NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Discovering That You've Developed the Same Traits You Disliked in Your Parents

As a psychotherapist in New York City, I often see clients who realize, much to their chagrin, that they've developed the very traits that they disliked so much in their parents.  This realization usually comes as an unwanted surprise and somewhat of a mystery to them and they often say:  "How is it possible that I developed the same qualities that I disliked so much in your parents?"

Discovering Your Developed the Same Traits You Disliked in Your Parents

To understand and come to terms with this phenomenon, you need to understand how we all internalize  these qualities (and others) on an unconscious level at an early age.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, will help to illustrate this common experience:

When Nina was in her late teens, she couldn't wait to go away to college to get away from her anxious mother.  Having raised Nina as a single mother, Mary always worried about money, even after she obtained a relatively secure, well paying job.

Mary grew up in a large family where they were always on the edge financially.  They were evicted from one apartment after another because Mary's father was often unemployed.  During those times when they lost their apartment, they would move in with Mary's grandmother until Mary's father could get back on his feet again.  The family was always worried about money and, in their case, they had good reason to be worried.

When Nina was born, Mary was a senior in college.  With help from her parents, who were by now in a better financial position, she was able to finish college while she lived with her parents and her mother took care of Nina.  The first few years out of college were rough.  Nina's father disappeared, so Mary couldn't count on him to provide child support.  But, eventually, she landed a well paying job which allowed her to live on her own with Nina and pay for child care.

But despite the fact that, by all objective standards, Mary and Nina were financially secure, Mary continued to worry about money.  Whenever Nina would try to tell her mother that she had no reason to worry, Mary would acknowledge that they were doing well now, but she would say, "You never know when disaster might strike in the future and everything could be wiped out."

This bothered Nina a great deal.  It made her feel frustrated and angry with her mother.  She vowed to herself that she would never be like her mother.  And, after she moved away from college and she began working, she moved to NYC and got her own apartment.

Soon after she had her own place, Mary realized, much to her chagrin, that she was worrying about money in much the same way as her mother did.  Objectively, she knew that she had a well-paying job and her career prospects looked bright.  But there was an irrational part of her that kept nagging at her:  What if something happened and it all disappears?

Nina felt even more annoyed and frustrated with herself than she did with her mother.  She was furious that she had taken on the very trait that angered her about her mother.

Nina tried reading self help books about how to develop self confidence and how to stop worrying, but she only experienced short term gains.  After a while, she reverted back to worrying needlessly about her financial security.  That's when she started therapy.

I worked with Nina to try to help her to see that her propensity to worry about money was part of a long history in her family that went back beyond her grandparents' generation.  It was part of a longstanding transgenerational trauma that was transmitted unconsciously from one generation to the next, which is one of the reasons why it defied Nina's efforts to overcome the problem using logic alone.

See my article:  Psychotherapy and Transgenerational Trauma

Using mind-body therapy, like clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, we worked together so that Nina could overcome the transgenerational trauma that caused her to worry needlessly about her financial security.

There Are Many Reasons Why Adult Children Develop the Traits That They Dislike in Their Parents
Transgenerational trauma is one reason why adult children take on the traits they so disliked in one or both parents.  There are many other reasons, usually unconscious, why this occurs.

Getting Help in Therapy
When you discover that you have developed the traits that you disliked in your parents, you might feel stuck.  But it's important to realize, as I mentioned before, that this is a common phenomenon, you're not alone and, with the help of a licensed therapist who has expertise in this area, you can overcome this problem and lead a meaningful and fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients overcome transgenerational trauma and other emotional experiences so they could lead fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.