Your formative years are full of discoveries and experiences that meld to create who you are in adulthood. What you observe at home and among loved ones influences how you perceive the world and yourself. For better or worse, your family dynamics greatly impact your sense of worth and well-being. When things get challenging, your natural inclination is to use the tools, techniques, and coping mechanisms you observed to manage.
If your family dynamic is healthy, you may display more resiliency or be more likely to ask for help. If not, your mental health journey has likely been more challenging. You may have turned to risky or unhealthy ways of coping without the right support, tools, or learned behaviors. Keep reading to learn about how family dynamics impact your mental health journey and how to overcome whatever situation you were born into.
Emotional Patterns are Learned
Humans are wired to look to their caregivers for advice on how to navigate the world. Babies look toward a familiar face and voice, trusting them with everything for the sake of survival. As people grow, this same primal response holds. And when it comes to your emotions, you mirror what those around you do, even if it’s unhealthy or dangerous.
The family you’re born into has its own culture, customs, and behavioral norms. If your parents are big huggers, you will likely be too. If yelling across the dinner table is commonplace, for better or worse, you’re likely to take on that communication style.
Not all emotional patterns are bad, nor are their results intentional, but they can be restrictive. A multi-generational family may look to the matriarch to set the tone. If this person has roots in the “silent generation,” the communication style your family observes may follow theirs. This can result in burying emotions, focusing more on keeping the peace than making waves.
Long-term, this can allow mental health challenges to fester and fear or shame to be closely associated with being vulnerable. In these situations, many may find stepping away from their family dynamic to be the healthiest choice for their health. Many find healing through rehab for mental health, gaining the space to reset and get to the root issues. This distance can facilitate a safe space and reserve adequate time to break down the walls of learned emotional patterns.
Coping Mechanisms can be Passed Down
Just like behaviors can be learned, so can coping mechanisms — the thoughts and behaviors used to manage stress. Your family can pass on healthy ways of managing life’s stressors, internal and external, but they can also be harmful.
Many turn to physical activity as a way of managing stress, which can be healthy when other factors are at play. Running, strength training, and yoga allow the body to work through feelings away from stressors like work and school. However, if you observe over-exercising or extreme negative responses if this coping mechanism isn’t used, the results can be toxic.
You can also inherit coping mechanisms that evolve into larger issues like substance abuse. An alcoholic beverage may start as a reward after a hard week at work but later may become a reflex. In these situations, celebratory libations crumble into a necessary crutch to handle the stress of life.
One’s Self-Perception is a Collection of Family Feedback
Your feelings of self-worth are a collection of the words you hear from those around you, especially your family. The greater you value the relationship, the more intensely you will consider the words you hear.
Many components of one’s self-worth tie back to their caregivers, and for good reason. Your existence is entirely reliant on their attention to and response to your needs. It’s in your life’s best interest to bend to what keeps them happy, even if their demands are unhealthy.
Children cry to alert their caregivers that something is needed, but if cries go unanswered, you learn silence instead. This can carry into adulthood to making yourself small to not disrupt or displease others. If acting out is the only way you’re able to get attention, you may turn to extremes just to be noticed. The result may be a lifetime of risky decisions that are dangerous to yourself and others.
Family critique, negative feedback, and dismissal can further shape your self-perception. If your family can’t love you for who you are, how can you love yourself? The more you dig into this component of your family dynamics, the more you uncover what’s shaped who you are in adulthood.
While some critique is to be expected, long-term putdowns, admonishments, and negativity do long-term damage. Your self-worth and perception also spill into how you conduct and value yourselves in relationships. If your formative years observed toxicity, dangerous behavior, or imbalances of power, the likelihood of repeating patterns increases.
Rewriting Your Family Dynamic is Possible
The dynamics you were born into don’t have to be yours for a lifetime. You can rewrite the rules that champion your mental health and well-being. Reach out for help and use the many resources available to you. Learn to identify what emotional responses you’ve learned and what new tools you can implement on your mental health journey. Explore rehab for mental health to reset, access top professionals, and create a new, healthy family dynamic and emotional balance.