Step 1: Gather the information you need to make decisions
One good way to define “nurture” is to find out what and who influenced your caregivers – in other words, your environment. Individual hardwiring is included in “nature”. Always controversial is how much of what determines how each person turns out.
Because of the number of different theories, it’s often simpler to look at nature/nurture on as a “more or less” continuum. What can’t be disputed is that both are influential. Even two biologically related children growing up in the same family will have different perceptions and experiences and will have a rock-solid belief their experience is the true one. Though it may be true that identical twins are the same in how they think, what they think isn’t identical. What’s true for the rest of us is that the “how” and “what” of thoughts, feelings, and behavior is a personal result of growing up in a particular family of origin.
Through a child’s eye, interpretations of family of origin events and the child’s role in them are called schemas. When the interpretations and behaviors are unhealthy the schemas are called maladaptive; in other words, the “thinkin’ stinks”. Schemas are so strong we’re still acting on them today.
Step 2: Pay attention – the truth may not be what it seems
What, when, and how do you think, feel, and behave? What triggers a certain way of thinking about yourself or your world? Is there a place where a reaction is always the same? What or who becomes your target?
Feelings and behaviors flow from thoughts. Are yours working for or against you? Unexamined, repetitive beliefs reinforce themselves like a self-fulfilling prophecy. No longer are we in charge of our thoughts, they’re in charge of us.
You can learn to examine your thoughts in order to base them on information, not assumptions or expectations, and lower the intensity of your reactions. Looking through your “mind’s eye” is another useful way of observing your automatic thoughts and behaviors. Realize your ways of thinking and behaving often collide with others’ – friends, co-workers, intimate partners. The result is potentially explosive.
Learning the habit of consistent mindfulness is the only way to break dysfunctional family of origin patterns and change family legacies that no longer work.
Understand before accepting. Think rather than assuming. Act instead of just reacting. That’s how to take yourself off auto-pilot and fly your own plane.
Step 3: Make choices
Getting yourself off auto-pilot happens sooner than you think although sometimes not easily. Perhaps you’re not surprised that choosing needs for safety, nurturance, self-esteem, or happiness are hard for some people.
Knowledge and awareness are the always the first ingredients of making healthy choices. Healthy choices are proactive, not reactive and may look like slowing down, taking yourself out of the combat zone, thinking before you speak, “biting your tongue”, as well as trying out conversations in your head beforehand.
Put it however you want – flying your own plane, cooking with gas, no longer going around in circles – it may be the first time being a control freak was a good thing.