On a recent episode of Vanderpump Rules, we glimpsed the similarities that Stassi, Kristen, and Katie share with their mothers during their group dinner together. The night began sweetly as Katie told her mom that she sees a lot of herself in her, but then took a turn for the worse when Stassi and her mom started fighting. Stassi’s mom stormed off crying, which reminded both Kristen and Katie of Stassi’s behavior. Katie even noted it was like she was watching her “past and future worlds colliding.”
Stassi admitted to the cameras that her outbursts are similar to her mom’s, and that she’s scared she’s going to end up just like her. This begs the question: Are you destined to turn into your mom... and can you prevent it from happening?
Personal Space spoke to F. Diane Barth, LCSW, a New York City-based psychotherapist, to learn why so many of us seem to transform into our parents and how we can stop it from happening. According to Barth, “We grow up learning patterns of behavior from our parents… so it shouldn’t be surprising that we sometimes find ourselves repeating those behaviors" — even ones we said we wouldn't do. Also, certain traits can be passed down, so you may have a “genetic predisposition” to behave in certain ways. However, just “because you find yourself behaving like one of your parents, it doesn’t mean that you have turned into one of them.”
Barth explained that we are not clones of our parents, “but an amalgam of many different factors,” including our own personality "as well as the influence of other people we have been around too.” Therefore, “if you are doing something you don’t approve of, you can — and should — change that behavior.” Saying that “you’ve just become your parent” as a way to justify certain behaviors is not a valid excuse, because it is possible to stop yourself from engaging in those behaviors.
Here's how to handle it:
Identify the Similarities
If you notice you are acting like a parent, Barth recommended asking yourself these two questions:
- Am I doing it without thinking/doing what I really want to do?
- Is it a behavior that makes more sense from an adult perspective?
“Yelling at your boy or girlfriend, husband or wife, or child in the same ugly tone of voice you heard from your parents when they argued can fall under the first category,” Barth explained. "Grounding a kid who disobeyed his curfew might fall into the second.”
Barth said, “The most important — and often the hardest — thing is to try to pay attention to the behavior without judging yourself or your parents.” Once the behavior is identified and analyzed, “try to understand what the context was that brought up the behavior.”
Break the Cycle
Once you identify the context and “trigger” that causes that behavior, replace the undesirable action with one that is preferable. Then attempt to “put that behavior into action.” Barth explained, “Anything you can do to gently help yourself break a reflex is helpful.” There are also several books that offer advice about stopping negative behavior, including ones about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT], Dialectical Behavioral Therapy [DBT], and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT].
According to Barth, the specific type of therapy you choose isn’t as important if it fits with your personality and lifestyle. If you are having trouble doing the research and changing the behavior on your own, going to therapy so a professional can help is always a good option.
“Sometimes psychotherapy that helps you look at some of the dynamics and interactions between you and your parents and between your parents themselves can be more useful — this is called psychodynamic psychotherapy.”
Practice with the Source
If, like Stassi, you find yourself clashing with the parent you are turning into, altering those behaviors when you engage with that parent can help in breaking the cycle. When possible, “changing your interactions without saying anything to them” can often be the most seamless way to go about it.
However, if that doesn't work, another approach is telling that parent that “you want to change and you’d really like their help.” Approaching them in a positive way to change negative behaviors together can be effective for both parties to collaborate on creating a healthier relationship.
Despite it being possible to change, Barth also noted that it’s really hard to do (especially on your own), so be gentle with yourself and remember that any change takes time and effort.
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