Choice of partners, parenting, attitudes towards work, and many decisions in life can be related to family scenarios. These are the attitudes that we inherit. They can help to adapt in society, or they can drive into the framework and interfere with enjoying life. We talked with psychologist Alexandra Eliseeva about how family scenarios are formed, how to separate your desires from those of your parents, and whether it is possible to raise your own children without any attitudes.
perinatal and clinical psychologist, existential-humanistic psychotherapist. Graduated from MIP and MGPPU. Practicing since 2012.
What is a family scenario?
The parental or family script is a set of behavioral patterns that children adopt in the family and then reproduce in independent life. They are formed not only because of the actions of mom and dad, but also thanks to other significant adults for the child: uncle, aunt, grandmother or grandfather. The script lays down ways to interact with the outside world and ideas about what a person can and cannot do.
Is living by script good or bad?
You might think that any parental attitudes prevent children from building their own lives. This is not true. Family scenarios can not only harm, but also help. A child acquires most of the knowledge about the world from the family. It is family scenarios that help us understand what is “good” and “bad”.
The question is not whether good or bad attitudes are laid down by the family, but how rigid they are. If they are not flexible, they can interfere with the child’s own development.
Sometimes family scripts just get old. Two centuries ago, the transmission of models and rules of behavior from generation to generation was effective, it helped young people to get used to society. But now society is changing rapidly: if you compare the lives of young people and the lives of their grandparents, these will be two different realities. The image of the family, the understanding of the role of men and women, the principles of raising children, the attitude to work – everything has changed. Therefore, many scenarios may not be effective in the new environment.
The family has three generations of doctors. When a child grows up in this family, he also chooses this specialty, because it is really interesting to him since childhood. In this case, the family scenario coincides with the person’s own goals.
In the family, it is believed that a woman is only a wife and a keeper of the hearth. Mom plays this role, the daughter is also raised in the same way. The girl grows up and believes that her main task is to get married. At the same time, she may not feel an internal need for this. Perhaps she really wants to study, travel, live alone or be in a relationship, but not get married. But, following the script, she cannot separate her desires from her family’s attitudes. In this case, the family scenario comes into conflict with the needs of the person.
What areas of life are affected by family scenarios?
Relationships with parents and relatives
There are families in which it is customary to keep in touch with all distant and close relatives, to gather with the whole staff for family meetings. A child from such a family is more likely to keep in touch with all relatives, regardless of proximity. And in families where it is not customary to communicate with a large group, grown children can live apart.
Relations with partners
For example, many are familiar with the attitude “one must be behind her husband like behind a stone wall.” However, it can lead to a high tolerance for abusive relationships. For example, a partner who limits the partner and makes all the important decisions will be perceived as courageous, not dangerous.
Relationships with children
Parents can give different attitudes: “Children are happiness and the purpose of life”, “We were flogged, and we grew up normal”, “Caring for a baby can only be a joy for a good mother.” Often new mothers follow the latter scenario. They do not leave time for themselves at all, they do not ask for help from relatives, from a partner. As a result, this can lead to a deterioration in their psychological state and even depression.
Attitude towards money
There are such scenarios: “Money is not delayed in our family”, “We always get money easily” or “We all work hard, but get little”. At the same time, parental scenarios may conflict with reality. If adults told the child that their family always lacks money, then in an independent life the child can follow this attitude. He can get a good education and be realized in the profession, but it is easy to blow all the money. At the same time, he himself may not understand why he does not succeed in accumulating a large amount.
Attitude to work
Parents can say: “work is necessarily exhausting work”, “work should bring money, not pleasure”. The latter scenario is often seen in the generation of children of the 90s. Their parents spent most of their time at work, but received small salaries. The belief that work is hard, uninteresting, and poorly paid can be passed on to the next generation. Then the child will not even think about looking for a job that is interesting to him. First of all, he will choose a specialty where you can definitely get a stable income.
