©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Your present life is your past of tomorrow.
—Stephen R. Campbell PhD
“It’s hopeless,” the young man said. “I come from generations of dysfunctional family systems. You name it, it’s been done or at least tried. I’m the poster child for all the problem behaviors that have dribbled down from the last three or four generations. Even my name! It’s spelled with ‘a’ instead of ‘e’—twice! From what I could find out, my grandfather was quite a go-getter and very successful, but he never could spell. So when the midwife suggested that my name should be spelled T-E-R-R-E-N-C-E, he told the woman to mind her own business—and she did. But I ended up with T-A-R-R-A-N-C-E. And for that I’ve been teased my entire life.”
He put his head in his hands. I waited.
“For another,” Tarrance continued, “the males in my family are usually dead by age thirty. They live long enough to leave a couple of offspring behind, but that’s about it. A few lived a bit longer, but succumbed to alcoholism, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and at least one committed suicide. So what chance do I have? What’s the point of even going to college?”
Again I waited and when no more was forthcoming, I said, “Certainly, your cellular memories from biological ancestors do impact you. If nothing else, they can nudge you toward certain behaviors, some of which may be helpful while others may be deleterious. However, Doctors Roisen and Oz have estimated that seventy percent of how long and how well you live is in your hands. That includes the information you learn and whether or not you turn what you learn into knowledge and practically apply it on a daily basis. Add to that the choices you make and how quickly you can course-correct after a choice that does not give you positive outcomes.”
Raising his head, Tarrance glanced at me. “Seventy percent? That’s a joke. I’m a prisoner of my past, pure and simple!”
“That perspective falls into the category of erroneous thinking,” I said. “Yes, you are impacted by your generational inheritance. Nevertheless, in some sense you choose how you are connected to your past. When you get a thought or impulse, do you ask yourself, ‘If I follow through on this thought or impulse, will it move me toward or away from my goals? Will it give me positive outcomes or negative outcomes that will create a mess that I must clean up later on?’ Locked-in beliefs about the past may cause you to miss present opportunities that could help to create a healthier future for yourself.”
Groaning, Tarrance rose from his chair and began to pace.
I continued. “Henry Ford has been quoted as saying, ‘If you think you can or you think you can’t you’re right.’ Sounds to me like you’ve decided you can’t. That choice now becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
I went on to explain that the brain can only do what it thinks it can do—and your job is to tell your brain what it can do. Unless you take responsibility for your life and your future, you’ll likely end up wherever the path leads or the wind blows.
“Okay, suppose I buy into this perspective,” said Tarrance. “What do I do? How do I begin?” His handsome face showed wrinkles of what appeared to be perplexity mixed with a dash of hope.
In his book A Guide to Rational Living, Albert Ellis, PhD, points out that childhood experiences continue to influence you—not just because they happened but because you believe in the continuing and limiting power of those experiences.
I offered several steps that Tarrance might find helpful in evaluating his generational inheritance.
- Recognize that you do have a generational past, which includes cellular memories of the behaviors your ancestors exhibited. Avoid assuming, however, that their choices are already cast into cement for you.
- Learn as much about your ancestors as possible, identifying common behavioral patterns as they reveal themselves. Knowledge is power. Analyze what you learn and consciously decide which behaviors to replicate and which to avoid.
- Understand that while your past does impact you, you choose whether or not to follow in the same footsteps. Metaphorically speaking, your past cannot hold a gun to your head unless you permit that to happen. You are not forced to repeat what happened in the past. You are free to make a different choice.
- Write down ten key components that describe the future you are creating for yourself. Verbalize what you want to have happen as if it is already occurring. For example: ‘Tarrance, you are . . . .’ And then do something every single day to move yourself toward one of those ten key things.
- Pay attention to your thoughts, self-talk, and verbalizations. Change any that reflect hopeless, helpless, self-limiting, and negative thinking—immediately.
Tarrance stopped pacing. “I want to change the spelling of my first name. Legally. I’ve been teased about it my whole life, and I’m sick of it.”
“If that is important to you, go for it,” I said. “You are not limited to that option, however.”
Tarrance raised an eyebrow. “How so?” he asked.
“Depends on how you view things,” I replied. “Your brain is unique and so is the spelling of your first name. If your grandfather was ‘quite a go-getter and very successful’ as you put it, perhaps using the spelling he chose may motivate you to follow in his positive footsteps. Being teased about it is just another brain’s opinion. What is your opinion? After all, it’s your name.”
“If you think you can,” he murmured. He then added, very deliberately, “I have used any number of excuses to justify my choices. Grandfather’s spelling of my name is just one of them. And you’re right. Every excuse involved thinking ‘I can’t.’”
For the third time I waited. This time Tarrance spoke with a different tone in his voice. “I’ve changed my mind. Tarrance is a strong name.” Laughing, he took a deep breath. “Tarrance, you are proud of your name and its unique spelling.”
I laughed with him. We chatted for a few more minutes as Tarrance outlined steps he planned to take toward creating a healthier future for himself. As he opened the door to the hall, his last words were, “If you think you can.... Well, Tarrance you can—and you are.”
I’m quite sure he was on his way to becoming another generation of go-getters—healthier go-getters!