April 19, 2024

Seeing the Habit

Creative Connections & Client Communications

Seeing the Habit

So often in consultation, we hear detailed descriptions of a parent’s personality, sometimes explosively depicted. Those images are deeply etched into life memory; they endure within words, feelings, and actions of the present.

So often I have then asked the client, “How do you think your mother got that way? How did she learn to behave that way, as you say, so controlling, taking your life away?” And the reply comes, sometimes as a half-hearted defense on behalf of the mother: “That’s the way her mother was.” -And of course, I will then be on the lookout for my client exhibiting similar behaviors as well within the inherit-the-model chain. We all tend to echo the model behaviors and tones of our early homelife, usually emulating behaviors and attitudes of the parent of the same gender.

I’m reminded of the phrase in Strauss’ opera Salome [Oscar Wilde text], when Herodias is asking Herod for her daughter to have the severed head of John the Baptist: “Let her be given what she asks! She is indeed —Ah!– her mother’s child!”

I’m reminded of the grand portrait Gallery in Barcelona’s Montjuic Museum: a super large exhibit hall of portraits of Spanish monarchs. From painting to painting, you see the Hapsburg lip (and jaw), inherited over and over and over again over centuries.

“Like father, like son.” We hear it all the time. -Parents look for their traits within their children immediately upon their birth!

This inheritance factor of physiognomy, of behavior, of speech patterns, of temperament is real and understandable. When the trait is laudable, functionally productive and admirable, we can expect that all’s well, but when it is dysfunctional, when it has been/is hurtful, it must be dealt with.

I suggest that recognizing/seeing this chain of echoed behaviors can establish distance from them, can establish objectification. The client is then able to see personal emulation not as intrinsic personality structure but as a habit of thinking and doing established by the parental model. Habits can be changed.

The child learns thoughts, behaviors, speech patterns, etc. from the parental model. Over time, these emulated traits are reinforced by parental endorsement: ‘that’s the way it’s done.’ —“I criticize you constantly because you deserve it [[and that’s what my mother did to me]].”

These traits find their way into adult behaviors; then the person interacts with others who are doing the same thing(!), processing their parental model influences.

If the patterns of interaction prove dysfunctional, the habitual way of behaving must be changed.

“Why behave this way? Isn’t that how your mother behaved? And look how you feel about that now!” –These kinds of questions lead the client to admit: “I really must change this …”

–“How will you change it? –and here certain specifics will be offered by the client, creatively framed to improve the situation, the routine, the syndrome, to begin breaking the habit. The bottom-line assertion becomes, “I certainly don’t want to be like her/him any further. I see that now; it has been years creeping up on me, into the way I do things, and I’m going to change that.”

–And that refreshes their life.