How do children learn parent scripts?
Adults tell children how to behave, what to do, what to strive for. Parents may repeat that the main thing in life is to have children or to take place in a profession. They can also talk with each other about their attitude to work, housekeeping, communication with friends.
Dad comes home from work every day and says how his colleagues got him, how tired he was and how tired he was of everything. The child may perceive this attitude to work as the only possible one.
Sometimes settings do not even have to be spoken. The child can remember that the atmosphere in the family and life are built in a certain way, and independently draw conclusions from this.
Mom does not tell the girl that when she grows up, she will definitely have to rely on a partner. But the mother herself constantly meets with different men. However, her behavior is radically different. When she is alone, she is angry, sad and says her life is over. And when she meets a new love, she becomes happy and inspired. The daughter sees how her mother behaves, reads her behavior and draws conclusions for herself.
Verbal and non-verbal attitudes that contradict each other
It happens that adults persistently repeat certain settings to a child, while they themselves live in a completely different way.
Parents tell their daughter that she should study well, go to a good university, and become a professional. At the same time, everything that the girl’s mother does is serving her father. The daughter sees that her mother is sitting at home, she does not have her own life, her own interests. The girl receives a contradictory scenario: one thing is said, but another is implemented in practice.
How to understand: I live the way I want, or follow the parental script?
We literally grow together with parent scenarios. It is not always possible to understand that certain attitudes in our behavior are connected with the family.
Following the script, a person can literally repeat the fate of his parents, grandparents. This may concern the choice of the same partner, work, ways of living. This similarity is easier to spot.
There are cases when a person behaves completely opposite to the parental scenario. It seems to be a personal choice. In fact, it can be the same limiting framework: acting against the parental script, a person looks back at him all the time: “If only it wasn’t like that.” As a result, it’s still a parental choice, not a personal choice.
The father left the family, the mother and daughter were left alone. They lived in poverty, because during her life with her father, her mother sat at home, and after his departure, it was difficult for her to find a job. Mom yearned all the time and hoped that her ex-husband would come to his senses and return. It would seem that such a scenario could have developed for a girl: you need to spend all your strength on keeping a man so as not to remain in poverty and loneliness. However, growing up, the girl chooses a different scenario: to live alone, work to exhaustion so as not to be left without money, and rely only on herself so as not to end up in the situation her mother found herself in.
If you find it difficult to determine where your desires end and the desires of relatives or actions out of protest begin, try observing yourself. Pay attention to what you are doing and try to appreciate every passion and aspiration. Ask yourself questions like, “Do I really enjoy going to classical music concerts? Or did my parents tell me that this is the only way I will become a developed person?
Is it possible to raise a child and not impose family scenarios?
Even if you try very hard not to do this, you will still form some kind of scenario. The way you build relationships with your parents and partner, how you communicate with friends and go to work, certain patterns are already laid. But you can talk about it.
It is important to give the child support: “Yes, we have such an experience with money, with work, with each other. You can rely on our experience, but you can do it differently. We will still accept you, you will bring something new to our family.”
Let’s remember a family where three generations work as doctors. Parents could tell the child that he must become a doctor, like all his relatives. But will he be happy with it? It will be better if they tell him: “We are all doctors in the family, but you can choose the profession you want. Perhaps it will be easier to become a doctor, because in this area we could help you, give you advice. But you are free to choose.”
What to do if relatives do not understand your desire not to live according to the family scenario?
You can try to calmly explain your views, talk about your feelings, do not blame anyone. Whether your explanations will be accepted depends on your relatives, not on you. Your family may or may not listen to you. It will be easier for you if you accept the fact that you are not able to change adults.
Help yourself to separate from the need to make sure to convince a family that does not support you. After all, you can spend your whole life on this, but never achieve what you want. It is not in your power to force other people to think and live differently. It is in your power to draw personal boundaries and decide where to invest your time and energy.