Q: As I face some challenges in my long-term relationship, I have been thinking about how similar I am to my mother. I notice that many of my reactions to my partner and to my daughter are similar to how my mother was with my father and myself. I am utterly shocked, as I thought I was my own person, especially after living apart for over twenty years now and being educated in a different country. Although I greatly love and even admire my mother for her selflessness and many talents, she has a way of complaining, getting easily frustrated, thinking very negatively, and even being quite critical. I never thought I was like that. It is really a rude awakening. However, I would like to understand, are we really so similar? Is there a way to be who I really want to be?

A: These are powerful insights and key questions on your way towards having independent thought and a life that reflects your own values and ideals. Most people who are interested in developing their personalities never imagine that they actually inherit a lot of their traits from their parents. Your parents’ personalities and ways of relating to each other and you as their child was the emotional food that you ingested everyday. That’s how you developed your  identity and learned ways of relating and parenting. There is no doubt that it is going to shape you significantly. As you say, it has positive and negative aspects.

You have taken the first step of actually seeing it quite clearly. Beginning the journey of being freer and having a choice in how you think, feel and relate involves honestly looking at what you are within yourself and with other people. You start by inquiring into all the things you have noticed in your upbringing. This awareness itself will begin to make you more open to other ways of being. This will also release the uniqueness that you have always had and support the individual that you are inside.

However, developing new patterns or following ideals different from your inherited ones challenges your identity and how you have connected to your parents and family. Although there can be praise for that if it fits some of the family ideal, it is also threatening to the status quo. There are unspoken expectations, roles, secrets and tacit agreements that get threatened when any family member begins to break out of the mold. So part of the journey is to fire up and find your own strength to live a conscious, deeper and truer life. This is no small task.

Having conversations with others who are also interested in growing as human beings is also very helpful. Parents are also more open to learning from their children these days, realizing that they weren’t perfect and new knowledge is always developing. As people find more space to consider different ways of interacting and parenting, they become more open to the gifts their children bring in their unique reactions, talents and awareness. Thus, each generation and family member bring their unique richness to the extended family.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

Alzak Amlani is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. (650) 325-8393. wholenesstherapy.com