That’s How I Was Raised. . .
. . .is the biggest cop-out ever used. And the saddest part of it is that we really believe that the way we were raised is the way to live. This means that therapists everywhere are going to have to spend at least some time in therapy trying to assess how you were raised—if for no other reason than to find out why you need to keep reciting that phrase as if it had real merit.
So, what if how you were raised is not how your deepest self wants to be living? In fact, what if maturity is built on outgrowing your upbringing?
The truth is that every single challenge we face in life is an opportunity to develop maturity. We don’t develop maturity just because we get taller and grow hair on various body parts. We develop maturity each time we face a challenge and find ourselves at a deeper level.
We do not develop maturity by facing a challenge just like our parents faced a challenge, or even by facing it as they taught us to face it. The object of the game is not to find our parents, but to find ourselves.
So, when couples come into therapy reciting the litany of ways in which “that’s just how I was raised,” what they are doing is refusing to take personal responsibility for their own words, thoughts, feelings and actions. But they don’t usually know this, because “that’s just how I was raised” is a socially acceptable mantra. But growing up, becoming mature means looking back at our upbringing and deciding what we will keep and what we will toss—whether we recognize it as that or not.
Very often, because of this mantra, however, when couples come to therapy what they want from the therapist is an approval of how they were raised. They want the therapist to say, “You were raised right, and he was raised wrong.” And then he’ll know that he needs to change and the problem will be solved, right? Sorry, not that simple.
In fact, most of the fights that couples have are relative to a determination on each party’s side that s/he is right and the other is wrong. And lined up behind each party is the list of people that the party believes agree with his or her side. So, Joe can call up his Mama and say that “that’s just how I was raised”—meaning, “don’t ask me to change.” And Mary can call up her upbringing in the same way as needed for validation of her argument.
The truth is that many of us are living as if how we were raised were the only way to live. And so we are attracted to partners who will prop up that role we live in response to how we are raised. And we live out with our partners the same dramas we lived out in our homes without ever making the connection that that is what we are doing. But if this partnership is going to work out, it won’t be based in doing the same old thing looking for different results; it will be based in authenticity.
So, if the relationship is to improve it will not be based in living better as how each party was raised, but in developing an authentic relationship. An authentic relationship only occurs between two authentic people. That means that instead of doing what we were taught to do as an automatic response to a given scenario, we have to step back and ask ourselves some serious questions about what we really want and need and about what we really think and feel.
This is going to be the first step in resolving the issues in the relationship dynamic. Both parties are going to have to begin to go deeper than how s/he was raised in order to find out who s/he really is and respond to the other party accordingly.
So, if Joe is feeling threatened by the fact that Mary spends a lot of time with her friends, Joe might need to own those feelings, examine them for their origin and then talk to Mary about his feelings honestly. And if Mary is spending an inordinate amount of time with her friends instead of with Joe, she might need to own her motivation for doing so and begin to talk to Joe about this.
This owning of feelings is very different from simply saying that Joe gets to yell at Mary and Mary gets to runaway simply because that was the dynamic each of them experienced in their families of origin in some way. If Mary ran from home as an adolescent every time her parents started fighting—she might still be running. And if Joe fought ferociously with one of his parents to try to get them to pay attention to him, he might still be fighting with them—through Mary.
This is not growing up in any shape, form or fashion. Both will need to grow past where they are stuck in their psychological dynamic with their parents in order to move forward in their relationship.
So, “That’s how I was raised” is not a hopeful mantra to repeat in a relationship. In fact, it’s an excuse for staying stuck.
About the Author:
Andrea Mathews has almost 20 years as a licensed professional, the last 15 in a thriving private practice, and over 30 overall in the mental health field. She is the author of two books, and several national and internationally published magazine articles. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today online called Traversing the Inner Terrain. She hosts the internet talk-radio show called Authentic Living. Mathews is a Corporate Trainer and Motivational/ Inspirational Speaker with over 25 years’ experience (www.InnerWings.com). Learn more about her and her work at: www.AndreaMathewslpc.com.