On a recent episode of "This is Us", the episode focused on babies being born. Jack, the patriarch in "This is Us" who is a father of triplets, is just coming home from the hospital after his children are born. They begin crying in the car and Jack and his wife pull into a gas station to get gas. Jack is feeling overwhelmed and while at the gas station, he buys a small bottle of alcohol. He chugs it down before returning to the car. He asks his wife to drive home and later confesses to her that he asked her to drive because he drank at the gas station. "I'm just like my father", he says, as his father was an alcoholic throughout his childhood.
The thing is, Jack isn't like his father. As fans of the show know, Jack chooses sobriety when his children are still young and is a great father to them in a way his father never was with him. What Jack is acknowledging when he tells his wife about being "just like his father" is his blueprint. We all have a blueprint of sorts that we inherit from our parents. We inherit their genes which may pre-dispose us to things like addiction or obesity or certain medical conditions. They are our first teachers for what it means to live in this world. We learn countless things from them every day as we observe them taking care of us and taking care of themselves (or not). Our parents lay the foundation.
There's a series of funny Progressive commercials that show adult children who grew up to be just like their parents, inheriting their funny quirks such as wanting to know the waiter's name at a restaurant and pronouncing words a certain way like their parents did (if you want to watch one of the commercials, go here). Even though you may not think you're anything like your parents, chances are there are some things (big or small) that you do similar to them, whether you realize it or not. Many clients have an "A-ha!" moment in therapy when they realize, "I'm acting just like my mom." For some, this doesn't happen until they are parents themselves and start to see clearly that they are treating their children the same way they were treated, which may be something they swore they would never do.
Here's the good news: my choice of the word "blueprint" is intentional. If you're actually building a house, you start with the blueprint, but the blueprint truly doesn't given an idea of what the house is going to be like as a finished product. You don't know what color the walls are going to be painted or how the furniture is going to be arranged inside. Plus, more often than not, a blueprint goes through quite a few revisions before a final draft is written up and building commences. It's a starting point - it's not the final destination.
If you've had moments lately of realizing history is repeating in your life in a way you never wanted it to, you are already breaking history by realizing that. Jack's father never stopped drinking and never admitted to having a problem with alcohol; Jack realized it early for himself and stopped it in its tracks. You can do the same. At the heart of therapy, this is what it does: it helps people change the long-standing patterns in their life and to break inter-generational trauma. If every marriage before yours has ended in divorce and now your relationship is on the rocks, now is the time to intervene so you don't go down the same path. Ready to break that cycle of poverty that's haunted your family for generations or to be the first to graduate from college? You can do it with the right support in place and strong determination to change course. You can create whatever kind of life you want for yourself, no matter what kind of blueprint you have.