Family Wellness History and Habits – Social Environment

By: Christine Hersom

(5 min read)

Do you believe that our past family history and habits help define who we are today?  If you were to sit down and write about your childhood social environment (what you heard and saw) would it match your family environment today?  What have you brought forward?  Have you left anything from your unhealthy childhood behind? 

During my time on the Coach Peggy Real Time docuseries, I learned my childhood social environment continues to play a part in my present life habits.  The beliefs, choices and actions we learned from our childhood affect the full spectrum of who we are today including choices and habits around nutrition, activity, organization and more.

Were you a part of a large family with large family gatherings?  When I was young, I was part of a large and extremely social family.  We celebrated all holidays and attended most events together.  Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and tons of cousins.  I treasure those times, and some of my best childhood memories were those large, social gatherings.  Both my parent’s families were dairy farmers.  As you can guess, gatherings were surrounded by food and being active having free reign of the outdoors with loads of cousins and friends to play with.  It was magical … until it wasn’t. 

When you are a child, and there are monumental changes in family dynamics, you are often unaware of the behind-the-scene causes of some of those big changes or shifts.  As a child, you do not have the ability to imagine what went wrong or why your life alters.  Most children assume they are the cause of negative family shifts or decisions.  One day my large, healthy, happy family was doing everything together, and the next minute the farm was gone, my parents changed careers, cousins went their own way, and family members began passing away leaving only fond memories.  As a child, so many things do not make sense, timelines do not connect, and it all seems so personal.

Do you remember big shifts in your life?  Have you recognized how those changes or decisions have affected you and your life today?  They have, and they have formed many of the habits you have embedded for years.  When I was eight, my mother became ill, my parents divorced, my mom moved into a State institution, and the dynamics between my family and friends shifted dramatically. Even the people in my small town looked at me differently.  The ugliness and bullying were unbearable.

We cope as best we can when life throws arrows at us.  When the arrows stab us as children, the punctures shape us more permanently than we realize.  I ultimately became my mother’s guardian, making all of her medical decisions, the mother and daughter roles reversed.  When I graduated from high school, I moved away and never looked back.  Or so I thought.  We all “look back.”  In hindsight, many of the reactions, mine and others, were due to fear and lack of understanding.  

The feeling of abandonment by my family and friends affected me for years. Because I never addressed my childhood pain, I ran from things or people who stirred up negative emotions in me.  I built walls around me.  I reduced the size of my social circles.  Instead of addressing my family history and dealing with it, I suppressed it; which was never a good idea.  I took the family changes personally.  Years later, I still wondered if people still looked at me differently.  I wanted to go back to the innocence of my childhood being surrounded by a loving family, holiday laughter and cheer, and an abundance of love and acceptance.  Just because I physically moved to another town, the events of my social environment growing up followed me.  Molded me.  Caused me to react in ways unconsciously molded by the changes I was exposed to. 

Because of these coping skills or lack of, when my mother passed away at 36, like lava bubbling in a volcano, everything spewed out, and I had a nervous breakdown.  This took decades to unravel and rewire.

After participating in the docuseries, I now understood the process of how family history and habits mold us.  I have recognized that life is a rollercoaster full of change.  We are often not taught the healthiest way to cope.  We let the “trauma” eat us alive.  We continue to take so many things personally.  As children we are not told, “Children grow up, get married, might get divorced, move away, spend time with different families during the holidays, family businesses will be sold, and people pass away.” My story was, “What to hell is happening and what did I do to cause or deserve this?”  We all just want to be a part of a happy and healthy family, spend holidays together – live like “normal” families.

We can participate in a negative cycle, or we can face it.  Crawling out of the ditch, and finding new ways to find peace and love again is not easy.  We can either spin sadness and unfortunately on its head or live it or watch history repeat itself.  Facing the positives and negatives of your family history is as uncomfortable as hell, and many of us do not even realize it is a necessary exercise to create a healthy present and future. 

Revisiting your past and analyzing how others coped or reacted will help you decide what you want to rewire and bring forward, what you might want to get rid of, and what you may want to create brand new.  With this process, you may decide the people you spend time with the need to shift, you may decide to reshape your holiday dinners or where you vacation.  Recognize it is YOUR history, YOUR memories, and YOU are responsible for the storyline.  You are responsible to guide your children and grandchildren when it comes to understanding as best they can, for their age, some of the decisions that may feel confusing or frightening.  We often forget our past.  We often bury it.  We rarely understand how much it shapes and defines us.  If you do not dig it up, and hit it head-on, then do not expect your future path to become any different.

I intentionally focused on creating a strong family and memorable traditions.  My husband and I have raised two amazing children, and they are now raising their families.  I watch my grandchildren while their parents work because I want to be as involved in their lives as I can.  I am instilling the same traditions that I was given as a child: how to cook, sew, knit, crochet, and express themselves in other artistic ways that interest them.  I do my best to explain when family dynamics shift: who is or isn’t at the dinner table or why Auntie goes somewhere else for Christmas this year.

For generations, traditions are honored and carried forward by “habit.”  Not all social habits, thoughts, and behaviors from childhood should be brought forward.  As an example, I mentioned in previous blogs, my family meal tradition.  I brought this forward never processing if I had the “right” to change it: meat, potatoes, vegetables, bread and dessert.  It made sense for active dairy farmers, but not so great for a legal secretary.  I have now changed this historical nutrition habit.

My immediate family had a mindset history of being resistant to differences in other people.  I was always too thin and too smart.  My sister was always too heavy and too boring.  I am now able to recognize this historical behavior and no longer own it.  My parent’s opinions no longer affect how I feel about myself or others.  I had to face that and change that narrative.

My point, family history and habits form us in ways that are often NOT our fault.  It is important that people look back, face the tough stuff, pull forward healthy habits and memories, and let go of the yuck.  What you repeat, embeds.  Look at your recent past.  Are you projecting bad things onto your family now because you felt that way as a child?  Are you finding yourself repeating thoughts, behaviors, and actions you have learned, and they are not all as healthy as they could be?  Re-read your story and re-write your future.

Christine Hersom
                                                                     All Things Wellness, LLC 
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