Albert Einstein says that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. I would beg to differ; it's not insanity, but the reality of our human existence. We human beings are constantly engaging in the same behavioral patterns over, and over, and over again. We aren’t doing this out of insanity but because we function like well oiled machines. We are constantly repeating behavioral patterns, not because they are safe or healthy, but because they are predictable. Predictability isn’t always safe, but it’s less scary than the unknown. Intergenerational patterns and values are constantly being reinforced by family members and communities, playing a huge impact on our individual lives and creating our "sense of safety." (McGoldrick, 2005). We can easily see these behavioral patterns repeat themselves when looking at family systems.
All of us come from our own family tree with very specific cultural norms. Some of these norms are healthy and others are unhealthy. Often when you look at families, the same patterns will repeat themselves throughout generations (McGoldrick, 2005; Forte, 2007). Because of our desire to individualize while remaining connected to others we have generational legacies of Doctors, Lawyer, and Teachers, Patterns of Drug Addiction, Abuse, Domestic Violence, Imprisonment, and/or Trauma. These are systemic experiences that can repeat for better or worse throughout generations.
Looking at it from this perspective can make some feel hopeless and stuck. You may feel like there is no way out and you are bound to live the life set for you based on the system you were born into. That is until you look at how people have changed not only themselves, but their whole family system.
We all know people who came from a troubled past- maybe they had a history of drug addiction, grew up in poverty, experienced abuse, or lived in the foster care system. Regardless of their past and their likelihood of repeating patterns passed down through generations, they got out. They made lives for themselves that far exceeded peoples’ expectations. They not only changed their lives, but positively impacted their children’s lives and generations to come.
To get out of a negative pattern you have to first realize you are stuck in one. Realizing the problem is a systemic pattern, and that we have less autonomy in our emotional lives than we assume, can be empowering. You start to understand the systemic family cycles pushing you to go down the path of least resistance (McGoldrick, 2005; Forte, 2007). You will get pulled into the cycle, but you don’t have to go down that road every time. You can choose your own path. Each time you choose your own path you are creating a new cycle; that you and others can follow in the years to come. You will also become more aware of when you are getting pulled into old cycles and pull out. The psychological journey will be hard and you will experience a lot of resistance- you are creating a new path in the woods, when there is already a paved way. It will, however, be worthwhile in the end when you can look back on the history that you have created.
McGoldrick, M. Giordano, J. Garcia-Preto, N. (2005). Ethnicity and family therapy 3rd edition. The Guilford Press. New York.
Forte, J. (2007). Human Behavior and the Social Environment. Brooks/Cole. Belmont, CA.