkage becomes thinking, feeling results in what we do. We are a chemical soup, we become addicted to our own emotions, our own process, reactions and our own response.”
Ms Mara said there are ways we can stop ourselves from turning into our parents and break that habit.
“Changing any of form of addictive behaviours… all these things take time and the rule seems to be 21 days to change a habit. To change, you actually have to think differently and from another perspective than your current thinking.” It’s a question of adopting new behaviour rather than following the well worn road.
“Think about this, the power of just thinking about practising a set routine, as Olympic athletes do when they prepare for an event, fires the same set of muscles as if they were actually competing in the event. You have to become an observer in your own life and redefine what it is that you’re doing and how you’re reacting. When you start to do that, just by thinking about it, you rewire your own neural circuitry, and over time your behaviours may change,” she told The Newsroom.
In other words, what you think can change the way you act, and maybe help you quit giving the awkward maternal mid-hug back-pat. – Heba Dandachi
Top screenshot from doughbaron7’s Youtube video.