In My Shoes: Make your emotional legacy one to be proud of – Richmond Times-Dispatch: In My Shoes. (published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3-3-13)
You might be inheriting more from your parents than the china set.
Of course, you have already gotten portions of your parents’ genetic blueprint for your physical characteristics — hair, eye and skin color, height and body type.
You’ve gotten the health history and disease tendencies; you’ve gotten your preference for salty food over sweet.
You’ve gotten your snorty laugh from your uncle, your ability to play the ukulele from your dad and male-pattern baldness from your grandfather.
Perhaps you didn’t realize that aspects of your personality come from your family, too. I’m an aficionado of personal assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Turns out it is likely I got most of my MBTI traits from my mother — extroverted, big-picture, decision-loving person that I am.
Our particular personality type is the rarest of the Myers-Briggs types; less than 2 percent of the population exhibits this particular combination.
My oldest son is also the beneficiary of this type: Quick, someone do the math on the likelihood that all three of us have the same personality type by pure accident.
I actually like this legacy from my mother that I passed to my son. I am not so proud of the emotional legacy that I’ve inherited and, like a dutiful daughter, have passed to my children. This emotional legacy is what I consider to be my emotional personality.
In other words, each of us tends to view the world with a certain filter, or lens. We make certain assumptions and conclusions about our world based on this lens. My emotional framework is that I tend to view my life with the assumption that I will not get what I need from others.
What are the implications of that assumption? It means I will be inclined to interpret a normally benign interaction as disrespectful, inconsiderate, condescending or dismissive, and I will have a disproportional response whether I was genuinely disrespected or not. It’s having my “buttons pushed.”
The way I manage the button-pushing — maybe I’ll pick a fight, go off and sulk, seethe but leak my resentment in my actions or tone of voice — also can become a pattern that I pass to my kids.
Like the family china, they are patterns I inherited from my parents.
It’s not my parents’ fault. They’re just doing what they probably inherited from their parents, like the unibrow and thick calves. Nor is it my fault. But it is my responsibility.
My parents’ dream when they moved to the United States was to give their children a better life. And they did. We all had good educations, we did not have to worry about working during college and all three of us daughters have made good lives for ourselves.
My goal for my kids is to be happier, better adjusted and more content than I have been. We’ve worked hard to save for their education, but our responsibility as parents is also to temper and improve the emotional filters and lenses that are our legacy.
I started to understand the legacy much too late — some of it is already imprinted on them. But to the degree I can be better at my self-awareness and management of my emotional personality, the more I can model and teach those behaviors to them.
And if I don’t want to do it for myself, then I should do it for my kids, my grandkids, not to mention the others in my life who love me despite my hot buttons.
With self-awareness, a huge dose of forgiveness, patience and a lot of practice, it does get much, much easier.