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Dr. Harold Duncan Explains: Why Am I Who I Am?

Why I Am Who I Am?

Harold Duncan Cut Out Feb 2013

“Why do I think the way I think . . . and feel the way I feel . . . and behave the way I behave?” “Why do I make the decisions I do?” “Why am I attracted to the people I am?”

It has been said that “Why?” is the most human of all questions. “Why” questions have baffled men and women for ages.

“Why do I make the mistakes I make?”
“Why do these things keep happening to me?”
“Why do I feel so out of control?”
“Is there any way to change?”

These and other questions are universal. They are also ways of asking, “What makes me tick?” In other words, what are the factors that have contributed to my being the person I am today?

Behavioral scientists have long recognized that who we are is a result of a highly complex combination of ingredients. In its simplest form, the person I am today is based upon three sets of factors:

Genetic Predisposition

– Unchangable Circumstances Surrounding My Birth and Early Years

Learned Patterns of Behavior

Genetic Predisposition

In recent years, a great deal has been learned about the role genetics plays in our individual makeup. While genetic researchers know more than ever, we are still relatively uninformed in this field.

We do know that no two people are the same. Even so-called “identical” twins are not at all identical. Every newborn child has his or her unique genetic code. This code is responsible for a wide variety of physical features, but it also determines many of our temperament and behavioral characteristics as well.

For example, if a person grows up in a family in which alcohol was abused, it is important for that person to know that often, a genetic component is involved in substance abuse. This does not mean that an alcoholic has no choice in his or her drinking patterns, but research indicates that some people are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol than others. Genetics may play an important role in this pattern.

Also, certain types of depression and anxiety may be at least partly genetic in their origins. It is important to know if these patterns are present in one’s family of origin.

Unchangeable Circumstances

Other factors that shape our lives are those which surround our birth and early years of development. The impact of these factors cannot be overestimated.

Some important questions: Who were your parents? How old were they when you were born? What was the nature of their relationship with each other? Were you a wanted or unwanted child, and how do you know this? What was the socio-economic situation of your family? What was the nature of your relationship with your mother? Your father? Your siblings? Where are you in the order of birth? Are you an only child? Did you experience love and warmth and nurturing as a child? Was there abuse in your family? Physical? Verbal? Emotional? Sexual? Was there substance abuse in your family? Was your family atmosphere pleasant or unpleasant? Was there divorce in your family? Did one or both of your parents die during your growing-up years? Were you a member of a blended family?

There are many questions in addition to these that are important in the process of self-understanding and self-awareness. These represent factors that you and I did not choose and cannot change. However, they have made an indelible imprint upon who we are and why we do many of the things we do.

Learned Behavior Patterns

The third set of issues has to do with what we learn as we are growing up. It has been said that children are “learning machines.” They are constantly observing what is going on around them. They see what other people do and hear what other people say. They are influenced by the other people in their lives, especially their parents, and especially during the impressionable early years of life.

Therefore, in order to understand oneself as fully as possible, it is important to consider and analyze the patterns of behavior that were prevalent in the family-of-origin. For example:

How did members of your family express affection? Were they open and comfortable or closed and awkward? What impact did those patterns have on you? What are your present-day patterns of expressing affection ?

How were problems dealt with in your family? Were they addressed honestly and directly or did you pretend that problems did not exist, hoping they would magically go away? Were conflicts ever resolved completely?

How did people communicate ? Was it honest and open or hidden and manipulative? Were feelings expressed in your family? Was it acceptable to communicate negative as well as positive feelings? Did parents openly admit when they were wrong?

Who had the power in your family? How was that power used? How were decisions made? How were disagreements, differences of opinion or deviations from the norm handled?

What were the work patterns in your family? The play patterns? What was encouraged ? What was forbidden ?

A Complex Composite

You and I are complex people. We are shaped and molded by a wide variety of intricate factors from the day we are born-and even before we are born.

The point is many people “stumble” through their lives never having a clear idea of who they are and why they do what they do. Why they feel the way they feel. They behave in much the same way they have always behaved. They repeat the same mistakes they have made many times before. And they do not understand why.

On the other hand, people with a better sense of who they are usually have a better sense of self-confidence and self-control.

They understand that life is not perfect but that life can indeed be very satisfying. They understand why they feel and think and behave the way they do. They also understand that they are not predetermined to feel and think and behave in those ways.

We are not able to alter our genetic makeup. Furthermore, we cannot change the circumstances into which we were born. However, learned behavior patterns can be changed ! What has been learned can be unlearned or relearned.

Harold D. Duncan, Ph.D.
12700 Preston Rd. Suite 150
Dallas, TX 75230

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